Have we reached peak smartphone and what does that mean for marketers?

Kleiner Perkins’ Mary Meeker’s highly anticipated kitchen-sink compendium of third party stats dropped yesterday. Amidst the barrage of data was the following: global smartphone shipments grew zero percent in 2017. Many others have already pointed to this observation with some mixture of surprise and alarm.

Meeker also cites data that the average selling price of smartphones is declining. That’s largely a function of the need to produce lower-cost devices for developing markets. So does all this mean we’ve reached “peak smartphone”? If so, what does that mean for marketers?

In the US, the Pew Research Center found that 95 percent of US adults now have a mobile phone and 77 of those people have smartphones. That leaves roughly 17 percent who have yet to “upgrade.” Most of those people tend to be older (above 50). The smartphone penetration rate is 85 percent and above for those under 49. This data directionally seems to confirm the Meeker observation.

The Pew data suggests some growth is possible among older users in the US. However, the most sought-after consumer segments (18 – 49 year olds) are near saturation. Therefore, the battle there is for “switchers” and upgrades.

A contrasting data point cited by Meeker is that internet penetration has reached about 50 percent of the global population, making growth harder to find. This leads inevitably to a half-empty, half-full interpretation. I would argue that while the remaining opportunity is not 50 percent, it’s also not 10 percent. Accordingly, there is room for new internet users — and the majority of those will likely be smartphone users first and foremost.

Another bit of positive news is that time spent with digital media continues grow and smartphones continue to dominate that time. Time spent accessing the internet through smartphones saw incremental growth compared with flat to declining growth for desktop and laptop computers. Specifically noteworthy in the chart below is growth in time spent with smart speakers (other connected devices).

So where does all this leave us and how should marketers respond? In one sense, there’s nothing to see here. I would submit the following:

  • There’s still meaningful global headroom for internet growth, which will be via smartphone
  • The US market is near smartphone saturation but usage has not peaked
  • Time spent with digital media will continue to grow on non-PC devices: smartphones, smart speakers and other connected devices
  • Most digital ad revenue growth is coming from mobile and that will continue into the foreseeable future
  • Revenues at Google, Facebook, Amazon and other large publishers are increasingly mobile
  • Future e-commerce growth will be driven more by mobile than the PC
  • Social commerce will be dominated by mobile

You may not agree with all of these bullets, but among the various digital platforms and channels mobile will be dominant for the foreseeable future, although smart speaker and smart displays will see more growth, coming from a smaller base.

Marketers must therefore continue to focus on smartphones as the primary internet device. That means simplifying and improving mobile user experiences for customers — especially as a loyalty tool. The bottom line is: there’s no reason to change course. Everyone must still optimize for mobile; that’s where growth and opportunity remain.


Patient reporting tool from CancerAid now integrates with Epic Systems and Apple HealthKit

CancerAid, a self-reporting and symptom monitoring tool for cancer patients, has scored its first major coups in the U.S. healthcare market with its integration into Epic Systems electronic health records at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles and an integration with Apple’s HealthKit.

Cedars, an investor in the company through an accelerator program it ran in conjunction with Techstars, marks the first  U.S. hospital system to incorporate CancerAid’s self-reporting information into a dashboard system for doctors.

It’s been a long road for company co-founders Raghav Murali-Ganesh and Nikhil Pooviah, who first met eight years ago at the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, a Sydney, Australia cancer treatment center.

Pooviah was a resident working with Murali-Ganesh in radiation oncology, positions the two men occupied for several years before venturing off on their own to launch the service that would become CancerAid.

The company’s initial came from years spent checking out the tools that were already in the market for cancer patients. Tools like Chemo Calendar that helped with things like scheduling and monitoring appointments were the initial inspiration.

Instead of studying for some particularly tricky upcoming exams, Pooviah was spending time developing a patient-facing self-reporting symptom tracker and a community portal for cancer patients to discuss, share, and monitor their own symptoms.

CancerAid co-founders Drs. Nikhil Pooviah and Raghav Murali-Ganesh and Martin Seneviratne

It was that first tool that won the company acceptance into the Cedars Sinai accelerator and a competitive position in TechCrunch’s inaugural Startup Battlefield competition in Sydney, Australia.

From its initial development, CancerAid now has four primary functions. On the patient side, there’s personalized cancer information for patients after their initial diagnosis. The company also provides a personal journal and symptom journal for patients to report on how they’re feeling, both emotionally and physically as they progress through their treatment.

A feature the company calls “Champions” was added so that family and friends could keep up with patients and encourage them. And finally, the company added a social networking feature so patients could connect with a broader community of patients and survivors.

Now, the company has added “ClinicianLink”, a clinician-facing dashboard that sits in Epic and integrates with the existing workflows of nurses, oncologists, radiologists and the rest of the hospital administration and operational staff that touches patients as they undergo treatment.

The company expects to lock in six-figure licensing deals for hospital systems to access the entire toolkit and offer it to patients.

For hospitals, there’s some research that suggests simply by reporting their symptoms patients can improve their own outcomes, because doctors have a better sense on more regular intervals of the potential problems their patients face, the company said.

“Patients will be able to use the patient-facing app at home, with a feedback loop back to their care team (physicians, nurses) in the hospital in real-time,” wrote Pooviah in an email. “This feedback loop helps reduce [emergency room] visits and 30 day readmissions (saving $19,000 per patient per year).”

Beyond the Epic integration, CancerAid is also integrating with HealthKit — so that Apple wearables will be able to have the CancerAid functionality, the company said.

The company has 20,000 patients on the app already, and is being used in 80 of the 200 largest U.S. health systems, according to Pooviah.

Backed by $1.9 million in funding from strategic and financial investors including Cedars-Sinai Health System, TechStars, Australia’s Shark Tank, Slingshot Ventures and Artesian Capital, the company is looking to expand in the U.S. through a dedicated subsidiary as it concentrates on one of the world’s largest healthcare markets.

I would happily ditch the selfie camera for a full-screen phone

Once a month or so, I’m reminded that my phone has a front-facing camera when I accidentally hit the toggle button, only to be greeted with a closeup image of my own, dumb face.

Honestly, I can’t remember the the last time I used the thing — not intentionally, at least. I tried scrolling through my camera roll to locate the precise moment in which I felt compelled to take a selfie, but ultimately ended up getting tired of the exercise, giving up some time around May of last year.

I have no use for the front-facing camera. I don’t know, maybe I’m in the minority on this one, but I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. Every time I see another phone with another notch or hear stories about companies frantically pushing for some workaround, I quietly wonder what it would be like to live in a world where that wasn’t an issue, because there was no camera getting in the way of that precious screen real estate.

I realize for most mainstream manufacturers, this is probably just a pipe dream. Too many companies have invested too much in the technology to make it appear unnecessary. In recent years, the device has taken on an importance beyond the selfie, including, most notably, the big push by Apple, Samsung and countless Android manufacturers to add face unlock.

There are the proprietary apps like FaceTime and Animoji and a powerful lobby of third-party social media companies that rely on the inclusion of as many cameras as humanly possible on a mobile device. I suppose I fall out of that target demographic. I don’t Snapchat or FaceTime, and when the Google app changed from Hangouts to Meet and I suddenly saw video of myself staring back, again, total freak-out.

Perhaps it’s best left to some smaller manufacturer looking to distinguish themselves from a million other Android manufacturers. Someone out there could be the first to go truly full screen, without a silly gimmick like the Vivo’s pop-up, or whatever eight million patents Essential has filed over the past couple of years. Full screen, without the inherent vanity of that unblinking eye staring back at you.

I’m not saying its enough for one company to get me to switch over, but it’s 2018 and 90 percent of smartphones look virtually identical. Why not at least give the consumer the ability to opt out, at least until phone manufacturers solve the notch?  

Walmart’s new personal shopping service Jetblack launches in New York

Walmart’s tech incubator is out with its first experiment. The incubator, known as Store No. 8, just launched Jetblack, a concierge-style service for requesting stuff and getting it really quick. During its pilot period, the project was known as Code Eight.

To shop with Jetblack, first you need an invite. Right now the service is limited to some customers in Manhattan and Brooklyn who are part of an eight month pilot program restricted to buildings with a doorman, though that will soon expand and a waitlist is available now. The service is $50 a month — considerably less than some adjacent competitors while considerably more than Amazon Prime — and promises same-day delivery.

While concierge services like Hello Alfred position themselves as high-end options for people wishing to live more serene lives, Jetblack is focusing on “time-strapped urban parents” seeking “more efficient ways to shop for themselves and their families.” To request something, Jetblack members send a text message and will receive product recommendations sent back in text. Those recommendations are culled from Walmart and Jet.com but also from specialty retailers locally.

That means any product request is fair game and “sourcing a specific beauty cream from a member’s favorite local boutique, curating custom Easter baskets and delivering them once the kids are asleep and rushing beach essentials to a family on vacation” are all within the realm of Jetblack fulfillments.

“Consumers are looking for more efficient ways to shop for themselves and their families without having to compromise on product quality,” said Jetblack co-founder and CEO Jenny Fleiss, formerly of Rent the Runway.

“With Jetblack, we have created an entirely new concept that enables consumers to get exactly what they need through the convenience of text messaging and the freedom of a nearly unlimited product catalogue.”

It’ll be interesting to see if these kind of personal shopping services can differentiate themselves in markets already well-acquainted with same-day shipping. While what makes Jetblack’s proposition unique isn’t that clear, it’s worth noting thanks to its roots in the biggest brick-and-mortar retailer around.

Teens dump Facebook for YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat

A Pew survey of teens and the ways they use technology finds that kids have largely ditched Facebook for the visually stimulating alternatives of Snapchat, YouTube and Instagram. Nearly half said they’re online “almost constantly,” which will probably be used as a source of FUD, but really is just fine. Even teens, bless their honest little hearts, have doubts about whether social media is good or evil.

The survey is the first by Pew since 2015, and plenty has changed. The one that has driven the most change seems to be the ubiquity and power of smartphones, which 95 percent of respondents said they had access to. Fewer, especially among lower income families, had laptops and desktops.

This mobile-native cohort has opted for mobile-native content and apps, which means highly visual and easily browsable. That’s much more the style on the top three apps: YouTube takes first place with 85 percent reporting they use it, then Instagram at 72 percent, and Snapchat at 69.

Facebook, at 51 percent, is a far cry from the 71 percent who used it back in 2015, when it was top of the heap by far. Interestingly, the 51 percent average is not representative of any of the income groups polled; 36 percent of higher income households used it, while 70 percent of teens from lower income households did.

What could account for this divergence? The latest and greatest hardware isn’t required to run the top three apps, nor (necessarily) an expensive data plan. With no data to go on from the surveys and no teens nearby to ask, I’ll leave this to the professionals to look into. No doubt Facebook will be interested to learn this — though who am I kidding, it probably knows already. (There’s even a teen tutorial.)

Twice as many teens reported being “online constantly,” but really, it’s hard to say when any of us is truly “offline.” Teens aren’t literally looking at their phones all day, much as that may seem to be the case, but they — and the rest of us — are rarely more than a second or two away from checking messages, looking something up and so on. I’m surprised the “constantly” number isn’t higher, honestly.

Gaming is still dominated by males, almost all of whom play in some fashion, but 83 percent of teen girls also said they gamed, so the gap is closing.

When asked whether social media had a positive or negative effect, teens were split. They valued it for connecting with friends and family, finding news and information and meeting new people. But they decried its use in bullying and spreading rumors, its complicated effect on in-person relationships and how it distracts from and distorts real life.

Here are some quotes from real teens demonstrating real insight.

Those who feel it has an overall positive effect:

  • “I feel that social media can make people my age feel less lonely or alone. It creates a space where you can interact with people.”
  • “My mom had to get a ride to the library to get what I have in my hand all the time. She reminds me of that a lot.”
  • “We can connect easier with people from different places and we are more likely to ask for help through social media which can save people.”
  • “It has given many kids my age an outlet to express their opinions and emotions, and connect with people who feel the same way.”

And those who feel it’s negative:

  • “People can say whatever they want with anonymity and I think that has a negative impact.”
  • “Gives people a bigger audience to speak and teach hate and belittle each other.”
  • “It makes it harder for people to socialize in real life, because they become accustomed to not interacting with people in person.”
  • “Because teens are killing people all because of the things they see on social media or because of the things that happened on social media.”

That last one is scary.

You can read the rest of the report and scrutinize Pew’s methodology here.

Why now is the time to join Startup Alley at Disrupt SF

TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 is coming to Moscone West on September 5-7, and this year will be twice as big and better than ever. We’re looking for startups to be a part of our massive menagerie of innovation, Startup Alley. If you’ve never been to a Disrupt, Startup Alley is where hundreds of early-stage companies (which are pre-series A although, we do make some exceptions) showcase their talent and technology to attendees, investors and members of the press. This year, we’re expecting more than 1,200 startups to be in attendance.

Plus, we have some contests and giveaways just for those who sign up for a Startup Alley Exhibitor Package— yup, you have a chance to snag some free stuff! Who doesn’t want in on that?!

All you have to do is buy a Startup Alley Exhibitor Package for $1,995, and you might get one (or more!) of these opportunities:

  • All startups who purchase a Startup Alley Exhibitor Package will be entered into a drawing to win 2 VIP Disrupt SF dinner tickets; a rare chance to mingle with TechCrunch editors, investors and other tech enthusiasts
  • One startup from Startup Alley will be selected at random every week leading up to Disrupt SF to be featured on our website and in an email as the “Startup Alley Spotlight of the Week”
  • 25 startups from Startup Alley will be selected at random every month leading up to Disrupt to have a 60-second flash pitch on the Showcase Stage (that’s 75 startups who get to pitch!)

These incentives are available for Startup Alley Exhibitor Package purchases right now — remember, all you have to do is buy a table (and you get THREE Founder passes to the full conference if you buy before July 25), and you could walk away from Disrupt with some shiny new connections, exposure and more! But don’t take our word for it — the CEO of Testcard.com, Luke Heron said, “If you’re a startup or an entrepreneur, exhibiting at Disrupt is a no-brainer.” Even Vlad Larin of Zeroqode told us that “TechCrunch Disrupt was a massively positive experience. It gave us the chance to show our technology to the world and have meaningful conversations with investors, accelerators, incubators, solo founders and developers.”

So, what are you waiting for? Secure your table today.

Weights & Biases raises $5M to build development tools for machine learning

Machine learning is one of those buzzwords that nearly every tech company likes to throw around nowadays — but according to Lukas Biewald, it represents a genuinely new approach to programming.

“Software has eaten a lot of the world, and machine learning is eating software,” Biewald said.

In his view, there are “fundamental” differences between the two approaches: “One important difference is if all you have is the code you used to train the program, you don’t really know what happened … If I had all the code that was used to train a self-driving car algorithm but I don’t have the data, I don’t know what went down.”

Along with Chris Van Pelt, Biewald previously founded CrowdFlower (now known as Figure Eight), which launched nearly a decade ago at the TechCrunch 50 conference, and which has created tools for training artificial intelligence.

Biewald (whom I’ve known since college) and Van Pelt, plus former Google engineer Shawn Lewis, have now started a new company called Weights & Biases to build new tools for machine learning developers. They’ve also raised $5 million in Series A funding from Trinity Ventures and Bloomberg Beta.

“Artificial Intelligence has so much potential, but few companies are implementing it yet because the development process is too complicated for all but a small number of highly trained engineers,” said Trinity’s Dan Scholnick, who’s joining the startup’s board of directors. (Scholnick previously backed CrowdFlower.) “W&B aims to dramatically streamline the machine learning software development process so that AI benefits can be unlocked across industries and no longer restricted to the few firms able to hire extremely skilled and extraordinarily expensive AI developers today.”

weights and biases screenshot

The eventual goal is to create a whole suite of development tools, but Weights & Biases’ first product records and visualizes the process of training a machine learning algorithm. Biewald explained that this makes it possible for developers to go back and see what they were doing, say, a month ago and to share that information with teammates. And it’s already being used by the nonprofit research company OpenAI.

Biewald added that when he talked to his friends in the field about their biggest problems, this was the first thing that came up. That’s how he hopes to approach future products as well — working with developers to figure out what they really need.

“I don’t want to help with the hype,” he said. “I want to help with the real problems that really get in the way … to make this stuff actually work.”

Biewald also offered more details about his vision for the company in a blog post:

You can’t paint well with a crappy paintbrush, you can’t write code well in a crappy IDE, and you can’t build and deploy great deep learning models with the tools we have now. I can’t think of any more important goal than changing that.

Motiv’s fitness ring can help you find a lost iPhone

I was surprisingly impressed when I tested out Motiv’s fitness ring. Honestly, I’m not a ring wearer myself, but it’s nice to see a hardware start think outside the fitness band — and produce a surprisingly capable product in the process. The company’s also done a pretty decent job continuing to add features to the little wearable.

Back in April, the ring got Alexa functionality and Android support. This week, the company announced some additional features for Amazon’s smart assistant, along with the ability to use the device to locate a lost phone. That last bit is one of the more compelling additions to the ring since launch. If the lost iPhone is within bluetooth range, a few twists of the ring will set the handset ringing and vibrating until you find the thing.

As for Alexa functionality, users can now ask the assistant for more detailed fitness information, including active minutes, calories, sleep and steps. Motiv has also added new social functionality to the ring, in the form of Circles, which lets users share activity feed with friends who also use the ring.

None are particularly earth shattering in and of themselves, but it’s nice to see the startup continuing to introduce innovative new features for the hardware.

Marketing Day: Pinterest tests wide-format Promoted Videos, Google My Business Q&A & more

Here’s our recap of what happened in online marketing today, as reported on Marketing Land and other places across the web.

From Marketing Land:

Recent Headlines From MarTech Today, Our Sister Site Dedicated To Marketing Technology:

Online Marketing News From Around The Web:


To become a public company, start operating like one early on

After their long post-financial-crisis slump, European tech IPOs are starting to rebound. Tech companies raised more money on European public markets between 2015-17 (€5.3 billion) than in the previous seven years combined. With venture capital having boomed in that time, that trend is set to continue: There is a generation of well-funded, fast-growing technology companies now eyeing the public markets as the platform for continued rapid growth. The pipeline is healthy. But what needs to be done to get ready for an IPO and, crucially, what comes next?

Money raised and market opportunity alone do not make for a public-company-in-waiting. You do not transform from a scrappy growth business into a tightly governed, transparent public company overnight. It has to be a gradual evolution, one which requires the right people, structures and mindset to be in place. Companies need to ask themselves not just if they want to pursue an IPO, but how exactly they plan to go about it, and how they will prepare for the realities of life as a public company.

Having advised three companies on their journey to an IPO, across three different geographies, I think there should be at least two years of careful planning between deciding to seek a listing and hearing the bell ring on your market open.

You have to start with bringing in the right people. A business can grow a long way on the back of an inspirational founding team, but as an aspiring public company, you need an experienced and high-performing management team as well. Do you have a CFO who has credibility with public market investors? Does the board have enough members with independent authority; will it meet the requirements of those institutional investors who now require a minimum quota of female directors?

Ultimately it comes down to one question: Can you start operating like a public company before you become one?

Your board will have to grow, not least to fulfill necessary governance functions, from audit to compensation and nomination committees. These are important and often complex hires, which can take anything from six months to a year to put in place. It also takes a while for new board members to start working well together and gain a detailed understanding of the company.

The composition of the board is just one area where a private company has to start asking itself new questions as it prepares for a listing. Another is the financial profile of the business and the trade-off between growth and profitability. Will investors give us credit for growing, say, 80 percent year over year? Should we front-load investments and associated losses, or incur them over time when required? The CEO also must think about how she is going to communicate with the market, and whether she needs others around her to give investors the full package. A very visionary and product-focused CEO, for example, will need to be complemented by a brilliant CFO who can handle detailed questions about the company’s finances.

A company thinking about going public also needs to evolve its mindset. After an IPO, you will no longer be a tight-knit group of founders, early hires and investors who know the business intimately. The relationship you have known with your private backers is going to bear no relation to the one you will experience with public market investors. As a public company, you are no longer being supportively cheered on, but independently scrutinized by investors who understand the business in less detail and are liable to react strongly to indicators whose significance they can easily misinterpret. In this environment, if you set an ambitious target, you can’t achieve only 95 percent of it and expect to be consoled and encouraged. Institutional investors are going to want to know why you didn’t exceed that target, let alone failed to meet it.

Ultimately it comes down to one question: Can you start operating like a public company before you become one? The companies that succeed post-IPO are those that have laid the foundation to make the transition from private to public as seamless as possible. There are rich rewards to be enjoyed on the public markets, but only for those who do the hard work in advance to ease into life as a public company. Europe’s fast-growing tech companies should consider not just whether an IPO is the right option for them, but if they are willing to put in the work that is necessary to make it a success.