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Neura’s novel approach: Baking intelligence into connected devices

CITEworld

A well-known problem in the Internet of Things is that many connected devices operate in silos. Your Fitbit doesn’t communicate with your Nest thermostat, for example.

One way some companies are trying to solve this problem is to create a hub, like Revolv. The idea is for all devices to connect to the hub, which serves as a central point for users to control all the devices and allows certain events to trigger activity in different devices.

Neura, a startup chosen as part of Microsoft Ventures’ accelerator program, has a novel approach to the hub concept. “The phone and potentially in the future the watch is how we treat a hub,” said Gilad Meiri, CEO of Neura.

Neura aims to be like a central clearinghouse for IoT data collected from fitness trackers, home automation products, and phones. But then it interprets that data into useful information that it supplies to other devices.

Here’s one scenario. Neura works around the idea of events in a person’s life. An important event could be waking up in the morning. Neura may figure out that a user has woken up based on information from a variety of devices like a sleep sensor, a Nest thermostat, motion sensors in a phone, and historical patterns.

Once Neura has detected such an event, it supplies it to partners that subscribe to that event data. For instance, a TV vendor might want to know a user has woken up in order to turn on the TV to the user’s favorite morning program. Waking up could trigger events like turning on the coffee maker or starting up the hot water heater.

“This is our model. To understand people and events and allow devices and services to subscribe to that,” Meiri said.

Neura offers its business customers a confidence scale around the information it delivers. For instance, the TV app may not want to turn on the TV unless Neura has 100 percent confidence that the user is awake because it wouldn’t be a great user experience if the TV turned on while the user is still asleep. But the app on the hot water heater might instead like to know when Neura is 60 percent sure the end user is awake since it takes some time to heat the water and it might be better to err on starting to heat the water before the user is awake.

Healthcare applications envisioned by Neura get even more interesting. Neura could detect that a user is driving to the gym and predict that in 20 minutes the user’s glucose level is likely to drop, based on historical data collected from the user’s glucose meter during previous workouts at the gym. The service can suggest to the user that it’s a good time to eat an apple.

Neura could also provide information to services so that, for example, a music service like Spotify can get a notification that a user only has 15 minutes left to her run so that the service can start playing music that might motivate her through the final stretch.

On the backend, Neura ingests the sensor data into its translation machine that it calls Harmony. It’s an abstraction layer that normalizes the data that’s coming from different sources. On top of that sits what Neura calls its Trac Event Machine which looks for patterns in user behavior. Its artificial intelligence layer makes sense of the data.

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Tablet boom helps digital magazines boost sales share

Marketing Week

Total digital sales increased 26 per cent year on year to 369,040, a slowdown on the 59 per cent growth seen in the same period last year. This was in part due to a slowdown in the number of magazines reporting digital sales, which only increased by 10 per cent to 95 magazines, compared to a 43 per cent increase in 2013.

That sales growth was enough to outpace the market, meaning digital publications now make up 2.9 per cent of magazines’ total circulation, up from 2.3 per cent a year ago. That is still just a tiny proportion of overall sales, with print circulation at 12.22m, a 3.8 per cent fall year on year and an acceleration of the 1.9 per cent drop seen in the same period a year ago.

However, a number of publishers have questioned the veracity of the ABC figures given that many now have a wide-ranging audience across the internet and mobile devices, not just through digital editions.

Barry McIlheney, CEO of the Professional Publishers’ Association, says the growth of digital editions is “encouraging” for the sector and highlights the growing demand for digital content.

He adds: “The figures in this report reiterate how shifting consumer media habits continue to impact upon today’s modern, multi-platform magazine brands. The growth of digital editions is encouraging for the sector, and it should also be remembered that this ABC report does not include the increasing number of other ways – websites, live events, social media, etc. – in which the magazine brands of today engage directly with their consumers.”

NME, which saw its average print circulation drop under 15,000 for the first time, claims to reach more than 3.6 million people across the UK.

Marcus Rich, CEO at NME’s owner IPC Media, says: “Our core focus is on expanding the overall reach of our powerful, market-leading brands. We continue to look for even more ways to satisfy and engage our consumers’ passions and in the past 12 months have launched new events and experiences, products and apps in a variety of sectors. We also look for new and exciting ways to leverage our portfolio of brands for the benefit of our advertising partners.”

The Economist’s digital edition saw the biggest increase in sales, up 72 per cent to 21,780, helping it overtake Private Eye as the most popular news magazine overall with average sales of 223,730. Total Film had the second highest average circulation at 14,091, an increase of 16 per cent, followed by BBC Top Gear magazine with 13,553.

TV choice remains the most popular paid-for magazine with total sales of 1.3 million, although its circulation dropped slightly, by 5.2 per cent. Northern & Shell’s magazine suffered a tough quarter, with OK!, New and Star all reporting double-digit declines.

5 Tweaks to Your Website That Could Increase Sales 300%

Mashable

A company website is a must-have in today’s Internet-driven economy. But while most companies have a website, few use them to their full potential to drive sales and revenue. That’s a shame, because websites are often a major investment in terms of time and money, and they can be a lot of work to keep updated.

So if you aren’t maximizing the return on investment of your site, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity.

Luckily, there are a few relatively simple updates you can make to your website that can have a huge impact on customer attraction and retention, sales, revenue and long-term brand loyalty. These steps don’t require hundreds of thousands of dollars in investment and can be implemented by small companies and multinational corporations alike.

There are five common areas that most company websites can improve upon and expect to see an immediate boost in revenue. Taken together, they have the potential to increase your revenue by 300% or more (depending, of course, on your industry, location and a variety of other factors).

1. Add video content

Consumers love video — and so should you. Our brains process visual information 60,000 times faster than text, so ditch the long-winded product descriptions and opt for dynamic video content visitors can engage with on your website. Videos on your landing page can increase conversion rates by 86%, and 44% of customers purchase more products on sites that provide informational videos — and these numbers are only rising.

Customers also tend to stay longer on sites with videos, and even better — they are more likely to return. Engaging product videos, customer testimonials and even tours of your work space can help increase conversions.

Potential opportunity: Up to 86% increase in sales

2. Go global and multicultural

The global economic potential of online communication totals $45 trillion. But if your site only offers content in English, you miss out on a whopping two-thirds of that market potential. Making your website available for multilingual — and multicultural — audiences will help you reach a much bigger slice of the pie, improving your overall market potential by as much as 200%.

Choose a translation management system that integrates into your site; it’s much more efficient than manual translations, which often require time-consuming email communications with translators. New translation tools make it easy to roll out and maintain translated websites for the long-term.

Beyond translation, it’s important to be sensitive to the different cultural norms of your markets. Make sure you don’t make the same blunders as companies like Pepsi, whose light-blue branding alienated an entire market of consumers who associated the color with death. By preparing your site with localized content, you open a world of new opportunities to your business — literally.

Potential opportunity: Up to 200% increase in sales

3. Prevent downtime

On Cyber Monday, Amazon sold 36.8 million items worldwide. Minutes of downtime could have cost the company a big chunk of change. Same goes for your site. If it isn’t loading fast enough, you can lose customers before they even get a glimpse of your content and products. In fact, 57% of visitors abandon a website if it takes more than three seconds to load. It’s important that your website is resilient and scales to meet demand, since 24% of people cite downtime as the reason they abandoned their shopping carts.

Improving your site’s scalability will prevent slow load-times and downtime, ultimately keeping more customers on your website and driving more purchases. Make sure to build your website on an elastic cloud platform that maintains your content and application quality, even when major traffic surges hit. And make sure to frequently test out your page speed on Google.

Potential opportunity: 24% increase in sales

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‘Marketer enthusiasm for mobile slowing’

Marketing Week

The CMO Council’s annual State of Marketing report found that 52 per cent of marketers are either planning no change or a decrease to their mobile marketing budgets, which includes search, banner and display. A third (32 per cent) are planning to increase them by up to 5 per cent while 16 per cent expect to see a 10 per cent increase.

That is a significant slowdown on last year, when 62 per cent of marketers planned to increase their budgets and 25 per cent expected that increase to be more than 5 per cent.

Liz Miller, senior vice president at the CMO Council, says the slowdown has come as marketers hit the “growing pain stage” in their approach to mobile. She says the sector has seen an “excited spending spree” over the past few years as brands try to take advantage of the opportunity in mobile as sales of tablets and smartphones rise.

However, they are now pulling back slightly to work out how mobile links to the rest of their marketing strategy. She believes a lot of marketers were stung by mobile apps, which they invested millions in but consumers aren’t really using, meaning they are now more wary of mobile and how it connects with to the wider customer experience.

“This is a positive thing. Marketers are redefining what they mean by mobile. Everyone raced out to try and develop their own app before realising that mobile’s power is in the mobile web, banners and search. Now they are trying to figure out their strategy again,” she says.

Miller believes social is two years further down the line, meaning that excitement about the possibilities are again returning to the space. This is why 71 per cent of marketers expect to increase their social media marketing budget over the next year, the highest percentage alongside video.

Overall, 54 per cent of marketers expect their budgets to increase over the next year, with 31 per cent expecting more than a 10 per cent rise and 9 per cent forecasting an increase of 20 per cent. That is a big turnaround from five years ago, when more than 50 per cent were forecasting budget cuts.

That renewed optimism is reflected other areas, with 83 per cent of marketers expecting a salary rise this year and 55 per cent planning to take on new staff. This recruitment drive will particularly focus on people with expertise in data and analytics, an area where 85 per cent believe they are lagging.

To improve their ability to tackle big data, Miller believes more marketers must take a step back and spend time mapping and understanding every customer touchpoint. She says this requires a move away from only thinking about campaigns to considering the whole customer experience so marketers can ask “targeted, smart, valuable and actionable questions” of the data.

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Programmatic Moves Further Toward Premium Future

eMarketer

It’s no secret programmatic buying is quickly expanding throughout the digital ad ecosystem—and beyond. A June 2014 survey by AOL Platforms found that 84% of US ad execs surveyed used programmatic to purchase display ads, while six in 10 used the technology to buy mobile ads. Programmatic video was nearly as popular.

177919 Programmatic Moves Further Toward Premium Future

And spend is going up across many channels. Respondents indicated they planned to increase programmatic spending on display, video and mobile ads the most in the next six months. And while 8% of respondents said they were buying TV ads programmatically already, 12% said they intended to up spending in this area in the coming months.

Publishers, as well as brand advertisers and agencies, reported a number of significant benefits of programmatic technology. Tops on the brand/agency side was economic efficiency, cited by more than three-quarters of respondents, while two in three found the targeting beneficial. Organizational efficiency came in third at 57%. On the publisher side, the top three were the same, but more tightly grouped and with targeting slightly ahead.

177920 Programmatic Moves Further Toward Premium Future

There are challenges too—and big ones. Transparency was a problem for 72% of brand executives and nearly as many agency executives, while most publishers did not see it as an issue. All three segments surveyed agreed inventory quality was a challenge.

Allie Kline, CMO of AOL Platforms, pointed up the overall speed with which programmatic technology has been adopted by publishers and advertisers alike across a number of platforms, as well as its transformational potential in the digital ecosystem.

But more will be required from parties on both sides of the equation to take programmatic to the next level. “It’s about making sure there’s a relationship beyond just dumping inventory onto a platform,” she told eMarketer—key to making brand and agency concerns about transparency less problematic.

She also noted that programmatic should be looked at as a technology that could “match the right brand with the right publisher,” not just a tool for getting the best possible bids on inventory.

The future of marketing: Precognition, bots, and user agents

CITEworld

The movie 2002 Minority Report nailed what the future of CRM will look like — but not in the scene you are probably remembering.

The scene everybody remembers has the Tom Cruise character walking through a department store where he is targeted, by name, by such brands as Lexus and Bulgari based on biometric readings taken from his irises. But the true bit of prescience in the movie is the specialized PreCrime police department’s ability to predict who will commit a murder and then stop it before it happens.

A day in the life

To really understand this scenario, let’s consider Ava, a consumer in 2039. She’s not much for advertising or interacting with flashy brands — ads for Lexus and Bulgari would basically roll right off her. She is more into sustainable living, farm-to-table food, support emerging market micro-commerce, and animal rescue — not exactly topics or channels that today’s marketers or companies can really reach. But in 2039 that will hardly matter.

Lisa Arthur, CMO for Teradata Marketing Applications, describes a day in Ava’s life. She gets into her smart car and it asks if she wants to go to her usual round of stops that she makes on the weekend. Ava says yes and they drive to her favorite organic grocery store, which primarily sells small, local organic labels. She walks into the store, which recognizes her — or at least her mobile or wearable device (the form factor of this device still a bit hazy from our 25-year view, but you get the idea). Instantly, it knows that she always buys a particular brand of bread when she is there. The store sadly informs her they are out at the moment and would she like to order some? Ava says yes and continues to shop.

While she’s shopping, she sees several handcrafted items from artists in Africa and thinks they would make nice gifts for the upcoming holiday season. She presses her device against them, buys them, and at the same time has them shipped to the recipients. Ava won’t have to schlep them home to package and mail them out later. Then it’s off to the gym, where the man next to her is rocking out to music on a pair of headphones that catches Ava’s eye. He lets her try them out and she decides to buy them. Presto goes the device, but this time Ava isn’t sending them elsewhere — she has bought them for herself and they are waiting for her at home later that afternoon.

We see glimmers of this world here and there today, in such developments as predictive analytics, artificial intelligence, natural language systems, big data, and the internet of things. Networks, channels, and data will be integrated to the point where people can communicate and interact with brands and service providers like they were people on the street to whom you would say hello.

Judgments about consumers and potential consumers will be made instantaneously, based on an enormous amount of information, much of which comes from everyday objects around the house and in the store and workplace. As for actual voice or electronic or in-person conversions with customers, those will be few and far between. They won’t be necessary: Like the specialized PreCrime police department in Minority Report, retailers and other service providers will just know.

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With Year-on-Year Growth of 84% in the Second Quarter, India Smartphone Market Still Has Immense Potential, Says IDC

IDC PMS4colorversion 1 300x99 With Year on Year Growth of 84% in the Second Quarter, India Smartphone Market Still Has Immense Potential, Says IDC

The smartphone market in India has maintained its growth impetus with smartphone shipments achieving year-on-year growth of 84% in Q2 2014 and a quarter-over-quarter growth of 11%. The potential for future growth in the smartphone market remains quite high as 71% of the market continues to be on feature phones.

According to International Data Corporation (IDC), the overall India mobile phone market stood at 63.21 million units in Q2 2014, a 5% increase over Q1 2014. The quarter-over-quarter growth can be attributed to both product categories (i.e. smartphones and feature phones).  Back-to-back volume growth in the smartphone market is also being noted due to the re-defined, low-price smartphone models and continuous migration from feature phones to smartphones.

The Indian smartphone market grew by 84% year-on-year in Q2 2014. According to IDC Asia Pacific Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker (excluding Japan),vendors shipped a total of 18.42 million Smartphones in Q2 2014 compared to 10.02 million in the same period of 2013. The sub-$200 category of the smartphone market is increasing in terms of new shipment share as the contribution from this category stood at 81% in Q2 2014. With the influx of Chinese vendors and Mozilla’s plans to enter the smartphone category at the $50 price level, the low-end segment of the smartphone market will become crucial in the coming quarters.

The shipment of “Phablets” (5.5 inch – 6.99 inch screen size Smartphone) in Q2 2014 was noted to be 5.4% of the overall smartphone segment. The phablet category grew by 20% quarter-on-quarter (QoQ) in terms of sheer volume. More than half of the phablets shipped were in the under-$250 price band and Indian vendors are dominant in the noted price segment.

Jaideep Mehta, Vice President and General Manager – South Asia, IDC says, “While Samsung has held on to its leadership position in the market, it is noteworthy that Micromax is growing faster. Samsung needs to continue to address the low-end of the market aggressively, and also needs a blockbuster product at the high end to regain momentum. Given the current growth rates, there is a real possibility of seeing vendor positions change in the remaining quarters this year.”

“IDC observes that a new entry level price point is being breached by the Indian home grown vendors every quarter. These devices are not equipped with high end specifications and RAM is typically 256 MB. This ultra low cost segment may not sound a viable option to the repeat buyers, but it works well on the targeted segment,” says Karan Thakkar Senior Market Analyst at IDC India.

Q2 2014 has been an exciting quarter for the players in the mobile phone market.  Among the top five vendors, Micromax and Lava were the only ones to have outstripped the market growth. The former grew by 18% and the latter by 54% in the overall phone business.  Micromax not only toppled Nokia to clinch the number 2 spot, but also created a gap between the second and third spot.

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iPhone 6: mass production of new sapphire screens begins

The Guardian

Near-unscratchable screens that are expected to be one of the biggest selling points of the iPhone 6 when Apple unveils the latest model in September are to go into large-scale production this month.

To create industrial quantities of man-made sapphire, the material already used to cover the fingerprint-sensing home button and camera lens on its phones, Apple has a $578m (£350m) deal with manufacturer GT Advanced Technologies, which has built a plant powered by renewable energy in Mesa, Arizona.

The iPhone 6 will make its first public appearance on 9 September, when Apple has scheduled a big media event. “You should be good without a screen protector on your next iPhone,” predicted technology blogger Marques Brownlee, who has subjected what he claimed was a leaked prototype of the new screen to his own durability tests on video:stabbing it with a hunting knife and trying to snap it while standing on it.

Until now Apple has relied on toughened glass, which can however easily be shattered and marked. But screens already demonstrated by GT can withstand scratches from concrete. Its thin sapphire layers, which could also find their way onto Apple’s rumoured smart watch, are flexible, potentially improving resistance to knocks and falls. In March 2012, Apple patented a concept for laminating thin layers of sapphire to each other and to glass, producing surfaces that are strong and resist chipping.

Apple is said to be preparing two new iPhone models, both of which will have larger screens than their predecessors. The biggest will measure 5.5 inches corner to corner, while the smaller iPhone will have a 4.7-inch screen, according to reports.

The Wall Street Journal claims Apple has ordered an initial batch of between 70m and 80m handsets, its biggest first run production ever, to be sent out from factory gates in time for Christmas and New Year. Last year’s initial order for the iPhone 5S, which introduced Apple’s first fingerprint sensor and had a 4-inch screen like its predecessor, the iPhone 5, was for between 50m and 60m devices. But Apple is preparing for a ramp in sales from China, where its recent distribution partnership with China Mobile should boost demand.

GT chief executive Thomas Gutierrez told investors on a call this month: “The build-out of our Arizona facility, which has involved taking a 1.4 million square foot facility from a shell to a functional structure and the installation of over 1 million square feet of sapphire growth and fabrication equipment, is nearly complete and we are commencing the transition to volume production.”

GT’s new plant will reach full operational capacity in early 2015, but the company is expecting to collect a final $139m payment for its construction from Apple in October.

Samsung buys SmartThings in ambitious push to connect your home

IDG News Service

Samsung has agreed to buy SmartThings, a two-year-old startup that makes software to connect household objects and let them be controlled from afar via smartphone.

The deal, announced Thursday, gives Samsung a solid foothold in the burgeoning “Internet of things” market. IoT generally involves connecting objects such as cameras, sensors and appliances using a wireless Internet connection and controlling them or collecting data.

“SmartThings supports an open and growing ecosystem of developers, who are producing new types of connected devices and unique apps in the cloud that change how everyday objects work,” Samsung said in a press release.

Terms were not disclosed, but a report in Re/code cited a roughly $200 million price tag. Samsung did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

SmartThings makes a mobile app for controlling a range of devices, as well as a software platform for outside developers and device makers. Samsung has become active in this area with its Tizen mobile operating system, which is designed to let consumers control utilities and appliances with their smartphones and other mobile devices.

The acquisition should broaden Samsung’s efforts and let it expand the SmartThings platform to more partners and devices.

SmartThings will operate independently under SmartThings CEO Alex Hawkinson but will move from Washington, D.C., to Samsung’s Open Innovation Center in Palo Alto, California, where Samsung works on bringing new types of software applications to its hardware.

“While we will remain operationally independent, joining forces with Samsung will enable us to support all of the leading smartphone vendors, devices, and applications,” Hawkinson said in a blog post.

IoT activity has heated up over the past year. In a high-profile move earlier this year, Google announced its acquisition of Nest, the smart thermostat maker, for $3.2 billion.

SmartThings got its start on Kickstarter.

Sales of wearables set to rocket despite current ‘chaotic’ stage of development

MarketingWeek

Sales of smart wearable devices are forecast to grow from 9.7 million in 2013 to 135 million in 2018, according to CCS Insight’s global forecast. Wrist-worn devices are expected to account for 87 per cent of the devices sold in 2018, which will be made up of 68 million smart watches and 50 million smart bands.

“Quantified self” devices – which track things such as steps taken, sleep and calories burned – are currently the fastest growing category of wearables, which CCS Insight says can be attributed to their “clear purpose” and affordable prices. The researchers predict around 7 per cent of the population in developed markets will own a quantified self device by the end of 2018.

Such devices are likely to be popular Christmas gifts this year, fuelling strong growth of wearable sales in the final quarter. The researchers predict wearable shipments will rise 129 per cent year on year to 22 million in 2014.

In the second half of 2014, standalone cellular wearables with their own SIM cards that do not require a connection to a separate smartphone or computer are expected to become more prominent in the wearables category. However, these devices will face “significant challenges” as many consumers will be reluctant to take out additional contracts with their mobile operators, CCS Insight says.

Looking further ahead, CCS Insight forecasts strong future growth in smart watches, as the company expects many smart band manufacturers to update their ranges by adding devices with screens. By 2018 smart watches are expected to displace fitness bands altogether as their capabilities are expanded and prices come down.

Marina Koytcheva, CCS Insight director of forecasting, says: “The wearables market is in its Stone Age right now. There needs to be huge improvements to broaden their appeal. This is particularly acute when it comes to devices for women: wearables need to quickly move on from black, clunky devices – fortunately we’re starting to see the first steps in this direction.”

The category faces several challenges, as consumers struggle to come to terms with whether some wearables – such as Google Glass – are socially acceptable and brands in the sector also need to overcome privacy concerns over data collection.

Koytcheva says the market could still yet be changed “beyond recognition” if a major player such as Apple – which is reported to be developing an iWatch – enters the category.

She adds: “History shows us that when Apple enters a market it can reshape the way people think about a product.”

North America leads in terms of wearables adoption, with more than 40 per cent of all wearable devices currently in use in the region. The CCS Insight forecast says this is partially because many wearable companies – such as Google, Fitbit and Jawbone – are based there, but also because US consumers tend to be early technology adopters.

However, consumers in Western Europe are expected to buy more wearables than those in North America by 2016.