The rise of the life OS

If you read the Telegraph online last Wednesday 25th or the Financial Times on Thursday 26th June,   you would have seen some great coverage about Google’s developer conference and the rise of the Android economy in the UK. Like iOS and web development, software and services are now a major part of the creative economy.
Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch

Google announced developments to move Android to being a ‘life’ OS rather than just a mobile OS.

Android expanded to:

  • Run wearable devices
  • Run applications within Google’s lightweight desktop OS chrome
  • Be a games console platform
  • In-car entertainment
  • Take another run at the smart TV market
  • Lowering the price-point of smartphones even further with AndroidOne

 

All of which presents a range of interesting choices for the UK’s Android platform developers.

 

What does this mean for app-enabled brands?

Google has created more choice and there will be the inevitable surge of experimentation to figure out what works.

The expansion of Android presents a more challenging time for marketers. There will be more platforms to develop for; since iOS cannot be ignored as a platform. There will be a corresponding complexity in the development of Android applications:

  • Increased application testing time
  • Increased application development
  • Increased application maintenance time to cater for new devices and firmware updates
  • Increased requirement for application marketing support to encourage app downloads and usage across platforms
  • Increased budgets will be required to support new platforms where consumers will start to expect to find brands they use

 

There will be a corresponding increase in new risks that these applications bring which will require careful communications planning and preparation:

  • Software rendering hardware useless – ‘bricking’
  • New versions of applications no longer supporting older versions of Android / Android devices – particularly as different manufacturers update their hardware at different rates. Some cheap smartphones may not have any upgrade path. Now imagine this on televisions or car dashboards…
  • Hacking attacks | cybercrime
  • The withdrawal of a well-loved app
  • The poor reception of a newly-designed application

 

Who will lose out?

The most obvious casualty of this move is not Apple or Microsoft but the Java language that Android’s application language is very similar to. Java was touted in the mid-1990s as a write-once, run-anywhere development language and pops up in surprising places. A variant of Java ran most of the pre-iOS smartphone games. It provided a development environment for early web applications including those used in the enterprise. Java had developed a strong footprint in consumer electronics that Android is now looking to usurp.

Microsoft would be more threatened by Google’s integration of its internet services into Android. Gmail has become a development platform in its own right and Google is providing enterprise users with unlimited storage for $10 a month. Whilst Microsoft has failed to build a serious mobile platform, its web services business has been growing rapidly to challenge Amazon. Every part of that business, from Azure cloud computing to hosted Exchange server functions, is threatened by Google’s recent announcements. Neither Microsoft nor Sony will be particularly worried by Google’s plans for an Android-powered games console, at least for now.

Companies in the wearables sector are likely to face rapid commoditisation in hardware as Android makes it easier to design wearable hardware. The challenge will be if they can differentiate on superior industrial design and maintain a premium price, or move into providing web services that support compatible devices – a direction where Nike seems to be moving with its Nike+ Fuel Lab.

The closer integration of Samsung and Google’s development efforts including the integration of KNOX, puts other Android handset manufacturers like LG, Sony and HTC at a further disadvantage.

 

The integration of KNOX will also affect the core enterprise business of BlackBerry, providing yet another reason for not purchasing BlackBerry devices or server software.

Who will benefit?

With such a wide range of devices that Android could develop for, software testing will become an even more daunting prospect than it is already when developing for Android smartphones and tablets. The question is whether the current range of testing tools will cover this new product set adequately or if there is an opportunity, particularly in the enterprise environment for new players?

Designers are going to be tremendously important, as new versions of the Android software and new use cases pose a number of user experience challenges:

  • Redesigning current apps to match the new flat design of Android
  • Understanding user behaviour and designing compelling smart TV applications
  • Understanding in-car entertainment and designing intuitive, unobtrusive in-car experiences
  • Understanding wearable use cases and designing device experiences that consumers don’t want to put down

 

A wider range of Android devices will mean a greater potential market opportunity for ARM-powered chips where they may be going into embedded systems previously powered by lower power X86 processors, PowerPC or MIPS RISC processors.

Google is a technology company that makes most of its money from customer data and selling advertising space. The expansion of the Android ecosystem will present more advertising formats, inventory and more contextual data. This will be a boon for media buying agencies and potentially for the platforms that support programmatic advertising like DataXu, as the data will help support targeting in real-time bidding.

More information
‘Powerhouse’ UK leads Europe app development, says research | FT (paywall)
Android TV hands-on: Google makes a new play for the living room | The Verge
Google announces Drive for Work with unlimited storage at $10 a month | The Verge
Google Opens Gmail, Making It More of a Platform for Developers | WSJ
Google previews Android apps running on Chromebooks | TNW
Razer’s making a gaming ‘micro-console’ with Android TV, available this fall | Engadget
Google Introduces Android TV, Its New Platform For Smart TV Apps And Navigation | TechCrunch
Google Unveils Ambitious Android Expansion at Conference | New York Times
Nike+ Developer Portal

The Not So NICE Side of Miracle Drugs

Last week research on a “paradigm-shifting” new cancer therapy drug was released. Pembrolizumab is being hailed as a miracle drug that could cure late stage skin cancer. The results of this drug are nothing short of remarkable. Trials showed 70% of the advanced melanoma patients being treated were still alive after a year. To put that in context, the one-year survival rate for an untreated patient with stage 4 melanoma is 10% for men and 35% for women. So the buzz around this new treatment is certainly warranted.

However, there is one topic around this miracle drug that people are reluctant to mention, for fear of killing the buzz. That topic is price…

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The cost of this new drug is yet to be revealed, but as a rule, price is something of a sticky subject within healthcare. The UK is by now well-versed in NHS spending issues and budget cuts. Yet, there is uproar among the media when treatments are not approved due to cost issues. Take the recent case of NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence), the regulatory body created to provide independent advice on providing the best in healthcare, deeming a ‘life saving’ breast cancer drug ‘unaffordable’

This media outrage is certainly damaging to regulatory bodies, such as NICE. They are often portrayed as scrooges, denying sick patients life-prolonging treatments and media coverage goes a long way to shaping public perception. The media can even promote a strong enough public backlash for decisions to be overhauled. Once decisions are overturned and pricey drugs are available then we end up back at the part where healthcare institutions are berated for spending too much. It’s a catch-22…

Of course it would be great if there was an unlimited budget for healthcare and I’m sure regulatory bodies would have no qualms about approving all effective treatments if they did.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. The price of some treatments is astronomical, with some cancer treatments costing £4000 plus per session. The cost of all aspects of healthcare is something that cannot be overlooked. As Prof David Haslam, NICE Chairman recently pointed out, “You can only ignore real costs if you’re not dealing with real money. Real money is spent by someone. Once spent, it’s not available to be spent on something else.”

Rather than just criticising decisions on healthcare spending, there needs to be a wider conversation in the media about it. Some journalists have started the discussion, but much more needs to be done to build public knowledge of why NICE makes such decisions, as well as the kind of advanced technology that goes into creating ‘miracle drugs’.

Between a Pox and a Hard Place

Big pharma companies are the industry everyone loves to hate, or at least in the case of the media. It’s not hard to see why. The industry is repeatedly rocked by scandals of companies bribing doctors and allegations of malpractice, making it an easy target for shock headlines. The industry’s latest woes come in the form of the governments’ £500million bill for allegedly ineffective flu drugs.

Back in 2005, when the swine-flu epidemic hysteria reached its peak, the UK Government started stockpiling Tamiflu, a drug created by Roche and touted as the best hope in avoiding a major flu outbreak.  Come 2014 a Cochrane review reveals that Roche did not release all of their trial research, which is in fact entirely legal, and its drug is perhaps not as effective as first suggested.

Cue media outrage, finger pointing and headlines demanding to know why tax payers’ money is being squandered on useless drugs.  Seeing these headlines you’d be forgiven for thinking that the media had argued all along that the drugs were a waste of money. However, looking back it appears that many headlines carry the tell-tale symptoms of hypocrisy. As Oliver Wright at the Independent points out, during the swine flu panic headlines were screaming for the Government to purchase Tamiflu to defend against an outbreak.

What are we to make of this? We know shocking headlines catch eyes and sell papers and some are indeed guilty of over-dramatising the story… but in the case of scandalous healthcare stories where is a journalist to look for the real answers? The jury is still out on whether Tamiflu is effective in treating flu symptoms. Various regulatory bodies and doctors say it is useless, whilst others claim it’s a perfectly good treatment. Let’s not forget this drug has the necessary regulatory approval. It’s only due to the passing comments of a doctor and the belligerence of the BMJ that the research was even questioned. So if all the regulatory bodies and research, at the time, backed the use of Tamiflu it seems only right that journalists would jump on the bandwagon, only to be swept up in later controversies.

The healthcare industry by nature is about the long-play. Research evolves and unforeseen issues in treatments can take years, even decades to arise. So perhaps this should serve as a cautionary tale of over-dramatising healthcare stories in favour of a little discretion and foresight into how the story could play out later down the line.

tamiflu

When #PricelessSurprises became #CostlyMistakes

We wouldn’t have wanted to be in House PR’s shoes yesterday.  No, not even a ticket to the Brit Awards (and the remote possibility of rubbing shoulders with David Bowie), would have made us change places with them after the furore that blew up on Twitter around #PricelessSurprises for their client MasterCard.  So what did House PR do that was so wrong?

The agency committed what is commonly known in the PR world as the eighth deadly sin.  They presumed to tell a journalist what they should write.  They used the sought-after Brit Awards press seat allocation as collateral, dangling the tickets tantalisingly in front of some of the UK’s top showbiz reporters, in return for an agreed list of specific coverage. This even included a suggested Tweet for each journalist to cut and paste.

The relationship between hack and PR professional is a delicate thing, and it’s driven by our news media’s need for authenticity and balance.  There is a fine, unspoken line that both parties respect and don’t cross. For the journalist,  this means cutting the PR person enough slack to let them ask for a brand or website mention in the article that they, after all, supplied the idea, spokespeople, evidence and statistics for. Within the boundaries of good balance and objectivity, sometimes a journalist will be able to do exactly that.

For the PR person, this means perhaps working some of the brand’s key messages into the story that they pass on or perhaps supplying an image or b-roll that incorporates client branding in it. Or even perhaps asking in a slightly embarrassed, humble tone, if they would mind awfully, if it’s not too much trouble, mentioning their client by name in their piece. But true PR professionals never, ever presume to have rights over what the journalist will finally publish. Once that line is crossed, the trusted relationship is over.  Which does nobody any favours.

Telegraph Mandrake columnist, Tim Walker has pointed out, what House PR should have done is to pay for advertising alone.  This, in marketing terms, is how you control what appears in the press and is posted on social channels.  Well, direct advertising is probably not the right medium for subtle brand placement.  But there are an increasing number of other forms of paid and owned media that could have been explored. A paid blogging programme for example, could have delivered the brand mentions and hashtags that they were looking to journalists for. Not to mention targeted, sponsored posts on Linkedin.  House PR was already paying to promote #PricelessSurprises on Twitter and we’re pretty sure, if they’d just asked the journalists that were invited to the Brit Awards to use that hashtag, most of them probably would have done so.

As it stands, #PricelessSurprises was hijacked yesterday by just about every p*ssed off hack in London and yet was still promoted all day. But then there’s no such thing as bad PR, so they say…

It might not have helped the PR industry’s reputation, but this story has certainly provided us with a useful case study for our trainees at Racepoint and for those degree students we regularly provide workshops to.

Awards: Behind the glitz and glamour there are tangible business benefits

Awards season is in full swing, and some great recent successes for our clients have prompted discussion among the team about industry awards and the benefits they can offer. We’ve all been there – frantically attempting to dress in our black tie outfits in the office bathroom while still responding to emails! But awards can offer a great deal of opportunity, provided you approach them with a fresh perspective. Here are some tips for to help you make the most of them.

When you’re thinking about attending or sponsoring an awards evening, consider:

  • Are the right representatives of your company going? Which journalists will be there? Evenings like these offer fantastic networking opportunities so make sure your team is prepared
  • Have you invited key customers to join you? Corporate hospitality provides invaluable face time with clients, and investing in a full table for invited guests can offer a great platform for this
  • If sponsoring, what are your objectives? General brand awareness, or promotion of a specific product? Ensure the branding and logos you have at the event reflect this
  • Think beyond a ‘logo on a screen’ to the more creative options. You have your industry in one room – find a way to excite and engage them that will leave a more lasting impression. Perhaps sponsor a red carpet to capture photos that can be sent to peoples devices in real time on the night, or sponsor the bar and have a cocktail menu designed around your product names

 

Winning an award can provide valuable third party endorsement and raise awareness in your industry of a new product or general business capabilities. In an increasingly competitive landscape, your submission is up against some tough competition. Make sure you:

  • Select awards and categories carefully – make sure the effort put in to a submission is well placed
  • Read the brief carefully and put together considered, well written copy that covers the required criteria concisely. Be sure to clearly pull out statistical business benefits to differentiate
  • Select impactful supporting materials that are engaging (consider testimonials, video footage, and infographics)
  • When reviewing, put yourself in the judges’ shoes (in most cases you will be able to find out who they are, so tailor where possible). When reviewing, consider: does this submission impress? Where is the “wow factor”?

 

If you are shortlisted, make sure you are prepared for the evening, and the days following it, in order to make the most of the PR opportunities it presents. Creating a buzz in the lead up and directly after the awards is key, so:

  • Do you have a media alert ready to announce your win in a timely fashion?
  • Are the awards being filmed and can you access footage for your social media platforms?
  • Have you alerted customers, partners and employees of your nomination on your social media channels?

 

Whether entering a new product for a prestigious award, entertaining customers in an industry-relevant environment or raising brand awareness with an engaging sponsorship activity, awards evenings are rich with opportunity. So get your glad rags on and get involved!