Virtual Reality Becoming More Mainstream

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Virtual reality is taking a few steps closer to the mainstream with Samsung unveiling a headset that brings the technology to its latest smartphones at half the price of its previous model, Facebook launching support for 360-degree video, and online video services like Netflix and Hulu jumping into the format.

Samsung said its new virtual reality headset will be 22% lighter and cost $99, half the price of its previous model. The Gear VR requires users to insert the latest version of a Samsung smartphone into the headset, and will ship in November.

Netflix content is available to be viewed in Oculus or Samsung headsets now, while Hulu said it would also bring its app to the Oculus platform where users can stream 2-D content. Meanwhile, Oculus said it would begin a certification program so consumers can look for a sticker that will identify which computers support its Oculus Rift headset, which is due to come out early next year.

 

Apple Axing Advertising

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Apple is waging a battle on advertising, as they have made ad-blocking software available on the iPhone with the new operating system iOS9. This likely undermines their arch-rival Google, which dominates the $120 billion online ad market.

For the first time, third-party software strip out marketing messages such as banner and video ads when people surf the web via the Safari browser. But Apple’s new approach will not affect advertising inside applications such as Facebook, casual games, or even Apple’s own applications. In effect, Apple is nudging companies to shift spending to apps, rather than traditional online ads where Google leads. 200 million people have used ad blockers last year, up 40% from a year earlier, resulting in $22 billion in lost advertising revenue.

Incidentally, Apple has launched their own news app, which will allow media companies to bypass blockers to serve their own ads or let Apple sell ads and share the revenue. It will be interesting to see how these moves made by Apple will affect its own interests, and if it will loosen Google’s hold on the mobile ad market.

Ding Dong the Fire Phone is Dead

As Apple demonstrated its brand new lineup of smartphones, it looks like Amazon was quietly killing off its own.

Amazon had been rumored to be working on a smartphone for years before the Fire Phone was unveiled. Just over a year ago we got our first look at the device, and all the predictions about Amazon’s phone being inexpensive were wrong; the high price tag and gimmicky features kept consumers away and the phone flopped. Now even Amazon has admitted defeat by ending sales of the device.

You would have to really dig for the Amazon Fire Phone now as most links to the phone in Amazon’s Fire device pages have been removed. When you do find them, both the AT&T and unlocked Fire Phone show up as unavailable and no more stock is expected. This isn’t just a question of running out, they just aren’t being offered for sale on Amazon’s website anymore.

Amazon’s move to stop producing the phone is no surprise. Despite all the buzz, it failed to become the success the company hoped. Only a few months after shipping, Amazon admitted last October that it took a $170 million charge mostly associated with the Fire phone and related supplier costs, and $83 million worth of phone inventory surplus.

While Amazon blamed the phone’s flop on badly pricing the device, some in the industry pinned the failure on the phone’s concept. Like Amazon’s other Fire devices, the Fire Phone ran a heavily customized version of Android without Google’s services. Amazon supplied the apps, music, video, and everything else. This was the Fire Phone’s greatest weakness as Amazon’s services lacked many of the features that make Android phones great. Fire OS is fine for a content consumption device like a tablet, but not a phone. The Fire Phone had a feature called “Dynamic Perspective” that used head tracking to adjust the UI, but it didn’t really make up for the missing features.

Google Getting Serious About Interstitials

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Yesterday, Google announced that as of November 1st, webpages need to get rid of any interstitials— those annoying prompts you get from some websites that want you to download their mobile app— or else face the penalty of losing priority in mobile search results:

“After November 1, mobile web pages that show an app install interstitial that hides a significant amount of content on the transition from the search result page will no longer be considered mobile-friendly.”

As discussed previously, more and more people are using their phones— not their laptops or desktops— to perform searches. Being considered non mobile-friendly can significantly impact organic traffic, as it’s known that Google aims to return only mobile-friendly sites in mobile search. Also, the Mobile Usability report in Search Console will warn you if it detects large app download interstitials. Rather than using app download interstitials, Google reminds that browsers promote apps in ways that are more user-friendly.

Back in late July, Google published a post on its blog asking people to reconsider using app download interstitials. History shows us that when Google issues a recommendation it is best to listen, because an algorithm update soon follows behind.