It’s time for PC game demos to make a comeback

 

I’ve been privately lamenting the lack of PC game demos lately. There was a time when demos were commonplace: a chunk of a brand new game you could try out for free before you bought the full game. Demos gave us a chance not only see what a game had to offer and whether or not we enjoyed it, but also allowed us to continually tweak the settings and try different graphics options to see how our PCs handled it. Plus, instead of waiting months for a sale to try the game without a lot of risk, you could play right when the game came out, while everyone else was still talking about it.

While I was at PDXCon this past weekend I spent a few minutes talking with Kim Nordstrom, former general manager of Swedish game company King and current leader of Paradox Interactive’s mobile initiative. We chatted about PC and mobile games, and especially about Introversion’s Prison Architect, which is making an unlikely appearance on mobile platforms with Paradox as the publisher. Nordstrom’s plan for Prison Architect provide a few lessons PC games could learn from with its unusual, almost shareware-era approach to pricing.

Mobility

Big, meaty mobile games have a challenge when it comes to sales. The roots of mobile are in free games, or exceedingly cheap ones: 99 cents, maybe a couple of dollars. Pricing a mobile game at $15 or $20 is a dubious prospect, which is why so many are free-to-play with microtransactions: get the game into players’ hands first, and try to get money out of them later. The issue is that ‘microtransaction’ has become something of a dirty word, and that’s mostly true on PC as well. While there are a number of great free-to-play games on PC like Dota 2 and League of Legends, there are scores more that have left us highly suspicious of the F2P model, with gated progress and gameplay designed around making you so damn impatient you’ll pay just to advance at a reasonable pace.Image result for It's time for PC game demos to make a comeback

On mobile, Prison Architect will cost around $15. That feels like a fair price for what you get—it’s a complex management simulation and a great gameone of my favorites from 2015—but Nordstrom knows simply plopping it on mobile stores with that price tag probably won’t fly. So it will be free to download, and unlocking the complete game lands somewhere between free-to-play and full-price.

“It’s not a free-to-play with microtransactions, nothing like that, it caps at $15 right now,” Nordstrom told me. “But we basically just made it so anyone can install it, and it’s a try before you buy.”

Nordstrom holds out his hands a few inches apart, then widens them as he describes how the game unlocks more content for those who purchase it in chunks. “And the game size is this big, we offer you this much for free, and then we’re very clear on if you pay whatever dollars, you get the sandbox, if you pay [more] you get the chapters, and if you pay the full price you get the full game.”

So, you get to play a portion of the game as much as you want for free, just like a PC demo. Inside the game itself there’s a store that lets you unlock the rest of the features at certain price points. While that sounds suspiciously like microtransactions, there’s a difference: the total amount you can spend is capped. You won’t be nickel-and-dimed forever. If you decide to spend money, you’ll know exactly how much, in advance, it will cost you, and once you’ve spent it, you’re done. You own everything, and you’re never prompted or even tempted to spend more.

The demo, man

As Tyler concluded recently, big-publisher games can cost a lot on PC, especially when you factor in their many special editions, and that along with having no way to try a game before buying it has kept me away from a lot of games in the past few years. With Steam refunds, you can play a game for two hours before returning it or deciding to keep it but as we pointed out recently with Prey, which had a console demo but irritatingly none on PC, that’s nothing like a proper demo at all. (The reason given by Prey’s co-creative director Raphael Colantonio was “It’s just a resource assignment thing. We couldn’t do a demo on both the console and on the PC, we had to choose.”)

Sometimes there are free weekends for games, which are great, but that’s usually well after launch (this weekend’s Rising Storm 2 beta excepted) and usually long after people are actively talking about the game and your friends are still playing it. I’ve never bought a game just for a pre-order bonus, because pre-purchasing isn’t a great idea and the bonuses aren’t much to speak of (what am I really going to do with a digital art book, besides either flip through it once and forget it, or completely forget to flip through it at all). And pre-orders don’t always include a discount, so there’s rarely any real reason to pre-purchase anything.

We do get a few demos nowadays—though most often they don’t arrive as a game is released, such as Dishonored 2’s demo which came months after launch—but we need more, and more games with something like Prison Architect’s mobile model. If Deus Ex: Mankind Divided had been downloadable for free on day one, with a nice chunk of it playable indefinitely (like Prison Architect’s mobile version), players who were undecided about purchasing it for $60 could have gotten a good long look at what it has to offer. It would have given players like me time to play with a selection of augs and try out different playstyles. And it would’ve provided us with a good chance tweak the settings to see how well the it ran on our PCs, something the two-hour Steam refund window simply doesn’t allow for (and really shouldn’t be used for anyway).

If a potential customer such as myself ultimately decides not to buy the rest, what does the publisher really lose? I know creating game demos means more work, and that it’s not as simple as cutting off a slice of the game and plopping it in a folder. But in addition to demos being beneficial to gamers, developers and publishers can gain valuable information from making free demos available. As Kim Nordstrom told me, there’s value not just in the sales a company makes but in having information about the sales they didn’t make.

“The problem is that we as a company, we would never learn if we [had] a $4.99 price point in a storefront, or even a $14.99, because we wouldn’t know,” Nordstrom said. “We would just know who bought it, [but] we wouldn’t know who didn’t [buy] it.”

Information on who didn’t buy your game is useful. How many people were interested enough to download it but were turned off by something in the opening hours? How many people were willing to pay some, but not all, of the full price? Plus, it could whet the appetite of some customers who would then buy later during a sale instead of simply forgetting about it. This strikes me as a net positive for both developers and players.

Even if people don’t buy Prison Architect on mobile after trying it for free, Nordstrom says, “…they’ll play the game and if they enjoy it they might get interested in the company, or the brand, or Introversion’s games, and such. And they might spread it in terms of [word of mouth], and some people say ‘Holy crap, this is a great game, I’m going to buy it.'”

For publishers and developers, demos put a game in front of more players on launch day, provides them with additional information on how their game is being played and received, and can increase interest in their games even if not everyone who tries them, buys them. They can even get more technical feedback if their game is having problems on launch day. For players, they’re given a chance to sample more new games, to properly try before they buy, and less incentive to abuse Steam’s refund policy or wait months for a sale. PC demos are good for everyone, and it’s time for them to make a comeback.

Sony Launches 2017 Lineup of Its 4K HDR TVs in India

 

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The range starts at Rs. 72,900 for 43-inch X70E
  • Goes up to Rs. 6,04,900 for 75-inch X94E
  • Most are already available via Sony stores

Sony has launched the 2017 models of its 4K HDR TV line-up in India, starting at Rs. 72,900 for the 43-inch model. A total of 17 models are being launched across six different series: X95E, X94E/ X93E, X90E, X82E, X75E, and X70E. While most of them go on sale this week in Sony stores across India, some will be releasing in the near future. There’s no mention of Sony’s OLED 4K TV, which stole the show at CES 2017.

The biggest and most expensive of the lot is the 75-inch X94E, which costs a whopping Rs. 6,04,900. The X95E is Sony’s new top of the line 4K HDR TV, priced at Rs. 3,04,900 for the 55-inch model, and Rs. 4,04,900 for the 65-inch one. The X93E comes after that, coming in at Rs. 2,64,900 for 55-inch, and Rs. 3,64,900 for the 65-inch.

Stepping down further, you get the X90E series, which starts at a slightly more reasonable Rs. 1,54,900 for the 49-inch model. The 55-inch and 65-inch X90E models cost Rs. 2,04,900 and Rs. 2,84,900 respectively. Further down the line you’ve the X82E, costing Rs. 87,900 for 43-inch, Rs. 1,24,900 for the 49-inch, and Rs. 1,54,900 for the 55-inch.

In the X70E line-up, you can choose from the aforementioned 43-inch model, at Rs. 72,900. If you need something bigger, the 49-inch X70E costs Rs. 94,900. That leaves the X75E – in 43-, 49-, 55- and 65-inch variants – which don’t have prices or a release date yet.

The reason the X94E is so expensive isn’t just for its size (75-inch), but also because it has direct LED technology in its panel, as opposed to edge LED on the rest of the 2017 Sony line-up. That means the LEDs are behind the panel, which provides better contrast and brightness, at the expense of thickness and a premium. The X90E models also have direct LED.Sony Launches 2017 Lineup of Its 4K HDR TVs in India

To compensate on the X95E and X93E (which have edge LED), Sony is touting “Slim Backlight Drive+” for more brightness, which it says brings more accurate local dimming control. From X90E upwards, the Sony 4K HDR TVs also have better systems for picture processing, and clarity, and contrast enhancement.

In terms of connectivity, you get four HDMI inputs on X82E onwards. While the X82E has two on the side and the back, X90E has three on the side and one on the back. There is one on the side and three at the bottom in the X93E, X94E, and X95E. The X70E has three in total, two on the side and one in the back.

The entire Sony X-series runs Android TV 7.0 Nougat by default, with Sony’s own interface running on top of it. The Android aspect is stressed on the remote as well, with dedicated buttons for Netflix, Google Play Store, and YouTube. All of Sony’s 2017 Android TVs are part of Netflix’s recommended programme, if that’s a checkbox for you.

 

Sony consolidating its flagships is probably for the best

 

Despite not performing as well as many of the other big brands in the smartphone business, Sony has made it clear that it will stick it out in the handset market. The latest reports suggest that the company has two more flagship models heading our way this year.

While still unconfirmed, it appears that Sony is looking to consolidate its premium tier of smartphones with its upcoming releases. A move that I believe not only makes financial sense, but is likely to help the company’s struggling brand awareness too. Even if this means that a few consumer favourites, such as the Compact range, may be sacrificed.

Xperia XYZ

Sony has long been criticized for releasing too many smartphones, and this goes right back to the days of the Z1, Z3, and Z3+, etc. Arguably, the situation has become even more confusing in the past year or so, following Sony’s adoption of its Premium and Performance branding.

400 quatloos to whoever can detail the differences between the Xperia XZ, XZs, XZ Premium, X Compact, X Performance, and the regular X model off the top of their head.

400 quatloos to whoever can detail the differences between the Xperia XZ, XZs, XZ Premium, X Compact, X Performance, and the regular X model off the top of their head. Remember, that’s just over one year’s worth of premium tier releases from Sony. While we enthusiasts have the benefit of breaking down spec sheets for fun, imagine how bewildering this range would look stacked up on a physical store display. How would you pick?

It’s no wonder that marketing seems completely absent for so many of Sony’s phones, yet a clear cut message and notable differentiation is essential when trying to market premium tier products to consumers. By cutting out its “Premium Standard” models – which includes the Xperia X and X Compact – Sony will almost certainly see an improvement to consumer understanding of its product range. This instantly helps with marketing and will importantly make its product range easier to breakdown and compare to other flagship models.

That being said, releasing four premium tier products a year is still probably a couple too many. Although if there’s a notable differentiation between some of them, such as a Compact or Phablet model released part way through the year ala LG’s V series or Samsung’s Note, then this might just fly.

It’s time to cut costs

Furthermore, eliminating the diversity of its top-tier products could be a sensible cost cutting measure for a company whose mobile division pulls in considerably less revenue than the likes of Apple and Samsung. We know that Sony Mobile has been underperforming financially for a while now, so this is a much needed move.

Even if Sony doesn’t actually cut down the number of high-end products it releases each year, it’s still looking like four, manufacturing phones with more components in common saves hugely on costs. Component stock can be shared between models, meaning that Sony won’t get caught out holding a lot of mid-tier processors if a phone doesn’t sell. Similarly, software development and support costs and times are lowered, as chip and hardware feature implementations can be shared.

Currently, across Sony’s Premium Standard and Flagship models you’ll find a Snapdragon 650, 820, and 835, combined with a selection of 4K, 1080p, and 720p panels and various Quick Charge implementations. Distilling this down to a single core specification but packaged in different sized units, as Samsung is does with the S8 and S8 Plus, would be more cost effective. But we’ll have to wait and see if that’s actually what Sony has planned.

The drawbacks

Of course, such a move makes it inevitable that some of Sony’s more interesting products will disappear. The Compact range remains a favourite of those who want a powerful phone in a small form factor, but it’s always been a more niche product than more profitable phablets. It’s likely that the Compact range will be a casualty if Sony follows through with this plan, unless the company makes an unlikely move and releases a sub 5-inch flagship as one of its two releases reportedly planned for later in the year.

The Compact range remains a favourite of those who want a powerful phone in a small form factor, but it’s likely to be a casualty of Sony’s reshuffle.

Similarly, the value proposition of the Xperia X also looks set to disappear. While this diversity is part of Sony’s problem, there’s something to be said about offering a cost competitive alternative to the big players in order to gain market share. I don’t know how well this would work out for Sony as a Plan A, but the overshadowed Xperia X didn’t exactly seem like a solid commitment that we could use to gauge consumer appetite from. Sony would clearly rather view itself competing at the premium tier rather than fighting it out in the bargain bin.

These and other interesting products, such as the Z Ultra, have previously helped Sony stand out, and there is a risk that simply copying the a formula used by others could cause Sony’s Xperia handsets to become further lost in the crowd, especially if the hardware isn’t all that different between generations.

Could Sony consolidate further?

Perhaps then, simply reshuffling its flagship models doesn’t go far enough to revamp the company’s image and portfolio in a way that will make a meaningful difference. In reality, it looks like Sony is essentially going back to its previous method of two major announcements a year, which will probably be just as infuriating as it was with the Xperia Z series.

Instead, I think Sony could do with being bolder, releasing yet fewer products but with a clearer purpose to each. Really, only one major flagship per year is required, with perhaps a secondary product released to maintain momentum. Apple, Samsung, LG, and to a lesser extent Huawei have done quite well using this model.

I would quite happily take a bells and whistles flagship Xperia launch at the start of the year, followed up by a compelling aggressively priced S or Compact model part way through the year to cater to those who didn’t fancy splashing the cash on one of the year’s flagships. Two meaningful handsets that don’t cannibalize each other and that could be marketed with a suitable budget to finally give the brand some much needed recognition. But what do I know?

 

Motorola delays its Power Pack Moto Mod add-on until later this spring

 

Motorola has pushed back the release of one of its upcoming Moto Mod add-ons for its Moto Z family of smartphones. The Power Pack Moto Mod, which was supposed to be available in March 2017, will now be released sometime later this year.

Motorola first announced the Power Pack Moto Mod in late February at its 2017 Mobile World Congresstrade show press event. At the time, the company said the add-on would increase the battery life of any Moto Z smartphone by 50 percent, but without adding any extra bulk to those phones. The Moto Mod was projected to cost $49.

However, with March 2017 now come and gone with no Power Pack Moto Mod launch, Motorola has now admitted the add-on will be out later in the spring, according to a statement sent to Phandroid from a company spokesperson. The report did not offer a reason for the delay, nor did it give a more specific release date. That means the Power Pack add-on might not be out until sometime in mid-June.

Motorola revealed it has many upcoming first-party Moto Mods planned during its MWC 2017 event, including a gamepad designed to snap onto the back of its Moto Z phones. It is supposed to give hardcore gamers features found on controllers made for game consoles, such as buttons, triggers, and a D-pad. It is slated to be released sometime this summer. Other upcoming Moto Mods from the company include one that will add access to Amazon’s Alexa voice command digital assistant, along with one that adds wireless charging support to the Moto Z phones.

Motorola is also working with third-party developers that could result in even more Moto Mod products being launched. Many of these teams have already tried to raise funding to make and sell them via Indiegogo. Hopefully we won’t have to wait too much longer to see these new Moto Mods in the marketplace.

 

Samsung Makes Google Play Music the Default Music App and Service on Its Devices

 

Samsung and Google have jointly announced a new partnership that will make Google Play Music the default music player and streaming service on Samsung mobiles and tablets. The announcements coincides with the global retail launch of the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+, Samsung’s latest flagship smartphones.

The deal also benefits Samsung users as they’ll be able to upload 100,000 of their own songs to Google Play Music for free, double the limit for owners of non-Samsung devices. Additionally, new Samsung phones and tablets will come with a free three-month trial of Google Play Music. Post the trial period, those who plan to subscribe for it will get over 40 million songs on-demand and access to YouTube Red (where available), just like other subscribers of the service.

Google in November launched a revamped Play Music service that is powered by Google’s machine learning and contextual tools. Machine learning allows the service to understand the music the user likes based on location, time, weather, and activity, to name a few.

Google’s Play Music service competes against the likes of Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora Premium, and others. The tie up with Samsung, one of the leading smartphone manufactures in the world, will help Google expand its reach and give it the right amount of boost it needs to take on other streaming giants.Samsung Makes Google Play Music the Default Music App and Service on Its Devices

Having Google Play Music as a default music player means Samsung will not have to worry about dedicating resources towards developing its own music player, though it’s still available to download from Google Play Store. Samsung has tried in the past to get into the music streaming game with Milk Music, but its attempt at competing against Spotify and Apple failed, and the company in August decided to kill off the service.

Interestingly, Google’s Play Music service will support Samsung’s own personal assistant software, Bixby. Users will be able to ask Bixby to look up a song and play it similar to how it works with Apple’s Siri. The Bixby support will kick in once the digital assistant comes out later this spring for Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+.

Samsung’s latest flagship Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ will go on sale in India from May 5.

Apple offering free classes at all 495 of its stores

Turns out Apple isn’t too cool for school.

The company said Tuesday it would launch educational sessions globally with seminars called “Today at Apple.” The free program will be open to the public and include more than 60 different classes on topics such as art, design, coding and photography.Image result for Apple offering free classes at all 495 of its stores

The sessions will kick off worldwide in May at all 495 Apple’s stores. The company is introducing “Creative Pros,” the teaching equivalent of the store’s “Geniuses” that help with technical issues. The Creative Pros will also have 90-minute studio hours — like a professor’s office hours. People can bring in their personal projects for Apple staffers to glance over also.

“We think it will be a fun and enlightening experience for everyone who joins,” Apple senior vice president of retail Angela Ahrendts said in a statement.

todayatappletrioipads.jpg
Apple

Since all the classes are at an Apple Store, they’re also focused on Apple products. It includes “How To” sessions on taking photographs with your iPhone, or learning how to code in Swift, Apple’s programming language. Apple is also offering courses on Final Cut Pro X and Logic Pro X for audio and video editing.

The new classes come as a part of the Apple Store’s redesign, which Ahrendts spearheaded.

“I’ve told the teams, ‘I’ll know we’ve done a really, really great job if the next generation, if Gen Z says, “Meet me at Apple,'” she said in an interview with “CBS This Morning.”

Teachers are encouraged to stop by on “Teacher Tuesdays,” while families can come in on weekends for “Kids Hours.”

 

Why travel hasn’t solved its mobile problem

 

It seems as if every year since 2010 has been proclaimed as the “year of mobile” for brands across the spectrum. But this year, more than ever, having a mobile strategy for your ad spend has evolved from nice to have to being a necessity.

This need is driven by consumer adoption of smartphones. On average, consumers spend 1 hour and 40 minutes a day on their mobile devices, which is 60% more time than in 2015. After all this time, 2017 has been hailed as the year when mobile “grows up.”

As with most things, the challenge to growing up comes in transforming these thought-leadership pieces and attitudes into everyday action. That is, while the consensus is to ensure that your advertising efforts are mobile-friendly, when it comes to actualizing that idea, adoption seems to be slow.

Sojern’s recent collaborative report with Google reveals travel’s struggle to capture mobile consumers. Our report looked at the entire path to booking a hotel room, from the search engine to the booking engine. We saw that when it comes to hotel searches, the lower end enjoys the highest percentage with 73% of all searches for economy hotels being done through mobile devices.

On the other end of the spectrum, 45% of all searches for luxury hotels are on mobile devices. For the rest of the hotel segments — midscale, upper midscale, upscale and upper upscale — roughly half of searches are on mobile devices.

Although luxury hotels see the lowest share of mobile searches, this doesn’t mean they can avoid having a solid mobile strategy. In fact, we see that the luxury segment is experiencing the greatest growth in mobile searches world.

WhileWhile the searches are there, they aren’t necessarily translating into bookings.

When we look at mobile searches across a week, for example, we see that they are fairly evenly spread among the days of the workweek (Monday through Friday). On the weekends, mobile searches boom as people move away from their desktops at work and go out into the

searches soar, the same cannot be said for bookings. In fact, mobile bookings are consistently low throughout the week. Mobile is, then, the device for dreaming but it has yet to become the device for booking.

Why is that? Why are people booking hotels so reluctant to use mobile devices all the way through to their purchase?

We see two challenges. First, people often search via mobile but then convert on desktop once they are back at work and have further considered the decision; and second, they tried to book via mobile, but the experience was subpar, driving them to a desktop or to a competitor.

A large part of the problem is that running a strong mobile strategy only works if you think about the whole funnel, or the whole path to purchase. Your ability to identify and serve ads to an in-market traveler on their mobile device is certainly no easy feat. But if you’re spending on the tech and/or mobile media to drive people to websites with purchase paths that aren’t mobile-friendly, you don’t have a full-funnel mobile strategy.

Travel, in particular, faces a challenge in terms of creating a friction-free mobile experience.

Shopping for shoes, for example, only requires so many clicks and swipes. The right color, brand and size, and you’ve got your purchase. When it comes to a hotel room, you have to select your days, your room type, any add-ons or packages, add family members or additional rooms and then check to make sure that’s the room, at the location, on the date you need it.

If you want to start comparison shopping, doing so on mobile becomes a real challenge.

We’ve talked before about the complexity of the traveler’s path to purchase, and right now the mobile experience is faltering when it comes to the booking stage. More than ever, and more than most, travel marketers need to seriously re-evaluate their mobile experience. Creating a mobile strategy that ignores the user experience at the point of purchase is just creating a leaky pipeline.

Maybe, instead of making this the year that mobile grows up, we should work to make it the year that mobile converts.

 

8 things Apple could do with its $250bn cash pile

 

 

Apple has money in the bank: a lot of it. The iPhone maker, one of the world’s most profitable companies, revealed on Tuesday night that its cash holdings have surged to $256.8bn (£198bn), an almost unfathomable sum.

The company’s financial reserves have swelled largely because almost all of it is parked offshore, with Apple awaiting a tax holiday that would allow it to bring the money home.

Apple has money in the bank: a lot of it. The iPhone maker, one of the world’s most profitable companies, revealed on Tuesday night that its cash holdings have surged to $256.8bn (£198bn), an almost unfathomable sum.

The company’s financial reserves have swelled largely because almost all of it is parked offshore, with Apple awaiting a tax holiday that would allow it to bring the money home.

When this happens, Apple is likely to return the cash to shareholders, pay down debt or spend it on some big acquisitions. But if we spare the reality for a second, we can imagine just what $250bn could buy the world’s biggest company.

395 million iPhones

iPhone
CREDIT: AP

At a retail price of $649 (£599 in the UK), the iPhone 7 is at the more expensive end of the smartphone market, but Apple has enough cash to buy one 395,685,670 times over.

That’s enough to buy everyone in the UK and the US one each – although we imagine Apple would probably be able to wangle a discount on its own phone.

2,214 Paul Pogbas

Paul Pogba
CREDIT: REUTERS

Manchester United stunned the footballing world when it paid £89.3mfor Paul Pogba last summer, eclipsing the prices paid by Real Madrid for Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Buying the world’s most expensive footballer would be a rounding error for Apple. The £8.5bn of profits in the last quarter meant it earned a Paul Pogba every 23 hours.

$35 for everyone on the planet

Planet Earth
CREDIT: REUTERS

The Population Reference Bureau estimated the world’s population at 7.4 billion in August 2016, which is expected to grow to 9.9 billion by 2050.

If Apple split up its $256.8bn and divided it between the world population, that would work out at around $34.70 (£26.70) each.

15 years of Britain’s payments to the EU

Brexit bus
CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

Britain pays some £12.9bn a year to the EU after accounting for the annual “rebate” that lowers its contributions. A sizeable sum, no doubt, but Apple could finance it for 15 years and four months – well after the UK leaves.

After that, the money would naturally go to the NHS.

These six technology companies

This is one idea that might not be too far from the truth.

Apple is often seen as a potential buyer of Netflix or Tesla should it wish to find new growth areas, but with its cash it would be able to buy both as well as Uber, Snapchat, Twitter and Spotify.

12 Trump border walls

Trump wall
CREDIT: AFP

According to a leaked report recently obtained by Reuters, Donald Trump’s 1,250-mile border wall will cost as much as $21.6bn to build by the time it is completed in 2020.

Apple would be able to buy almost 12 of those walls, equivalent to around 14,500 miles: more than half the earth’s circumference.

Any company in the FTSE 100

Royal Dutch Shell
CREDIT: PA

Britain’s biggest listed company is the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell, with a market cap of just over £165bn ($213bn). If Apple ever decided to pivot into oil production, it would be able to buy it with change to spare.

Some of Britain’s less valuable but famous names, like Tesco – valued at £15bn – could be bought more than 10 times over.

A luxury yacht for every member of staff

Yachts
CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

Apple has around 115,000 employees across its head office, international offices, stores and so on, so its cash pile could be divided up to give them all around $2.2m.

That’s easily enough to buy everyone a luxury yacht, such as this beauty.

 

8 things Apple could do with its $250bn cash pile

 

Apple’s cash pile has swelled to $256.8bn CREDIT: AP

Apple has money in the bank: a lot of it. The iPhone maker, one of the world’s most profitable companies, revealed on Tuesday night that its cash holdings have surged to $256.8bn (£198bn), an almost unfathomable sum.

The company’s financial reserves have swelled largely because almost all of it is parked offshore, with Apple awaiting a tax holiday that would allow it to bring the money home.

Apple has money in the bank: a lot of it. The iPhone maker, one of the world’s most profitable companies, revealed on Tuesday night that its cash holdings have surged to $256.8bn (£198bn), an almost unfathomable sum.Apple logo

The company’s financial reserves have swelled largely because almost all of it is parked offshore, with Apple awaiting a tax holiday that would allow it to bring the money home.

When this happens, Apple is likely to return the cash to shareholders, pay down debt or spend it on some big acquisitions. But if we spare the reality for a second, we can imagine just what $250bn could buy the world’s biggest company.

395 million iPhones

iPhone
CREDIT: AP

At a retail price of $649 (£599 in the UK), the iPhone 7 is at the more expensive end of the smartphone market, but Apple has enough cash to buy one 395,685,670 times over.

That’s enough to buy everyone in the UK and the US one each – although we imagine Apple would probably be able to wangle a discount on its own phone.

2,214 Paul Pogbas

Paul Pogba
CREDIT: REUTERS

Manchester United stunned the footballing world when it paid £89.3mfor Paul Pogba last summer, eclipsing the prices paid by Real Madrid for Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Buying the world’s most expensive footballer would be a rounding error for Apple. The £8.5bn of profits in the last quarter meant it earned a Paul Pogba every 23 hours.

$35 for everyone on the planet

Planet Earth
CREDIT: REUTERS

The Population Reference Bureau estimated the world’s population at 7.4 billion in August 2016, which is expected to grow to 9.9 billion by 2050.

If Apple split up its $256.8bn and divided it between the world population, that would work out at around $34.70 (£26.70) each.

15 years of Britain’s payments to the EU

Brexit bus
CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

Britain pays some £12.9bn a year to the EU after accounting for the annual “rebate” that lowers its contributions. A sizeable sum, no doubt, but Apple could finance it for 15 years and four months – well after the UK leaves.

After that, the money would naturally go to the NHS.

These six technology companies

This is one idea that might not be too far from the truth.

Apple is often seen as a potential buyer of Netflix or Tesla should it wish to find new growth areas, but with its cash it would be able to buy both as well as Uber, Snapchat, Twitter and Spotify.

12 Trump border walls

Trump wall
CREDIT: AFP

According to a leaked report recently obtained by Reuters, Donald Trump’s 1,250-mile border wall will cost as much as $21.6bn to build by the time it is completed in 2020.

Apple would be able to buy almost 12 of those walls, equivalent to around 14,500 miles: more than half the earth’s circumference.

Any company in the FTSE 100

Royal Dutch Shell
CREDIT: PA

Britain’s biggest listed company is the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell, with a market cap of just over £165bn ($213bn). If Apple ever decided to pivot into oil production, it would be able to buy it with change to spare.

Some of Britain’s less valuable but famous names, like Tesco – valued at £15bn – could be bought more than 10 times over.

A luxury yacht for every member of staff

Yachts
CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

Apple has around 115,000 employees across its head office, international offices, stores and so on, so its cash pile could be divided up to give them all around $2.2m.

That’s easily enough to buy everyone a luxury yacht, such as this beauty.

 

How Starbucks Plans to Fix Its Mobile Ordering Problems

 

At one busy Starbucks at New York City’s Port Authority commuter transportation hub, there is a large chalkboard on the wall behind the hand-off area telling customers how to use mobile ordering, an app-based system that lets customers place orders on their smartphones and avoid the in-store line. A smaller printed sign placed on the hand-off counter tells customers already in the know to pick up their orders there.

This is where over the course of 45 minutes during a weekday after-work rush, several people, almost all wearing headphones and seemingly in a hurry, head over to catch a barista’s attention and grab their orders before rushing off into the sea of commuters heading home. When asked to talk to Eater about why they use the app, all declined, with one woman apparently so bothered by the request she responded with a loud and vehement scold before marching away.

It’s not surprising Starbucks Mobile Order and Payment users have little patience or desire for social interaction — that’s the point of the app, to help them avoid having to wait in line and hang around the store with the likes of teens, wifi moochers, and pesky reporters. But many are not so lucky. While insanely popular, it’s no secret Starbucks’ mobile ordering and payment app has caused many headache-inducing experiences for app users and in-store customers alike.

The service is supposed to let customers skip in-store lines and simply walk in and pick up their orders. But in many busy locations, the increase in order volumes ultimately back up the line for in-store customers and cause confusion for the mobile coffee addicts who don’t have their drinks right away. Some potential shoppers would walk into stores, see the long queues and walk back out, execs admitted in January. But crappy mobile ordering experiences won’t fly — considering the chain has become a huge leader in the quick-service mobile app game.

 

Mobile ordering is spreading like fire in the fast-food industry. McDonald’s recently announced plans to release its mobile ordering nationwide by the end of the year. Subway added Facebook bots to its mobile order service in April. But Starbucks remains the leader. According to a 2016 report by app research company App Annie, Starbucks has the most monthly active users (MAU) on Android and Apple platforms compared to other QSR food brands. The report called Starbucks’ app “a best-in-class QSR app, which has been at the forefront of mobile payments leads on MAU on both devices by a wide margin.”

But McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts, and pizza chains are close behind in app popularity, and as more fast-food and restaurant chains start adopting mobile ordering into their businesses, eyes are fixed on how the cafe franchise will remedy its app’s congestion problem.

Starbucks thinks it has a solution. In its earnings call last week, CEO and president Kevin Johnson admitted that the old mobile order and payment process was hurting business, and announced how the company is trying to fix the issues.

Their technical solution includes new “digital order managers” (DOMs), tablet-based systems that let baristas track and manage all incoming orders. But Starbucks reps did not specify with Eater how this system is different than the current one, only that the new system allows them to track data to improve workflow (The company would also not specify what kind of data would be collected.) What is new for users is that customers will start getting notifications through the app when their orders are in fact ready, instead of an estimate that may bring them into the line too early, making them wait.

This comes about a month after Starbucks unveiled a new cashier-less design concept, centered completely around mobile users — another attempt to improve the smartphone ordering experience. The store, which debuted in Seattle, has a pick-up station for customers and no ordering line or seating. Johnson said the company is working on incorporating similar mobile ordering into designs of its future stores. Meanwhile, the store is also re-allocating labor during peak times to make filling orders less discombobulated.

But is this enough to win back customers? Eden Gillott Bowe, crisis PR expert and president of Gillott Communications, thinks so. “Starbucks is one of those special brands that has such a cult following that I think there’s quite a bit more give and leeway that their customers give them,” Bowe said. New features like the app order ready alert systems will be the biggest help, she argued, because the core of these problems is communication. Fixes like that adjust the process enough so that customer “don’t just show up immediately thinking the red carpet has been rolled out for them simply because they ordered online,” she said.

Despite its mobile ordering woes, the Starbucks app continues to grow in popularity. About 1,800 stores in the U.S. were seeing at least 20 percent of transactions handled through mobile devices, Starbucks said. The mobile ordering system accounted for 8 percent of transactions, while overall mobile payment (including in-store mobile payments) accounted for 29 percent of transactions.

It seems Starbucks is banking on it to keep them alive in a technological world. Throughout the earnings call, Starbucks execs referred to the impending “disruption” of brick and mortar retail spaces, predicting more overlap between the two, hence a push for mobile ordering to work.

“Looking to the future, this is all about how our digital relationships with customers intersect with experiential retail in our stores,” Johnson said in the call. “We’re confident we’re well on our way to further increasing overall store capacity while delivering an enhanced Starbucks experience to our customers.”

Starbucks is testing the DOMs in select stores and has plans to release them in its highest volume stores in the next few months. Bowe believes this will keep loyal customers on board, because at the end of the day, despite issues customers are seeing in stores due to the app, their need for coffee outweighs the small pains.

“(Starbucks) customers are much more willing to forgive them for this,” Bowe said. “Because when people need their fix, they need their fix.”