Transcoding PDF, vCard, and iCal across Smartphone Operating Systems

The Obstacle: Not every phone supports PDF, vCard, or iCal delivered by MMS within the messaging app but nearly all smartphones support these file types within their web browser. A device which receives an unsupported MMS attachment will sometimes display a message that reads “This message includes an attached file not shown.” and other times it will display nothing at all, as if the attachment never existed.

attached file not shown3

The Solution: When sending an MMS message containing a PDF, vCard, or iCal attachment it is essential to detect the recipient device prior to sending and adapt the message so that the attachment can be delivered  in a compatible format to all devices. We tested nearly every device on the market today and added information to our device database on whether the device supports the attachment in the MMS messaging client. We are then able to deliver the PDF, vCard or iCal in the most appropriate way to devices that may not support it and allow the user to still receive the attachment.

Going forward, Skycore will deliver PDF, VCard and iCal MMS attachments within the MMS message itself only to phones that support it. For the phones that do not support these content types we will store the attachment on our server and replace the attached file with a link with the MMS that directs to the attached file.  We registered the generic domains like “pdf-attach.co”, “vcontact.co” and “vcalendar.co” to host these links so that consumers will know what they are clicking. If the attachment is unique for individual recipients, as in the case of dynamic content, then each link will be unique as well.

In the preview below, there is an example of the same message delivered to an iPhone and a Galaxy S5. The iPhone has the capability to open all file types, so all are displayed. The Galaxy S5 is only able to open the vCard. This is why the .pdf and .ical files provided with links.

file type preview2

We hope this post gives you a better understanding of the challenges to delivering PDF, vCard, and iCal by MMS properly across all smartphone operating systems. You can learn more about delivering VCards and iCalendars by MMS on our previous blog post.

All Paid Plans now have Unlimited SMS and MMS Keywords

Platform Update: Skycore now offers unlimited SMS & MMS keyword creation for all paid messaging plans!

keywords

Benefits of the update

Run more campaigns simultaneously or segment existing campaigns
In the past account holders who reached their keyword limit had to either upgrade their account, or restrict the number of campaigns that they were able to run at one time. This update eliminates this dilemma. Now account holders will have a greater capability to simultaneously conduct multiple campaigns or create segmented lists.

Track Call-to-Action effectiveness
By providing paid accounts with unlimited keywords, we have expanded each account holder’s capacity to measure the success of their list building efforts in various ad mediums.

One example of this would be a family style restaurant that asks their customers to opt into a campaign via keyword to receive weekly specials. If this restaurant places ads in commercials, billboards, and even on their menus, with the same keyword, they do not know which mediums best influenced customers to join the campaign. If each medium is given a unique keyword, not only are we able to determine the most effective medium but A/B test to perfect the most effective call-to-action copy on that medium.

Cloud Hosted MM7 API & MM7 VASP Gateway Service

The Update:  We now support an MM7 protocol option on our API interface. This gives Skycore and our partners an end-2-end tool to accept MM7 messages from other carriers, service providers or enterprises. We can then forward the message via MM7 or deliver it directly to a mobile device by MM1. This feature is optional for our enterprise customers but is also deployed as a telecommunications IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) for aggregators or mobile network operators who want a next generation MM7 gateway without the costs of on premise infrastructure or new software.

Enterprise Customer Benefits:

Aggregator Portability: Before this update service providers who had ALREADY built an MM7 API would have to update their code to support Skycore HTTP API interface. Today any customer with an existing MM7 connection can now easily port their connection to Skycore (or vise versa) without any code modification. Service Providers and Enterprises with multiple SMS/MMS aggregators, or direct carrier connections, can unify their MM7 routing and provisioning through a single interface. The MM7 interface is connected and certified into nearly all tier-1 US aggregators and tier-1 US carriers (as well as a few international carriers). Delivery of the MMS can be done by either MM7 or MM1 depending on your routing preferences. MM1 delivery can offer significant costs savings and increased throughput on certain network operators where it is available.

Mobile Network Operator Customer Benefits:

No Infrastructure or operational costs: Moving your MM7 Gateway into the cloud has many benefits since there are no physical infrastructure or operational costs for maintaining it. As mobile phones support larger files each year and as your MMS traffic spikes with large bulk messaging campaigns you will not need to purchase additional equipment or hire engineers to install, support, monitor, or maintain your A2P MMS gateway infrastructure.

Continuous Improvements: With continuous deployment, your cloud based MMS software will stay up to date and you will never have to buy new licenses or pay annual maintenance fees. Your VAS and business customers will be happy that you’re supporting new file types and file sizes for the latest phones and messaging technologies.

Unlimited Scale: Since the MM7 gateway is hosted in cloud infrastructure we can deploy additional load balanced servers as you grow. Without worrying about file storage or bandwidth limitations in your own data center you can scale your business seamlessly in both MMS throughput and MMS file size demand. In other words, delivering HD video MMS messages at 100 messages per second is no problem.

Simple Provisioning and Reporting: With a web based administrative portal your business team can manage your provisioning and reporting online based on your revenue objectives and not based on whether Network Operations has the time to setup a VPN, short code, or delivery report URL.

MM1 Delivery as MMSC Proxy: As a Network Operator, you do not need to buy a larger MMSC or additional hardware to support delivering additional MMS MT MM7 traffic. Skycore can deliver the messages as your proxy MMSC by MM1 thereby offloading all of the additional network traffic over our public cloud infrastructure. Your existing MMSC would continue to handle MMS MO and P2P MMS traffic without interruption or additional configuration.

Introducing MailPact.com – New Unlimited Email Campaign Management Tool

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Today Skycore has spun off our email solution into a new service called MailPact. The service features an unlimited email and subscriber solution where you only pay for how fast you would like to send. No more paying per subscriber or per message for your email marketing or transactional email. The solution works as a campaign management tool where you need to connect your own SMTP server or use an SMTP service like Sendgrid, MailGun or Mandrill.

Existing email customers on Skycore.com will continue to be able to use Email within the Skycore platform pricing however new customers will not have access to the Email capabilities and must sign up with Mailpact.com. Skycore platform customers are encouraged to move their subscribers and API calls to Mailpact.com so that they no longer will be paying transaction fees per message.

How to setup sms delivery status text message notifications.

Message ExampleGive your customer the option to receive real-time text alerts when tracking their shipments. Here are the steps to set this up:

Step 1: Create a campaign in your Skycore.com account. We suggest that you use the following settings.

  • Set the campaign name to “Delivery Status Notifications” or something similar. The campaign name will appear in the Opt-in message. This will ensure that the customer is aware of what they are agreeing to.
  • Set the “Re-Subscribe Opt-in SMS Flow” to OFF. This means that if a customer is already subscribed they will not receive the opt-in message flow again.
  • Set the “Re-subscribe Auto-responders” to OFF. This means that if the customer is already subscribed they will not receive any auto-responders again.

Step 1 - settings Step 2: At checkout provide customers with an optional checkbox to receive SMS delivery status updates. When checked, make sure to request their mobile phone number and disclose they will be receiving text messages to their phone and that it is not a required part of the purchase.

Step 3: After customers submit their order, your server will need to call the subscribe API function. Within this API call below you to change the “API_key=”, “mobile=” and the “campaignid =”sections of the API.

Example “SUBSCRIBE” API Call: https://secure.skycore.com/API/wxml/1.3/index.php?action=subscribe&api_key=aBcdEfgHijkLMNopQrSTuvw1xyZA2bCd&mobile=12345678912&campaignid=1234

  • api_key=” is your account’s API key.
  • “mobile=” is the customer’s phone number including the country code.
  • “campaignid=” is the campaign ID can be found on the “SMS/MMS Campaigns” page.

Step 3 - Where to fInd API settings Step 4: Once the Subscribe API is called, the customer will be sent an opt-in message requesting their ‘written consent’ to receive text messages from you. Affirmative written consent is a FCC mandate which is why we ask the customers to reply “YES”. Your customers will then be segmented into three groups in your Audience Manager.

  • Subscribed Users – Customers who reply “YES” or “Y” and have not unsubscribed.
  • Unconfirmed Users – Customers who did not reply “YES” or “Y” but who checked your checkbox to receive delivery notifications.
  • Unsubscribed Users – Customer who unsubscribed themselves by replying “STOP”, “QUIT”, “CANCEL” or “UNSUBSCRIBE”.

double-opt in msesage example2 Step 5: All messages you send out will automatically start with your brand name as they did in the double opt-in message above. To send messages, use the SendSMS API call. In the SendSMS API call below, you will need to change the “api_key=”, “to=”, “text=” and “campaignref=” sections.

Example “SENDSMS” API Call: https://secure.skycore.com/API/wxml/1.3/index.php?action=sendsms&api_key=aBcdEfgHijkLMNopQrSTuvw1xyZA2bCd&to=12345678912&from=60856&text=This+is+test+SMS&campaignref=5678

  • api_key=” is your account’s API key.
  • “to=” is the customer’s phone number. Make sure to include the country code.·
  • “text=” is the actual message you will be sending out.
  • “campaignref=” is the campaign ID of the campaign that you are sending the message from.

Step 6: When you call the API – you should receive one of two messages depending on if the customer is subscribed into the campaign or not:

  • A “Success” message, and the customer should be receiving your SMS very shortly.
  • A “Failure” message which means the customer has not opt-in. They will not receive any SMS message and we recommend that you flag the user as opt-out in your internal database.

Example of an API Success Message and an API Failure Message:

success+failure messages

Recommended MMS Mobile Marketing Image Dimensions for 2015

As we kick off 2015, it is looking like this year is going to be all about visual marketing and brand recall. Brands will be sponsoring messages in applications like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter with interesting pictures in order to increase a metric called ‘brand recall’ which is used to measure their success. Brands who have built up SMS lists will be sending MMS messages to their lists for that same reason.

The question we are often asked is what the best image size is for delivering an MMS message. Each year, screen dimensions change as popularity shifts to larger, taller screens. Over 96% of consumer devices on the market have phones with screens that are in portrait mode (tall). If you check out the Tier 1 US carrier’s websites even the old school flip phones are all portrait mode nowadays. The only phone being sold by the Tier 1 US carriers that is still landscape(wide) is the Blackberry 9930. Even the Blackberry Z10 and Q10 are not landscape. The Z10 is portrait and the Q10 is square at 720×720. Therefore you should focus your effort on delivering a beautiful portrait image that is compelling to your audience.

We’ve created a number of different images and delivered them as an MMS to a number of popular phones on the market today of various sizes. Here are our results.

Resolutions across platforms

After completing these tests we found that an aspect ratio of 9:16 worked best across all devices. We suggest using images that are 640px by 1138px, or 1080px by 1920px if you want a larger version.

When you upload an image above 640px by 1138px and over 100Kb the Skycore platform will transcode and optimize your image and adapt the markup to fit the screen width. Images 640px by 1138px and below may have higher file sizes but will still be transcoded on delivery if required.

When we tested the different devices we found that the iPhone 5s and iPhone 6 would first open up to a preview screen and then would display a full screen version of the image if you tapped again. In that preview screen there is a border on both the top and the bottom that cuts off some pixels. We did some research and were able to find the exact number of pixels for the suggested screen sizes that are being cut off for both the iPhone 5s and the iPhone 6. We suggest that when creating your MMS images that you refrain from putting any logos, barcodes or important information in these temporarily covered areas. You can see in the image below the red area that represents the covered area. Due to the popularity of the iPhone 5 and 5s that you keep important information far enough from the bottom and top edge.

iPhone image borders

We went on to test the 640×1138 and 1080×1920 files sizes on the Blackberry Bold 9900 to see how the image would be viewed on their landscape screens. Here you can see our results of how the image normally looks as well as how it would appear if you zoom in. Both looked exactly the same and the zoom was no issue at all for an everyday blackberry user. Just pinch the screen outwards similar to how an iPhone works.

Blackberry Resolutions

Go To Market Recommendation:

Create an  image that is 640px by 1138px or 1080px by 1920px at any file size up to 1.5Mb . For 640px by 1138px do not put any “content of interest” in the top 129px and the bottom 89px, and for 1080px by 1920px do not put any “content of interest” in the top 218px and the bottom 150px. The Skycore platform will transcode your content to the appropriate file sizes for each carrier and device.

You are set for 2015!

CTIA Short Code Monitoring Handbook Updates

On Nov 1st, with feedback from the industry, the CTIA released a new Short Code Monitoring Handbook which governs the approval and audit standards of short codes and the advertising of short code campaigns. Whether you have a short code in market or you are considering registering a code there are a number of key changes that all brands should be aware of. Here are a few that I feel are pretty substantial.

CTIA Short Code Monitoring Handbook v1.4.1

1) Brands can now provide a generic ‘recurring’ message frequency disclosure instead of an exact frequency of messages when they opt a customer into a campaign. A number of brands face lawsuits because the CTIA guidelines had previously required an exact frequency of messages to be disclosed and some of these companies delivered slightly more than their stated frequency. To prevent lawsuits, conservative brands started disclosing frequencies 10 times that of what they would actually send to be on the safe side. For example a brand might have disclosed 30/month when in fact they sent 1/week. This previous compliance policy created a bad customer experience and significantly more liability for both brands and marketing service providers. With the recent change to the rules a brand can simply state that the messages are ‘recurring’. I believe this is a fantastic improvement for both customers and brands because it removes liability, makes the opt-in advertising more accurate, and allows more flexibility and personalization with each campaign based on appropriateness rather than some arbitrary message limit.

2) “Message & Data Rates May apply” is no longer required in the “Opt-in Message”. It is now only required in the “Confirmation Message” and in the “Advertising Disclosures”. This is a great benefit as well. Brands will now have more characters to describe what the customer is signing up for in the very first message. In the past, since there had been so many required discloses in the Opt-in Message, a brand would hardly have much room for their own text. It made for a poor customer experience and likely lowered opt-in rates.

3) “Reply STOP to opt-out” is no longer required in the ongoing message flow as long as it is provided at least once a month in a service message or within content delivered. Horray! Customers will no longer wonder why the brand is telling them to opt-out in every message they receive. This was obviously an awkward requirement for both customers and brands. Not to mention it took valuable space in each message.

4) “Reply STOP to opt-out” is no longer required to be disclosed in the “Advertising Disclosures” as long as it is in BOLD letters in the Terms and Conditions page. The Reply STOP to opt-out requirement was always awkward for advertisers who wondered why we would provide opt-out instructions IN ADVERTISING to someone who had not yet opted-in.

5) No more shared short code restrictions on Point of Sale vendors. This will enable small and medium sized businesses to afford to SMS message their customers. While there are additional compliance requirements for Point of Sale call-to-actions by the FCC, this CTIA rule will help open up text messaging to SMBs who cannot afford $500/month to lease their own short code.

Great job CTIA.

New Platform Feature: VCards and iCalendars delivered by MMS

The Update: You can now deliver vCards(.vcf) and iCalendar(.ical) through both the MMS API as well as through the Campaign Manager User Interface. The process is as simple as adding an image or video using the same structure and flow that you are used to. We have also enabled text to be delivered alongside the ical/vcard since not every phone supports .vcf and .ical in 2014. You can use this space to provide a fallback/download link to the object until vcard/icalendar MMS transcoding is available in 2015 and more devices have the capability.

Benefits of the Update: There are many useful reasons to send contact information via MMS. Often adding contact information to your phone is not quick and easy. Other times it is awkward to ask for it in person from a service provider. The use cases for vcards is most obvious for business who rely on phone calls to either order something regularly, call in an emergency or conduct business primarily by phone.

MMS Composer - object1-2

ical example apple and android vcard

New Platform Feature: SMS Email Address Collection

The Update: Email addresses can now be collected via SMS data collection. Email data is collected when an SMS data collection message is sent out to customers requesting their email address in the reply. When customers respond, that data is both added to their Audience profile and subscribed to an email campaign. Once the email is added to an email campaign a sequence of email auto-responses can be sent to the customer.

Benefits of the Update:

You are now able to take customers who already subscribed to an SMS/MMS campaign, and subscribe them into an email campaign. By doing so, you will be able to transition your SMS/MMS marketing campaign into a cross-platform strategy.

Cross-platform mobile marketing campaigns give companies the option to present a larger variety of content by taking advantage of multiple mediums. Different mobile marketing mediums have different advantages.

Once customers are opted into an email campaign, you can send email auto-responders and scheduled email messages to them. By creating an auto-responder for your email campaign, customers can receive a confirmation email message from you almost instantly after they submit their email address through SMS. There is no API integration required.

New Platform Feature: SMS Data Collection and Menu Response Actions

The Update:  Menu Response Actions (MRA) and SMS Data Collection have been added as new features.  MRA allows you to create quizzes and surveys with open ended or multiple choice answers.  Data from customer answers are then collected and stored as subscriber data.  Later in your messaging campaign, you can use this data as within messages using dynamic merge tags. You can also simply export the data as a CSV file for analysis.  These special SMS questions can be scheduled as message blasts during a campaign.  The response actions that are carried out after a customer replies are set up when creating the SMS MRA.

Benefits of the update:

Improved Customer Information: Before this update you were limited to gathering information during opt-in time, import or through the API.  With SMS Menu Response Actions you can continuously gather customer information throughout a campaign and store it into simple variable names.  Using dynamic merge tags you can create personalized SMS, MMS and emails using information gathered from many data sources throughout the campaign.

Data Collection: Recognizing who your customers are and what they are interested in is critical for any business.  Through Menu Response Actions you can easily send surveys out to your audience to gather opinions about your products and services.  Using this information you can better allocate your marketing resources.

Customized Responses: For each question in your SMS you can provide an automatic response for each possible answer.  The response can either be another SMS or MMS.  This can be a great way to create interactive message flows or be a way to redirect customers with links to specific products.

photo 3 MasonSMS MasonMMS

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