Burner App – Privacy and Flexibility in Mobile Telecommunication

Even though I was only going to be in Chicago for another seven days, I was nervous about giving him my phone number. I expected to find deals on craigslist, but $1,000 for 12 Montblanc pens was too good to be true. Was he setting me up to rob me?

Is this really the kind of person with whom I should be sharing my personal number? But if I don’t share a number, he’ll likely be thinking the same about me. I opted to share my number and despite my suspicions, he turned out to be harmless. He was a retired head of a private equity firm that was shedding some of his material things. I should be more trusting – or maybe I shouldn’t have to be.

Greg Cohn set out to address this problem back in 2012 with the Burner app (available on iOS and Android).

Burner provides a “privacy layer for your mobile phone that helps users take control of their identity in communications,” according to Greg Cohn, CEO of Burner, in a October 2015 interview with CNBC. His mission was to replicate the same flexibility people enjoy on the web on their phone. Just as people stand up and shut down email addresses for different purposes, he saw the same opportunity for phones.

With the burner app, you have the ability to create limitless new phone numbers for multiple purposes all for small fees. It’s a world where if you’re looking to keep various aspects of your life separate you can easily do so with different phone numbers, but without being encumbered by multiple phones. It might have been assumed that the true market for such a technology is limited to drug dealers, but three years into operations he has proven a sizeable market demand for this product.

In the early stages of mobilization, Mr. Cohn had a variety of strategies to consider. Should they focus on market penetration by giving away the app for free and allowing for free use of the app to accelerate market adoption? Such a strategy could prove effective if Mr. Cohn was looking for a quick exit from Burner, but he had other things in mind.

By 2015, Mr. Cohn was convinced sufficient demand existed for the product and opted to provide a seven-day free trial that would include 20 minutes of call time or 60 text messages to entice new users. After the short free trial, users would be charged tiered fees from $4.99 a month for a line that automatically renews each month to a variety of packages from around $2 to $5 a month for a variety of features.

But this wasn’t always the case, it’s unclear what may have been going on with Burner from 2012 to 2014, but in 2014, Burner announced they’d be providing one year free trials of the Burner app possibly due to an influx of funding and competition.

My own assessment of what was happened just prior to 2014 is Burner was reacting to fears of new market entrants and potentially looking at an exit. Such is based on Burner’s encounter with Hushed, a similar product that launched in 2013 threatening Burner’s market share with comparable pricing and mobilization strategies. In this encounter, Burner learned about the importance of protecting it’s intellectual property the hard way.

Hushed provides similar features with slightly varying back end functionality. Hushed utilizes data whereas Burner utilizes cell phone minutes for calls. The similarities are so striking that Mr. Cohn directly called out Hushed as a clone of Burner. In response, Hushed highlighted minor differences and stated firmly, “Burner does not have intellectual property rights in this area.” Battles ensued, but as evident by the current market penetration of both Hushed and Burner, there is plenty of market space for both.

And if there is one thing learned from the CEO of Big Skinny Wallets, you don’t have to be first to market to prove profitable. In 2015, there are so many competitors in this space on the app store, it’s surprising Burner was able to maintain a fairly dominant market share. In October 2015, Burner was the number one utility app in the iOS app store and in the top ten of utility apps in the Android play store.

Greg Cohn is featured in a variety of articles and was recently featured on CNBC where he “app developers recipe for success.” With multiple reports citing earnings in the seven figures annually, Mr. Cohn knows how to turn a profit. By focusing his launch strategy on creating a sustainable transactional business model, he’s established a profitable platform that he can continue to scale. With a strong mobilization strategy to gain market share, addressing people’s demands for privacy and greater options for telecommunication, Mr. Cohn has, indeed, found the recipe for success.

Thank you Greg Cohn, my craigslist ventures can continue unencumbered by my fears about giving out my phone number, but wait dangerous people have phones too. They could still be looking to rob me, what would they need my phone for anyway. Maybe I need to be more careful – but maybe I shouldn’t have to be – is there an app for that?

More data on Burner:

Burner is available on iOS and Android, and comes with a free trial that lasts seven days, 20 minutes, or 60 messages.

Pricing is as follows;

Premium line for 4.99 a month, unlimited texts, minutes, and pictures. Automatically renews every month. Buy Credits

3 Credits 1.99

8 credits 4.99

15 credits 7.99

25 credits 11.99

Packages :

Picture burner, Cost: 8 credits, includes 100 texts, ability to send pics, 50 minutes of call time, and auto burns in 30 days.

Mini burner, Cost: 3 credits, includes 60 texts, no pics, 20 minutes of call time, and auto-burns in 14 days.

Text-only burner, Cost 5 credits, includes 250 texts, no pics or call time, and auto burns in 30 days.

Standard Burner, Cost: 5 credits, includes 150 texts, no pics, 50 minutes of call time, and auto burns in 30 days.

Unlimited burner, Cost: 8 credits, unlimited texts, no pics, unlimited minutes, and auto burns in 30 days.

 References:

Watch small video featuring CEO Burner Greg Cohn

http://www.cnbc.com/2015/10/19/an-app-developers-recipe-for-success.html

Burner Website

http://www.burnerapp.com/about/

Is Hushed app a clone of Burner – a column

http://techcrunch.com/2013/03/13/when-is-it-more-than-inspiration-burner-ceo-calls-out-hushed-as-an-obvious-clone/

About Burner Column

http://www.theverge.com/2014/12/18/7414869/burner-phone-theres-an-app-for-that

Trial and Free for 1 year announcement in 2014.

http://www.burnerapp.com/press-release-november-20-2104/

By: Randall Trani


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How iOS 7 Could Disrupt the International Phone Call Market

A little known feature on Apple’s new iOS 7 operating system could potentially disrupt the international phone market. The new app is called Facetime. While most iPhone users know Facetime well, what they probably do not know is that the app received a makeover with the latest iOS release. Now iPhone users have the option to Facetime audio. Ever since the release of iOS 5 in 2011, users have had the ability to make Facetime video-chat calls over 3G networks. What the new functionality allows users to do is less. Apple now is giving users the option make video-chat calls without the video. Most people would say that this sounds pretty boring. That it is nothing more than the ability to make a normal phone call. And they would be exactly right. The “so what” is that two iPhone users in different cities, states, or more importantly, countries, or continents can now make pure data phone calls to each other through a native phone application. The question is: how will this affect the international phone call market?

First things first, this is not an earth-shattering new technology. Many critics will assert that other Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) applications such as Skype, Tango, Talkatone, and Viber have given users this functionality for at least the past few years. While this is true, none of these companies have been overly successful at gaining a substantial market share for multiple reasons. One such reason is that for any of these apps to work, both participating parties must have the same application installed. As a result, many cellular phone owners have multiple VOIP applications and rarely use any because of the hassle of maintaining multiple contact lists. Additionally for any of these applications to work, users have to allow them to run in the background of their phones utilizing precious battery life and processor speed. Facetime solves both of these problems by being integrated into iOS 7. It utilizes the phones organic contact list, so users do not have to shuffle to find a phone number and remains dormant while not in use just as the previous version of itself did, to preserve battery life and processor speed.

So the underlying question is whether or not large telephone companies should be concerned. Although Apple holds approximately 40% of cellphone market in the United States, its worldwide numbers are not nearly as high. Commanding only a 25% global market share, Apple is not placing its new, industry changing software in everyone’s hands; however, whether or not it will be in enough people’s hands to make the telephone companies feel a little queasy is a different story. Apple has broken down the barriers to adoption of its new technology by making it as simple to use as a standard phone. All you have to do is open your iPhone’s contact list, find a friend with an iPhone, select Facetime audio, and chat away.

 


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Fresh out of the Thanksgiving holiday shopping spree, a few interesting reports came out digging into the Black Friday-Cyber Monday ecommerce shopping performance. cialis sale

rts/black-friday-2012.html” target=”_blank”>According to IBM, mobile engagement continued to soar, making up 24% of the traffic and 16% of the sales. Fab.com, a design-focused ecommerce startup, has been seeing very interesting mobile stats on sales and the dominance of the iOS platform – revenue from its mobile apps reached 25% of total sales just 30 weeks post-app launch (95% of which came from iPhone & iPad), and mobile apps generated over 1/3 of its Black Friday-Cyber Monday sales. This phenomena is not hard to undersand – people are simply spending more time with their phones than with their computers.

The continued rise of smartphone led to an appreciation for a “mobile first web second” strategy – in order to deliver the “right” mobile experience, you have to start building your product with the mobile UX/UI in mind (vs. building a website and then repurpose the web experience to mobile). As a result, countless startups focused all their resources and energy to build a killer iOS app (why iOS first? because it continues to dominate Android on engagement and monetization) only to realize there are some serious flaws in this approach.

Some of the issues around building a “mobile first/mobile only” product can be attributed to the unique properties of a mobile device (e.g. smaller screen translates into a constant battle between usability and monetization, small/ineffective ad units, etc.), but a few of the key problems can be traced back to how Apple runs its App Store.

Problems:

  • Discovery/Distribution – One of the key differences between the web and mobile is that there is no SEO/SEM in the App Store, a key tool for organic traffic and paid marketing for driving visitors to your websites. Yes, you can “kind of” buy pay-per-installs through ad networks such asTapjoy and Flurry, but Apple continues to crack down the whole pay-per-install model with its latest App Store rule change. The sheer volume of apps in App Store plus its notoriously random “Featured Apps” system makes it extremely hard for an app to gain any organic visibility. In short, no one has cracked the app distribution nut and Apple is not helping.
  • App Approval Process & Cumulative Reviews – In a web environment you can iterate much more cheaply and faster than you can do so on mobile. For one, it costs much less to build a “minimum viable website” to test key hypotheses than to develop a fully-functional native app. Apple’s app approval process has improved over the years in terms of speed and transparency, but it is still a barrier for fast iteration and testing (wait time running up to to three weeks). Furthermore, the fact that all Ratings & Reviews of an app is carried over across versions means that the first version “can’t suck.” The only way to avoid “getting on the app store stage before you’re ready” (to avoid bad reviews) nd test your app with users is through Apple’s Ad Hoc distribution (but you’re limited to 100 beta testers) or third-party hacks such as TestFlight.
  • Apple’s 30% Cut – Apple charges 30% revenue share on gross revenue generated through apps (in-app purchase AND ad revenue). 30% off the top is great profit for Apple in the short-term, but if no one can build a real mobile business in the iOS ecosystem given the high customer acquisition costs (see “Discovery/Distribution” above) and the hefty 30% payment to Apple (and we haven’t taken into account credit card payment processing, taxes, etc.), Apple might have a problem in the long run.

So what can you (and Apple do) beyond reconsidering the above policies?

  • (You) Build Web Presence to Drive Mobile Download – Instead of “mobile first web second,” maybe the alternative strategy is “mobile product web marketing” – leveraging traditional SEO/SEM and the web’s larger screen to do more effective, targeted marketing and a simpler on-boarding process. You do the “selling/convincing” on your homepage, walk the user through a sign-up process to create an account, then bring the user to the App Store to download the app. An example: I found out about Lift through an article and arrived at its homepage, which did exactly the above. I would’ve never thought of looking for the Lift app in the App Store otherwise. Instagram also leveraged its web presence (via shared Instagram photo landing pages) to drive awareness and downloads.
  • (Apple) Native “Share An App” Function and Referral API – The major benefit of Apple’s “closed” App Store ecosystem is that the user experience is much more unified across all apps. Contrary to the web environment, there’s no easy way to create a mobile viral loop among iOS devices to facilitate sharing an app with friends. One thing Apple should consider is to build in a native “Share An App” function that sits within each iOS app, so a user can easily spread the word with contacts who have iOS devices. To push this thought further, Apple could develop a referral credit API (e.g. invite a friend and get $10 credit when the friend installs/purchases) to further help facilitate native viral loops within the iOS environment.

Apple’s iOS ecosystem is currently enjoying the mindshare of developers, and developers need a thriving ecosystem that can help them build a business. It’s a fine balance to strike between maintaining the integrity of the user experience and optimizing on monetization, but Apple should start spending more time to help developers make a plausible business case by investing in “mobile first on iOS.”


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 It’s been a week since the iPhone 5 went on sale and in that time Apple has sold well over 10 million devices in what is without a doubt the most successful product launch in technology history. That same week, Apple released its iOS 6 software for use on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch, and a staggering 100 million users have already upgraded to that software. Despite all of the amazing reviews for the iPhone 5 and staggering statistics, almost all of the media coverage during the past week has been focused on the poor performance of Apple’s new maps application.

When the original iPhone launched in 2007, one of the greatest features was the ability to interact with maps software using a touchscreen interface. The ability to zoom-in and zoom-out of the map with a pinch of your fingers was truly revolutionary. Apple licensed Google’s mapping software for its iPhone maps application, and since many users were already familiar with Google’s browser-based maps products, using maps on the iPhone felt perfectly natural. Whether searching for a local restaurant or for directions to a new shopping center, the results one would get on the browser-based Google maps and iPhone maps app were basically the same. Google made a fortune from having their mapping software power the iPhone maps app in the form of royalties Apple paid Google to access the Google Maps API. In addition, many iOS developers paid a fee to Google to access the Google Maps API from within their apps.

However, in the five years since the first iPhone launched the relationship between Google and Apple has soured. Many at Apple felt that Google’s launch of the Android operating system for mobile devices was a direct attack at Apple and stemmed from insider knowledge Google CEO Eric Schmidt obtained while on the Apple board. With the development of iOS 6, Apple decided it was finally time to kick Google out of its preinstalled apps. Apple no longer supplies a default YouTube app in its software, and more importantly decided to develop its own maps application.

In partnership with Tom Tom and Yelp, Apple launched the Apple maps app in June 2012 in the beta release of iOS 6. Interestingly, Apple decided not to launch a browser-based version of its maps application. In addition, Apple is allowing iOS app developers to access its maps API for free. When iOS 6 was released to the public last week, the resulting Apple maps app looked like it was still in beta form. The new maps app had trouble locating destinations that Google Maps found with ease, and Apple’s “fly over” 3-D images resembled a distorted-reality scene from the movie Inception for numerous locales. In addition, the new maps software lacks transit directions, a vital feature for many maps users in urban locales. Media outlets jumped on the story immediately, and for the past week have been running stories non-stop about customers’ frustrations with the new Apple maps app.  Google CEO Eric Schmidt publicly stated mid-week that it was Apple’s decision, and not Google’s, to abandon Google in the maps app. The situation has gotten so bad that only one week after the iPhone 5 launched, Apple CEO Tim Cook has issued a public letter to Apple customers apologizing for the frustrations customers have had using Apple’s new maps app, and in addition to saying Apple will work on improving the software, went so far as to recommend customers use competitors’ maps apps and websites for the time being.

A quick search of the iOS App Store for maps apps brings up numerous options including Bing Maps and MapQuest, yet has one glaring omission – Google Maps. Despite numerous rumors that Google will eventually create a standalone Google Maps app for iOS, one does not currently exist today. Some technology blogs speculate this is because Google never planned on launching an iOS Google Maps app and that its development will take several months, but I don’t buy it. Eric Schmidt is taking this opportunity to bask in the glory that the public finally appreciates that Google can do something better than Apple. On Wednesday, he made public comments that he thinks it was a mistake for Apple to drop Google Maps and that he’d be willing to work with them again if they wanted. He’s enjoying his moment as the hero while portraying Apple as the villain.

However, I think Google needs to step off its high horse for a moment and realize the opportunity in front of them. Millions of users are frustrated with Apple’s maps app and longing to use Google maps again. Millions. If Google were to launch a Google Maps app right now, it would have millions of downloads every day for weeks and instantly become the go-to maps app for most iOS users. Google could then use that opportunity to further embed ads into its maps app, something it should theoretically be very good at it. Interestingly, Google has done a very poor job of generating ad revenue from maps to date and instead relies on license fees from third-parties accessing the maps API. However, now is the perfect opportunity to change the Google Maps ad model. iOS users are longing for Google Maps so badly right now that Google could plasters ads all over the app and users wouldn’t complain.

 Instead of following this very lucrative strategy, Google is standing back and letting an ideal opportunity pass by. Perhaps Google believes that all of the negative Apple maps publicity will push iOS users to switch to phones running Google’s own Android OS, yet I believe that is very unlikely. There are such high switching costs to changing mobile operating systems (the apps you bought on iOS would need to be rebought on Android, in addition to needing to relearn how the OS works), and due to 2-year contracts with carriers it’s not possible to frequently switch phones. As Google sits back and watches the situation unfold, it is also giving other companies the opportunity to swoop in and attract new users. Bing Maps and Mapquest already have maps apps in the iOS store, and perhaps customers will start downloading those as their replacements for Apple’s native maps app. If users have good experiences with the Bing Maps app, for example, perhaps they will start using Bing Maps on their desktop browsers and even start using Bing search, which will be a direct blow to Google’s core search product. 

Eric Schmidt is probably sitting in his office right now smiling as he watches the Apple PR machine struggle to fend off the negative publicity the new Apple maps app has created. Instead, he should be out on the engineering floor supervising an effort to get a Google Maps iOS app available for download as quickly as possible. Google has the rare opportunity at this moment to be a hero and save iOS users from Apple’s terrible mistake while keeping iOS users accustomed to using Google’s products. Instead, it’s forcing iOS users to try products from Google’s competitors, such as Bing, which may prove way more costly to Google in the long run than any joy it currently gets from watching Apple squirm. 

 


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How HTML5 will end platform wars.

“We support two platforms at Apple. Two. The first is HTML5 […] and the second is the AppStore”

–Steve Jobs, WWDC 2010

War of the platforms 1.0

A lot has been written about the “platform wars” between Apple and Microsoft. The quick summary is as follows:

Apple has established the dominant position in mass market personal computing in the 1980s. It has been able to establish this position by integrating its hardware and operating system into a single package – the Macintosh. Popular applications such as VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet software have been created for that platform thus forcing consumers seeking to use those applications to chose the Mac platform over its competitors.

Microsoft chose a different strategy. By licensing its Windows operating system to many hardware manufacturers Microsoft managed to establish a wide hardware footprint, which translated into a larger install base, which in turn made independent software vendors prioritize development of Windows applications over Mac ones. Furthermore, this strategy commoditized the hardware market thus enabling Microsoft to extract tremendous profits from the ecosystem that it nurtured.

In the mid 1990s Apple tried to adopt the Microsoft strategy by licensing its operating system to other hardware manufacturers – the so-called clones. However by that point Microsoft market domination was too large and Apple’s market share continued to slide.

Upon his return to Apple, Steve Jobs quickly killed the clone program and started to gradually rebuild the company by focusing on trendy esthetically appealing computers as well as the Mac OS X, the new operating system. Jobs also took care to make sure that Microsoft will continue developing its Office Suite for Mac.

War of the platforms 2.0

With the introduction of its iPhone, which came with the new operating system iOS, Apple kicked off the post-PC era. Google quickly followed with the Android operating system starting the current platform war for dominance in mobile devices.

Seemingly taking the page out of the Microsoft playbook Google opted to license Android to hardware manufacturers. Google succeeded in getting most major phone and tablet manufacturers to use Android. Today the Android market share exceeds that of iOS. The two companies are competing for developers and independent software vendors. While first-mover advantage allowed Apple to establish a sizable ecosystem, Google is gaining. Majority of popular mobile applications today are available on both iOS and Android.

Adobe Flash

Adobe carved out a niche for its Flash technology. Primarily used for creating rich web-based applications especially those with video, Flash is basically a platform within a platform. An application written in flash will work on Mac, Windows, Solaris and other systems as long as the user has downloaded the Flash player. So by choosing the Flash technology developers don’t have to choose development for Windows versus Mac versus another platform thus diminishing the importance of the operating system as far as flash-based applications are concerned. Adobe in turn is able to sell expensive developer tools, which developers are forced to buy in order to be able to reach the Flash install base.

Apple refused to support Flash on its iOS devices. Adobe accused Apple of stifling cross-platform development, while Apple motivated its lack of support for Flash by purely technological choices (See Steve Jobs’ Thoughts On Flash).

HTML 5 and its long-term impact

HTML 5 is going to allow creation of web-based applications by enabling the browser to run more complex processes such as video rendering, complex data operations and others, in effect making the browser the operating system. Just like with Flash, an application developed for HTML 5 will work on any device that has a browser with HTML 5 support. Unlike Flash however HTML 5 will not be controlled by any one company. It will be a completely open standard meaning that anybody will be able to create an HTML 5 browser and anybody will be able to create an HTML 5 application.

If we assume that majority of software applications will in the future become web-based and if we further assume that HTML 5 will become the dominant platform, that means that the majority of software created in the future will be completely operating-system agnostic. This has two important implications:

1. Because developers won’t be choosing between competing platforms, no company will be able to muscle its way to dominance by aggressively signing on developers.

 2.Because most applications will run on most devices, consumers will not be locked into any specific platform.

This will fundamentally shift competitive dynamics between technology platforms. Instead of competing to establish platform dominance and then protecting that dominance the way Microsoft did in late nineties, competition will increasingly be based on hardware. The role of the hardware operating systems will be to optimize the fundamental hardware characteristics such as battery life and usability. This means that hardware will play a more important role in the competition of technology platforms and will cease to be a commodity.

Steve Jobs’ quote in the beginning of this post as well as the fact that Apple is one of the major contributors to the HTML 5 format, suggests that Apple believes in the above turn of events and prefers competition on hardware to that of competition on third-party software ecosystems.

Google’s recent acquisition of Motorola Mobility suggests that Google too believes that that’s where we are headed. Google understands that it needs to create hardware that’s tightly integrated with software and that will be able to stand on its own in competition with Apple and other hardware manufacturers.

Microsoft is late to the race (again). The company recently introduced its touch operating system – Windows Phone. In its marketing materials Microsoft is touting compatibility with popular Microsoft applications such as Office and Xbox Live. Microsoft is also reaching into its developer community to ensure broader software availability as well as partnering with major hardware manufacturers to produce devices that run on Windows Phone. Microsoft is also investing heavily in Silverlight, a proprietary platform that competes with Flash.

What this all means for consumers?

I think that the consumers will benefit from the new competitive dynamics. By not having to worry about whether a particular device will be able to run our favorite applications we will be a lot more free in choosing which devices to buy. I also believe that smaller device manufacturers will proliferate. Who knows, maybe there’s another Apple in the making.


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