WhatsApp today officially launched its new WhatsApp Business app in select markets, including Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, the U.K. and the U.S., ahead of its planned worldwide rollout. The addition of business profiles and new messaging tools aimed at business customers is part of the company’s broader plan to generate revenue by charging larger enterprises for advanced tools to… Read More
With Square yet to reveal when or where it might offer its mobile payment service in Europe, and PayPal apparently still only talking with would-be partners, the door is wide open for more local players to jump in and pick up some market share. Sweden’s iZettle, which often gets compared to Square, is now doing just that: today it is launching its iOS, dongle-based mobile payment service to the UK, four months after its pan-nordic live launch, and as it is preparing to launch an Android version of its product later this year.
iZettle kicking off its service by giving away 3,000 card readers to small businesses and sole traders in the country as part of its invitation-only beta, which it is running in cooperation with MasterCard, American Express and Diners Club. In its still brief life, it has seen some decent traction in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, where it now has 50,000 active merchants on its network.
iZettle is filling a practical need in the current market. The initial aim of the service, according to Jacob de Geer, the founder and CEO, is to target not those merchants that already take card payments, but those who have never signed on to using anything other than checks, cash and invoices to accept payments. There are roughly 20 million small businesses in Europe that fall into this category, he says, with the “uncarded” ranging from sole traders like carpenters to small independent cafes. “We’re not trying to go after those with existing infrastructure because switching costs are too high,” he says.
De Geer will not yet reveal the total number or value of transactions or how many consumers that have used the service to date, except to say that the company is building out its infrastructure to keep up with the demand and has grown by 10 percent in recent months. What’s interesting is that, for now at least, the service seems to be attracting high-value transactions: De Geer says the average value of a transaction is €60 ($76), compared to between €10 and €15 for the average NFC transaction in the Nordic region. (In comparison, he notes that Square transacts between $8-10 per day on any given reader, but that’s an average number and it has picked up a huge number of merchants now.)
The iZettle service works similar to PayPal’s Here and Square, in that a merchant plugs a card-reading dongle into an iOS device to process a card payment using an app downloaded to the device. Instead of reading the magnetic strip on the back of the card, iZettle reads the chip — these are now near-ubiquitous in Europe and tend to be more secure. Like other card payment services, you sign on the device screen to complete a payment, and the funds are deposited in a merchant account the next day.
Similar to other payment services iZettle works on a commission basis — in its case a percentage on each transaction, with that percentage varying by country. It actually dropped a transaction fee it used to take only days ago — perhaps a sign of how the area is heating up and so offering more competitive offerings is essential.
For now, the service is only on iOS but De Geer says that Android is coming soon, “this year for sure.” He says that the delay was due to (surprise!) fragmentation across too many versions of the platform, and too many devices. But the evolution to Ice Cream Sandwich — the latest OS — is definitely making things more standardized, he notes.
One expansion that is not coming soon is to the U.S. Not only do companies like Square and Here have a lot of early business sewn up, but he also notes that “The U.S. is not too interesting for us given that they use the mag stripe and we focus on chip-and-PIN services.”
More interesting, he says, are markets like Asia and Latin America, where there is good chip-card penetration but card payment facilities are still relatively low among smaller businesses. Still, the next launches are likely to be in Europe, with Germany, France, Italy and Spain all on De Geer’s roadmap, with “one or two of those” expected to come online this summer. To date, iZettle has received venture funding of $16.4 million from Index, Creandum and others to fund that expansion.
Interested companies can either register a request through iZettle’s web site, or via its iTunes app, and the first 3,000 will get a free card reader to get started.
The industry just can’t stop analyzing the Instagram success story, and this month, it’s app store analytics firm Distimo’s turn to take a crack at it. The company, which typically releases reports revealing notable mobile app and app marketplace trends, has turned its focus to the rise of Instagram. In its latest report, Distimo looked at how Instagram became successful, how it spread across the world, how the app’s usage compares to the number of downloads it received and more.
Instagram was launched about a year and a half ago, in October 2010. At the time, Distimo says the app was seeing under 10,000 downloads per day in the U.S. However, by April 2012, Instagram was generating well over 100,000 downloads per day in the iTunes App Store in the U.S.
Using data from real-time photo search engine Skylines in conjunction with its own, Distimo charted the app download increases from May 2011 to April of this year, and found that the cumulative downloads of Instagram were about 7 times higher in March 2012 than in May 2011. Instagram shares on Twitter had also increased more than 12 times – a metric that matters even more than downloads to some extent, because it points to active users and the average number of shares per user increasing.
After the release of the Android app and the Facebook acquisition, Instagram downloads increased to become around eight times higher than in May 2011. Shares also spiked to increase more than 20 times over May 2011.
Distimo then examined how the app fared outside the U.S. by analyzing trends in the top non-U.S. markets: Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea and the U.K. Combined with the U.S., which alone accounts for 25% of the free downloads in the App Store for iPhone, these countries generate around 72% of the free app downloads.
Interestingly enough, Instagram is not equally successful in all these markets. It took Instagram only one day to reach the number one position in the Photography category in the App Store for iPhone in the U.S., but it took it over a year and a half in Korea and nearly two months in China. The reason for the slower rise is that these markets showed a preference for apps like Instagram, but that allowed sharing to local networks like Sina, QQ Space and me2day.
Instagram never reached the Top 300 apps list one day post-launch in China and Korea, and in Germany it only made it to position #288 one day post-launch, then disappeared off the top 300 list for a week.
In English-speaking countries, however, the app followed the same general course as it did in the U.S. It rose in popularity during the first month, dipped in December 2010, then rose again gradually during 2011, eventually becoming the most popular app in the whole iTunes App Store.
During March and April 2012, Instagram has never been ranked lower than the top 35 overall app in English-speaking countries. In Australia, the U.S. and Canada, it never dropped out of the top 25 during the same time.
Meanwhile, in Italy, Instagram followed the same general pattern as in the U.S. over the past year, but in France, Germany, China and Korea, it lagged behind in popularity when compared with the U.S. Instagram has been fairly popular through the entire period in Japan, but its popularity grew less there over the year than it did elsewhere, with its average monthly rank between 35 and 85.
In Japan, Italy and Australia, Instagram became a top 10 app within a month of its launch. In Germany, the U.S. and Canada, it took around 350 days. The moment it reached that spot coincided with when Instagram announced it reached 10 million users. Twitter sharing had also increased, with over 200,000 pictures posted to the network in one day via Instagram – 14% more than a week prior.
In China, Instagram never made it into the top 10 position. The highest it has been there is #12, which it reached on April 11, 2012.
While most of Distimo’s report looks into iTunes trends, Instagram did launch on Android on April 3, 2012. When Google’s algorithm began ranking the app a few days post-launch, it was already a huge success. By April 6, it was #3 in the U.S. Google Play store. Similar to iPhone trends, the app was most popular in the U.S. and less popular in Korea and China. It never made the top 300 in Korea and ranked #48 in China. In all English-speaking countries and Italy, Instagram reached the #1 spot in days and in France, the Android version became more popular than the iPhone version, reaching spot #9. In Germany, however, Instagram only reached #51.
The industry, media, pundits, and critics alike have been analyzing Instagram’s phenomenal rise over the past months, and debating whether it was worth the $1 billion price tag Facebook paid. Distimo says Instagram certainly “made its mark on the app market,” noting also that Instagram is a new kind of social network – one built entirely from an app. That alone was reason enough for Facebook to take interest, we’d say. Adds Distimo: “Instagram definitely proved the app store economy is something everybody should keep an eye on as the next big thing might just come from an app store.”
Last December, Google launched Currents, its attempt at challenging popular mobile apps like Flipboard and Zite. Since then, the company has added about 400 new publishers and over 14,000 self-published editions to its lineup . Until now, though, Currents, which runs on Android and iOS, was only available in the United States. That’s changing today, as Google is taking Currents global. Local publishers can now start adding their content to the app and U.S. publishers can now turn on a translation feature to make their texts available in any of the 44 languages that are supported by Google Translate.
Among the international publishers who are already using Google Currents are The Guardian in the UK, LaStampa in Italy, Financial Times Deutschland in Germany, ABC News in Australia, Neue Zürcher Zeitung in Switzerland and Hindustan Times in India.
The translation feature, though, is what Google really wants to highlight in this release. Given that it’s based on Google Translate, those translations can be a bit rough at times, though they are generally good enough to get the general gist of an article.
This new version of Currents also sports a new “dynamic sync feature,” which ensures that articles are downloaded immediately when you open the app without having to press the sync button. Currents’ users can now also download select editions for offline reading.
Pearson has been taking some decisive steps into using mobile to grow its traditional publishing business. And today sees a new chapter in that strategy: Puffin, the children’s division of Pearson imprint Penguin, has signed a worldwide deal with UK-based mobile games developer Ustwo to develop e-books based on Ustwo’s psychedelic Whale Trail mobile game, which features a whale called Willow.
The two say that this is the first-ever publishing deal for a brand that first debuted as an app. The first fruit of the partnership — a digital picture book — is due in October 2012, with further e-books and physical books coming out in 2013.
The deal underscores two different trends: that of mobile games publishers franchising out their brands for more revenues (a la Angry Birds swag); and that of traditional publishers looking for more routes on to new platforms like tablets and smartphones.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. The official announcement is being made today by Eric Huang, publishing director, media & entertainment group, Penguin, at the Bologna Book Fair in Italy.
Mills, the co-founder of the Ustwo studio, says that Ustwo will keep the rights to the game itself. However, the partnership could also see Penguin moving into making gaming apps, too: “We could do something with them app-wise if we chose,” he tells TechCrunch.
At the moment, he adds, this deal is mainly about taking the Whale Trail characters “into a bigger narrative”:
“Whale Trail was all about creating something that brings joy to users throughout the world. Penguin genuinely and passionately shares our enthusiasm for developing the brand further, and the coming together of the traditional publishing powerhouse and our first game IP, is a match made in heaven,” he says.
The news comes as Ustwo is planning an update to the game itself: right now it costs $0.99 to download on iOS, but the update, due in June, will play around with that business model and also include in-app payments for certain features, he says. The deal with Penguin could also see the app picking up more profile, too: so far it has sold 170,000 on iOS, averaging 300-400 downloads per day. On Android, it’s currently making £1,500 in sales per day at a price of £1.49 per download.
Although this may be the first time a book deal has been borne out of an app, this is not the first time that Penguin has made books based on digital brands: the company also has book series based on Moshi Monsters and Skylanders.
“I discovered Whale Trail from Gruff Rhys’ music video. When I downloaded the app, I was hooked,” Penguin’s Huang said. “I wanted to know more about Willow and his world and thought, we should publish a book.”