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On Mobile, The Location Arrow May Finally Be Pointed In The Right Direction

Posted on | December 8, 2013 | No Comments


Editor’s Note: Semil Shah works on product for Swell, is a TechCrunch columnist, and an investor. He blogs at Haywire, and you can follow him on Twitter at @semil.

From time to time on Twitter, I’ll unknowingly dip my toes into contested waters. There are some debates which run deep, like strong ocean currents. Occasionally, I muster up the courage to write about my personal preference for iOS over Android (as well as Apple’s ecosystem advantage vis a vis others), or to write about how native mobile apps will provide the consumer touchpoint that matter, while the web as we know it will wane in relevance. This week, I may have stumbled onto another one: The debate around whether mobile consumers, at large, are ready and willing to allow some applications the right to persistently grab their location.

Disclaimer: This post *is not* about apps that capture your location while the app is active, such as Foursquare, or Google Maps. Rather, it is about apps which require GPS access most of the time, even at times when the app is not open or active.

A few days ago, I tweeted: “Maybe it’s me, but a whole lot of people assume the majority of smartphone users will be OK with an app that persistently grabs location.” Turns out I was wrong, and the situation is a bit more nuanced. I don’t have stats for the following, but play along.

At least on iOS, when users onboard onto the platform itself, most seem to allow Apple to grab location from time to time, such as when Siri is activated, or when taking a photo, as well as more periodically so that Apple can provide both generalized and signification location change APIs to developers. At the app layer, it seems consumers are growing more comfortable with allowing applications to access the GPS sensor, including those apps which ask to do so persistently.

“Persistent Location” (or “Ambient Location”) presents a complicated case. Again, I don’t know how to prove this, so I rely on intuition, which tells me those who work in startups, technology, and mobile are aware of the battery costs associated with “always-on” GPS apps, and it may be that the early adopters are the ones to test out such apps but are also more cognizant of the costs. On the other hand, the majority of iOS users may not be aware of how to kill active apps running in the background, how to manage which apps can access their GPS in settings, and so forth. And, to be fair, mobile developers continue to improve their app’s own battery management, using Apple’s APIs to grab location during active use or periodically throughout the day. Certainly, it’s easy to see why developers salivate over having location always on — the ability to collect more user data, an opportunity to send more precise and contextual notifications, and the chance to predict user behavior in anticipatory ways.

About 18 months ago, I wrote about how various apps grab user location either implicitly or explicitly, and suggested that few apps in the market, if any, offered consumers enough value or benefit to warrant the battery cost associated with ambient location permissions. At the time, my belief was passive or ambient location data collection would be hindered by battery concerns, but now I wonder if we are right on the cusp of an app which gets to scale with ambient location permissions. In fact, some of the smartest app developers I know (those with deep location experience) seem to think we are right at this juncture, which is exciting, and they themselves are seeing promising percentages of users going along for the location ride. In particular, apps likes Moves, recently launched HeyDay, and a bunch currently in stealth about to hit the market.

So, there we have it. We will have to wait and see how app makers and the market responds, but with better battery optimization techniques, better location APIs, and a potential divide between early-adopter techies (who fight to preserve battery at all costs) and the normal consumer, who may not care to manage settings or know how to, the stage may be set. Of course, the onus ultimately falls on app developers to create something which not only justifies the API calls, but also creates enough value for users to engage and re-engage with the app beyond just data collection, organization, and presentation. And, as it is with all things, the market here will also decide if this is indeed the time ambient location enthusiasts have been waiting for. That once-dreaded location arrow in the top-right status bar, whether full or greyed out, may quite well be a thing of the past.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons / Michael Pollak

Rovio Launches 44 New Levels in Angry Birds Star Wars II, Holiday Tournament in Angry Birds Friends

Posted on | December 8, 2013 | No Comments


Fans of the furious feathered warriors will be really happy with developer Rovio right now as it has recently updated Angry Birds and Angry Birds Seasons. And the good times continue with updates for Angry Birds Star Wars II and Angry Birds Friends, with new levels and features for both. Angry Birds Friends Holiday Tournament The player-vs-player Angry Birds Friends has a new Holiday Tournament that kicks off on December 9 and lasts until December 29. The tournament will see six new holiday-themed levels each week–a total of 18 levels–much like the Arctic Eggspedition in Angry Birds Seasons. This update…

Read the full article: Rovio Launches 44 New Levels in Angry Birds Star Wars II, Holiday Tournament in Angry Birds Friends

After delivering 100B push messages, Urban Airship releases its deepest push analytics report yet

Posted on | December 8, 2013 | No Comments

After delivering 100B push messages, Urban Airship releases its deepest push analytics report yet
Urban Airship

Few companies have devoted as much energy to the power of push messages as Urban Airship.

The Portland, Oregon-based company, best known for its push messaging platform for apps, just recently sent out its 100 billionth push message a few weeks ago. So it’s no surprise that Urban Airship also has plenty of data about what makes for a good push alert.

For its 2013 “Good Push Index,” its third such report, Urban Airship surveyed more than 2,400 apps and 500 million push messages to figure out the latest notification trends. The results mostly matched up what the company previously found in its earlier reports: Push messages helped to double retention rates and increased engagement rates by around 26 percent.

This time around, Urban Airship also had enough data to analyze how well specific verticals handled push messages. The big winners? Retail, gambling (outside of the U.S.), and entertainment apps. Surprisingly, the company found that push didn’t help with retention rates for games very much (14 percent of users who opted into push messages for games kept the apps, compared to 9 percent of users who didn’t enable push).

Retail app developers typically managed to keep around 116 percent more users who opted into their push messages, and they also engaged with the apps around 40 percent more than non-push users. Brent Hieggelke, Urban Airship’s chief marketing officer, tells me that many retailers have learned to keep their unique brand voice in their push notifications, which may appeal to their fans. And who doesn’t like a good deal?

But just because your users are opting-in to your push notifications, it doesn’t mean they’ll actually use your app. Hieggelke notes that media and sports apps see surprisingly high amounts of users turning on push notifications, but those users don’t actually engage with the apps much. That may be because the notifications themselves provide enough information (like a quick score update) that you don’t really need to open the app.

Now that developers and large companies are becoming more comfortable with push notifications, they’re also bringing their marketing departments in to help craft them, Hieggelke tells me. Many apps are also implementing preference centers to manage their push settings, and some also include inboxes for keeping track of your old messages (something that Urban Airship launched this past July).

Take a look at the full Good Push Index below.


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