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“We compete with (and lose to) Fortnite more than HBO,” Netflix CEO Reed Hastings wrote in a letter to investors at the end of 2018, pointing out that gaming, far more than cable TV, will be a major competitor for Netflix in the future.
The video game industry is posting record-breaking revenues year after year and attracts players across all demographics on every device, from dedicated gaming consoles to personal computers and smartphones. The more gaming is growing, the stronger a contender it becomes in the fight for three scarce resources of our modern, connected world: time spent consuming media, audience attention and share of wallet. And it’s not only about gamers playing themselves – the e-sports industry is also growing massively and watching professional gamers compete in tournaments has become a popular source of entertainment for many interested in the medium.

However, one of the biggest shifts for the industry is looming on the horizon, a change so significant to the established ways of doing business, that gaming might never be the same again, neither for hardware makers and game developers, nor for the players.
Shortly before this year’s E3, the gaming industry’s annual trade show in Los Angeles, Google announced its plans for a new type of gaming service: Stadia. For decades, video games were distributed on physical storage media like cartridges, DVDs, Blu-Rays and later online downloads, to be installed and played on powerful hardware in the form of consoles and personal computers. Stadia is Google’s attempt to change this by moving gaming into the cloud.
Games will be streamed over the internet to any device with a screen that has an internet connection and is capable of running Google’s Chrome web browser or compatible with Google’s streaming technology Chrome Cast. All the heavy lifting in terms of graphical computing and processing will happen in Google’s data centres.

What is rather trivial for a linear content like a movie or piece of music, is a lot more complicated for the medium of games. Unlike movies or TV shows streamed from Netflix and other services, games rely on rendering their environments in real time, constantly adapting to player movement and viewing angles. Additionally, they require precise player input through controllers or a mouse and keyboard that must be reflected on screen with minimal delay. The massive processing and networking infrastructure required is something only a handful of companies can provide, Google being one of them.
The benefit for the players is that they no longer need to purchase expensive gaming computers or consoles to play the best-looking, most complex games, but can simply stream them to their TVs, tablets, laptops or even phones.

The business model behind Stadia, which will launch in November 2019, requires users to pay a monthly subscription fee to use the service. And this is where things get complicated. Unlike video or music streaming services, Stadia will not launch with a wide catalogue of old and new games, but a very limited selection of mostly older titles that are included in the monthly package. If players want to access other games as part of the service, they will have to purchase individual games digitally from the Stadia store or pay publishers such as French company Ubisoft a monthly subscription fee to gain access to their catalogue of games.
In a market where numerous large game publishers and hardware makers are already in fierce competition over gamers’ wallets with myriad subscription services to gain access to publisher games catalogues, microtransactions for in-game items, fees for online multiplayer and the purchase price of many games themselves, it is questionable whether Stadia can succeed without going the traditional route of platform owners gaining a market share in the gaming industry: exclusive games and discount pricing.

All major console makers own several development studios that are creating games exclusively for their platform and, in Microsoft and Sony, pay hefty sums for timed exclusivity for high-profile third-party titles. Another tech company that recently adopted the model of selling exclusive games for a subscription fee to interested audiences is Apple, their service Apple Arcade is launching later this year.

In the meantime, Sony and Microsoft are also working on cloud-based gaming platforms which are expected to launch along the release of the next generation of consoles. Sony has even entered a strategic partnership with Microsoft to develop their own future cloud gaming solutions based on Microsoft’s Azure cloud technology – a move that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago, but new competition in the gaming space seems to foster new alliances.
The streaming future of gaming is not without obstacles, however. The traditional core target group of gaming enthusiasts is growing increasingly frustrated with the fragmentation of platforms, exclusivity of content and publishers transforming their games from a one-time purchase to service-models with the aim of increasing long-term revenue through microtransactions and paid additional content.

Although the same cannot be said of movies and music these days, many gamers still feel the need to “own” the games they paid money for, instead of simply buying the right to access them temporarily through a streaming service. And as the younger generation of players grew up with mobile games and free-to-play titles financed through microtransactions, it is uncertain that a streaming service with fixed costs and more traditional games is even attractive to them, especially when pitted against the many different forms of competing entertainment available. As much as Netflix sees games as a competition over its audience’s time, attention and money, games face competition from video and audio streaming services as well.

It will be exciting to see how the industry transforms over the next few years and if streaming and subscriptions are truly the future. The thought of being able to play any game, anywhere on any device without having to buy a console or PC is certainly appealing. Even ad-supported models don’t seem to be too far-fetched in this scenario, which would provide attractive opportunities for brands to reach young and affluent target groups. If the industry is successful in bringing their core target groups with them into a streaming landscape and if ease of use and lower cost of access can even attract new target groups, gaming could cement itself as the leading form of entertainment among younger target groups for many years to come.

Ahead of the elections to the European Parliament, intense discussions are underway concerning the increase in global conflicts and confrontations. The Internet also has a history of great confrontations. Whether or not the next war of platforms is looming between Amazon and Google, is a topic we will be discussing in SEO News for the month of May.

Voice-controlled assistants: The new competition among market criers

The competition for intelligent, voice-controlled assistants is now in full swing. After the initial commotion about the possibilities of the new voice technology has subsided, the value of these new companions is now no longer measured by the amount of hype they are given by the press. Instead, Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant must now prove their worth in the face of tough competition. The starting situation could hardly be more different: After the demise of the browser and console wars, are we once again on the brink of a battle of platforms?

The question of who will set the standards for the future with their market power is far from being answered. When it comes to hardware, Amazon is apparently in the lead. Although both companies do not like to show their hands, the online shipping giant has confirmed figures which suggest that by the end of 2018, Amazon had sold around 100 million devices with the virtual assistant Alexa – mostly smart speakers, such as the popular “Echo”, in countless variants. According to a study by the consulting firm RBC, Google sold around 50 million smart speakers worldwide by the same point in time.

It is not quantity, but added value that is decisive

Yet, the number of activated devices represents only half the truth: At its developer conference “Google IO”, the company from Mountain View recently announced that, while it is lagging behind its rival Amazon in terms of smart speakers, the software of its in-house Google Assistant, on the other hand, is already available on more than 1 billion devices. This primarily includes smartphones on which the Google Assistant can be used as an app; the function is already pre-installed on Android mobile phones, for instance. Although Alexa is increasingly tucked away in microwaves, toilets or synthesizers, we have to ask ourselves what added value the voice assistant, designed as a shopping and entertainment device, has to offer here.

Google has a much more favourable starting position in terms of usage scenarios. Embedded in a comprehensive range of services and functions from email to shopping, navigation and the appointment calendar, the search engine giant can offer an altogether different range of services. On its way to becoming a comprehensive and ubiquitous orientation, solution and comfort machine, the Assistant is a pivotal tool for Google.

Google is blowing its horn for the attack – but it is not going to war

This also explains the announcement that the display of search results in the Assistant will now be successively adapted to the appearance of the mobile search result pages (SERPs). This will mean that the semantic marking and structuring of content will also pay off for the Google Assistant. In addition, non-structured information fragments are now also displayed in formats similar to the well-known rich snippets (small excerpts of website content on the search results pages), knowledge graphs or direct answers. This observation also seems to confirm the theory of the “fraggles” that have already been discussed here, according to which Google’s Artificial Intelligence will in future increasingly combine small pieces of information freely without any reference to a URL and compile them into an individual search result. Google is also pushing forward in terms of monetization and now wants to target its ad campaigns on Android devices within the Assistant.

The development of virtual assistants is therefore not necessarily resulting in a direct confrontation, and we will probably not be faced with a new platform war. The question of which provider can unite more third-party applications on its platform is no longer as important as it was with the mobile operating system. Rather, it will be up to us, the users, to answer the question of whether voice search in combination with artificial intelligence will produce individual solutions for a multitude of narrowly defined usage scenarios, such as Amazon’s shopping service and music service, or whether the large-scale Google solution with its comprehensive technical infrastructure will assert itself to support human existence in all of life’s circumstances.

Apple fans have been waiting for these keynotes for years. Years of anticipation, wondering if there will be a “one more thing”. And no, that was unfortunately (once again) not the case in the middle of September with the presentation of the Apple Watch 4 and the latest iPhone. We are currently seeing more evolutionary developments than this one innovation, which leaves us breathless. But on the other hand, most device visuals and features are already leaked before the events.

So, no mega highlights? Everyone certainly has a different view of it. My personal highlight was primarily the following development: with the Apple Watch, Apple is increasingly developing into a health brand. The old saying “An Apple a day keeps the doctor away” gets a whole new meaning. While Apple is still a lifestyle brand, the true essence of the brand is to simplify or facilitate the customer’s daily business and life. And this pledge is now being taken to the next level with an infrastructure for sports and health-conscious people who can count on Apple even in a real emergency.

The following three new features of the Apple Watch 4 are, in my view, pivotal for this development:

  • Apple has installed new electrodes and heart rate monitors, so that ECGs can now be performed with the help of the Apple Watch. This is a true milestone and a tremendous benefit to cardiovascular patients. In the past, unwieldy equipment was essential for ECGs. But these can now be done by the watch, and, according to the company, reliably. And in order to remove any doubt, the US Food and Drug Administration certifies the professional functionality of the device. Not only does it make measurement easier in acute cases, this “Apple healthcare system” monitors the body’s own systems around the clock if required, raising the alarm long before the person can even detect signs such as atrial fibrillation. The detection rate is 97 per cent, according to one study. This could save human lives. In Europe, however, this function will not be available for the time being, and certainly some health and data protection committees have to give it their seal of approval.
  • What if you have no cardiovascular problems, but are into extreme skiing, or have a tendency to fall? Then Apple has a function especially for you. In the event of a fall, an automatic alarm will be triggered unless you disable it within a minute. Then, readings and coordinates can also be transmitted to emergency services.
  • And in the future, diabetic patients should even be able to use a blood glucose meter app with “One Drop” on their wrist devices. At least, that’s the promise.

How is Apple managing to transition from a purely lifestyle brand into a health brand? While others are simply talking about a Quantify-Yourself movement, which will more likely appeal to nerds, Apple is pursuing a plan to become indispensable to Apple fans.

Trust is fundamental for this. Trust that your most personal and intimate information is completely safe. And here too, Apple has (so far at least) proved itself beyond any doubt. Or, according to Fast Company’s headline after the last keynote: “Forget the new iPhones: Apple’s best product is now privacy”.

And it’s not just since the last keynote that Apple has diverged from many other digital giants in this regard. In recent years, Apple has been excelling in how they deal with their – or rather, our – data. They have maintained absolute partitioning of all user personal data, and protected data against external access – even sometimes from personal inquiries by the FBI. This consistent concern for privacy has earned them a great deal of customer confidence. And this gives them probably the best foundation for getting involved in a mega-market of health products of the future.

The 30 to 40-year-old fans of today will become the largest users of these offerings in the future. This is where Apple’s trustworthy data handling will become significant. Those fans will have been conditioned for years and will not be able to imagine living their lives without Apple products. Strategic calculation? No, Apple disciples would never accuse their beloved brand of this kind of scheming. But this far-sightedness would nevertheless be clever.

Stephan Enders, Head of Plan.Net Innovation Studio and a self-confessed Apple fanboy

Yesterday marked the beginning of the annual Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). Over the course of the two-hour kickoff event, there was innovation and information around all aspects of every operating system in the apple cosmos. While new software features were being presented, there was no mention by Apple of trending topics such as artificial intelligence, machine learning or virtual reality. It remains exciting therefore whether – and how – Apple will position themselves in this area.

From an agency perspective, a couple of innovations were extremely exciting, however. Many interfaces are being opened to developers, creating new opportunities for the optimisation of existing apps, and for the conception of new ones.

Siri can now finally be integrated into apps, and a new Maps API improves individual functions and interfacing with third party apps. And with new iMessage apps, completely new service and communication options for brands arise.

Because the WWDC goes on until Friday, and during this time many labs and sessions will be held for visitors, it could be that further interesting themes will be discussed. Here is a summary of the most important changes to the individual operating systems:

watchOS

The upgrade to watchOS 3 for the Apple Watch contains new performance improvements, and a reworked Dock. Apple has also devoted more to the theme of health in the OS’s third generation. In this regard, there is an app that helps one breath properly at regular intervals. Fitness and health are clearly at the forefront here for Apple.

tvOS

tvOS also got a couple of new improvements, even if these were a bit smaller in comparison. A stronger integration of Siri and ‘Single Sign-on’ (with help from Apple, the user can automatically log into apps via a single click) are the update’s highlights.

macOS

The name OS X is refreshed to macOS, and now fits better into the family of names. Applause for a name change? Yes, only with Apple!

Apple_OS1012-SiriDocSearch

Source: Apple

Siri now also moves to the desktop. The highlight: internet payments can be made with Apple Pay. Verifications are made via fingerprint on the iPhone, or with a click of the Apple Watch.

iOS

iOS 10 received the biggest update with many new functions. The first thing that strikes you, is the lock screen’s new look and  notifications. But even the widgets get a visual redesign, and can no longer be found in the Notifcation Center; instead, links are placed prominently on the home screen. With a hard press of the icons, widgets can be opened vis the means of 3d Touch.

Apple_iPhone_Lockup_Hero5Up

Source: Apple

Apple Music gets a long overdue update, and Apple News gets a new coat of paint. Apple Photos now marks individual photos according to content, which can then be searched. Altogether, an attempt has been made to connect with the Google photo app via new intelligent functions.

The theme of data protection was also often mentioned during the presentation. For example, with regard to this, the computing power of the iPhone is used to analyse photos for keywords and not the Cloud.

For those who can’t get enough of innovations, there’s also the possibility to while away the hours at the Swift Playground, and learn how to program apps. The promotion of little ones’ ‘code skills’ is obviously close to Apple’s heart; therefore, Tim Cook was very happy about Developer Conference’s youngest participant: a 9 year old girl!

 

Apple_iPadPro10-IssuingCommands

Source: Apple

According to the “BrandZ” study, Google is replacing Apple as the most valuable brand – and that’s a good thing as everyone knows that competition is good for business. And if we’re honest, it’s high time that Apple be dethroned: Where are the great innovations since the introduction of the iPad? Apple’s concept for success – reduction down to elementary features, simplification by paternalism – simply no longer adds up. And the arrogance of Apple’s market identity, which may have been justified in the beginning, is not as popular any more.

The older target groups have also learned and do not want to be dogmatically locked into a closed system; that didn’t matter to Apple in the past. iAds – in short, they failed. iRadio – not really. B2B-Appstore – still not available. Larger displays, NFC – so far, they’ve been snoozing.
Google has recently been much more dynamic, and not just when it comes to its Android operating system for smartphones or the Nexus devices: Google has started many smart services and has tried to understand the user in the process. Google Music, Google Movies or Google Now, for example.

All of this – plus its market position in the area of search services and the resulting advertising income – are points contributing to Apple now being overtaken: Resting on their laurels, ignoring customer preferences, missing innovations and an arrogant communication policy toward end users and business partners has lead the market and customers to punish Apple.
The “Beats” purchase will not stop this trend for now – a headphone system can be replaced. Android is spreading quickly and already supports the “wearables” trend. And Microsoft is also increasing the pressure with the slowly but steadily increasing prevalence of Windows Mobile.
The expectations for the iPhone 6 get higher every day – it still remains to be seen whether Apple can meet them in the end.

For us as an agency, this confirms what we’ve been observing for a long time: Google is currently the more dynamic and innovative partner. To put it positively: Apple, it’s finally time to put the pedal back to the metal!