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Archive for the ‘mobile’ Category

Reading News on an iPad is Astonishly Bad UX

Posted by Bob Warfield on December 13, 2012

pravdaHi, my name is Bob Warfield, and I am a news junkey.  I subscribe to about 200 blogs in my feed reader.  I alternate between my Gmail, Google Reader, and Google News when I have a spare moment of leisure, looking for something new and exciting to discover.  I do this almost entirely on my iPad because it’s nice to get away from my home office desk where I spend most of my time working on my bootstrap company, CNCCookbook.  More and more, I am considering reducing the frequency of my access to Google News and primarily limiting it to my desktop.  The reason?  The User Experience reading news there is astonishingly bad.  Mind you, it’s only a little bit better on the desktop, but I find that accessing it with Chrome instead of the iPad’s built-in browser smooths the journey just ever so slightly, and it needs a Hell of a lot of smoothing.

Welcome to Smoothspan Blog, fasten your seat belts, and keep arms and legs inside the car at all times, because it’s been awhile, and it’s time for a good rant.

Before I go much further, let me give some absolution to Apple and the iPad, though the browser on the device surely could stand to be better.  Some part of what I am about to report is potentially browser related, but I do understand the iPad browser is more like an innocent bystander than the slavering maniac who is dishing out the BS causing my pain (sorry, a little of my inner monologue keeps slipping out when I’m angry).  I will also give partial absolution to Google and their News reader.  Again, it can only be partial, because just as Apple could build a more robust browser (you’ll see what’s needed shortly), Google could treat their news sources like they treat everyone else.  There’ve been SEO-related Google Search releases that heavily penalize sites that are too spammy, for example, but you don’t have to spend long accessing the literary giants like the New York Times via the Google News to see that those who are supposedly well above the commonplace web are offering a UX that has more in common with the worst days of America Online (AOL for you young ‘uns) than it does with their high falutin’ words.

With that aside, it’s time for me to explain what my problem is, and the good news it that it is simple.  When I open the Google News page, here is the sort of thing that happens to me more often than not:

I click an article only to discover I can’t really read it without subscribing due to the pay wall

For example, the Wall Street Journal has been doing this to me.  I’ll wind up on a page with a big giant Pay Wall notice and there is maybe one sentence of actual story text.  Of course Google got to index the whole story and placed it in their News Feed according to the full text, not the one sentence.  This is in violent contradiction to their normal webmaster guidelines where making the experience for Google differ from that of average viewers is strictly Verboten.  It is also in contradiction to their recent changes that heavily penalize pages that show much advertising above the fold.  Advertising?  Fold?  Hah!  On the WSJ stories I’ve been seeing there is nothing but advertising above the fold.  I don’t care who they are or what kind of national treasure their journalists may be, this is spam, served up steaming hot by Google and the WSJ.  Oddly, while this happened to me three times this morning on the iPad, there was no sign of it on my desktop.  I’m sure there’s some cookie or other thing counting off my accesses, and since I mostly read on the iPad, it gets dinged first.

BTW, NY Times, just because you let me see 10 or however many articles before your Pay Wall popup, I’m not any happier.  How about this:

Unlimited articles if accessed via Google News, and however many your Pay Wall allows if I go there via search, a referral link, or directly?

I click on an article and I’m immediately greeted by an offer to download their iPad app

Oh goody.  That’s just what I want.  Guess what guys?  You are needlessly and annoyingly delaying me on the journey to my reward.  I am reading from a feed that has God knows how many different news publications.  What are the chances I want to download an app for each and every one?  This is the Internet in the 2000′s.  There may be some people who want to sit at the breakfast table and read your waste of wood pulp cover to cover.  Leave them to doing that on the wood pulp and leave me out of it.  At least get the hint when I say, “No” the first time and quit asking.

I click on an article and it freezes and reloads multiple times.  Ultimately, it may just crash.

This happens constantly and is the robustness issue I hold Apple partially accountable for.  Apparently, in order to enact their diabolical Pay Wall, Advertising, and Privacy Subversion schemes, the newspapers have to run such wretchedly abusive Javascript, that the browser just can’t handle it smoothly.  I don’t see this in Chrome on my desktop, but it is constant on the mobile devices.  Something comes up.  You start reading.  You might even get one little scroll in.  Then the screen repaints and you’ve lost your place.  Or it freezes and you can’t scroll further until the diabolical machinations have completed.  This may go on through two, three, or even four cycles before it finally settles down.  On any of the cycles, there is a finite chance that the browser evaporates completely due to a crash and you’re left staring at the desktop.  Now you have a question to face, because that newspaper has just asked you in true Clint Eastwood fashion, “Do you feel lucky, punk?”  If you do, you’ll reload.  If not, you’ll demurely return to Google News and look for some other story to read.  After all, you were probably not worthy of the high quality journalism and you mercifully just missed seeing that damned pay wall or an offer to download an iPad app.

Here’s a news flash, if you’ll pardon the pun:  you newspaper guys should fire your IT departments that write this stuff and pick up a nice copy of WordPress.  I never see these problems reading the 200 blogs I subscribe to.  Never.

And gosh, you might save enough to invoke the Pay Wall less often.

I click on an article and it is video.  Worse, it is video that can’t be played on an iPad.

Yes, Steve Jobs can still reach out from the grave with his hatred of Flash and stop us in our tracks on his sacred iDevices.  Excellent.

I don’t tend to like video at all on my iPad.  Playback is often painful, buggy, or nonexistent.  Yet, there’s no way for me to tell in advance that I am headed into a video-only story and that worse, it won’t even play on my iPad.  Sorry Google, I gotta blame this one on you, and yes Apple, you too.  Silly buggers, why did you think this was a good thing?

After I get done reading an article and go back to Google News, it insists on repainting

Hey, love the real time spirit.  But if you spend half your time waiting for repaints either in the news story or Google News, a lot will change and you’ll never even see it.  You Google guys are supposed to be algorithm experts, how about a little algorithm here?  How about if the story isn’t that big a deal, if it is just a rehash of something you already showed, you don’t refresh that more than every 10 minutes or so?  Gimme a chance to get to the bottom of the page once anyway.  If some amazing thing happens, and I’m trusting your algorithm mightily to understand and be reasonable about the definition of “amazing”, then feel free.  But don’t just do it every time anything at all has changed on the front page.

Okay, how do we fix this crappy User Experience?

I could go on for quite a while in that vein.  The UX here really is pathetically bad.  I spend literally hours on the net and never experience anything like it until I get started reading News stories.  That ain’t right.

One approach is for Google to penalize the egregious and Apple to fix their darned browser so it doesn’t crash so much (I have to laugh about the claim Flash accounts for most crashes on Apple devices, pretty sure it is this browser which crashes more than anything I run on my iPad, Flash/AIR apps included).  That’d be nice, but Apple being Apple (“we don’t need no steenking Google Maps and we’ll ship whatever we please whenever we please”) and Google being Google (“honestly, we don’t mean to be Evil, we just are”), that might not happen.

How about just putting some Social voting into Google News?  This way Google can point to real facts from users if the NY Times wonders why it is getting less traffic?  Or, they can point to real facts when Bob Warfield is on a rant and tell him to sit down, users clearly don’t agree.  I believe a lot of good comes of group curation.  Unfortunately, I am just not sure Google cares a lot.  It’s pretty hard to tell what they do care about these days.  Google News might just be something they do so as not to leave an exposed flank and they don’t need to do it particularly well before moving on.

Or, how about counters?  Imagine if each story told what % of the time it was crashing your browser, what % of the time you’d have to go through some full page ad for mobile app or other, the average time it would take to load (another thing Google penalizes everyone but the newspapers for), and, well, you get the idea.  Heads would roll.  Things would get better.

I do find myself wondering about Yahoo.  I used to read their news before I became a Google Guy.  Unfortunately, they’re the people who will constantly log me out of my stock quotes to force me to type in my password expressly so they can sell a full page ad on their login page.  Do I think they will offer a better UX?  Nah, probably not.

(End of Rant)

Wishing you all Happy Holidays and be sure to check out the Geminids meteor storm tonight.  It is happening at a quasi-reasonable hour even.  FWIW, I hit many of the worst problems described above trying to find the details on the Geminids and that’s what drove me to the keyboard.  Sorry for the interruption, and please return to your normally scheduled activities as I will mine.

Posted in apple, business, mobile, user interface | Leave a Comment »

Saw the Microsoft Surface Tablet and Liked It

Posted by Bob Warfield on November 26, 2012

Microsoft Surface

I was at Houston’s Galleria mall during the Thanksgiving weekend and got a chance to spend some time in both the Microsoft and Apple stores there.  I had read a few articles praising the device, such as Jeff Atwood’s piece (which fairly gushes), but was skeptical.  I’m not at all an Apple Fan Boy nor a Windows Fan Boy.  There are things I like about each platform and things I don’t like.  I loved the 17″ Mac Power Book I had at my last job, but hated its lack of Del and other keyboard keys I’m used to as well as its $4000 price tag (the reason I didn’t buy one after leaving and probably the reason they didn’t let me keep theirs, LOL).  I love my iPad and my iPhone, but I stubbornly stick to having the most-powerful Windows machine I can buy (actually build) on my desktop.  I really dig the Apple monitors, and will eventually have to deal with writing the check for one to attach to my crazy homebuilt PC.  You get the idea–I’m all about Best of Breed for each device.

Putting that all aside, I walked into the Microsoft store with an open mind and low expectations.  The first bit of good news and bad news was there weren’t many people there so I got to spend a lot of time with the Surface RT and equally I had a very helpful salesperson do a demo so I didn’t have to struggle learning all the secret gestures folks are complaining about.  It didn’t take long to figure it out and once having done so, I don’t think I’d mind Windows 8 at all.  The biggest issue with it is what others have already said–it’s intended to be used in a touch environment and if you don’t have a touch screen, you’ll be left continually wishing you did.  The bad news was that there weren’t many people.  I went from the Microsoft store to the Apple store within the span of about 45 minutes and the Apple store was completely mobbed.  The big attraction was the tablets, and I got a good look at the new iPad Mini which was also very cool, but I didn’t get to put hands on to any of the pads.  There was a line everywhere I looked.  Clearly the world is thoroughly pre-conditioned at this stage not to bother even stopping in at the Microsoft store, which is a major problem they will have to fix.

Getting back to the Surface RT, I spent a good 20 minutes with it, including the demo.  I got to try both keyboards.  The short story on the keyboards is that they’re both light years ahead of Apple’s touch screen keyboards which I universally hate and avoid unless I absolutely have to get text into one of the devices.  The iPad is truly read only for me.  I will triage email so that anything requiring more than a sentence is left starred in Gmail and waiting for me to get back to my desktop.  With the Surface RT, not only could I type without a problem on either keyboard, but I was doing so in Microsoft Word.  What a joy for someone who writes as much as I do!  The Touch Cover is the thinnest and comes in all those crazy colors.  It’s actually not to bad and I found I could touch type decently on it.  I had read complaints about keys being in weird places and such, but didn’t really notice a problem there.  However, the Type Cover was a revelation because it is a real keyboard.  I had to keep lifting it up to check how thin and light it is because I couldn’t believe they could build that nice a keyboard without having it weigh down the Surface too much.  It’s not a problem.  By all means, try out both, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll want the Touch Cover.

The overall device is super slick.  Apple has little or nothing on Microsoft in terms of the hardware aesthetics.  The touch screen looks great and works great.  I know it isn’t a retina display, but frankly, it looked fine to me.  I loved having access to MS Office, and the demo person was quick to point out that there is a tile that corresponds to the Start menu, so all that gnashing and moaning about the demise of the start menu seems unfounded.  I suspect there are probably some subtle differences that will occasionally be maddening, but it all seemed to hang together really well.

Based on this experience, there were really only two issues I could identify with the Surface.  First, this was a Surface RT, and you really want a Surface that’ll run any Windows software.  That’s coming, and the demo person actually steered us to think hard about waiting for it.  She was very straightforward about trying to understand what we wanted to use the device for, and one of us was looking for a much lighter and slicker alternative to a laptop.  When further queried on which apps she runs most of the time, the salesperson told us the upcoming device would be much better for her.  I think that’s probably true for me too, so I’ll be waiting for the “real” Surface to make a purchase.

The second issue was the troubling difference in traffic to the Apple Store versus the Microsoft Store.  It doesn’t matter how great the device is if nobody knows about it.  It’s early days yet, but I’ll make a prediction.  Once people start seeing the Surface (and not the RT) turning up in work situations and people find it is far lighter but works just as well as a laptop, that’s when it will take off.  It’ll be the workhorse device for what we all used to call Knowledge Workers.  I think Microsoft will have a very nice level of success with it if they handle it reasonably well.  There are shades of the old, “Microsoft wins with the Third Release” rule, and this time it is taking 2 releases as the RT is not the winner.  It’s just kind of a placeholder platform that shows the potential.

The real interesting story will be watching how Apple responds.  Despite all the kvetching about Windows 8, Microsoft now has a unified platform that spans devices.  Yes, it has a UI tuned for tomorrow’s PC’s moreso than today’s through it’s extensive optimization for touch, but historically, betting that tomorrow will get here sooner than expected has been a good bet.  Steve Jobs had been known to roll those very same dice more often than not.  Apple has the challenge that OS/X and iOS are not a unified platform.  They’re vaguely similar platforms.  For now and some time, they have the luxury that their installed base is so large most developers will build for iOS first.  Win 8 has the luxury that a ton of software is already built for it.  It also has the luxury of potentially being the best corporate or business platform.

The other interesting story will be watching who patented what.  Clearly Apple and Microsoft both have huge patent portfolios.  If Apple can patent rectangles with round corners maybe Microsoft can patent tablets with built-in keyboards.  If one gets a decisive patent wedge in, that’ll make it much harder for the other.  I hope there isn’t too much of that because I am firmly in the camp that patents stifle innovation.

It’ll be a great competitive race and consumers can’t help but win from it.

Posted in business, microsoft surface, mobile, platforms, strategy, user interface | 2 Comments »

Mobile First for SaaS? Desktop PC’s Dead? Nope.

Posted by Bob Warfield on October 15, 2012

laser keyboardJust reading another great Jason Lemkin post called, “Mobile First? The Desktop Still Has Three Good Years Left in It in SaaS“.  In it, Jason declares that he believes the Consumer Web mantra of “Mobile First”, but that SaaS still has three good years on the desktop.  He gives some very strong reasons why SaaS on the desktop isn’t dead yet:

-  SaaS is three years behind the Consumer Web.

-  SaaS is Enteprise, and therefore involves complexity Consumer Web doesn’t have to deal with.

-  Most SaaS users are still doing data entry.

The last one is the most important to me, and the one I believe will take a lot longer than 3 years to sort out.  We can tame complexity with better User Experience and smarter software.  A lot of Enterprise Complexity is self-inflicted gunshot wounds that could be avoided.  Workday is one company that took a look at first gen and decided they could do a lot better.  There’s still room after Workday for at least another generation that’s better than that at simplifying things.  That, all by itself, will take longer than 3 years.

But that pesky data entry issue is much harder to solve.  We’re seeing some nibbling around the edges at point-of-sale.  Seems like companies in that space, Square and the rest, are taking a good shot at making the data entry associated with making a retail sale very mobile friendly.  We also see it in the field.  Companies like UPS have had mobile devices for years that were essentially doing inventory tracking.  There are RFIDs, scan codes, and the like to automate tracking processes further.  That category has morphed into the Internet of Things in the current iteration of the Hype Cycle and brings active sensing to the game as well as passive identification and tracking.

Despite all that, anyone that spends even a little time in an Office is struck by a certain hardcore reality:  there are a lot of people working on computers at their desks.  Heck, forget visiting an Office, go to the local coffee hangout.  The people you see in these places  are typing as much as they’re using the mouse.  Take a closer look.  Are they relaxed, or are they squinting a little bit every so often and adjusting their glasses?  That’s telling you that even though they have a nice big keyboard and are able to use 10 fingers instead of 2 thumbs (sometimes my 10 are all thumbs, but I still type faster that way) and even though they have a decent sized screen instead of one the size of a deck of cards or less than an 81/2 by 11 sheet of paper, they are still doing work.  They do not have the luxury, for the most part, of being paid to simply lean back and consume information.  Even if their job does primarily involve consuming information, they will still have to add value to that information and communicate that value in some way.

Sales never were all that big on PC’s, but stroll through a marketing department.  Visit a design group working on new web designs.  Check out the SEO people, pouring over their spreadsheets.  See all those folks writing copy.  Can any of them get by very well on Mobile?  Do they even have a compelling need for Mobile, or is it a nice-to-have?  How about Finance and HR?  Can those guys even get a decent spreadsheet application on a mobile device?  Have you been in many interviews or performance reviews where a Mobile Device was doing the note taking?  I bring my iPad to interviews in Silicon Valley and I have yet to run into a counterpart that brought one.  That’s here in the Valley which is years beyond what happens most places on the Hype Cycle.  Software Development or any other kind of Engineering?  Fuhgeddaboutit.  We do start to see a greater preponderance of pads in weighty executive meetings at larger companies.  But let’s face it, these guys aren’t the future.  They’re the ones who not so many years ago declared the PC a non-starter because all the Cool Execs had people to type for them.

As for smaller, more nimble, more forward looking organizations, go visit a startup incubator some time.  I don’t mean a fund raising and entrepreneur-mentoring incubator.  I mean a real live physical space where startups are born.  It would be so much cheaper for a startup to buy each person a nice iPad, eschew the Office since we’re mobile after all, and cut everyone loose to go get things done.  Except, it wouldn’t be cheaper because they wouldn’t get anything done.  There is value in being connected while we’re mobile for the same reason that there is also great value in physical proximity–it enhances communication.  There is value in having essentially a general-purpose computer with us at all times, even in our pockets, for the same reason that there is value in having a particularly powerful machine at our disposal when we have to be as productive as possible–computers enhance our productivity.

Our industry loves to declare things “dead” as soon as the growth rate of another thing is higher than the first. 9 times out of 10, the old thing never really did die or even get particularly sick. It just hit a point of saturation and we were so busy chasing the hype cycle we forgot to check for the nuances.  Good old install-it-on-the-Home-Office-Server is still alive despite the best efforts of SaaS.  It’s not even clear it’s health is really all that ailing, though we could fairly say it is in it’s late 40′s and no longer in that vigorous under-30 year old age whose lucky denizens feel all but indestructable.  You couldn’t start a new on-premises Enterprise company in all likelihood, but the old ones plug right along.

Are we selling more mobile devices than Desktop PC’s?  Heck yeah!  Because they’re cheaper and because the PC industry quit giving us a reason to upgrade.  When the multicore crisis hit and computers quit getting radically faster every 18 months, what reason was left to upgrade?  Fashion.  Hello Apple, goodbye Dell.  If I’m going to have the same computer for four years, it had better be darned cool.  And meanwhile, I can satisfy my gadget fetish with Mobile goodies.  But, just as some VC’s have started to declare that mobile is HOT, HOT, HOTbecause for the first time there are so darned many devices out there ready to buy NOW, there sure are a lot of Desktop PC’s that are connected and waiting for the right must-have applications to be available.

If you want to see SaaS become a Mobile First industry, figure out a way to make Mobile SaaS more productive, not less productive than Desktop SaaS.  Because I’m not sure Fashion is going to work as well for SaaS as it did for Apple.  At least not without having Steve Jobs here to figure out how.

Posted in mobile, saas | 1 Comment »

The Real Problem With Mobile WiFi: Terrible UX

Posted by Bob Warfield on May 14, 2011

No WiFiStacey Higginbotham with GigaOm wonders why WiFi doesn’t relieve some of the congestion on the mobile networks.

Apparently an AT&T executive says it’s like this:

The executive noted that AT&T didn’t see Wi-Fi helping the nation’s No. 2 carrier offset congestion because in most cases people don’t use Wi-Fi unless they are sitting still in a hot-spot. And apparently, there are plenty of people still wandering around watching YouTube videos.

That’s not the problem.  I often turn off WiFi on my iPhone and iPad even when I am sitting perfectly still when I’m out and about.  There might be a great WiFi nearby, but I never know it.  Why?

Because WiFi has terrible UX.  Let me count the ways:

-  It takes too long to try a connection and get it going.

-  Often, all the available connections are secured.  Don’t even get me started about WEP and similar security.  I won’t use it at all unless I’m pitching on Sand Hill which has the world’s worst cell connections and often no other way to get out to the net.  Life’s too short for the UX to set up a new secure WiFi connection you’ve never seen before.  FWIW, iOS makes this somewhat less painful than Windows.  Microsoft, you really should fix that.

-  Often, connections that are apparently unsecured require interaction.  You have to login, even when you didn’t think you would.  Or, you have to agree to some idiot lawyer’s terms and conditions.

-  You have no idea how secure the connection is.  Sure, mobile wireless isn’t especially secure either, but I’ll bet there is more FUD around WiFi unsecurity.  Its reputation is for being unsecure.

-  The connection drops more times than AT&T if you’re at a public HotSpot.  I was a Starbucks just the other day and it would alternate between being 100% great and 0% dropped connection.   Every time it dropped, I had to accept the terms and conditions again.  Guess how many times I let that happen before I turned it off?

-  Mobile browsers stink at dealing with WiFi.  My iOS devices act like they fell in a black hole if I turn on WiFi or there is a hiccup in the middle of refreshing a page.  If the status changes at all, best thing to do is a complete page refresh.  That’s not always a happy thing.

-  Pet peeve:  You’re at some luxury hotel, resort, or other expensive location.  These bozos want to charge you an arm and a leg for a little Internet connection.  Are they frickin’ kidding me?   That is so 20 years out of date and I think less of whatever business tries this stunt every time I see it.  Connectivity is cheap, so quit jacking me around about it if you want my business.  It’s your table stakes to get me to stay.

My bottom line after trying and trying WiFi?  Unless my 3G connection is terrible or AppStore makes me go to WiFi, I just leave WiFi turned off.  It’s too much trouble.  The User Experience is terrible.

The term “WiFi” was first used commercially 20 years ago.  Isn’t it about time it worked a little better?

A little cooperation between the WiFi devices and the mobile OS makers would go a long way:

-  Get the hot spot and browsers/OS’s working together to send everything back and forth https.  Even if the web site doesn’t support it, the WiFi router can take it back to http once it hits the wire, but leave it secure over the airwaves.

-  Figure out how to make a single box deliver both a secure and open hot spot so all the paranoid peeps can feel safe and I can connect to their hot spot.

-  Introduce a standard set of “hold harmless” terms and conditions that you can accept once on the device and then handshake everywhere you find a hot spot to let it know it doesn’t need to ask again.  If they want more restrictive T’s and C’s, screw ‘em, I’m not using that hot spot.

-  Browsers have to get smarter and smoother about dealing with interruptions and reconnections so they don’t lose their place or go away interminably.

-  Rebuild all the protocols to time out fast–5 seconds maximum.  Look, if its taken a blinkin’ computer 30 seconds to figure out whether the connection is alive you need to assume, “It’s dead Jim.”  30 seconds is 20 years or more out of date with modern levels of performance.  If it takes me that long just to connect, how happy do you think I will be with the BS I get once connected?

-  Mobile browsers should start remembering whether I was happy or not with a connection and make sure the OS knows.  Give me a button to rate the connection.  Choose the connections I like and ignore the connections I hate.  Let me rate my 3G while I’m at it.  Or, let the browser monitor the connection so there is an automatic rating–but make sure I can override it easily.

Businesses, think about your customer’s online connectivity as an integral part of your atmosphere and style.  It’s a connected world, some parts more than others.  If you’re serving lattes, quiche, or expensive wine, you come off like a 50′s diner when your Internet connection stinks.

Posted in mobile, user interface | 3 Comments »

What if You Had an Uber Game Console and an Industrial Graphics Workstation in Your Browser?

Posted by Bob Warfield on February 27, 2011

Adobe has just released its first public “Incubator” (I think that’s early Beta) version of a new Flash player with Molehill API’s.  It represents a whole new level of graphics performance inside your browser.  Imagine being able to run Game Console quality games directly from the browser.  What’s different about Molehill is it directly accesses the hardware GPU capabilities of the underlying machine.  That’s where all the newfound 3D performance goodness is coming from.

Here’s a shot of Zombie Tycoon, a Playstation game, running under Molehill:

Playstation game Zombie Tycoon running under Molehill in a browser Imagine full 3D graphics with rich texts and not just thousands but hundreds of thousands or millions of polygons.  That’s what Molehill is all about.  And it isn’t just for games.  For example, I’ve been playing around in the CAD-CAM world, a decidely un-gamelike but very graphics-intensive world.  Here is a shot of my g-code simulator software G-Wizard:

G-Code is the “assembly language” of CNC manufacturing, where computer-controlled machine tools whittle all parts out of solid chunks of aluminum, steel, or whatever other material is desired.  Those green and red lines show the path the cutter will take as it machines the instrument panel that’s shown on the simulator display above.  Using Adobe Flex, AIR, and the Away3D open source library, I was able to build this application amazingly quickly.  It’s a Fat SaaS architecture, meaning it has the benefits of SaaS but can be run disconnected as well.

Until this point, CAD-CAM has been very much a software world trapped in the cutting edge of the early 90′s, selling software that comes on a gillion DVD’s and selling it for many thousands of dollars worth of on-premises perpetual license.  Given a high performance rendering engine capable of running in a browser, it suddenly becomes possible to bring the benefits of SaaS to this world.  Imagine being able to cruise around the manufacturing Shop Floor, tablet in hand, with full access to all of the product design information and no need to take notes and get back to your office workstation to access the information.  This sort of scenario, where your work follows you instead of forcing the worker to go to the work, seems to me embodies the ultimate potential for the mobile connected world.

With Molehill, the Adobe Flash/AIR environment gives us the ability to:

-  Run Game Console and Industrial Workstation Quality 3D Graphics

-  Build applications that are equally at home whether connected or not either as desktop (or mobile) apps with AIR, or as browser apps with pure Flex or raw Flash.

-  Run portably from one line of source code on essentially all the interesting mobile platforms, with the artificial exception of running in the browser on iOS.  You can, however, create Flash apps for iOS, you just can’t run from the browser.

-  That same line of code can use the excellent screen layout capabilities inherent in the Flex framework to make the app comfortable configuring itself to run on a phone, a tablet, or a PC, again, all with one code base.

-  It’s got hard core image processing and graphics capabilities even aside from the new 3D that are just amazing.  If animation, special effects, precise control over look and feel, or rich UI are at all important, Flash has got it covered.

-  While it doesn’t yet have true multithreading, the Flash engine does a pretty darned good job of using multiple cores for garbage collection, rendering, and now taking advantage of the GPU to achieve more parallelism.  We’re promised that we’ll see multithreading before too long as well, which will open up yet another level of performance.

-  The Flash VM is a pretty high performance interpreter, and the language itself has a lot of very nice dynamic language sorts of features.

-  Unlike Javascript, you need not worry about browser incompatibilities.  The same AIR executable for my G-Wizard software runs just fine on PC, Mac, or Linux.

-  It’s an ideal platform if you’re interested in Rich User Experience and Fat SaaS-style clients.

-  There is a rich  ecosystem with plenty of tools available and plenty of Open Source to assist your development efforts.

If you’re developing client-side software, I can’t understand why you wouldn’t want to be up to speed on what’s going on in the Flash world, whether or not you choose to take advantage of it.  Sure, there are the fanboy trolls who take delight in deriding it, but I’m not aware of any other platform that has the breadth of capability, performance, and robustness.

Posted in cloud, mobile, saas | Leave a Comment »

Virtualization Made Mac What it is Today

Posted by Bob Warfield on February 18, 2011

Sam Diaz is writing about Apple’s latest Draconian App Store subscription policies and how they’re not a bad thing.  Forrester CEO George Colony says Apple is headed for a repeat of their defeat at the hands of Windows with these policies:

We know what happened — the world has had to use a lowest-common denominator PC operating system for decades, with excursions into wonderful places like Vista. This time around, Apple’s hostile position could result in a 2014 App Internet market that looks something like this: 80% Android, 10% Apple, 10% Other.

Colony’s concern is that this is the formative time for app consumption and app markets.  It’s too early to exert a monopolist’s egregious tax on those markets.  People aren’t locked in enough yet.

Diaz has a counter-argument:

Here’s the thing: Colony says that like it’s a bad thing. Say what you will about Apple’s share of the PC market – but the fact is that Apple’s lineup of Mac computers are far superior to anything that’s running Windows. And increasingly, quarter after quarter, the company notes that its share is growing and that about half of the Mac purchases in a single quarter have been by consumers who switched from Windows.

My problem with Sam’s argument is that none of that shift started happening until Virtualization meant you could have your Mac cake and eat some Windows software too.  It isn’t really clear they’re leaving the door open to do that with their App Store policies.  This isn’t about not only having Apple wonderfulness PLUS everything else in the world when Apple doesn’t happen to have the right answer.  It’s about ONLY having the Apple wonderfulness and being glad of it, dammit.

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens come the June 30 deadline for compliance with the new policies.  We will no doubt get hints along the way.  As an iPad user who set aside his Kindle but still constantly reads using the iPad’s Kindle app, I’m keenly interested.

During his last go-round with book publishers and Amazon, Steve Jobs largely managed to get book prices on Kindle raised.  That may turn out to be the result here too.  Kindle charges a “publishing expense” fee back to the book publishers.  So far it covers the wireless costs for Kindle’s built-in Sprint modem.  Perhaps Amazon will decide to roll the iPad 30% into that fee, making books sold there dramatically less profitable for publishers.  There would be a certain poetic justice in that.  The publishers leaned on Jobs to break one walled garden only to see another spring up immediately in its place.  What are they going to do about this one?






Posted in amazon, apple, business, cloud, Marketing, mobile | 1 Comment »

Remember HP’s New Wave? Here We Go Again!

Posted by Bob Warfield on February 15, 2011

Sam Diaz has gotten clarification on the future of Windows in the light of their Web OS announcements.  It should come as no surprise that Windows isn’t going anywhere, and certainly won’t be replaced by Web OS any time soon.  Instead, HP is saying:

HP will integrate the WebOS experience into Windows, but not through virtualization. He said: “…it will be a combination of taking the existing operating systems and bringing WebOS onto those platforms and making it universal across all of our footprint.”

Sounds great.  Been done before.  Remember HP’s New Wave?  It was a new object-oriented UI shell and mini-platform (we looked at possibly using it for our Windows apps at Borland but declined–not enough value add for the trouble) that HP launched way back in 1989.  They’ve been down this road before of trying to enhance Windows.

It’ll be interesting to see whether it works any better this time around.  Personally, I’m betting against.  The little things it adds that have been demoed so far are all obvious things Microsoft should be building into Windows and in fact will have to build if they want to make their Nokia partnership perform as it should.

This is more or less what happened to New Wave.  It introduced some cool stuff that Redmond promptly scooped up and marginalized through various releases of their own.  It’s good news for Microsoft though.  Their engine is not particularly innovative, but if someone else can show them what to do that’s in a format not too far removed from what they’re familiar with they will grind that stuff out like nobody else.  They’ve needed some of that help, though frankly it has been out there lately and Microsoft hasn’t bitten (Xobni, anyone?). 

Perhaps this will get their attention.

Posted in mobile, platforms | 12 Comments »

Nokia-Microsoft Deal Completes the Three Winning Strategies a Market Can Have

Posted by Bob Warfield on February 11, 2011

According to Michael Porter, markets have three winning strategies:

-  Best:  Build the best product in the market.

-  Low Cost Provider:  Compete on Price.

-  Niche:  Service a niche that is under-served by the other two strategies.  All markets have niches of one kind or another.

Can you guess which of the three smartphone players goes in which slot?  It’s easy:

-  Best:  Apple’s iOS products.

-  Low Cost Provider:  Google’s Android

-  Niche:  Nokia-Microsoft had better be targeting this spot, at least for now!

It’s not an unreasonable play for the two companies, although most commentators see it as a marriage of desperation.  Still, we shouldn’t let that reality steal too much away.

How can Nokia-Microsoft serve niches that are underserved by iOS or Android and go on to prosper?

In many ways, the Microsoft .NET world has grown up to be just such a world.  It isn’t really the best, despite what Microsoft or some fans might argue.  The ecosystem that places Oracle instead of SQL Server at its center has that base covered.  It isn’t the cheapest either, since Open Source of various kinds has handily taken that spot.  Instead it has grown up to fit into all the gaps these others leave under-served, and it’s worked out reasonably well for them.  Take a look at the XBox business for example.  It’s been reborn with a vengeance by the Kinect, which is a niche gizmo.  A very cool one to be sure, but it isn’t as if every single game you’ll ever want to play is a Kinect game.

Now in the phone world, Scoble has two pretty good examples of the kinds of niches Nokia-Microsoft can go after:

1. Nokia has dealers and stores in the weirdest places on earth. Places Apple won’t have stores in for decades, if ever.

2. Microsoft has great developer tools.  I will add to that they have the .NET community and ecosystem, which is under-served by iOS and Android.

Ideally, Nokia-Microsoft should look for more of these niches.  For example, Nextel created an awesome cell phone niche play by rolling up the features needed by services that dispatched their trucks, taxis, and other vehicles by 2-way radio.  Perfect example of a niche play.  Nokia-Microsoft will have a great niche if they can better serve Windows users than iOS or Android, since that’s already Microsoft’s niche and a huge one at that. 

Speaking of serving Windows users, HP is showing some fascinating new developments.  For example, the ability to see your phone’s instant messages on your PC without having to go get the phone in the next room.  That’s the kind of stuff Nokia-Microsoft should be doing for Windows.  The question in my mind is where does this leave HP?  They’ve decided to go it alone, even talking about Notebooks without Windows.  The demonstrations they’re showing are spot-on the kinds of things that under-served markets love to get their hands on, so I would say that what we are going to see is a real dogfight between HP and Nokia-Microsoft because neither has much chance of usurping Apple or Google from their Best and Low-Cost plays.

What’s also interesting is we will see the play between Vertical and Horizontal Integration and Partnerships.  Andy Kessler wrote a great article at GigaOm on Ken Olsen, who recently passed away, that talks about how DEC lost the war by trying to be too vertically integrated like IBM.  They wanted to do everything soup to nuts.  I don’t agree that this was DEC’s only problem–they also faced the horror of rebuilding their whole channel to work the way the emerging retail world operated instead of via Direct Sales.  Faced with that, most companies give up.  It means taking a real dip before you get back to ascendency and throwing away many core competencies while you learn something new.  Nevertheless, it was a factor, and one to consider for HP, who are assuming they can go it completely alone.  Yes, there is an installed base, but that’s about it.  Nokia-Microsoft can at least hope to rally a broader ecosystem around their axis which is crucial when dealing with a platform like a mobile phone.

As I was reading fellow EI Vinnie Mirchandani’s take on the whole thing, I was reminded that this is a wonderful study in when to be a polymath (vertical, doing it all) and when not.

The Polymath, who is expert at all the key areas needed for a project, has the advantage in producing the Best because they avoid all of the cruft and friction of fitting together two areas of expertise when the experts don’t speak each other’s language.  Apple may be the world’s foremost example of this, at least in terms of visible consumer products.  In terms of being the Low Cost Provider, there will certainly be opportunities for the Polymath because there are savings to be had in avoiding the friction of fitting together.  However, the advantage is not so great.  The reason is that Best has to start out Best and stay that way.  There is therefore very little time to learn and evolve your way to Best.  Low Cost is always looking for incremental savings.  They can learn their way past their lack-of-Polymath.  For many years, I think Dell would’ve made a fabulous example here.  They outsourced so much that they were basically marketers and component specifiers.  They did not have the Polymath knowledge of a great many things and didn’t want it.  I don’t know if they are still the masters.  Because one can learn to be lower cost, it is a less defensible barrier.  As for the niche, this too seems like an excellent Polymath domain.  Niches often come about because the Best and Cheapest players just don’t know enough about the niche.  The Polymath has to span that gulf in domain knowledge.

It’s going to be interesting to watch the Nokia-Microsoft and HP gambits unfold.  Probably the biggest obstacle against them is time.  Nokia-Microsoft are talking 2 year time scales at a very pivotal point in the Smartphone era.  That’s a long time to wait!

Posted in business, mobile, ria, strategy | 7 Comments »

HP’s Pad UI Printer: We Need More Thinking Like This!

Posted by Bob Warfield on September 20, 2010

What a fabulous idea:  spend $399 for a pad and get a free printer!

That’s the idea behind HP’s Photosmart eStation printer, and I love it.  In fact, we need more thinking like this.

Why continue to offer difficult hardware pushbutton UI on so many devices when a pad interface lets you offer a much richer User Experience?  Can you imagine if every hard push button UI were replaced by a really slick webby UI accessed via one of these pads?  Forget the microwave, which suddenly won’t need to blink its clock, what about the really hard stuff like:

-  Programming a very complex DSLR camera.

-  Heck programming a printer.  I still remember the horror of getting our Helpstream office laser printer to scan and send a Fax.  Brutal!

-  Programming a complete home entertainment system so it really all works together well as an integrated system.

There are only two things not to like, and they point to the same conclusion.  First the two things:

1.  I don’t need a new pad with every device.  That’s a lot of pads!  Imagine how cheap that HP printer would be without a pad.

2.  I want my pads to talk to every device.  Ideally, I want to be able to drop a pad into any device’s cradle for charging too.  No more nest of wall warts!

That conclusion I mentioned is that we could use some standards.  There needs to be a “pad UI RESTful interface API” that works for any pad-loving device.  Probably a chip or two that makes it all easy and automatic.  Memo to chip guys, can we have every pad supporting device be a WiFi hotspot while we’re at it?  Can they relay to each other to extend coverage or what?

Want to control that HP printer with your iPad?  No worries.  Want to control your microwave oven with the printer’s pad?  No worries.  How about your home?  Can I get on my pad after I leave for vacation and turn down my AC, heating and water heater after the fact?  Good and green idea!

I tell you, as I tote my iPad and iPhone around, it would be so cool if they could interact more with the fabric of my existence.  Sure it gets a little creepy sometimes, but I can get over that.  Wouldn’t it be great to have maybe one pad per room, and the ability to control any appliance in the room, plus the room’s lighting from any pad in the house? 

Whoa.  That would be a very cool idea.  Who will Open Source the first version?  Google, you wanna sell ads on my washing machine?  Build this pad stuff and get it out as Open Source.  I’m all for it.  You know you want to!

Related Articles

HP just blew up Android tablet pricing (with a printer):  Competition works, consumers look on and cheer!

And why not a Pad UI for my car?  My kids are old enough those stupid baby locks are a real nuisance.

Posted in mobile, user interface, wireless | Leave a Comment »

The Notebook Sales Crash

Posted by Bob Warfield on September 17, 2010

Year on year sales growth for Notebooks have entered negative territory for the first time ever: 

Notebook Sales Crash

Notebook Sales Crash

It was already underway before the iPad was launched, but I’m sure the iPad hasn’t helped.  Looks to me like the whole thing is a victim of this massive recession we’re still finding ourselves in.  And the truth is, there are more things to spend our money on.  

These are retail notebook sales, so presumably they reflect consumer and perhaps small business more than business in general, which is also telling.  I suspect there aren’t too many large enterprises financing iPad purchases yet.  Best Buy’s CEO is being widely quoted as saying their internal numbers show iPad is cutting into sales by up to 50%.  Let’s not forget the Kindle either.  Love the new Kindle vs iPad videos, they’re funny. 

Here is the essential buyer decision: 

-  Times are tough, money is tight. 

-  Do you really want to upgrade the notebook you probably already own? 

-  Or, would you rather soldier on with that notebook at least another year and get the new hotness in town, an iPad? 

Seems like not much of a decision to me.  I have always been more of a desktop guy, and I get more that way as I get older.  The reason is power and a big display.  I’m running some pretty hefty tools for things like CNC machine work (CAD/CAM).  Very graphics intensive.  And I want a lot of pixels and the computing grunt to move them around fast.  So I like my desktop, especially since it was upgraded not that long ago with a new Mobo, latest multicore cpu, graphics, and solid state disk (boots in about 12 seconds).  

I guess if there is good news, it is that I suspect people are soldiering on and not just discarding notebooks in favor of iPads.  At some point, they will want to upgrade, but not until they have their ‘pad (whichever brand it may be).  

I have a laptop too.  It’s more like 3 years old and is squarely in the category of “good enough”  and not “great”.  And I have an iPad.  One thing I noticed is that while I can’t replace the notebook with the iPad, I sure can use it in place of the notebook pretty often.  There are certain times when I am going to a meeting and I know I want to run software that won’t run on the iPad.  That happens pretty seldom, and hopefully even less seldom now that I can run some Flash on iPad.  

The primary thing the iPad isn’t very good at (so not very good my barely good enough notebook has it beat) is content creation.  Whether for lack of the apps, the touch keyboard, the screen form factor, or whatever, it just doesn’t work for content creation.  I’ve tried it, and no joy.  But, how often do I need mobile content creation?  It turns out, not very often.  Unless I’m travelling (where I take the notebook in my checked luggage and carry on the iPad), I don’t need it at all. 

Interesting to think about what it would take for the iPad to become a really slick content creation device.  I’m envisioning a clamshell carrying case with integrated keyboard.  I have Apple’s keyboard, and it is very flawed.  For starters, it wants to run in portrait instead of landscape mode.  You can get around that with a cable, but then the shape is awkward for compact carrying.  I want a keyboard like Apple’s, built into a clamshell.  Open the clamshell and you can set up the iPad in an easel-like configuration with landscape screen view.  The keyboard should fold down.  Make it easy to snap the iPad in and out, because I view this case as being a some time thing for when I need to travel and create content.  Add the right content creation software (not convinced they are there yet, BTW), and it would be quite a handy gadget. 

Of course that’s all add-on BS.  The ultimate killer notebook would look like a regular notebook except that the screen would pop off to become a ‘pad.  Imagine if Apple built one of those.  Now that would be the new hotness!

Related Articles

Of course BestBuy now wants to retract their statement.  I’m sure the notebook manufacturers who are their partners wanted to know, “WTF?”

Posted in mobile | Tagged: | 2 Comments »


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