Over the January break, I spent time thinking about a few related topics: 2013 as the year of the tablet (research suggesting 60+% growth rate in tablets this year), tablet warfare, the rise of Android, tablet form factors (research expecting smaller tablets to represent ~50% of tablet market this year), and the decline in Apple share price.
I watched the falling Apple share price with interest and read attempted explanations, most of which focused on Apple’s ‘loss of cool’ (particularly amongst teenagers more inclined to spend on lower-priced Androids). In recent weeks, steps taken by Apple to block Java updates have only added to negative sentiment around Apple’s autocratic decisions. Apple is still cool, and while unexpectedly less valued today, I certainly didn’t expect Microsoft to become cooler in recent times.
Other than in the office, where I rely on a Microsoft desktop, nearly all of my domestic and mobile life has converted to Apple. When out of the office, which includes a good deal of airport time, operating without an iPhone and iPad and all the connectivity they bring would be impractical (probably just like it was in the past with limited capability on a Blackberry, other than email).
But I was intrigued by the rise of Android and particularly the user experience. What had become very clear during 2012 was that IRESS couldn’t bias iOS in our own product planning. During 2012, some Australian banks were already prioritising Android app releases over iOS on the back of the Android rise.
Having wanted to trial the smaller 7” tablet form factor, thinking this might be a better size for regular interstate travel, I ventured out of Apple and bought a Google Nexus 7.
The Nexus has some great features. It’s experience is much more personalised than the iPad, mostly the desktop experience – where widgets are useful and apps are hidden away unless escalated to the user desktop (much less clutter). While not all apps have gone to the effort to support widgets, those that have improve the user experience.
Without a doubt, the best Nexus feature, is the ability to swipe to type (‘swype’). It is fast, easy and beats typing! As for form factor, 7” wins. It is ideal as an e-reader. The original iPad (10”) is too large and heavy to hold like a book although Apple’s 7” acknowledges this.
Android feels less polished than Apple’s iOS. Corporate email is close but just not there. Users are forced to use separate apps for Gmail and corporate email. Email is such a core function, I am surprised more effort hasn’t been put into it, particularly for corporate users. The difference between overall app quality in Apple’s AppStore and Google Play is also noticeable.
Android feels less integrated. If it is a Google app, integration is great, but integration between other apps is limited. While probably unfair, lack of integration back to regular apps and my existing Apple world limits the role of my Nexus. So, while it has some nice features, the integrated experience has meant I haven’t yet used the Nexus for travel or at the office but it is fast replacing my laptop while watching late night TV.
Despite all the Nexus personalisation features I like, it will be hard for the Nexus to compete with my iPad as a work tool, although I am sure will be handy for regular interstate travel. The value I place on integrated data and apps and not wanting to change all my regular apps to stay at the same place, is high.
Large value is placed on integration these days. The efficiency cost of standalone devices, apps, and components can often be higher than benefit of the niche features they offer. Similar applies the other way – the benefit of efficiency/integration can easily outweigh standalone benefits. Take iTunes – everyone knows about Apple’s closed DRM, but it just works, and managing content between all devices is eased – integration beats potential DRM restrictions. It is much more efficient to let iTunes manage the music libraries (although I can’t remember when I last bought a CD since using Spotify).
However, this blog wasn’t intended to be a tech review. There are strong analogies in wealth technology.
Over time, comparisons have been made between integrated advice platforms and niche standalone solutions. While niche applications offer some standalone functions, these are generally not integrated well (or at all) to the ecosystems of advisory businesses and dealer distribution groups. Like my personal world, today’s distribution businesses vitally depend on integration to achieve efficient operations, increasingly so with FoFA and RDR impacts.
Since the GFC, as it relates to IRESS’ experience, there has been increased push by distribution businesses to align technology to single vendor solutions that offer unified technology across different advice channels, client engagement and backoffice functions. The goal has been cost effective integration and efficiency (which usually translates to involving fewer vendors in the chain).
Regulatory change has been a key part of this drive by wealth businesses, but so has technological relevance. Advisory businesses are looking at new ways to meaningfully engage with clients, whether this is via marketing efforts, real-time referral integrations online, social media, client portals giving real-time access, or apps clients use to access and update personal information.
I often hear of vendors and distribution groups trying to solve these needs with disparate technologies or software solutions that aren’t innate extensions of (or tightly integrated to) the core advice platform. Without a technology backbone, a collection of components to achieve niche tasks simply adds more cost, often adds compliance risks or concerns, more time and more effort than is manageable by a large enterprise, let alone an IFA business.
The good news is that IRESS clients are leveraging these benefits – by deploying XPLAN across multiple advice segments (investment, risk, mortgage, equity broking) and distribution channels (full advice, phone, scaled, online), and importantly using XPLAN as a core integration platform that centralises compliance and oversight. The idea of a new tool that is not part of or tightly integrated into the core advisory platform feels as limiting as listening to music only on CD.