Mobile Enterprise

I am moderating a panel tomorrow night on “mobile and enterprises” featuring key people from Google, HP, and DoubleDutch (white label FourSquare). This is shaping up to be a really interesting discussion and what I like about this venue is that the event itself is intimate which encourages good discussion.

The way I’m approaching this is as follows, there are 3 fundamental dimensions to the mobile enterprise:

  1. Unified communications: The integration of voice telephony and a range of messaging technology, as well as the unchaining of these technologies from the desk, are changing how people conduct business
  2. App ecosystems: We have evolved along a fairly predictable path with regard to mobile apps, first we started out replicating desktop applications as small screen formatted and when the limits of this approach were reached developers started building mobile apps as if they had no desktop counterpart. In other words, the development of mobile applications is in a renaissance period exhibited by user experience creativity and the integration of mobile specific hardware capabilities, like location based services.
  3. Mobile internet devices: The enthusiastic reception that devices like the Kindle, Nook, and iPad have received underscored the point that mobile devices do not have to be mobile phones. We are fully unwinding the notion that mobile data and mobile telephony are one in the same and this will have profound implications for companies that have a vested interest in the mobile enterprise, as well as the carriers who are providing the infrastructure services for large enterprises.

I hope you will be able to attend this event, I’m looking forward to a spirited discussion that touches on all three of the points I raised above.

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Net Neutrality is Now Deader than Dead

Comcast won a major legal case it filed against the FCC regarding Comcast’s attempt to throttle BitTorrent traffic on their network. The FCC fined Comcast on the grounds that it violated their net neutrality policy, and Comcast took them to court arguing that not only were they wrong to regulate internet data on the grounds of net neutrality, they actually didn’t have the authority to regulate the internet at all because even the FCC has said that the internet is not a telecommunication service and nothing in the Communications Acts says otherwise.

The FCC countered that the doctrine of “ancillary authority” granted them such powers even though the regulating law, the Communications Act, did not:

It is in itself a remarkable legal theory, allowing a regulatory agency to act in areas where there is no grant of authority, simply because it is related to an area in which authority has been granted.   In a very real sense, it is a “horseshoes and hand grenades” doctrine, in which close is good enough to count. Even within the framework of ancillary jurisdiction, however, the case for jurisdiction in this case is startlingly tenuous and dangerously broad. (For an excellent analysis of the problems, see James Speta’s new study here.)

[From Horseshoes, Hand Grenades, and the FCC: Will the D.C. Circuit Ground Net Neutrality Rules?]

What this means more broadly is that any notion of the FCC imposing net neutrality rules on it’s own accord is now dead… deader than dead. The Federal Appeals Court has definitively ruled that the FCC doesn’t have the power to regulate the internet and it must go to Congress in order to get that authority or reverse it’s own decisions regarding what the internet is and opening up a whole new Pandora’s Box.

The spin doctoring of this opinion will now commence. But it is very hard to see how the NPRM can go forward—or survive even the briefest of legal challenges should the FCC simply do so—given this ruling. The FCC could try to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court or go back to Congress for explicit authority to issue net neutrality rules. As I’ve written earlier, the FCC could also try to reclassify Internet services under the common carrier rules of Title II, where it has extensive regulatory powers.

[From A Few Words on Comcast v. FCC: Net Neutrality Neutralized | Larry Downes]

Whether or not we agree with the decision we should find common ground in the concept that regulatory agencies must be restrained to what Congress originally intended and where there is ambiguity due to the evolution of technology and society Congress must act to expand or restrain agency powers as a matter of law rather than the agency itself expanding it’s own powers by fiat. Doesn’t matter whether we are talking about the FCC, EPA, or SEC, Congress must do the job required of it by the Constitution.

Is Fashion Stake Legal? Fashion Stake Crowdsources Haute Couture

A major problem in the fashion industry is that it is very difficult for a new designer to “break the code” that enables a distribution capability, so as a result we have few brands dominating the retail landscape and a couture business that while garnering headlines actually generates very little in the way of actual revenue.

Fashion Stake looks to change that by operating a marketplace where consumers can make a financial investment in designers but instead of equity or cash flow in return they get credits that are used for future purchases.

The site, led by Harvard Business School alumnus Daniel Gulati, will put designers and companies together with consumers on two levels, financially and critically. Financially, an investment in a designer will return the ability to apply credits toward purchasing that designer’s garments.

[From: Fashion Stake Crowdsources Haute Couture]

I’m all for alternative investment markets, believing that opening up these opportunities is a democratizing pursuit and the potential for investment returns, however slim the chances are, is better than the current scheme most people apply where their money is essentially eaten alive by inflation. However, my first thought upon reading about Fashion Stake was that it can’t possibly be legal… it doesn’t matter what you call the quid-pro-quo for an investment, whether equity or credits it is still an investment regulated by securities acts and the SEC (I wrote about this last week).

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Why You Shouldn’t Buy an iPad

I’ve already voiced my belief that the iPad will ultimately be a disappointment. It’s certain that Apple will sell millions of the devices to technophile early adopters but the prospects for the broader market are mixed and considering that Jobs has declared the iPad the “most important thing I’ve ever done” well I can’t help but recall that pride cometh before the fall.

I admit to having mixed feelings about this myself, thinking that having a giant iPod Touch would actually be really cool in spite of the cost of acquisition and cost of operating it (assuming you believe 3G is essential for a portable device like this). Then there are the add-on charges that app developers believe they are entitled to… some are certainly justified but for publishers charging 2 and 3x for iPad apps vs their iPhone apps, I feel repulsed.

Publishers are approaching the iPad like a holy grail that gives them the superpowers to avoid having to reinvent their businesses. It won’t do that and if Time Magazine really believes their iPad version is worth $5 an issue then the only explanation is that they are taking all their leftover print mags and rolling something up in them and smoking it.

The whole notion of having “an issue” really underscores how publishers still don’t understand what is going on with digital content. I, like most of the market, don’t want to read a compilation of content like I had to do with print. I want digitally connected content that brings together many sources topically or theme

Cory Doctorow wrote something today that goes far beyond the iPad specific issues and speaks to the broader trends with devices like this (and the iPhone and the Kindle and many more) that ultimately prove themselves to be hostile to consumers. Take for example the proliferation of DRM that prevents legitimate sharing of content:

And let’s look at the iStore. For a company whose CEO professes a hatred of DRM, Apple sure has made DRM its alpha and omega. Having gotten into business with the two industries that most believe that you shouldn’t be able to modify your hardware, load your own software on it, write software for it, override instructions given to it by the mothership (the entertainment industry and the phone companies), Apple has defined its business around these principles. It uses DRM to control what can run on your devices, which means that Apple’s customers can’t take their “iContent” with them to competing devices, and Apple developers can’t sell on their own terms.

[From Why I won't buy an iPad (and think you shouldn't, either) - Boing Boing]

Not only are we passively accepting the locking down of content that otherwise could be legally shared but publishers are using this pacifism to pressure channels to mimic physical goods pricing with digital products that have nowhere near the cost of production and distribution that physical goods have.

The arrival of the iPad, another locked down device, resulted in an unwelcome surprise from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Sony, which is that publishers will now set pricing on these digital content networks rather than risk having valuable content held back in favor of Apple. It is somewhat ironic that Apple is the catalyst for this move having launched the iPod with a controversial one size fits all pricing model that content owners, then and still now, gripe about but the arrival of the iPad and another dedicated content network highlights how when interoperability of content is not allowed the content owners end up being the ones with real power because they can play the devices off each other.

Doctorow also goes on to criticize Apple, and everyone else if you accept his argument, for offering a sealed hardware device that can only be extended via software applications that the very access to is controlled by Apple. There is a valid point here that abstracting the hardware layer and making it physically inaccessible gives great power to the manufacturer.

Apple’s model customer is that same stupid stereotype of a technophobic, timid, scatterbrained mother as appears in a billion renditions of “that’s too complicated for my mom” (listen to the pundits extol the virtues of the iPad and time how long it takes for them to explain that here, finally, is something that isn’t too complicated for their poor old mothers).

This trend was not started by Apple, it has pervaded consumer goods for decades as our society has embraced disposability over repair and durability. I doubt it will change and in many ways cannot fault Apple for sealing the device but I still cringe when my iPhone battery is on red and I can’t swap in a freshly charged battery… this is where convenience for Apple results in inconvenience for the consumer.

BTW, if we could do away with the tired “even my mother could do it” metaphor we would all be better off… not only is it sexist but it rarely holds up these days… moms are not genetically disadvantaged when it comes to tech.

Like I said at the top of this post, Apple will sell millions of these devices but I don’t believe it will achieve the lofty dreams of the hardcore apple fanboys. It’s not a laptop replacement… and you still need a computer to interact with it so it’s not a new computing model. It’s not even a new computing paradigm because tablets have existed for years and we’ll all been having fun with the iPod and iPhone for a while now. App developers and publishers are wildly enthusiastic about this device but jeez what do you expect them to be… downbeat?

It’s not a phone and it should not be one either… why would you want another number and another service (like Google Voice) to manage the call routing with? I’m reminded of Zoolander with the micro cell phone, only in this picture it’s a supersized iPhone that still doesn’t have the benefits of integrated voice telephony and data… because the carriers aren’t doing that. Maybe Apple (and AT&T) will allow for the tethering of iPads and iPhones… but maybe not… either way it’s not something they talk about now so even though it’s an obvious benefit for users why should we believe they will do it?

This gets to the last point, which is the one that I believe Doctorow is trying to make, which is that you, as a company, have to decide what side you are going to fight for, consumers or partners. You can’t have it both ways and in Apple’s case they went from standing up for clear benefits for customers with the original iPod to now benefiting telcos and content owners, as well as themselves. Amazon is guilty of this as well, rarely has a business been more pro-consumer than Amazon yet by caving to publishers they are saying that their growth aspirations for their Kindle business are more important than standing up for consumers.

Relying on incumbents to produce your revolutions is not a good strategy. They’re apt to take all the stuff that makes their products great and try to use technology to charge you extra for it, or prohibit it altogether.

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How Dumb are They?

Does Representative Hank Johnson (D-GA) not realize that islands are land masses… they don’t float? The best part of the video is when the Admiral Willard moves his finger into his eye in an attempt to prevent laughing out load at the absurdity of Johnson’s statement.

This country is clearly in the finest hands…