Category Archives: 软件 | software | 소프트웨어

The smartphone value system

Benedict Evans in his post Unbundling innovation: Samsung, PCs and China compared the smartphone industry to the PC industry where value began to be hollowed out and the market became commoditised.

Evans claims that this is already happening to Samsung. Part of the challenge is that so much of the design of the hardware layer in phones comes from reference designs by component manufacturers like Qualcomm and reference design work done by manufacturers like Foxconn. Globalisation outsourced hardware design innovation, a plus side of this is that there is a whole eco-system in southern China that can support anyone who wants to make a branded handset building on experience gained working with major technology brands.

As he quite rightly points out some businesses are looking to take control of their business by building beyond hardware and into the service stack.

A number of manufacturers put their own UI over Android like HTC’s Sense UI and Huawei’s Emotion UI. Whilst these contributed to a handset personality, they didn’t provide differentiation. Facebook even tried to get in on the act with Facebook Home, but the user experience left something to be desired according to reviewers.

Manufacturers tried to add applications in their phones, which competed with Google’s own application stack. At the present time, no Android manufacturer has come up with a killer application for their brand of phone, mainly because they replicated Google’s efforts and with the exception of Samsung, the application wouldn’t be sufficiently ubiquitous – particularly if it was some sort of communications platform like say Whatsapp.

Meanwhile, Google hasn’t been sitting quietly on the sidelines but has been using its power within the community to exasperate commoditisation by combatting manufacturers efforts at software customisation. This process has been rolled further into the Android efforts with strict guidance on Android Wear devices. All of this may feel quite similar to Microsoft Windows around about the time of their dispute with Netscape.
The ultimate budget phone shootout: Xiaomi Redmi vs Huawei Honor 3C vs Motorola G.
Deeper innovation requires a fork in the Android OS and a break with some if not all of the services. This break has been forced on Chinese manufacturers anyway as consumers wouldn’t be able to access Google’s maps, email or search. Which is the reason why Xiaomi’s MIUI, Jolla’s Sailfish OS and CyanogenMod have an opportunity to work with phone manufacturers.
Charles' Jolla phone
However, the ironic aspect of this is that any of these platforms became too successful they would wield as much power as Google does at the moment.

A sweet spot for hardware manufacturers would be a hetreogenuous OS environment, all of which will run Android-compliant applications. In order for this to work, you would need an equivalent of POSIX compliance for Unix-type operating systems for these mobile OS’ and a way of ensuring that platform innovation didn’t ossify either the OS or the internet services supporting it.

Where does Apple fit into all this?
Could the HTC One have been built without manufacturers having invested in milling machines after the introduction of the iPhone 5 aluminium monocoque chassis? Apple’s process innovations / popularisation of production techniques opens up opportunities for the wider Android community. This is because of Apple’s focus on materials innovation as well full integration of the services and software stack.

This lends weight to a viewpoint that Apple has in some respects has become a ‘fashion brand’ as one of my colleagues put it, think a watchmaker rather than say a fashion house like Louis Vuitton and the analogy has a certain amount of merit. This also implies that when thinking about the iPhone the value decision lifts itself out of the economic rational actor. However there are also shifting costs. You don’t buy a DSLR camera, you buy into a system since the camera needs lens in order to work. Applications (particularly paid for applications) play a similar role, as do services.  There is an inherent switching cost away from iPhone, this is lower when switching platform from Andrioid to iPhone and practically none existent for many users upgrading their Android handsets.

So in many respects Apple sits apart from this in the same way that the Mac sat within, yet apart from the PC industry.

More information
Unbundling innovation: Samsung, PCs and China
Android and differentiation | renaissance chambara
Messaging’s middleware moment | renaissance chambara
The folly of technology co-marketing budgets | renaissance chambara
HTC One – gsmarena

Messaging’s middleware moment

Back in the mid-1990s Microsoft missed out on the web as a nascent platform. In fact the first edition of The Road Ahead that Bill Gates wrote alongside Nathan Myhrvold and Peter Rinearson saw the Internet as one of the “important precursors of the information highway…suggestive of [its] future” (p. 89); he noted that the “popularity of the Internet is the most important single development in the world of computing since the IBM PC was introduced in 1981” (p. 91) but “today’s Internet is not the information highway I imagine, although you can think of it as the beginning of the highway“, the information highway he envisioned would be as different from the Internet as the Oregon Trail was to Interstate 84.

One reviewer noted that

World Wide Web receives just four index citations and is treated as a functional appendage of the Internet (rather than its driving force)

And for a while Netscape had a clear run at the browser market, building up to one of the largest IPOs ever. One of the things that made Netscape so dangerous was that the browser became the gateway to applications like sales orders, email or looking up a database and the browser became an operating system substitute. It no longer mattered so much if you had a Mac or a PC.  The browser and web effectively became middleware.

I realised last year that messaging services like KakaoTalk, WeChat and LINE were moving beyond messaging to becoming something more. By becoming platforms they could provide a richer experience to users, the integrate:

  • Gaming
  • A blogging-type platform
  • Payments
  • Social commerce
  • Travel information

This looks eerily close to Netscape’s web of middleware positioning in the mid-1990s. Ted Livingston, CEO of Kik outlined just this scenario in an article on the messaging landscape for Techcrunch last week.

Where this gets interesting is when think about what this means for the likes of Google’s Android operating system or Microsoft Windows phone, where the raison d’être of these operating systems is as a gateway to web services (and an audience for mobile advertising). The more functionality that happens inside the messaging application, the less opportunity there is for the likes of Google and Microsoft to direct the consumer towards their advertising inventory.

It corrodes the very reach Google tried to achieve by having its own smartphone operating system and competing with Apple. Google is already under assault in the operating system itself as Chinese vendors like Xiaomi and Oppo alongside Amazon have customised their own operating systems based on Android.  Google services are not provides on a third of Android devices sold already, messaging applications as a platform exasperate the situation further.

More information
After WhatsApp: An Insider’s View On What’s Next In Messaging | TechCrunch
`Road Ahead’: Gates And Our Pc Future | Seattle Times
After WhatsApp: An Insider’s View On What’s Next In Messaging | TechCrunch
Netscape’s Internet OS | Dave Winer
US versus Microsoft: proposed findings of fact | U.S. Department of Justice
Chrome OS: The ghost of Netscape rises to haunt Microsoft | betanews
Netscape complaint | Harvard University Berkman Center Openlaw site
Rise and Fall of Netscape Browsers | Strategic Computing and Communications Technology class archive University of California, Berkeley
The Browser Is The New Operating System | Techdirt

Eight trends for the future: web-of-no-web

The web as we know it was built on a set of underlying technologies which enable information transport. Not all information is meant to reside in a website to be surfed or queried.  Instead much of the information we need relies on context like location, weather or the contents of your fridge. Web technologies provided an lingua franca for these contextual settings and like most technological changes had been a long time in coming.

You could probably trace their origins back to the mid-1990s or earlier, for instance the Weather Underground published Blue Skies; a gopher-based graphical client to run on the Mac for the online weather service back in 1995. At this time Apple were working on a way of syndicating content called MCF (Meta Content Framework) which was used in an early web application called Hot Sauce.
Hot Sauce was a web application that tendered a website’s site map in a crude 3D representation.

A year later PointCast launched its first product which pushed real-time news from a variety of publications to a screen saver that ran on a desktop computer.
PointCast screenshot
The key thing about PointCast was it’s push technology, covered in this edition of the Computer Chronicles

The same year that PointCast launched saw the launch of the XML standard: markup language that defines a set of rules for encoding documents in a format that is both human-readable and machine-readable. This meant that there was a template to provide documents and stream information over the web.

Some of the Apple team responsible for MCF had moved to Netscape and worked on ways of importing content from various media outlets into the portal; they created the first version of RSS (then called RDF) in 1999. The same year, Darcy DiNucci coined the term web 2.0; whilst this is associated with the rise of social networks, it is as much about the knitting of websites: the provision of services online, integration between websites taking data from one source and melding it with another using a web API formatted in an XML type format or JSON – which does the same job.

By the early noughties applications like Konfabulator (later Yahoo! Widgets) launched their first application to ‘put a skin on any information that you want’.

Major web properties started to license their content through APIs, one of the critical ideas that Flickr popularised was that attribution of the data source had its own value in content licensing. It was was happy to share photos hosted on the service for widgets and gizmos so long as users could go back through the content to the Flickr site. This ability to monetise attribution is the reason why you have Google Maps on the smartphone.

So you had data that could be useful and the mechanism to provide it in real time. What it didn’t have so far was contextual data to shape that stream and a way of interfacing with the real world. In parallel to what was being driven out of the US on the web, was mobile development in Europe and Asia. It is hard to understand now, but SMS based services and ringtones delivered over-the-air to handsets were the big consumer digital businesses of their day. Jamba! and their Crazy Frog character were consumer household names in the mid noughties. It was in Europe were a number of the ingredients for the next stages were being created in meaningful consumer products. The first smartphones had been created more as phones with PDAs attached and quicker networks speeds allowed them to be more than glorified personal information managers.

The first phone that pulled all the requisite ingredients together was Nokia’s N95 in early 2007, it had:

  • A good enough camera that could interact with QRcodes and other things in the real world
  • Powerful enough hardware to run complex software applications and interact with server-side applications
  • A small but legible colour screen
  • 3G and wi-fi chipsets which was important because 3G networks weren’t that great (they still arent) and a minimum amount of data network performance is required
  • A built-in GPS unit, so the phone ‘knew’ where it was. Where you are allows for a lot of contextual information to be overlaid for the consumer: weather, interesting things nearby, sales offers at local stores etc

All of these ingredients had been available separately in other phones, but they had never been put together before in a well-designed package. Nokia sold over 10 million N95s in the space of a year. Unfortunately for Nokia, Apple came out with the iPhone the following autumn and changed the game.

It is a matter of debate, but the computing power inside the original iPhone was broadly comparable to having a 1998 vintage desktop PC with a decent graphics card in the palm of your hand. These two devices set the tone for mobile computing moving forwards; MEMs like accelerometers and GPS units gave mobile devices context about their immediate surroundings: location, direction, speed. And the large touch screen provided the canvas for applications.
Halifax homefinder application
Locative media was something that was talked about publicly since 2004 by companies like Nokia, at first it was done using laptops and GPS units, its history in art and media circles goes back further;  for instance Kate Armstrong’s essay  Data and Narrative: Location Aware Fiction was published on October 31, 2003 presumably as a result of considerable prior debate. By 2007 William Gibson’s novel Spook Country explored the idea that cyberspace was everting: it was being integrated into the real-world rather than separate from it, and that cyberspace had become an indistinguishable element of our physical space.

As all of these things were happening around me I was asked to speak with digital marketers in Spain about the future of digital at the end of 2008 when I was thinking about all these things. Charlene Li had described social networks as becoming like air in terms of their pervasive nature and was echoed in her book Groundswell.

Looking back on it, I am sure that Li’s quote partly inspired me to look to Bruce Lee when thinking about the future of digital, in particular his quote on water got me thinking about the kind of contextual data that we’ve discussed in this post:

Don’t get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.

Lee wrote these words about his martial arts for a TV series  called Longstreet where he played Li Tsung – a martial arts instructor to the main character. Inspired by this I talked about the web-of-no-web inspired by Lee’s Jeet Kune Do of ‘using no way as way‘.

In the the slide I highlighted the then new points of interaction between web technologies  and platforms with the real world including smartphones, Twitter’s real-world meet-ups, the Wii-controller and QRcodes.

A big part of that context was around location aware applications for instance:

  • Foursquare-esque bar and shop recommendations
  • Parcel tracking
  • Location based special offers
  • Pay-per-mile car insurance
  • Congestion charging
  • Location-based social networking (or real-world avoidance a la Incognito)
  • Mobile phone tour guides

And that was all things being done six years ago, with more data sets being integrated the possibilities and societal implications become much bigger. A utopian vision of this world was portrayed in Wired magazine’s Welcome To The Programmable World; where real-world things like getting your regular coffee order ready happen as if by magic, in reality triggered by smartphone-like devices interacting with the coffee shop’s online systems, overlaid with mapping data, information on distances and walking or travel times and algorithms.

What hasn’t been done too well so far has been the interface to the human. Touch screen smartphones have been useful but there are limitations to the pictures under glass metaphor.  Whilst wearable computing has been experimented with since the early 1970s and helped in the development of military HUDs (head-up diplays) and interactive voice systems, it hasn’t been that successful in terms of providing a compelling experience. The reasons for this are many fold:

  • Battery technology lags semiconductor technology; Google Glass lasts about 45 minutes
  • The owner needs to be mindful of the device: smartphone users worry about the screen, Nike Fuelband wearers have to remember to take them off before going and having a swim or a shower
  • Designs haven’t considered social factors adequately; devices like Google Glass are best matched for providing ‘sneak information’ just-in-time snippets unobtrusively, yet users disengage eye contact interrupting social interaction. Secondly Google device doubles as a surveillance device antagonising other people
  •  Many of the applications don’t play to the devices strengths or aren’t worth the hassle of using the device – they lack utility and merit

That doesn’t mean that they won’t be a category killer wearable device or application but that they haven’t been put on the market yet.

More information
Fragmented Future – Darcy DiNucci
Data and Narrative: Location Aware Fiction – trAce
William Gibson Hates Futurists – The Tyee
The future of social networks: Social networks will be like air | Empowered (Forrester Research)
Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff
Welcome To The Programmable World | Wired
A brief rant on the Future of Interaction Design | Brett Victor
The Google Glass post | renaissance chambara
I like: Sony’s Smarteyglasses | renaissance chambara
The future of Human Computer Interaction | renaissance chambara
Consumer behaviour in the matrix | renaissance chambara
Eight trends for the future
Eight trends for the future: digital interruption
Eight trends: Immersive as well as interactive experiences
Eight trends for the future: Social hygiene
Eight trends for the future: contextual technology
Eight trends for the future: Brands as online tribes
Eight trends for the future | Divergence
Eight trends for the future: Prosumption realised

The Tizen Post

BusinessInsider published an interesting article about Samsung, the Tizen mobile operating system and Apple. Some of the assertions in the article looked over certain facts about Tizen.

What is Tizen?
Tizen is a mobile operating system based on Linux, in this respect it shares common ground with Firefox OS, Ubuntu for smartphones and Google’s Android operating system. It has gone through a number of iterations to become what it is today. Tizen can trace its development back to Intel and Nokia’s separate efforts to develop a next generation Linux-based mobile operating system. Both companies had put their weight behind WiMax rather than LTE for fourth generation mobile networks so merging their offerings into one distribution could help move things along. The merged product became Meego. Samsung merged their LiMo mobile Linux effort with Meego to create Tizen. Tizen also gained components from Samsung’s Bada operating system.

BusinessInsider assumes that Tizen is a Samsung thing
Whilst Samsung is the lead in Tizen, and has some of the technology wrapped in onerous licences,  Tizen has attracted support from other vendors. The Tizen Association includes Fujitsu and Huawei as rival vendors. Huawei is one of the largest Chinese mobile phone vendors, so competition for Samsung at the low and mid-range of it’s market.

Tizen is a premium product
Tizen could be a premium product and it could be a source of differentiation based on the user experience and performance of the software with the hardware. At the moment however it may not look that way, Tizen on phones looks suspiciously like Android on a Samsung phone. Which is interesting given that a number of Samsung challengers like HTC, Huawei and Oppo are pushing the user experience differentiation further with varying degrees of success

Secondly, the code merged in from the Bada framework was not designed for premium handsets, however you could argue that it would perform better since it was leaner on high performance devices.

What I think is more interesting about Tizen is its apparent husbanding of computing resources; the Samsung Gear 2 watch has a battery life that is reported twice to three times as long as the original Samsung Galaxy Gear. Given the size of the device, an appreciable amount of this change must be due to optimisation work that Samsung did on the Tizen operating system running on the Gear 2 compared to what it had to work with in Android on the Galaxy Gear.

As Steve Jobs said back in 2005 when discussing Apple’s move from PowerPC to Intel processors, computing was moving from performance improvements to a more nuanced performance per Watt improvements. Battery technology, in particular power density and improved battery formulations does not move at a particularly fast pace in comparison to say microprocessor design, solid state or disk storage and display design. This is the reason why Google Glass has a battery life that allows roughly 45 minutes of continuous usage.

You husband power in the product through taking a holistic approach to engineering power-saving in both the software and the hardware; it involves tight integration and control over both factors. Tizen gives Samsung more of this control than it currently enjoys with Android. This control could also help Samsung harden the security of phones for the enterprise, however Tizen isn’t unique in this regard and the defence industry has decided to go down the route of securing Android itself; a great example of this is Boeing’s Black Phone

Tizen and Google
As margins become tighter on handset manufacturers Google looks like it is likely to make more money from Android users than they will. It is the reason why both Apple and Xiaomi have a combined services and hardware sales model so that they gain from the lifetime of the consumer usage rather than just the device sale. Secondly Google is being seen as increasingly using its monopolistic power against handset manufacturers in tactics that look reminiscent of the relationship between PC manufacturers and Microsoft.

In order for Samsung to break from Google it would need to build or integrate various services; just a few years ago Samsung was considered to have the whip hand in its relationship with Google over the Android operating system and the purchase of Motorola was partly seen as a hedge against this power.

BusinessInsider suggested that Google’s sale of Motorola’s handset business to Lenovo could be read as a perception that Google feels it no longer needs that hedge and that Samsung couldn’t build services that would threaten Google. Samsung don’t seem to have achieved this so far, but that doesn’t mean that they couldn’t do it in the future.

Tizen is interesting, particularly Samsung’s mastery of power management, Samsung also possesses deep pockets, for instance it could buy Jolla outright and gain a better looking operating system whilst still retaining Tizen’s compatibility with Android applications. Tizen isn’t a mobile only operating system but could be extended into Samsung’s brown and white goods product ranges and the new product categories opening up around the ‘web of no web’ from wearables to smarter out-of-home and retail marketing.

More information
Apple And Samsung’s New Tizen Strategy – Business Insider
Why Google Is Not Scared Of Samsung Forking Android – Business Insider
Samsung Announces the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, Both Run Tizen Instead of Android | Droid Life
Tizen-based Samsung Gear 2 ditches Android, adds music player (hands-on) | CNet
Samsung drops Android for Tizen in new Gear 2 smartwatches | The Verge
Hands-on with Samsung’s Tizen OS: An impressively capable Android clone | Ars Technica
Tizen signs up new allies, but still no real phone | Mobile World Congress – CNET Reviews
Tizen Association
Samsung finally folding Bada OS into Tizen | The Verge

What We Actually Know About Software Development, and Why We Believe It’s True

Probably one of the best presentations on software development that I have seen in a good while. What comes out is the lack of rigor and science around software engineering research.

2014: just where is it all going?

You can read about how I got on last year here. This year’s predictions in no particular order:

Amazon won’t do drone delivery in 2014 -  The reasons for this are many. Drones are limited by payload, to ability to land, the amount of energy they can hold for flight time and piloting. It is no small feat to fly a single drone let alone a parcel carrying fleet of them. Secondly, what do you do if the recipient isn’t at the landing zone? And we haven’t addressed ill-defined regulatory issues.

Small data – at the end of last year I ended up speaking to a retailer who wanted to do something with their customer database. Looking at it was underwhelming. Just over 200 customer records with only a fraction of them having email addresses. This was an extreme example, a large part of their problem was that data acquisition was done through the till, whilst customers would be paying for goods. Retail staff would then be torn between dealing with customer queues and trying to capture customer data.  Hadoop is now bandied around like it is a common tool when in reality it only benefits the largest data sets. 2014 could benefit from a renewed focus on delivering value by sorting out the small data first.

Offline to online integration – companies like, Verifone and Brightmove media for cinema and taxi advertising respectively are symptomatic of a wider move that integrates online and offline media. The holy grail would be a multi-channel customer journey with correct levels of attribution of sales. We are starting to get there with the right context data sets: location-based weather forecasts, geo-fencing and Apple’s iBeacon

Algorithmic display advertising – Greater cross-media integration would require a greater degree of sophistication in media buying, moving towards algorithm-driven purchases within a real-time scenario. The challenges will be in ensuring artwork is appropriate, rendering formats, transmission; building algorithmic models themselves and demonstrating advertising effectiveness sufficiently well.

Mobile display advertising gets a radical reduction in formats – I had been looking at the different advertising options on mobile platforms and page takeovers seemed to make the most sense, which begged the question why have other inventory options. I suspect that other advertisers may take a similar stance.

Content marketing on OTT platforms – at the moment OTT platforms like WeChat are used predominantly as electronic direct marketing pushing out regular promotions or coupons to the audience. But the platforms also the opportunity to measure the impact of storytelling by weaving the platform into a multi-channel programme alongside video and websites. For the right brands special edition stickers offer an opportunity as well.

Chinese technology brands will finally be successful outside China – Xiaomi’s vertically integrated model of hardware, software and services is looking to expand outside of China to reach a larger Southeast Asian audience. CyanogenMod-based smartphones provide other manufacturers to follow a similar model. Oppo’s N1 was recently launched CyanogenMod edition phone gained Google certification, paving the way for other integrated offering like Xiaomi, so expect software and service innovation.   Tencent’s WeChat will break through, based firstly on foreign brands looking to engage with Chinese consumers within and outside the country – expect a bridgehead to be built by the hospitality industry.

Privacy issues won’t change much with consumers – Whilst legislators may wring their hands and engineers build new products consumers won’t do much mainly because of inertia and a sense that it’s just way things are. Don’t believe me? Case in point, how many people do you know have moved their bank account, despite the UK government legislating that can now be done with just one form?

Technology company workers are the new bankers – protests in Oakland over Google commuter buses, technology sites giving Hello-esque coverage of staff canteens and luxury office and East London warping into something similar to Notting Hill a couple of decades ago, coupled with a growing army of working poor is going to create a heady mix of jealousy and the inevitable backlash similar to the student bashing that used to go on in Leeds. Expect some Hoxton twits to get twatted.

The rise of immersion – From the Oculus Rift glasses to a creative agency in Argentina using haptic technology to allow fathers to share with mothers how their child is developing as part of a marketing campaign for a babycare brand – immersive technologies are once more on the ascendancy for the first time since the mid-1990s.

Machine learning will threaten to disrupt programming – The current most popular computer science course at Stanford is machine learning, Qualcomm is looking to make machine learning based processors in 2014, this will disrupt computer programming and the schemas created by programmers across a wide range of applications from enterprise processes and workflows to consumer services like search. Whilst this won’t develop commercial applications in anger in 2014, developers may start to develop distinctly luddite tendencies.

A race to the bottom will bring out hyper-competition in mobile semiconductor suppliers – players like Qualcomm will come under price pressure from the likes of MediaTek and Spreadtrum who will provide high-quality and performance silicon at bargain basement prices to match the needs of Chinese OEMs living on razor-thin margins. Expect new operating systems and web services to take advances of these high performance bargain basement price devices.

Crystal ball-gazing: 2013 how did I do?

As with a number of previous years I put my head together and came up with three predictions for 2013, now is the time when I measure how I did. Unlike previous years I made less predictions than I have done in previous years, so the only way I can beat my 85.7% prediction rate from last year is by being completely right.

It’s the economy stupid

I felt that the economy would be a key shaper of technological trends in 2013; I predicted a wider use of messaging services like Facetime or Skype and there seems to have been an explosion in OTT messengers as consumers move away from more expensive SMS to richer alternatives. In addition China Mobile has looked to address the needs of the global Chinese and Hong Kong people, as well as those who have connections there like me with its Jego application designed to provide a Skype-In like service at minimum cost.

  • A large section of the web is ad-supported from Facebook to news sites, companies generally reduce advertising spend in straitened times. Yahoo! during the bust saw advertising revenue declne by a third, which gives an idea of what could be in the pipeline

  • The launch of Windows 8 has gotten off to a slower than expected start, part of the reason for this is that consumer PC purchasing cycles have been extended from four-to-five years. Now part of that could be because we don’t need to buy ever more powerful computers all the time if we are using them primarily for web-related tasks, but it could also be because incomes are tighter. Tablets like the Apple iPad could be what economists would call substitute products (like using margarine as a cheaper replacement for butter)

  • This is also likely to mean that new ways of selling us televisions like Sony’s innovations in creating 4K displays will have a slow adoption rate because we don’t want to buy films we have on DVDs and Blu-Ray yet again, so technological upgrades will starve media cash-cows

  • I would expect household discretionary media budgets to be squeezed which is probably why Sky has looked at a la carte online video models in the UK

One aspect of the technology sector that is ripe for a restructure in the current economy is venture capital firms as many of them who invest in ‘easy innovation’  have a raison d’être that looks increasingly uncertain. Web-based start-ups are increasingly been bootstrapped together by the technically savvy; Kickstarter allows for the trial of consumer hardware concepts.

Whilst I was right about the economy, I completely missed how it would radically change the tariff models of a few mobile telecommunications providers, notably T-Mobile US and 3UK – both underdogs trying to carve out market share in straightened times.

Advertising overall seems to be remarkably robust, at least in the UK this year. However when one looks at some of the hot new platforms like the OTT messenger services what is striking about them is how they are not looking to advertising spend for their revenues instead looking at selling platform services like: official accounts, m-commerce or digital commerce (gaming and stickers) to consumers.

Tablet sales to consumers have gone well, the market helped by lower cost Android tablets as well as the iPad, and PC sales have continued to decline according to IDC. In March their predictions of a tablet computing shaped showed PC usage being made up of just under 50 per cent tablets by 2017.
IDC Data March 2013

By December this year IDC dialed down its predictions for tablet sales growth a notch from earlier on in the year, but it still represented some 53 per cent growth compared to 2012.

Microsoft has put some of the blame in low adoption of Windows 8 on the radically different experience and is experimenting with bringing back the start menu. Microsoft has also worked at trying to blur the lines between tablet and PC, something I am less convinced about though this may change with the right industrial design.

In terms of ultra-high definition or 4K TVs interest was more muted than for internet enabled TVs according to Google Trends. Interestingly Blu-Ray was showing a bigger decline in interest as consumers presumably cut back on content consumption and streaming offered an adequate substitute.

I put 3D TV in the mix as the hot area of a few years ago to benchmark against. 3D did much better in the cinema as part of an immersive experience than at home. And I would question how much smart TVs are actually used for web browsing given their ‘lean-back’ user case. There was some rare good news for Sony in the search trends with it’s branding being the one most cited by consumers searching for 4K TV.

In terms of 4K there are currently a lot of adoption barriers:
High price – most 4K TVs at launch were over 10,000 USD in price.

Scarity of content to take advantage of it, no broadcast services are currently planned so getting the content available into the hands of consumers. Sony talked about a streaming service when launching it’s 4K TVs. However streaming over most internet connections wouldn’t allow for an immediately watchable experience, according to Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu:

A one hour compressed 4K film is about 160GB and would take seven and a half hours to download on a 50 Mbit/s

An eight-layer Blu-Ray disc could hold 200GB of data; again this may not be enough for a full feature film and definitely wouldn’t be suitable for the kind of ‘binge viewing’ that consumers seem to do with Netflix and their peers.

Dataxis thinks that there will be 2.2 million 4K households worldwide by the end of the year. It is no concidence that NPD DisplaySearch is predicting the greatest growth opportunity for 4K televisions being in the more dynamic Asian markets that have seen sustained economic growth:
NPD DisplaySearch predictions on 4K TV
NPD DisplaySearch talk about a longer decline in television sales due to hyper-competition, low margins and extreme market seasonality.

Consumer media budgets being crushed has offered an opportunity to Netflix and their peers who are bringing  downward price pressure on media content for consumers due to their competition. The cable companies don’t seem to be addressing this effectively at the moment.

My predictions about funding of companies, seemed to have at least some validity:

  • Jolla used a crowd-funding-type model to pre-sell it’s new handset
  • Oculus VR which was founded using crowd funding got second stage funding from venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz

The struggles that Kleiner Perkins Caulfield  & Byers (KPCB) have gone through recently are at least partly due to the fact that venture capital models don’t work particularly well with ‘hard innovation’ involving basic scientific research needed in areas like clean technology.

3D-Printing is interesting, but isn’t the future of manufacturing as we know it

Over the past year we have seen a lot of interest in 3D printing. Guns (admittedly with all the sophistication of a backyard gunsmith) have finally fired rounds through themselves without taking someone’s hand off and they are even appearing in supermarkets to make 3D figurines of shoppers. McDonald’s are supposed to be in the process of evaluating 3D printing for Happy Meal toy parts. There is a company in Texas called Solid Concepts who made a replica of the Browning 1911 pistol via a direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) printer. Metal powder is deposited and melted using a laser.

Now for the reality check:

  • DMLS printers are expensive, a CNC milling machine could have probably been cheaper to do the job, the DMLS equipment would cost anywhere between 400,000 to 1,000,000+ US dollars.
  • Solid Concepts themselves say that making the gun would cost five figures (tens of thousands in US dollars
  • Printing is great for low volume items or rapid prototyping, but Solid Concepts themselves still have a tooling business for low volume to mass production of items

Metal materials aren’t just formed, but often heat treated. Many materials are extruded or laminated, their manufacturing process imbuing them with properties that 3D printing can’t match. Whilst the progress made this year has been interesting, 3D printing is more likely to be one of those technologies that changes things enormously in the long-term whilst being over-hyped in the short to medium term.

LTE is going to make more a of difference to your carrier than to you as a consumer, at least for now

This year saw the rise of voice over LTE, making life easier for early adopter carriers like SK Telecom in Korea. In many markets however roll-out has been far from universal making the impact of faster mobile broadband limited. In some markets like Hong Kong carriers are now worried about 3G spectrum being re-purposed for 4G services, which will disrupt their infrastructure.

More information
Past predictions in the series
Crystal ball-gazing: 2012 how did I do?
2013: just where is it all going?
China Mobile International launches VoIP Mobile Application to Grow International Retail Business – Jego offers the renting and binding of China Mobile numbers
Mobile tariff disruption
Three says arrivederci to roaming charges in seven countries.
Tablets as substitute technology
Worldwide Tablet Shipments Forecast to Slow to Single-Digit Growth Rates by 2017, According to IDC
IDC Forecasts PC Shipments to Fall by Double Digits In 2013; Volumes Are Expected To Stabilize Above 300 Million Units per Year, But With No Significant Recovery
4K TV and TV market dynamics
4K kicks off – Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu International (TMT predictions) – (PDF document)
Pavlovian Shoppers and The Demise of TV Retailing | DisplaySearch
Ultra-HD (4K TV) Will Be Mass-Market Proposition In Next Four To Five Years
2013 to be Breakout Year for 4K×2K TV; Market Forecast to Reach 7M in 2016, NPD DisplaySearch Reports – China Forecast to Lead in 4K×2K TV Adoption
Venture capital and other funding models
The first production batch of Jolla smartphones fully booked with demand from 136 countries | Jolla – (PDF document)
Onward to the Metaverse! | Oculus VR blog
The shakeup of Kleiner Perkins exposes the short comings of venture capital | GigaOM
3D printing
Create amazing ‘mini me’ versions of you and your family at Asda! | Your Asda
McDonalds Wants To Start 3D Printing Happy Meal Toys For Unhappy Kids | BusinessInsider
World’s First 3D Printed Metal Gun | Solid Concepts Blog
Questions Answered: 3D Printed Metal Gun | Solid Concepts Blog

Transparency, information and data

The Guardian covered John Lewis’ announcement that they would be putting the lifetime electricity cost of every appliance to help consumers understand the total lifetime cost of their products. This is a welcome movement but does present some potential challenges:

Is a product truly economic, or does it have a short life? Which is worse having Miele appliance that almost becomes a family heirloom or something rather more disposable? Which goes back to a bigger question with everything from crime figures to economic statistical points are audiences being equipped to interpret data correctly or should we think more carefully about how we craft information?

I don’t know the answers, maybe you have some ideas?

Archived from blog posts I wrote for PR Week

Why are Windows 8 sales apparently slowing down the PC market?

From the changing interface to an absence of a start button, the analysts came out with reasons that felt unsatisfactory. It isn’t a lack of quality, if you look at the reviews by the technology press of Windows’95, you’ll see a product that sucked in a way that made Vista look perfect by comparison; yet it went on to be the best-selling Microsoft product ever. Windows 8 has its problems, but in comparison to Vista its a really well made product. The fundamentally-flawed Windows 95 was the acme of Microsoft’s position in the marketplace. Given all this spurious debate, I thought I would throw some ideas out instead:

  • The economy – China now has single digit growth, economists generally agree that India isn’t living up to its economic potential. Brazil has problems, Europe is still going through the great restructure. The US is growing slowly but full of turmoil as government spending is causing uncertainty. All of these factors will affect purchases across IT and consumer electronics
  • The web – the biggest thing the web did was negate operating system specific file formats. You no longer need to write a document in Word or a spreadsheet in Excel. Enterprise applications no longer need to have a client piece of software running on a PC. This also means that you don’t need to follow software release cycles to keep your PC relevant. Given that the killer app for the PC is the web, replacement cycles for computers have lengthened. A friend of mine, recently had their iPad, iPhone 5 and PowerBook stolen in their house. Yes, that’s right I said PowerBook, their laptop which they were happy with was about seven years old…
  • Opportunity costs – So you have a computer that’s a few years old, but you are still happy with it and smartphones moving forwards more rapidly, so need to be replaced every 18 months to two years. The new PC purchase will get put on the back-burner
  • Substitute products – This is the classic butter-margarine example that economics teachers used to trot out before low-fat spreads caught the awareness of coronary wary consumers. But in a web-based world tablets that provide a PC like web experience are a substitute for a full-blooded personal computer. An iPad can run Myst, show video and communicate with others via the internet
  • A lack of a compelling reason to upgrade – Robert X. Cringely wrote his book Accidental Empires back in the early 1990s, had a whole chapter on the future of computing. One of the most striking parts of this chapter for me was a paragraph with a quote from Ken Okin who worked at Sun Microsystems at the time:  Ken Okin, who was in charge of hardware engineering for the Lisa and now heads the group designing Sun Microsystems’ newest workstations, keeps a Lisa in his office at Sun just to help his people put their work in perspective. “We still have a multitasking operating system with a graphical user interface and bit-mapped screen, but back then we did it with half a mip [one mip equals one million computer instructions per second] in 1 megabyte of RAM,” he said. “Today on my desk I have basically the same system, but this time I have 16 mips and an editor that doesn’t seem to run in anything less than 20 megabytes of RAM. It runs faster, sure, but what will it do that is different from the Lisa? It can do round windows; that’s all I can find that’s new. Round windows, great!”  So even back as far as the early 1990s there was a lack of a compelling reason to upgrade from machine-to-machine. This is even more of the case now. Cringely claimed that in order to have a radical jump in software appearance you would need a corresponding jump in the hardware. The last big jump that we had in personal computing was the tablet PDA
  • The declining power of the IT guy – between BYOD (bring your own device) and the rise of small or freelance businesses there are less traditional corporate users. The power of the Microsoft Certified system is diminished and with that decline has gone the ability to specify a Windows-based computer
  • The law of big numbers – Microsoft already has a huge installed user base, most sales will not be won from its competitors but from itself. That’s a tough place to be if people are looking for stellar growth
  • Paradigm shifts mean deskilling people – Metro represents a new way of using a computer. It threatens consumers current computer literacy knowledge. For many consumers there was no on-ramp
  • Divergence, convergence and the sitting room – a perfect storm of dedicated media server substitute products (Roku, Boxee, Apple TV), smart TVs, games consoles and tablets have squeezed the laptop, media PC and gaming machine in ‘lean back entertainment’ scenarios. We are seeing traditional brown goods being replaced by other goods (often providing a more convenient but poorer quality experience) in the living room that have also subverted multimedia computing

Does this all mean Microsoft is doomed? No.

2013: just where is it all going?

For the past few years, I have done posts that have attempted to guess what 2013 is likely to bring, last year I did better than I deserved, so here is my best guess for the next 12 months or so.

It’s the economy stupid

The economy is probably one of the biggest factors affecting the technology sector over the next 12 months. In the developed world, the economies and social stability has been maintained on the back of credit, from probably back as far as the Reagan administration.

This is no longer a European or American condition but can be seen in the debt-laden economies of Korea and Japan as well. Even countries like Indonesia have shown a dramatic upturn in personal and commercial borrowing across Asia in 2012.

Recessions usually mark a point of restructuring in the economy. In the 1970s and 80s the US and many European countries moved to a more serviced-based model as Japanese and other Asian countries took on traditional industrial roles.  The lost decades for Japan has seen the country move away from primarily being a planned economy that makes things to a more  mixed economy similar to Germany.

The housing related bust of the past four years has seen the US and Europe deal with a broken financial services sector and try to find a new way forward in the face of globalisation and a lack of economic differentiation to the likes of China.

All of this is going to affect technology, what we adopt and how use it. My own move to Hong Kong has my parents using Skype and Facetime – the same is true in households all over Ireland as a large swathe of the population emigrated to work around the world.

There are also likely to be other impacts:

  • A large section of the web is ad-supported from Facebook to news sites, companies generally reduce advertising spend in straitened times. Yahoo! during the bust saw advertising revenue declne by a third, which gives an idea of what could be in the pipeline
  • The launch of Windows 8 has gotten off to a slower than expected start, part of the reason for this is that consumer PC purchasing cycles have been extended from four-to-five years. Now part of that could be because we don’t need to buy ever more powerful computers all the time if we are using them primarily for web-related tasks, but it could also be because incomes are tighter. Tablets like the Apple iPad could be what economists would call substitute products (like using margarine as a cheaper replacement for butter)
  • This is also likely to mean that new ways of selling us televisions like Sony’s innovations in creating 4K displays will have a slow adoption rate because we don’t want to buy films we have on DVDs and Blu-Ray yet again, so technological upgrades will starve media cash-cows
  • I would expect household discretionary media budgets to be squeezed which is probably why Sky has looked at a la carte online video models in the UK

One aspect of the technology sector that is ripe for a restructure in the current economy is venture capital firms as many of them who invest in ‘easy innovation’  have a raison d’être that looks increasingly uncertain. Web-based start-ups are increasingly been bootstrapped together by the technically savvy; Kickstarter allows for the trial of consumer hardware concepts.

3D-Printing is interesting, but isn’t the future of manufacturing as we know it

Tinkering, hardware hacking or DIY has had a makeover over the past few years as the creative classes discovered shop work, crochet and plastics and called it ‘making’. Three D printing has become a gradually more affordable technology that slotted neatly into the making meme. If you have a big enough printer and the appropriate format CAD file, any shape can be made. Anyone who spent a bit of time watching Star Trek: The Next Generation will have been immediately reminded of the replicator in the ships canteen which conjured up any dish the crew wanted.

What 3D printing can’t do is emulate many physical properties of materials. So despite what you may read on in the press, constructing a gun using 3D printing is harder than you’d think. Components from magazine springs to barrels have complex mechanical properties and the best lower receiver made so far by a group called Defense Distributed broke after a sixth test shot was put through it. All of this means that whilst 3D printing is interesting, it isn’t anywhere close to the Star Trek replicator that everyone seems to believe it is.

Anyone of a certain age who did shop work or used a forge at school knows how heat can dramatically change a metals property, any student of history knows how carbon changed the properties of iron into steel.

So you can forget about printing your own clutch for the car rather than paying Renault a fortune.

LTE is going to make more a of difference to your carrier than to you as a consumer, at least for now

Back in 2001 I was working with Capgemini promoting it’s telecoms practice. One of the vehicles used was a report that compiled the knowledge of senior executives from across the telecoms and media sectors.

One of the things that struck me about this process was how little the executives knew what would be likely reason why consumers would buy 3G and how they would make their licence fee investment back. In the end, this process took some ten years, and many of the promises that were trotted out for 3G during the late nineties and early noughties are kind of here now with the advent of 4G networks. Though in reality having tried Facetiming or using VoIP on 3G networks has been a failure for me.

But this process has made me a bit skeptical about the expectations being put on 4G in the west as a universal mobile elixir of goodness, with us all Facetiming and running successful internet businesses behind every hedge row.

I don’t think so.

Firstly in order to do those things the data caps would need to be raised substantially on LTE contracts for consumers.
Speed diagram
This diagram from Ericsson’s Mobility Report shows how speeds change over distance from the base station to the cell edge. The most interesting aspect of this diagram is the ‘norming effect’ that occurs in 50 per cent of the coverage area as download speeds converge. This also shows the flaw in expectations around rural broadband, since the kind of performance envisioned by policy makers would require a very dense cell network, which would probably be as expensive as its wired counterpart.

Despite living in the hyper-dense wireless lifestyle city of Hong Kong, I haven’t cut my wired connection and instead use a DSL connection at home

What LTE will probably will do is help your mobile phone company carry voice traffic more efficiently.

Small, but perfectly formed web businesses

One of my favourite sites this year has been Newsblur. Alongside it is one of a few web properties I rely on. Both Newsblur and are more akin to an artisan operation than a large corporate. Both sites provide a niche offering that fills a real need: fills the gap in social bookmarking that delicious left and Newsblur provides a better RSS reader.

Both of which are offerings that major web companies have largely abandoned or stopped innovating. In the case of Newsblur: Google Reader, FastLadder and Bloglines to name but three RSS readers that have disappeared or stagnated.

Facebook’s biggest enemies will be agencies

Facebook has managed to infuriate with agencies and clients and everything has developed an escalating price tag. Firstly there is inventory inflation – you could charitably argue that this is purely market forces. However I believe that it was no coincidence that General Motors announced pulling back their spend on Facebook with a timing designed to sour the companies IPO last spring.

Given that things have only been exasperated since then as Facebook has effectively forced brands to use advertising support for their pages in order to now engage with existing fans as well as acquire new ones.  Agencies will start actively looking at alternatives to Facebook including branded communities  and other advertising platforms to provide better solutions for clients. During the autumn Becky and I ran an advertising campaign to promote awareness of meningitis amongst parents; in the online part of the media buy, we went with Unruly Media’s video network instead of Facebook because the numbers worked out better. Neither of us were professional media buyers, but the math was obvious and that compelling it didn’t matter.

Consumers will likely be using Facebook for years to come and advertisers will not ignore this, in the same way that they still use the Yahoo! Network. And media buyers will still provide counsel but do what their clients want. The needle will move slowly against them to a less pre-eminent position once this knowledge permeates through agency and client circles.

Great presentation on big data

Parc Inc. put together a great presentation that talks about the challenges of big data including data quality, data categorisation and ambiguity within the data sets.

The presentation video is on Slideshare, so may not be available to all readers.

I like Werkbench

The easiest way I had to think of the Werkbench application was imagine if Roger Linn designed a steam-punk version of the Akai MPC60 and it was transformed into an iPad application.

It has an intuitive interface like early drum machines. If it took MIDI instructions it would be an ideal way of building tracks. The product demonstration video is on YouTube so may not be available to all readers.

More information

Samsung Tizen demo

Really interesting walk-through the developer version of Tizen – the joint operating system developed by Samsung and Intel; which has some parts of MeeGo in there. I found the user experience a bit disappointing compared to the BlackBerry 10 demonstrations and the bar set by the iPhone, but this may change even further before the public gets to use Tizen in anger.

In terms of Samsung’s relationship with Android , this provides Samsung with a whip-hand against Google and a fallback position against Microsoft’s patent licensing programme for Android manufacturers. The overview is on YouTube so may not be available to all viewers. weibo co-creation for iPhone application

Developing for iPhone limits ideas like A|B testing in refining the development process. has taken an obvious, but interesting approach to development by having Weibo users vote on which UI concepts that they like, getting them involved as co-creators. More here.