Playing With Fire

I’ve had the Kindle Fire for a few days now and here are my impressions:

  1. The software layer that Amazon built on top of Android is smart and efficient. Not only does the interface hide the icon laden desktop that default Android features, but it serves the higher function goal of nicely integrating Amazon services and the various stores (e.g. apps, books, video).
  2. Battery life isn’t as good as I expected but my expectations were pretty high based on my previous Kindle experience. In retrospect, getting 7-8 hours with the screen lit and wifi on isn’t anything to shrug about, turning wifi off and backlighting down, which is ideal for book reading and game playing, drives battery life back up to Kindle expectations.
  3. Apps are aplenty. The limited device capabilities, e.g. no GPS, means some applications are handicapped but all things considered the fact that they launched with a rich market of applications is a big positive.
  4. The form factor is surprisingly comfortable. The rubberized back coating gives you a firm handhold and the device is pretty solid in terms of heft. I was also pleased to discover how comfortable this device is to type on, in portrait and landscape mode.
  5. Display is good enough for a range of activities from reading to watching videos. Bright and crisp.
  6. Performance is speedy and it’s worth pointing out that this is increasingly one of the attributes that you only pay attention to when it is deficient.
  7. The Silk web browser got a lot of attention when this device was announced. I really don’t get what the distinction between this and Chrome is. It works fine, I just don’t understand, based on my usage, why I am supposed to care about this as a unique feature.
  8. Wifi only is a plus for me, I use this mostly at home but when I am truly mobile I can use the tethering capability through my mobile phone. I explicitly don’t want a tablet that has integrated 3/4G with the additional monthly pricing plan attached to it.
  9. No camera… don’t care. Maybe some day I’ll do video VoIP but at this point in my life I can honestly say this has not been something that excites me. Take pictures? Why would I do that with a tablet?
  10. Complaints… yes, the power button is on the bottom and I have repeatedly hit it accidentally. The power button should be on the top of the device, like the iPad.

I have been using this tablet for just a couple of days but based on what I have seen thus far Amazon has a winner just in time for Christmas.

Google Going All In on Mobile

The tech media, and general media as well, is all a flutter about Google acquiring Motorola Mobility (note that this is one part of Motorola, the other being their Solutions group which is 2x the size of Mobility in terms of revenue).

Henry Blodgett thinks it will end as a disaster for Google and my good friend Larry Dignan provides 6 reasons why it makes sense.

I’m with Larry… this is about IP and what Google is doing is acquiring a massive IP war chest that they can use as currency for access to other people’s IP as well as protect their hardware partners with. If I’m HTC and Samsung this will ultimately be a good thing because the IP equivalent of the Allied Powers has just been formed.

Sure the hardware business is very different than software but Microsoft has proven they can co-exist so why can’t Google pull it off? Channel conflict will exist and the onus is on Google to demonstrate to key partners that they are not favoring Motorola but at the end of the day it’s not like these companies were competing on the basis of access to Android features, their competitive position is solely a function of their hardware and integration innovations.

In the end, I like this acquisition for Google and now all attention shifts to Microsoft and RIM.

 

HTML5 – A Wonder Drug

I was reading up on some of the commentary surrounding Amazon’s release of an HTML5 reader, one of the best comes from Constellation’s Charles Brett:

Amazon’s announcement of its Kindle Cloud Reader, based around HTML 5, is a wonder of irony. Apple has successfully been taking 30% of purchases made via anything bought through an app that was installed through the iTunes Store. In parallel it has denigrated Adobe’s Flash (albeit with some justice) as being insufficient for purpose while establishing a pro-HTML5 position as the ‘best’ way to move forwards. Many have been irritated by this ‘Apple knows best’ approach – but that is hardly new.

Looking beyond the immediate benefit for publishers of iOS apps as a result of Apple’s steep 30% cut of the action, HTML5 brings real and sustained benefits to anyone providing a consumer or business application.

  1. A single presentation layer that delivers mobile and web experiences… in other words, unification of the codebase which greatly simplifies application development and the capability to deliver a highly tuned user experience which is great for consumers.
  2. The “real estate” problem is satisfied through evolution of the “home screen web app” feature in iOS that will surely show up in Android. The two primary benefits of a downloadable app are the platform specific UX and the placement of an icon on the mobile desktop… HTML5 delivers the former while mobile platform enhancements are delivering the latter.
  3. The benefits for subscription businesses are evident, you don’t have to give Apple or anyone else their 30 pieces of silver, but for applications like Get Satisfaction that are a network of sites (we host over 60k communities) HTML5 is really the only practical way to deliver a mobile experience… otherwise we would face the impossible task of publishing thousand of mobile apps to support communities that demand a mobile experience.
  4. Hardware acceleration for media playback without having a wrapper plugin as a requirement.
  5. A bunch of other stuff opens up, like geolocation and local data storage, plus the code is cleaner because div codes are replaced with new structural elements and the spec has improved semantics which improves the ability for machine access.

There are disadvantages but most of those are a function of the language being a spec subject to ongoing development, and for media publishers the lack of a DRM framework imposes additional burden and media licensing issues forces compression in many formats to support multiple browsers.

I guess we should thank Apple for forcing the Flash vs. HTML5 issue and then imposing a punitive licensing scheme on their app store… both of which have conspired to catapult HTML5 into the foreground for developments of applications which have web and mobile experiences.

RWW Mobile Summit

20100507-_MG_2539.jpgI went to the RWW Mobile Summit last Friday where in the true unconference style the attendees defined the agenda and developed the conference content at the day transpired. While moderate in size, it was evident in the session proposals that the people attending were mobile insiders with intimate knowledge of the challenges and opportunities the mobile sector is facing.

Richard McManus opened the event with a run down of top mobile trends that, I believe, captured the major trends concisely and through the sessions that the audience layered on a much deeper understanding was achieved.

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Interestingly, from my point of view, there was very little discussion about hardware platforms, a traditional point of much debate in the mobile industry. In fact, the session on “iphone vs. android” had a grand total of zero participants, even the person who proposed the session failing to show up for it, which only illustrates a broader point that we intuitively understand this is not a winner take all market and are accepting of many hardware options providing the path for building applications on them is not fraught with complexity and peril.

There was quite a bit of discussion about HTML5 and Flash and a consensus emerged that HTML5 had achieved a tipping point moment. Not surprisingly the video guys were focused on this issue as it directly impacts them on the iPhone, where according to Justin.tv a full 1/4 of their new user signups are coming from; I’m not clear on whether or not this was all phone platforms or just the iPhone but either way it is a transformative shift for a company like this to realize a fundamental shift away from the desktop as your primary user experience.

Many of the sessions were focused on business models and revenue streams, and somewhat related to that the exploitation of mobile search and location capabilities for ad and online marketing objectives. I sat in on one session focused on online mobile marketing and was interested to learn how ad buyers still have not shifted away from pageview metrics for ad buying, in other words despite a sea shift in evolution in how consumers interact with online services the agency ad buyers are stuck in 1999. We can scoff at this or accept it and reconsider how mobile services that rely on ad driven monetization are pitched, I’d choose the latter.

A couple of sessions that I attended were focused on user interactions and how, to paraphrase, game system mechanics are gradually becoming a core function in new mobile services. This is most evident in the badging phenomena as represented by FourSquare’s point and badge system.

At their core these game dynamics are about increasing participation in a system through playing off human beings natural desire for recognition in social environments… it’s called social signaling and involves achieving some status relative to online peers. I always think of the success that World of Warcraft has achieved by building a system that involves individual status accomplished through successful gameplay, the advancing through levels and the rewards they bring, and perhaps more importantly the recognition for success through collaboration as part of the game play.

It is the collaboration part of WoW that ensures individual users are simply not cheating their way up the levels as being successful in WoW requires the individual user to work as part of a team (a “guild”). There are many successful ranking and rating systems that rely on individual and group competence, SAP’s Developer Network (SDN) builds in this concept through a point system where you accumulate points for participating and then more critically for how valuable your participation is being rated by your peers. Stack Overflow has a very similar concept and by all accounts these are very effective at ensuring the site not only attracts high value participants by also does not become spammy in the process.

Augmented reality was a very popular topic but unfortunately for me the tables were so full that I could not hear the discussion with the background noise. From what I gathered after the fact the core theme is moving beyond mobile web overlays but I’ll leave it at that and do some research to find out more specifically what was being discussed.

Lastly, the “sensorization” of mobile devices is a prominent theme with location capabilities, movement sensors (accelerometers), and RFID offering developers a whole new set of capabilities as a result of the dev platforms offering third party access to these sensor capabilities. Consumers don’t always think about these functions relative to desktop computing because developers do a good job of hiding the complexity in a “it just works” fashion. Red Laser is a great example of this, relying on the camera functionality to scan a barcode which is then used to drive a “best price” function online.

The emergence of RFID is very exciting for me as I have been following this space for many years and made an early stage investment in Retail Solutions (then T3Ci) which relied on the expansion of RFID in the enterprise. Unlike other many other hardware functions in a mobile device, RFID has no significant penalty in terms of power and mass as the technology is passive in nature. An RFID device comes alive when a proximity RFID transmitter broadcasts power to it or it in a larger device it assumes the broadcast role but does so in a highly frugal manner. The hardware is exceptionally small so mobile devices are a natural application.

RFID has many potential applications but perhaps none is greater than mobile payments. Coupons, prizes, and promotions that rely on RFID capabilities are foreseeable, as is the delivery of proximity advertising that lights up when you device passes nearby. This is very much overlapping into the augmented reality topic, such as with the billboards that use eye gaze scanning to detect when you are looking at them.

I’ll refrain from drawing any conclusions about the event last Friday other than to say it was a great opportunity to sit in a room with people representing diverse interest points who converge on the mobile topic with great enthusiasm and depth of knowledge. I learned a lot during the day and would recommend future RWW events to you on this basis alone.

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.

Pay Per Performance Advertising Goes Hyperlocal

I used a new app from mobiQpons yesterday and color me impressed.

The way it works is you install their iPhone, Android or Blackberry app (no signup required, just load the app) and when location services on the device is turned on you will get notifications of merchants offering coupons or promotions in your area. Merchants have to be signed up for the service in order for their promotions to run through the network but that’s not surprising.

From what I can gather the only time that mobiQpons gets paid is when a coupon is redeemed by a customer. This is good because it’s true performance based advertising but it has a potential downside if the merchant in question already has a pretty good online promotion capability, in which case advertising that would normally reach the customer through free channels, like email, will be shifted to the mobiQpons service in which case the merchant is paying not just for the value of the coupon but the fee to the network as well.

It is still a great convenience and I love the fact that the geolocation capabilities filters out the offers that are available to me based on my physical location. Despite the strength of the product and service offering, the key execution variable for mobiQpons will be their ability to promote their merchant partners and for their merchants to promote their mobiQpons offerings… I found out about the service not from a tech blog, press release or the tech press but because Sigonas Market emailed me about it as part of their normal customer outreach. I probably would not have taken the time to download and try out this app were it not for a merchant I already rely upon endorsing it.

Bust a Deal, Face the Wheel

Sprint lost a pretty significant case involving the early termination fees (ETFs) here in California. A contract is a contract and I’m not inclined to cheer the court action nullifying a valid contract between two parties, however it’s also clear that cell phone companies have profitably abused ETFs (e.g. attaching an ETF to a renewal contract even when the consumer didn’t get a new handset) and something needs to be done.

Verizon has a proposal to the FCC that is pretty reasonable. Basically what they are calling for is a national policy on ETFs that allows an opt-out period (similar to a cooling off clause), pro-rated ETFs, and lastly, no ETFs for contract renewals unless the consumer receives a new handset.

While I think this is an issue that needs to be dealt with at a regulatory level, I am not inclined to support judicially inspired chaos that will result from each state regulating the issue independently. What will be a natural consequence of such a market would be handsets that are rendered inoperable on carriers other than the one originally sold on and that can’t be a good thing.

Bonus link, the NY Times has a good piece on ETFs.

200807291129.jpg Sprint Nextel Corp. (S) was dealt a major blow in its early-termination-fee case when a California judge ruled it would have to pay $ 73 million.

[From Sprint Loses Early Termination Fee Case, May Pay $73 Million]

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Mobile Web Dead?

Former Yahoo! Mobile evangelist turned startup entrepreneur Russell Beattie announced today that he’s calling it quits for his company Mowser because the market for mobile browsing is taking a fast turn for the worse. “The mobile traffic just isn’t there,” Beattie says, “It’s not there now, and it won’t be.”

[From Is the Mobile Web Dead? Some Mobile Entrepreneurs Say Yes – ReadWriteWeb]

Carriers have destructive power, mobile devices are restrictive, diversity of devices force considerable porting cost on developers, and lastly, users want a richer experience. Is mobile web dead? That question suggests that it was once alive.

The mobile browser on my iPhone is about as good as they come but on EDGE it’s slooooowwwwww. Even on wifi I rarely use it because I just don’t get enough of a bang out of mobile web apps and typing on the virtual keyboard is laborious.

Stop the insanity! The mass market does not use the mobile web as a regular mode of interacting with the bigger web! If they did we would be seeing traffic numbers growing and application developers moving to the mobile web.

M:Metrics reports that an impressive number of iPhone users have used mobile web features, but what is the sample size polled and did they distinguish between “have used” and “use regularly”? I’ve used my iPhone for all of the reasons M:Metrics reports but only occasionally, usually for looking up phone numbers and addresses (Google maps is rather handy). Obviously my experience is not unique, Gabe Rivera is reporting that mobile Techmeme is less than 1% of his traffic.

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