The Google Blog announced the other day that upcoming Android Wear watches will work with newer iPhones. I’d been curious whether or not Google (and its OEM partners) would go down this path. In general, iPhone owners enjoy the same Google apps that their Android counterparts use. However, given Google’s stabs into integrated hardware – Nexus tablets, Chromebooks, the Pixel – one might have thought that the “new Google” would more strictly force users who want a more Google-esque experience to use its own hardware. I suspect Google permitted this openness for two reasons:
- The Apple Watch starts at $349. This gives Android Wear OEMs a fair amount of room to undercut Apple. Although initial Android watches are on the pricier end (which is still to say, the low end of the Apple Watch), prices will fall, much as they did with phones.
- Google likely hopes that some iOS users may make their way to Android, having had a positive experience with Android Wear.
However, I think that opening up Wear to iOS devices may be perilous for sales of Android watches. They may simply serve as a means of users (cheaply) getting acclimated to wrist devices, and then upgrading to the Apple Watch once they realize the utility wrist computing offers, and desire the iOS-integrated features only the Apple Watch can utilize.
The Wall Street Journal has a quick rundown of Starbucks’s newish effort to expand its offerings to include wine and tasting plates, in a subtly-named initiative called “Starbucks Evenings.” I’m not sure whether or not this effort will pan out, but I suspect that it will see modest success. In my entirely informal polling, many coffee drinkers are also wine drinkers, and I think the strategy is a means to get people into Starbucks outlets after 5pm.
Either way, it’s hard not to admire Howard Schultz’s ambition. Considering that Starbucks has, within the last three years, entered the tea market (through its acquisitions of Teavana and Tazo), the juice market (Evolution Fresh), and baked goods (La Boulange), it’s clear that the firm is expanding laterally, broadening its base of beverage drinkers. At the same time, Starbucks is also moving vertically, seeking to capture value beyond just in-store drinks: within the last three years it’s rolled out the Starbucks Reserve subscription program, Via packets, K-Cups, and bottled ice coffee — all for at-home consumption.
I think that the addition of wine to Starbucks’s menu represents the firm’s desire to to reposition itself as coffeehouse/communal meeting space, no matter the beverage. There is a limited amount of coffee that Starbucks can sell, and limited time (read: morning), in which to sell it. And relatively few consumers are venturing out at eight pm for an evening of cappuccinos or fresh juices. Wine preserves Starbucks’s upscale vibe, while also separating it from other coffee and food purveyors like Dunkin’ Donuts, Coffee Bean, and McDonalds.
To that end, Starbucks’s store layouts are already somewhat wine-bar friendly: low-hanging incandescent bulbs with glowing visible filaments illuminate wooden tables and leather seats. Norah Jones and Mumford & Sons play quietly over the speakers. It could almost – almost – be that place you didn’t bring your laptop to write an article over an espresso at 7am this morning. And perhaps Starbucks’s challenge lies in altering that vibe of its stores – the lines, the lights, and the music – to more fully fit the relaxed, decaffeinated environment wine-drinking requires.
But drinks with unpronounceable names? You can bet those are still on the menu.
Two years ago, this small change might well have allowed Twitter to more effectively expand from just social media and news aggregation into messaging. But at this juncture, I think Facebook has that market locked up.
Japanese messaging service Line rolled out a new app called Line Here – separate from its popular platform – that allows users to share their location with multiple parties, in real time.
I find it interesting that Line – which is very popular in Asia, but trails Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger in the US – is unbundling features from its core app. In recent months, Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, and iMessage have adopted some of the clustered features of non-US messaging services like Line, Kik, and Viber. Whatsapp now offers wi-fi calling, Facebook Messenger boasts mobile payments functionality, and iMessage allows users to share their location — all features previously available on non-US messaging platforms.
I think that Line may be experimenting with the unbundled approach as a means of trying to more forcefully enter the US market, before Whatsapp, iMessage and Facebook Messenger have completely saturated the space. I’d be surprised if Line Here gained real traction, and I think it’s only a matter of time before Facebook Messenger gobbles up that functionality, too.
This past weekend, the Wall Street Journal had a compelling article on the rise of phone-reading. It noted that readers have abandoned paperbacks, tablets, and even e-readers in favor of increasingly large-screened phones. Publishers are following suit.
To engage readers, publishers are now experimenting with ways to make the mobile-reading experience better. They are designing book jackets with smartphone screens in mind. (Handwritten scripts or small fonts may not be legible.) They are customizing their marketing materials—email blasts, Facebook posts and websites—to be read on phones. And some are trying to catch people on the go, offering free access to e-books in airports, hotels and trains.
It’s clear that, as Benedict Evans wrote, the smartphone is the sun around which other devices and services orbit, and that content publishers are best-served by a mobile-first, and mobile-most, strategy. The New York Times observed that vertical video has gone from anathema to accepted standard, thanks in great part to Snapchat.
On a personal level, I’ve found that I increasingly do most of my reading – in Pocket, of course – on my phone. I’ve found that I have a great deal of interstitial time where I don’t have a laptop or iPad, but where my phone presents an optimal solution to both boredom and hacking down the nearly 800 articles I have sitting on my Pocket list.
Having just traveled to the stellar A. Smith Bowman Bourbon Distillery in Fresericksburg, VA, I found it pretty serendipitous that I was shown the below ad by Knob Creek. It’s fascinating to see Airbnb used as a sort of platform for an experience, rather than merely a hotel replacement. Sure, the tent near the brewery is technically a home being rented out, but the crux of the listing is clearly the experience, not the location. It’s just a shame it was Instagram that was originally called “Burbn.”
Starbucks has made it its business to partner with lots of tech companies – Uber, Spotify, The New York Times – and the most recent addition to that list is Lyft, the popular ride-sharing service.
I think this partnership – along with Starbucks’s other deals – represents a new kind of dominance for the brand. In the 1990s and early-2000s, Starbucks aimed to expand through storefronts, with an outlet on almost every corner. Although the company’s rate of retail expansion is still high, I believe the brand has moved to dominate virtual real estate as well, by staking a green mermaid flag in as many hot apps and services as it can, as a means of driving traffic (sometimes literally) to its stores.
Thus, Starbucks remains a hot commodity by not only badging itself as part of the mobile-first economy through its own app, but integrating itself into the fabric of these firms and services. And in Lyft and Spotify’s cases, Starbucks has even tied its own rewards program into the firms’ respective payment ecosystems. I would not be at all surprised if an Airbnb coffee delivery service is in the works. Or at the very least, I’d want to place an order through Facebook Messenger. I certainly wouldn’t mind a macchiato in my rented treehouse.