Mobile merchant sites can already offer “pay with Amazon” as an option beside PayPal or their own checkout flow. However Amazon may now be preparing a bigger push and more direct competition with PayPal, Square and others in the mobile payments arena. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that “Amazon.com may be nearing a deal to buy payments startup GoPago.” GoPago is a JP Morgan Chase backed payments startup aimed at the small business market. The company provides a range of payment services including a free “Square register”-like terminal and POS system. In the fairly noisy payments market I wouild speculate that GoPago has struggled to gain traction and its investors may be looking for an exit. By the same token it’s natural for Amazon to embrace mobile payments more fully. Amazon has roughly 200 million consumer credit cards on file. While this is quite a bit less than Apple it’s more than PayPal. And although I haven’t seen any survey data on this question I suspect that Amazon has a more trusted consumer brand than PayPal. Thus Amazon is a logical candidate to enter mobile and smartphone-based payments directly and could be a major player in the segment. In a move to bolster its own mobile and e-commerce position PayPal acquired Braintree for $800 million in September. Apple is another very logical candidate for mobile and online payments given its massive database of consumer credit cards. Indeed Apple CEO Tim Cook keeps teasing this idea by repeating the number of consumer accounts and credit cards Apple has, now at or near 600 million. If Apple were to power app-store payments and mobile transactions for third parties it could both remove friction from mobile commerce — with Touch ID as the equivalent of Amazon’s 1-click buying — and potentially add meaningful revenues to its bottom line.
Update: PayPal acquires StackMob and gets more serious about being the mobile payments platform of choice for developers.
New Auto-Play Video Ads a Boon for Both Facebook and Brands
Users may become annoyed by the insertion of new auto-play video ads into their Facebook news feeds. However brand marketers are going to love the new ad units. And Facebook’s investors are going to love the revenue — especially from mobile. Facebook is promoting video in the news feed as a potential source of “high quality” ads for users. While that might be true in some cases, it’s all about giving brand advertisers new ways to “tell stories” on Facebook — and Facebook new ways to generate revenue across platforms with TV-style video advertising. It will work on both the PC and, most importantly, in mobile. Here’s how the ads will operate according to Facebook:
- Rather than having to click or tap to play, videos will begin to play as they appear onscreen – without sound – similar to how they behave when shared by friends or verified Pages.
- If the video is clicked or tapped and played in full screen, the sound for that video will play as well.
- At the end of the video a carousel of two additional videos will appear, making it easy to continue to discover content from the same marketers.
- On mobile devices, all videos that begin playing as they appear on the screen will have been downloaded in advance when the device was connected to WiFi – meaning this content will not consume data plans, even if you’re not connected to WiFi at the time of playback.
Facebook is carefully trying to balance advertiser and user interests here. Most notably there’s no sound when the videos start to “auto-play.” This is a key decision to minimize user backlash. In addition the “no data-plan impact” of mobile ads is also critical. These ad units — assuming that there’s no sustained user uproar — will bring significant new revenue to mobile for Facebook. They’ll also give brand advertisers a potentially compelling and simple way to reach mobile users. The genius of these ads is that they automatically work across platforms and marketers won’t need to change the creative to address the mobile audience.The decision to keep the sound off is smart both to minimize the backlash, as I said, but also to indicate true engagement with the video units — users will have to click to hear the sound. But these units will also likely have a “brand effect” and influence even if the sound is not engaged.
I’ve argued in the past that video is a key format for mobile ads. If I’m right, Facebook may have just created its “killer” mobile ad unit.
Expect Labs’ MindMeld App Showcases Dynamic ‘Assistant’ Technology
Startup Expect Labs has launched its MindMeld app after months of being in private beta. A crude but quick way to describe it is: Google Now meets Skype. Expect Labs, founded by Tim Tuttle, describes it as a “voice assistant.” But that doesn’t really do it justice. Many bloggers and tech sites are reviewing MindMeld. In a way that misses the bigger picture. The app is really a “technology showcase” or demo for something larger and more forward looking. Expect Labs, which charges $4 for the app, doesn’t see MindMeld as a money maker and isn’t staking its future on the success (or failure) of the app. First, here’s what MindMeld does: it listens to your conversation, with one or several people, and in real time shows you pages and websites that are relevant to the discussion. The sites and data are coming from various APIs and the internet broadly. If you and your friends are talking about going to New York on vacation, for example, it will start showing hotels, restaurants and things to do based on the specifics of your conversation.The key challenge here is filtering “signal” from “noise” and finding relevant pages and sites. Expect Labs’ CEO Tim Tuttle says that the technology has significantly improved over time and the app has changed somewhat from its inception to its launch today. For example, it used to listen to the entire conversation. However now it will pause and users are required to initiate “searching” via an “OK MindMeld” wake up phrase. The underlying technology seeks to deliver a better search and discovery experience on devices where the keyboard isn’t particularly useful or there’s no keyboard. There are myriad inputs into “search results” (anticipatory search results): time of day, location and “context” broadly speaking. If you sign in with Facebook it also grabs other information about you as another relevance input. Expect Labs’ technology, while imperfect, is really the fulfillment of the vision behind Google Now: real-time, useful information that dynamically changes based on context. MindMeld is the “1.0” expression of that vision. Speech recognition is from Nuance but the natural language understanding is Expect Labs’ own technology. There are a number of enterprise use cases in development; and one can see this technology being incorporated into a wide range of general and vertical applications. Google Ventures is an investor, as is Intel. Those are two potential buyers of the company. The technology is impressive and the major practical question for Expect Labs will be where to focus and how to fully express what the technology can do in a commercial context.