Thoughts on the new Apple MacBook Pro

Having slept a few naps contemplating Apple’s new MacBook Pro. I have been a Mac user since it was the mark of eccentricity. I am writing this post on a 13″ MacBook Pro and have a house of other Macs and peripherals.

Theatre
Apple launched a new range of Apple MacBook Pro’s on October 27, 2016. This was a day after Microsoft’s reinvigoration of its Surface franchise.  Apple ignores timing and tries to plough its own furrow. But comparisons by journalists and market analysts are inevitable.

Microsoft has done a very good job at presenting a device that owes its build quality to the schooling that Apple has given to the Shenzhen eco-system over the past two decades.

The focus on touch computing feels like a step on a roadmap to Minority Report style computing interfaces.  Microsoft has finally mastered the showmanship of Apple at its best.

Apple’s presentation trod a well-worn formula. Tim Cook acts as the ringmaster and provides a business update. Angela Ahrendts sits at a prominent place in the audience and appears on a few cut-in shots. Craig Federighi presented the first product setting a light self-depreciating humour with in-jokes that pull the Apple watchers through the fourth wall and draws them inside ‘Apple’. Eddy Cue plays a similar role for more content related products. In that respect they are interchangeable like pieces of Lego.

Phil Schiller came in to do the heavy lifting on the product. While the design had some points of interest including TouchID and the touchpad the ports on the machine are a major issue.

Given the Pro nature of the computer, Apple couldn’t completely hide behind ‘design’ like it has done with the MacBook. So Phil Schiller was given the job of doing the heavy lifting on the product introduction.

There was the usual Jonny Ive voiceover video on how the product was made with identikit superlatives from previous launches. It could almost be done by a bot with the voice of Jonny Ive, rather than disturbing his creative process.

It all felt like it was dialled in, there wasn’t the sense of occasion that Apple has managed in the past.

User experience
Many people have pointed out that Microsoft’s products looked more innovative and seemed to be actively courting the creatives that have been the core of Apple’s support. In reality much of it was smoke and mirrors. Yes Apple has lost some of the video market because its machines just aren’t powerful, in comparison to other workstations out there.

The touch interface is more of a red herring. Ever since the HP-150 – touch hasn’t played that well with desktop computers because content creators don’t like to take their hands too far from the keyboard when work. It ruins the flow if you can touch type; or have muscle memory for your PhotoShop shortcuts.

Apple didn’t invent the Surface Dial because it already had an equivalent made by Griffin Technology – the PowerMate. In fact the PowerMate had originally been available for Windows Vista and Linux as well, but for some reason the device software didn’t work well with Windows 7 & 8.

I can see why Apple has gravitated towards the touchpad instead. But it needed to do a better job telling the story.

Heat
Regardless of the wrong headedness of Microsoft’s announcements, the company has managed to get much of the heat that Apple used to bring to announcements. By comparison Apple ploughed exactly the same furrow as it has done for the past few years – the products themselves where interchangeable.

The design provided little enthusiasm amongst the creatives that I know, beyond agitation at the pointless port changes and inconvenience that conveyed.

While these people aren’t going to move to Microsoft, the Surface announcements provided them with a compare and contrast experience which agitated the situation further.  To quote one friend

Apple doesn’t know who it is. It doesn’t know its customers and it no longer understands professionals.

Design
Apple’s design of the MacBook Pro shows a good deal of myopia. Yes, Apple saved weight in the laptops; but that doesn’t mean that the consumer saves weight. The move to USB C only has had a huge impact. A raft of new dongles, SD card readers and adaptors required. If like me you present to external parties, you will have a Thunderbolt to VGA dongle.

With the new laptop, you will need a new VGA dongle, and a new HDMI dongle. I have £2,000 of Thunderbolt displays that will need some way of connecting to Apple’s new USB C port. I replace my displays less often than my laptop. We have even earlier displays in the office.

Every so often I transfer files on to a disk for clients with locked down IT systems. Their IT department don’t like file transfer services like WeTransfer or FTP. They don’t like shared drives from Google or Box. I will need a USB C to USB adaptor to make this happen. Even the encrypted USB thumb drive on my ‘real life’ key chain will require an adaptor!

I will be swimming in a sea of extra cables and parts that will weigh more than the 1/2 pound that Apple managed to save. Thank you for nothing, Apple.  Where interfaces have changed before there was a strong industry argument. Apple hit the curve at the right time for standards such as USB and dispensing with optical drives.

The move to USB C seems to be more about having a long thing slot instead of a slightly taller one. Getting rid of the MagSafe power connector has actually made the laptop less safe. MagSafe is a connector that is still superior to anything else on the market.  Apple has moved from an obsession with ‘form and function’ to ‘form over function’.

The problem is one of Apple’s own making: it has obsessed about size zero design since Steve Jobs used to have a Motorola RAZR.

Price versus Value
So despite coming with a half pound less mass and a lot of inconvenience, the devices come in at $200 more expensive than their predecessors. It will be harder for Apple customers to upgrade to this device unless their current machine is at least five years old. I don’t think that this laptop will provide the injection in shipments that Apple believes it will.

A quick word on displays
Apple’s move away from external displays was an interesting one. There can’t be that much engineering difference between building the iMac and the Apple Display? Yet Apple seems to have abandoned the market. It gives some professionals a natural break point to review whether they should stay with Apple. Apple displays aren’t only a product line but a visible ambassador of Apple’s brand where you can see the sea of displays in agencies and know that they are an Apple shop. It is the classic ‘Carol Bartz’ school of technology product management.

More information
Initial thoughts on Windows 8 | renaissance chambara
Size Zero Design | renaissance chambara
Why I am sunsetting Yahoo! | renaissance chambara
Apple just told the world it has no idea who the Mac is for – Charged Tech – Medium
Apple (AAPL) removed MagSafe, its safest, smartest invention ever, from the new MacBook Pros — Quartz
How Apple’s New MacBook Pros Compare To Microsoft’s New Surface Studio | Fast Company | Business + Innovation – a subtly cutting article on the new MacBook Pro
New MacBook Pro touches at why computers still matter for Apple | CNet
Apple’s new MacBook Pro kills off most of the ports you probably need | TechCrunch

Technology autopsies

Jean-Louis Gassée has been at the centre of the technology industry for at least the past 30 years. He worked at Apple though the early Macintosh years, founded Be Inc. – a now forgotten OS and workstation company that focused on multi-media prowess and was chairman at PalmSource.

He recently published a meditation on why Palm, BlackBerry, Nokia and Microsoft failed in the smartphone sector – it makes a really good read, I have linked to it under more information. But there a few details missing, I suspect for the ease of storytelling. I’ve added them below as additional accompanying notes for his essay.

Nokia

Reading David Wood’s ‘biography’ of Symbian makes you realise how from the early years the OS was kludged together into something fit for purpose.  Moving Symbian on was a major issue, one that Nokia knew they faced. It was perplexing why Nokia couldn’t get Maemo right. I had used a developer model Nokia N950 and it was an impressive piece of kit – a symbol of what could have been.

A second part of Nokia’s problems were hardware related. Nokia Networks and phones had thrown their lot in with Intel on WiMax for 4G, rather than LTE championed by Siemens, Ericsson and NTT Docomo.

That put them in the wrong camp to do business with Qualcomm and its SnapDragon processors for modern smartphones. Nokia’s engineering brain trust had been completely wrong-footed. It also explains why valuable time was lost merging Nokia’s next generation mobile device OS with Intel’s similar project. Ironically, this operating system now powers Samsung smartwatches – which is a testament to its ability to squeeze real-world performance out of extremely low powered devices.

Texas Instruments a long-time Nokia supplier, pulled out of the mobile embedded processor market in 2012, which would have had implications for Nokia’s much vaunted supply chain, in particular chip pick-and-place machines.  One could see how these operational problems would have rippled through the engineering organisation.

Nokia actually had a prototype iPhone-esque device running by mid-2004, but were afraid to make a leap of faith

“It was very early days, and no one really knew anything about the touch screen’s potential,” Mr. Hakkarainen explained. “And it was an expensive device to produce, so there was more risk involved for Nokia. So management did the usual. They killed it.”

I had used touch screen devices since 1999, but it is hard to explain how transformative a responsive capacitative touchscreen interface was in comparison to everything that had gone previously.

Palm

By 2002 Palm had acquired Be Inc. presumably because they realised that mobile computing needed to have a modern OS for its underpinnings. Palm had previously looked at moving its OS over on Symbian as by 2000 the PalmOS was creaky.  PalmOS at that time ran on a low power version of the Motorola 68000 series processor that powered the first Macs in the mid-1980s to mid-1990s. The OS was migrated to an ARM processor for use on mobile devices.

Its PalmSource subsidiary was spun out of the business to better build an eco-system of licensees. The work of Be Inc. made it into a modern version of Palm OS called Cobalt in 2004, but this was not used by Palm or anyone else. Cobalt covered multi-tasking, better security and better multimedia.

PalmSource acquired a Chinese mobile Linux company in early 2005. PalmSource was sold to ACCESS of Japan.

ACCESS Linux offered the Palm interface running on top of a Linux micro-kernel and functionality for mobile networks etc.  ACCESS Linux was ready to go in 2006 prior to the launch of the iPhone.  While there was collaboration with NEC, Panasonic  and NTT Docomo there hasn’t been an ACCESS Linux powered device launched.

Instead Palm launched its WebOS in 2009. WebOS was slow and sluggish to use. Part of this was because the device was under-powered compared to competitor products.  So despite having an interface which had many of the pieces in place Palm had at least three gos at the software and still failed badly in terms of execution.

Microsoft

Gassée rightly points out that Google giving away its OS left Microsoft’s business model for Windows Mobile disrupted.

However, truth be told Google did a poor job of signing all the disparate Chinese manufacturers onboard and fully legit on Google. Many Chinese handsets had not gone through official channels for compatibility testing (CTS) and do not have a Google Mobile Services (GMS) license.  Google historically hadn’t bothered to scale to address the international aspirations of Chinese tier two and tier three handset makers.

Building a partner eco-system in the west would have been challenging. Microsoft had too many skeletons in their closet and their partners didn’t do too well.

  • Nortel was a historic Microsoft partner in wireline telecoms prior to going bankrupt in 2009. Where companies have PC / phone integration  it is built on the knowhow Microsoft gained with Nortel on VoIP PBXs
  • Motorola had a Microsoft Windows Mobile-powered smartphone the Motorola Q. That worked out sufficiently well that Motorola abandoned it and focused on Android devices
  • Sony when it was co-branded Sony-Ericsson used Windows Mobile for its Xperia phones for two years as it recognised that Symbian had reached the end of the line. Eventually Sony-Ericsson moved over to Android in March 2010, the company has struggled to remain relevant in the mobile market
  • Sendo was a start-up founded in 1999, they signed an agreement with Microsoft to be the company’s go-to-market partner for their Smartphone 2002 mobile operating system. The deal gave Microsoft a royalty-free license to Sendo’s designs if the company went insolvent. There was a legal dispute when Microsoft used Sendo’s designs to create the first of the Orange SPV phones made by HTC
  • After making Windows phones from 2009 to 2013, LG said that there was no demand for Windows Phone devices and moved its portfolio exclusively over to Android where it competes with a respectable performance against Samsung

Microsoft’s name in the telecoms industry is mud. To add insult to injury its Skype VoIP application is a direct competitor to carrier voice minute businesses on both wireless and wired connections.

More information
Blackberry: Meditation At The Grave | Jean-Louis Gassée
Nokia’s New Chief Faces Culture of Complacency | New York Times (paywall)

Throwback gadget: Danger Hiptop

Years ago I read an article which talked about the collective memory of London’s financial district being about eight years or so. Financiers with beautifully crafted models in Excel would be doomed to make the same mistake as their predecessors.
Hiptop
Marketers make the same mistakes, not being able to draw on the lines of universal human behaviour when it meets technology. Today’s obsession with the ‘dark social’ of OTT messaging platforms is very reminiscent of the culture that grew up around the Danger Hiptop. The  Hiptop drove a use of instant messaging platforms (Yahoo!, Aol and MSN) in a similar way to today’s use of Kik, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp by young people.

Heritage

Danger was started back in 1999, by veterans from Apple, Philips and WebTV.

Back then mobile data was very primitive, email was slow and the only people I knew who used mobile phones on a regular basis were press photographers, sending images back from early digital SLRs using a laptop connected up to their phone. At this time it was still sometimes easier to bike images over. 3G wireless was on the horizon, but there wasn’t a clear use case.

Apple was not the force it is now, but recovering from a near death experience. The iMac, blue and white G3 tower units and ‘Wall Street’ laptops reignited belief in core customers. Mac OSX Server 1.0 was released in March that year and pointed to the potential that future Macs would have.

WebTV at the time was a company that felt like it was at the apex of things. Before the internet took off, companies like Oracle and BT had tried providing interactive TV services including CD ROM type experiences and e-commerce in a walled garden environment. This was based on having a thin client connected to a TV as monitor. WebTV took that idea and built upon the internet of the mid-1990s. It wasn’t appreciated how commoditised the PC market would become over time. They were acquired by Microsoft in 1997,  later that year they would also buy Hotmail.

At the time, Philips was a force to be reckoned with in consumer electronics and product design. The company had a diverse portfolio of products and a reputation for unrewarded innovation including the compact cassette, interactive CD media and audio compact discs. Philips was the company that the Japanese wanted to beat and Samsung still made third-rate televisions.

Some of them were veterans of a failed start-up called General Magic that had spun out of Apple. A technology super-team of engineers and developers came up with a wireless communicator device that failed in the market place.  It’s name became a byword for a failed start-up years later.  Talent was no predictor of success. General Magic was the silicon valley equivalent of Manchester United getting relegated and going bankrupt in a single season. So it is understandable that they may have been leery of making yet another wireless device.

The device

The Hiptop was unapologetically a data first device. It was a thick device with a sliding screen which revealed a full keyboard and four-way directional button to move the cursor. On later devices this became a trackball. The screen was a then giant 240 x 160 pixels in size. It became available in colour during the device’s second iteration, later devices had a screen that was 854 pixels wide.

I was large enough provide a half decent browsing experience, read and write messages and email. It was held in landscape arrangement and the chunky frame worked well in a two handed hold not that different from a games console controller, with thumb based typing which worked better than the BlackBerry keyboard for me.  Early devices allowed you to move around the screen with four-way rocker switch. Later devices had a trackball. This keyboard rather than touchscreen orientation made sense for two reasons:

  • Touchscreen were much less responsive than they are now
  • It enabled quick fire communication in comparison to today’s virtual smartphone keyboard

Once the device went colour it also started to have LEDs that lit up for ringing and notifications, providing the kind of visual cues enjoyed by Palm and BlackBerry owners.

The Hiptop had a small (even by Symbian standards) amount of apps, but these were held in an app store. At the time, Symbian had signed apps as a precaution against malware, but you would usually download the apps from the maker’s website or the likes of download.com or TUCOWS and then side load on to the device from a Mac or PC.

The Hiptop didn’t need the mediation of a computer, in this respect it mirrored the smartphones of today.

Product life

When Danger was launched in 2002, carriers had much more sway over consumers. The user experience of devices was largely governed by carriers who usually made a mess of it. They decided what the default applications on a device and even the colour scheme of the default appearance theme.

Danger’s slow rise to popularity was because it had a limited amount of channels per market. In the UK it was only available via T-Mobile (now EE).

In the US, the Hiptop became a cult item primarily because IM had grown in the US in a similar way to SMS usage in Europe.

Many carriers viewed Hiptop as a competitor to BlackBerry and refused to carry it in case it would cannibalise sales.

Danger was acquired in 2008 and that is pretty much when the death of the Hiptop set in as Microsoft acquired the team to build something different. An incident with the Danger data centres losing consumers data and taking two months to restore full service from a month-old back-up didn’t help things. It was a forewarning of how dependent on cloud services that users would become.

Danger held much user data and functionality in the cloud, at the time it made sense as it kept the hardware cheaper. Danger devices came with a maximum of 2GB internal memory.

Even if Microsoft hadn’t acquired Danger it would have been challenged by the rise of both Android and iOS. Social platforms like Facebook would have offered both an opportunity and a challenge to existing messenger relationships. Finally the commoditisation of hardware would have made it harder for the Hiptop to differentiate on value for its millennial target market.

 

 

 

Fixing email the Apple way

Despite millennials and social networks email is still the killer app of the web. But all is not good with email. I look at friends home screens and see thousands of unread emails in their inbox. They use search to find what they need.
Email bankruptcy
It gives me heart palpitations just looking at the photo above. It was apparent for years that something needed to be done for email. Identity for e-commerce and social platforms still hinges on email addresses. For networks like Quora and LinkedIn, much of your interaction is driven in response to email prompts.

Email is a mature technology that works across a range of platforms and generally does a good job. It’s searchable, it has a permanence. Alongside the address book app, its a database to many aspects of your life from concert tickets, friend’s news or interaction with the government.

There has been a renaissance in quality email newsletters such as Azeem’s The Exponential View or The Hustle. Email marketing continues to be an effective marketing channel for e-commerce businesses.

Apple’s iOS 10 and MacOS Sierra have tweaked the email experience on their default mail.app.
Ios10
Apple has managed to detect the unsubscribe function in many email newsletters and give users control over their subscription at the top of each email.

Using the beta version of Sierra and iOS10 I found that I unsubscribed from many marketing emails. This seems to hold out in some of the anecdotal feedback I’ve heard from friends as email campaigns have reported a surge in unsubscribes since it rolled out from beta to general availability. This has been the same on both b2b and b2c clients.

However many of these people will be unengaged subscribers who hadn’t gained sufficient momentum to cancel without Apple’s assistance. Google takes a different approach, Gmail masks these emails in a separate folder – out of sight, out of mind.

A second part of this was that I found I was prepared to take a chance on new interesting newsletter subscriptions. The content that I did have, I engaged with more because it was easier to get rid of meh content.

I think this is an exciting development, it is a palette cleanser, an opportunity for email marketers to raise the quality of content and engagement. An opportunity to get direct immediate feedback through subscriptions and cancellations. A confident email reading consumers is a fantastic opportunity for agencies and progressive clients. However this will only happen if they chose to look beyond the dip.

WWDC – what did it all mean?

I watched the few hours of keynotes at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference. I also read some of the resulting analysis and wondered if we’d been watching the same event.
Cómo ver la WWDC 2016 en vivo en iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple TV
So thought I would think about the event carefully and come up on my take of what it all meant. This is a bit later than I originally planned to publish it.

Firstly, there was no change in direction for Apple from a strategic point-of-view. Apple has been clear about its direction, it is the ‘how’ which is the mystery.

Over the past few years, Apple has focused on the integration of its devices. The reason why there isn’t one OS*, a la Windows 10, is that the different form factors have different contexts. Cross-pollination of services only takes place where it makes sense, which is why Siri has taken a while to roll out.

The first big thing is APFS – a new file system for all of Apple’s devices. This builds on upon a feature set of ZFS which was a file system developed by Sun Microsystems for its Solaris UNIX operating system. Solaris runs on large enterprise computers where the prevention of data corruption and handling a large amount of file changes simultaneously is very important. Like ZFS, APFS supports encryption, granular time stamping, fast file management and has improvements in data integrity. When it’s fully finished it should make encryption on devices easier to manage and provide the user with more control. It should also help with syncing data across devices and the cloud.

The interesting thing is how this technology will scale over time handling multiple devices and form factors working seamlessly from a common database. Like many of there other technologies this is an extension of Apple’s Continuity offering and future integration with a wider IoT offering.

When Steve Jobs launched Mac OSX 10.0 in 2001 he described it as being the OS for the next 15 years. At the time the original MacOS was showing its limits. The UI was colour but hadn’t really moved on that much since System 7.5. The operating system wasn’t multi-tasking. The internet felt kludgy even though it performed well on the hardware at that time. Looking at OSX / macOS now, the operating system it feels fresh. The tweaks and changes under the hood keep the performance hub and the features comparable with the rest of the Continuity eco-system. macOS also doesn’t seem to be seriously threatened by iOS ‘pro’ devices.

iOS 10 was important to me for its embrace of messenger-as-a-platform. Apple innovates within its own Messages apps with some UI gimmicks. More importantly, notification real estate that was once the exclusive preserve of the Apple dialer. This allows you to accept calls from the likes of Skype, WeChat or Slack from the lock screen. This follows Apple’s model of using it’s own apps to work things out and then open up the function once it is mature. Apple’s own Messages app includes a number of features including:

  • Simple chat bot-like functionality
  • Swipe to read on messages to prevent shoulder surfers from reading messages
  • Messages app takeover emotions
  • More emoji / sticker like icons

Apple Pay roll-out – continued geographic roll-out makes sense. Apple Pay isn’t about building a rival payment system a la PayPal. Instead, Apple is trying to build more touch points with the user. The level of usage doesn’t matter too much from that perspective. Geographic roll-out to Hong Kong and more European countries makes sense. The more exciting development is two-factor authentication for e-commerce payments on compatible sites using the Apple Pay infrastructure. This is big for shopping on both Mac and iOS-powered devices.

Thinking differently about intelligence. Unless you have been living under tech industry equivalent of a stone, you’ll be aware of cloud companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Google or Baidu using artificial intelligence techniques to drive device function. Apple hadn’t been as visible in this space up to WWDC. The reason for this is due their rigorous approach to user and device privacy.  There were two approaches to this:

Having the mobile devices GPU to perform relatively simple neural-network computing. This can learn user preferences or intent over time and be more helpful

Making Siri more intelligent by looking at the behaviour of users encrypted, salted with false data and aggregated up. Differential Security is the process of acquiring this data. In the second world war, the Allies cracked the cryptography derived from the Enigma machine. But that was only the first part of the challenge. In order for it to be useful the Enigma team used statistics to hide any usage of the intelligence hiding reactive activity in the midsts of statistically expected ‘normal’ behaviour.

Differential security is kind of similar to this. All the data is encrypted, the phone sends a mix of false data and real data. When Apple looks at aggregated data they can see the false data as being false, but can’t tell which users data is false at a given time.

Apple’s WatchOS 3 is interesting because of the performance boost it gives the wearable. The difference is really noticeable. The boost in performance is due to Apple having more memory to use than it had originally allowed for. This provides a more refined experience. Much of the UX enhancements were focused on fitness.

From a developer perspective there were a few things missing:

  • Apple had no new pro-level hardware announcements
  • Apple later walked away from Thunderbolt displays, saying that 3rd parties were now making great displays. This reminded me of when Apple stopped making printers, it felt permanent, though there is a lot of speculation about a forthcoming Apple 5K display – we’ll see
  • Apple still needs to do more work on integrating its Swift programming language throughout its OS’
  • Given Twitter’s peak in growth, Apple didn’t show how Siri would cope in a post-Twitter world

Finally the two-hour keynote was a love letter to China. At every opportunity Tim Cook mentioned the Chinese market, support for China-specific items like language and called out Chinese apps like WeChat.

* From a technical point-of-view; tvOS, iOS, and macOS all share underpinnings based on NetBSD and a Mach micro-kernel.

More information
Apple Pay supporting banks | Apple Support Documents
Apple finally opens Siri to third-party developers | TechCrunch
Apple rolls out privacy-sensitive artificial intelligence | MIT Technology Review
What is Differential Privacy? A Few Thoughts on Cryptographic Engineering
Digging into the dev documentation for APFS, Apple’s new file system | Ars Technica
Apple File System Guide | Apple Developer documentation
Mac & iOS Continuity | Apple

Throwback gadget: SnapperMail

At the end of 2001, I started to prepare of leaving my job at Edelman. This meant upgrading my home IT set up. I picked up an iBook. The iBook was Apple’s consumer-orientated laptop made from 1999 to 2006. Mine was a second generation ‘Snow’ laptop with a G3 processor, dual USB sockets and a combo drive which allowed me to watch DVDs and burn  CDs.

I used the move to go on the first version of OSX. The move also meant that I got a new email account, my default account to date. It had two key attributes:

No adverts, so it looked professional in comparison to having a Yahoo! or Hotmail email address and it wasn’t tied to an ISP.

IMAP support which allowed me to use my email account across different devices that all sync across the devices. POP3 downloads the  emails from the server to the device

My iBook was my only source of email access whilst I left Edelman and then eventually joined Pirate Communications. My first smartphone was a Nokia 6600, which I used alongside a Palm  PDA – l got this sometime around the end of 2003. The 6600 supported IMAP out of the gate, it was slow, but I was connected.

The 6600 was eclipsed by Palm’s Treo devices which were a better device. I moved from the 6600 and a Palm Tungsten T3 combo to a Treo 600 smartphone in January 2005.

The process wasn’t smooth. The Treo was sufficiently fragile that I got a translucent silicon jacket that worked surprisingly well with the keyboard and screen protector to look after the touchscreen. Software wise the Treo 600 was a step back from the Tungsten T3 PDA. The screen was smaller and the software felt sluggish in comparison. I had deliberately chosen the 600 over the 650 because I had previously worked agency side on the Palm account and been a long-suffering device owner so knew how crap they were at bug fixes.
snapperfish limited
Unfortunately Palm had not been as progressive in comparison to Nokia with its default email client. The software didn’t support IMAP. Fortunately I used to follow Mitch Kapor’s blog and he had recommended an app from a small New Zealand company SnapperFish.

SnapperMail was a compact modern email client. It has a number of features that we would expect now:

  • It supported IMAP
  • It supported SSL client to mail box encryption*
  • it was really easy to use
  • You could work with attachments including zipped files**
  • There was no restriction on the file size of attachments, the only restriction was your email account rather than your email client

This looks like the kind of technology you would have thought Palm should have done. At the this time Palm were competing against Microsoft Windows Mobile 2003, BlackBerry 6200 series, 7100 series and early 8700 series. Yet the default email client was back in the 1990s.

*The full-fat application cost US$39.99

**SnapperMail came bundled with HandZipper Lite which handled the compressed files and JPEGWatch Lite image viewer

I used this alongside MetrO – a public transit directions app and QuickOffice Pro – to read Office documents as part of my modern smartphone experience. It wasn’t just me that loved SnapperMail, it was praised by Walt Mossberg back when he wrote at the Wall Street Journal.

SnapperMail won two Palm Source (Palm’s software licence business) Powered Up awards in 2003. It was recognised as Best Productivity and Best of the Best Solution.

More information
SnapperMail Has Solid Software For Savvy Mobile E-Mail Users | WSJ
QuickOffice
MetrO – open source mass transit application
PalmSource Welcomes Developers with Awards, New Tools; Announces New Licensees | PalmSource press room

I/O and Google’s viewpoint on technology

Google I/O happened on May, 18 – 20.  There had been a lot of pieces of coverage about the different products and services released. But I wanted to spend a bit of time reflecting on what I/O tells us about Google’s viewpoint on technology.

Giving apps a second chance

Google knows as well as anyone that the app moves towards a maturity model where consumers stick with the core apps that they want and then don’t go any further.
apps
Data shows that consumers use their top five apps 88 per cent of the time. So why would Google care when it knows that 60 percent of the top apps on the Android platform?

The reasons for an expanded app usage include:

  • A proportion of Google’s advertising (like Facebook) is derived from the promotion of app downloads
  • Android devices are reaching market maturity in many markets, growth is likely to come from new uses – at least some of which will be derived from third party platforms
  • Google has staked its ambition in the PC sector on its Chrome operating system being able to run apps from the Android eco-system. In order for that to happen there needs to be a healthy community of developers
  • In the same way that DoubleClick’s ad network greatly expanded the inventory of Google’s advertising business, third party applications offer Google an additional source of usage for its own services. If you want to see the future of Google Apps look at the the way the likes of Baidu and Tencent allow third-party integration with their own tools

Streaming or ‘instant’ apps is part of Google’s efforts to encourage consumer trial of new apps and enhance relationships with developers. Firebase, it’s new analytics platform for mobile developers helps them have a better relationship with their installed user base allowing them to use data to target notifications and campaigns.

More faith in wider area networks (WANs) than personal area networks (PANs)

Android Wear’s updates were interesting. Put simply Google has more faith in data being delivered in a timely manner over cellular or wi-fi networks than it does for inter device transfers over variants of Bluetooth. Both the Apple Watch and Android Wear products suffered from performance lags when the watch was a thin client of a phone. Having a cellular radio on board the phone presents challenges with battery life, but speeds up real world performance.

The original design failure wasn’t down to network performance, but is likely to have implications for personal area network technology like Bluetooth in its different variants or ZigBee. These technologies are all about scale, lose a scale advantage and it poses a problem for future adoption by others. This can happen in a virtuous way. Apple’s adoption of USB benefited the standard greatly and drove interest in peripheral development for both Mac and PC. Apple’s abandonment of FireWire and the 3.5″ diskette marked their decline.

Lots to be concerned about from a privacy point of view?

Google Home moved yet another pair of Android powered ears into our environment. It was obvious from Google’s description of services that a paid marketing model to be the ‘car booking’ or equivalent service of Home could be very lucrative for the search giant. How this device could be used for market research, tracking brand mentions or government surveillance also poses some conundrums moving beyond smartphones to brown goods.

Android N features file based encryption rather than treating the whole device as an encrypted disk. This raises questions around the comparative ease of access from a privacy perspective. Secondly, SafetyNet allows Google to reach into a phone to remove pre-existing applications without user permission. There is no explanation if they also have write privileges to the phone as well. If so, expect law enforcement and intellectual property owner interest. From the way it reads this would affect apps and content that have been side loaded as well as got from an app store.

Android is giving the high ground to Apple on privacy presumably because it considers its own customers don’t care about it that much.

Reference designs in VR to drive adoption and commoditisation 

Google’s Daydream project looks to provide standardisation in hardware. By going down this route, Google hopes to spur on the sensor market required for improved AR experience and drive uptake. These will likely be a very different experience to the computer workstation powered Occulus Rift. Driving this technology into the smartphone market may combat the current stagnation in phone sales growth.

More information
Google I/O 2016 event page
A16hz on Google I/O 2016
Everything Google just announced at its I/O conference
Palm, Apple, Google and the whole mobile device thing
The Limits of Google
If Google’s right about AI, that’s a problem for Apple – Marco.org
ISIS’s Mobile App Developers Are in Crisis Mode | Motherboard

Mary Meeker’s annual state of the internet presentation

Mary Meeker’s annual presentation on internet trends is a tradition within the technology sector. Here is the latest iteration for 2016

June 2016 online marketing and technology research slides

Here is a copy of the slides that I pull together (when I have the time) each month of publicly available data that would be of use.

This month I have some new data around search which came from disclosures at Google I/O in terms of search volumes. We talk about social as if search has gone out of style but its growth is still staggering, driven by mobile device penetration.
Google global search volume
Looking at global search revenue over time, Google’s monopoly position becomes immediately apparent.
Global Search Revenues
More details about me here.
Slide20
Full presentation available for download as a PDF on Slideshare

The New Nokia

Microsoft finally let go of its licence for the Nokia license on May 19, 2016.
Slide03
There is a lot of logic to this move:

  • Microsoft has already written down the full value of the business acquisition
  • It has got the most valuable technical savvy out of the team and moved it into the Surface business
  • It removes problematic factories and legacy products

For the businesses that have acquired the rights to use the Nokia name and the factories the upsides are harder to see.

The factories may be of use, however there is over supply in the Shenzhen eco-system and bottlenecks aren’t usually at final manufacture, but in the component supply chain.

There is still some brand equity left in the Nokia phone brand. I analysed Nokia along with a number of other international Greater China smartphone eco-system brands using Google Trend data.
Slide06
There has been a decline in brand interest over the past 12 months for Nokia of 37%
Slide07
Nokia still has comparable brand equity to other legacy mobile brands such as BlackBerry and Motorola
Slide08
The brand equity is comparable to other value mobile brands. Honor; Huawei’s value brand has had a lot of money and effort pumped into it to achieve its current position.
Slide09
But it’s brand equity doesn’t stack up well against premium handset brands from Greater China. The reason for this is that smartphone marketing and fast moving consumer goods marketing now have similar dynamics – both are in mature little differentiated markets. Brands need to have deep pockets  and invest in regular advertising to remain top-of-mind across as large an audience as possible. Reach and frequency are more important than social media metrics like engagement.

In addition to advertising spend needs to be put into training and incentivising channel partners including carriers.

They are entering a hyper-competitive market and it isn’t clear what their point of advantage will be. Given the lock down that Google puts on Android and commoditised version of handset manufacture, the best option would be to look for manufacturing and supply chain efficiencies  – like Dell did in the PC industry. But that’s easier said than done.

Garnering the kind of investment required to seriously support an international phone brand is a hard sell to the finance director or potential external investors.

Slide13
Growth is tapering out.
Slide14
The average selling price is in steady decline
Slide16
This is partly because the emerging markets are making the majority new phone purchases.
Slide15
Consumers in developed markets are likely holding on to the their phones for longer due to a mix economic conditions and a lack of compelling reason to upgrade.
Slide12
All of the consumers that likely want and can afford a phone in developed markets have one. Sales are likely to be on a replacement cycle as they wear out. Manufacturers have done a lot to improve quality and reliability of devices.

Even the old household insurance fraud standby of dropping a phone that the consumer was bored with down the toilet doesn’t work on the latest premium Android handsets due to water-proofing.
Slide20

More information

The answer to the question you’ve all been asking | Nokia – Nokia’s official announcement
Gartner highlights a more challenging smartphone sector for Nokia than when it “quit” in 2013 | TelecomTV
Nokia is coming back to phones and tablets | The Verge
So the Nokia brand returns.. with a Vengeance | Communities Dominate Brands

Supporting data slides in full

What about the work desk phone?

I was in touch with a former colleague of mine the other day and they sent me a picture of my old desk phone, still logged into my account and with a divert through to my mobile phone.
Untitled
The office had hot desking because there wasn’t enough space for everyone to be in at the same time.  We had email account size restrictions and people walked around with secondary hard drives plugged into their laptops as local and network storage wasn’t adequate enough to schlep all the documents on to a real or cloud based (someone else’s computers) file server.

Yet the desk phone remained logged in because no one was bothering to use it. So they have a surplus of desk telephones, when there was a shortage of pretty much every other resource the knowledge worker needed.

Often times, people still used the land line number which followed them due to the Cisco VoIP PBX, but they diverted it to their mobile handset. The culture was very much based around conference calls, international teams would dial into a bridge number and be connected. You would see people pacing the common spaces such as corridors or reception and participating in conference calls on headsets wired into their smartphone.

At the point of my project finishing they were just starting to roll out Skype for business. I suspect that this wasn’t going to change dramatically the use of mobile handsets, just the nature of how the call got to the recipient.

Mobile infrastructure manufacturers have been expecting this for years, they rolled out pico-cell products aimed at enterprises to deal with reception dead spots in metal framed office buildings. What really seemed to have spurred things into action is the rise of all-you-can-eat voice tariffs.

Online advertising and technology data points – focus on China

I have been pulling together slides for me that were useful for the work that I have been doing. I thought it would be worthwhile sharing these slides with a wider audience.

This month, I have selected a few slides that shed a light on advertising and consumer behaviour in China.
May online marketing
Looking at platforms it is hard to over play the importance of Tencent in the Chinese internet. Looking at mobile behaviour Tencent is responsible for at least four of the top ten properties: WeChat, QQ, QQ Browser and Tencent Video.
May online marketing
If we look at two Chinese internet companies Tencent and Netease we can see how the companies have massively increased the number of non-game apps that they provide to keep consumers in their eco-system for their digital lives.
May online marketing
(Microsoft’s high number is driven by a number experimental project apps and enterprise apps). What this means is that the mobile OS becomes less important, which is one of the reasons why western brands from Samsung to Apple have been hit in the market. Their platforms give them less leverage.

Tencent’s WeChat is one of the most popular methods of payment in China
May online marketing

If we look at advertising spend in the Chinese market we can see that digital and radio advertising spend over-indexes. In some ways this is surprising. Online content is huge and historically the government controlled traditional media much more tightly than online media – to the detriment of watchable content on the television. More recently, government regulation has tightened across platforms.
May online marketing
Print advertising only slightly over-indexes in comparison to digital or radio. On the face of it there looks to be a massive opportunity in television advertising.

If we look at the media market consumption habits two things immediately stand out. Television and radio are largely holding their own in the face of rapidly growing digital consumption. The rapid growth in digital consumption is being driven by non-PC devices.
May online marketing

If you want to know why Huawei has partnered with Leica to boost the perception of its smartphone camera function, one of the factors involved is the massive growth of photography in Chinese mobile behaviour. This is especially interesting when one compares it to messaging and social – WeChat the largest mobile social platform is all encompassing in its functionality and place in modern Chinese life. A second factor is the way manufacturers are trying redefine the premium smartphone sector, at a time when innovation and experiential difference have become incremental.
May online marketing
May online marketing


You can see the full presentation here

What are the major reasons behind Yahoo’s drastic downfall?

I came across this question on Quora and decided to post my answer with additional data points and information here as well.
Yahoo! star
This is a big question. In the answers that it will receive you are likely to see:

  • Difference of opinions about the reasons of the decline
  • Differences of opinion  about when the decline actually set in. Which begs the question was the downfall that drastic?

Before we get into the why, lets think about the nature of businesses.

Public listed companies generally don’t last forever

The AEI said that 88 per cent of the companies that made up the Fortune 500 in 1954 are gone. Yahoo! is between 21 and 22 years old depending which way you count its age.

Yahoo! has outlasted many of its peers:

  • Excite – merged with @Home Network in 1999. It went bankrupt in October 2001. It was sold in December 2001. By 2007, the business was broken up by territory.
  • Lycos – was sold three times, each time for a fraction of the purchase price
  • Hotbot – bought by Lycos
  • AltaVista – minority stake sold to CMGI in 1999. Bought by Overture in February 2003. Yahoo! acquired Overture in July 2003

Only MSN remains of the original brands that it competed against. If MSN wasn’t a Microsoft business, its survival would be questionable. Microsoft’s online services lost money from 2006 through 2010. By comparison, Yahoo! has kept making a profit – despite its issues.

Macro-effects

The technology sector has become a hunting ground for active investors. Back in the 1980s, American publicly listed brands were attacked by investors:

  • RJ Nabisco – leveraged buyout by KKR
  • Gulf Oil & Unocal – T. Boone Pickens had failed bids for both oil companies but made a large profit on his holdings
  •  TWA – leveraged buyout by Carl Icahn. Icahn’s business practices were responsible for its bankruptcy in 1992 and 1995
  • Revlon – acquired in a hostile takeover by Ron Perelman, much of the business was broken up to pay for the deal

In the 1990s, factors changed:

  • Credit lines for deals dried up as some leveraged buyouts proved to be bad for investors
  • Businesses developed more effective defences including poison pills, golden parachutes and greater debt
  • Overall value of the stock market increased. This reduced the amount of opportunities to get companies on the cheap

Moving forward 20 years, the technology sector became in a similar place

Historic technology businesses have moved from being high growth to value businesses. This changed the nature of investors interest in them.

  • Microsoft gave a seat on its board to an activist shareholder ValueAct Capital
  • Apple started paying dividends and raising the debt on its balance sheet to fend off Carl Icahn

Google’s unique two-tier shareholding structure has proved to be an effective defence so far.

A business like Yahoo! looks like a classic corporate raid target as its value is less than the sum of its parts. It has a regular cashflow that could service a lot more debt at current interest rates. It has assets that can be quickly sold.

Capital has become much cheaper. This is partly a result of low interest rates set to keep the economy out of trouble in 2008. But there is also a lot of foreign capital and pension fund money looking for a home.

Missed opportunities

Given that we have the perfect vision of hindsight, Yahoo! missed key opportunities. Here are some of them.

Yahoo! failed to buy Google

Yes, Yahoo! did fail to buy Google. And their competitors failed to buy Google as well. Excite rejected the opportunity to buy Google for $750,000 in a deal arranged by Vinod Khosla. By comparison Terry Semel, then CEO of Yahoo! failed to buy Google for $5 billion. At the time Yahoo!’s entire market value was roughly $5 billion.

Yahoo! failed to buy DoubleClick

While Yahoo! was playing catch-up with Google on search. Google outbid the online industry to pay $3.1 billion for DoubleClick. DoubleClick provided advertisers with more opportunities to place banner ads than Yahoo! did.

Yahoo! failed to buy Facebook

Terry Semel offered $1 billion for Facebook in 2006. Semel wouldn’t go to $1.1 billion Facebook’s board wanted.

Yahoo! failed to sell to Microsoft

I don’t think that the Microsoft deal was a serious offer. There are  reasons to be suspicious:

  • Microsoft couldn’t make its own online business profitable at the time. The deal was unpopular with shareholders
  • Yahoo!’s contribution to the open source community would have been an antitrust issue
  • It would have to get through approval by Japanese competition authorities
  • It would likely have to get through Chinese antitrust authorities

Yahoo! didn’t communicate these risk factors to shareholders. Which then left the door open for the Microsoft-funded Carl Icahn coup later on.

Yahoo!’s board has failed the company

I think that there is a stronger argument for this when you look at their selection of CEOs over the years

  • Tim Koogle – led Yahoo! on the upcycle of the dot.com boom. He resigned and replaced by Terry Semel during the bust that followed.
  • Terry Semel – was a senior media industry executive who bought the business out of the bust. He never got the product and never used email. He never managed to build a media company despite his Hollywood heritage.
  • Jerry Yang – history will look with more favour on Jerry Yang in the future. He did the Yahoo! Japan  and Alibaba deals which are the most interesting parts of Yahoo! today. As a CEO, his time was consumed by  Microsoft’s hostile bid
  • Carol Bartz – Bartz was a Microsoft approved appointee. Her deal on Facebook Connect saw the social network build its business on the back of Yahoo!’s user database. Bartz does the Microsoft search deal badly. She also launched mobile apps that were bad. The one thing she needs respect for is her approach to marketing. Bartz realised that she needed to promote the entire Yahoo! brand. Although there was a buzz marketing team in the US, most marketing was based around products. Unfortunately the execution of the brand campaign was poor. This was partly because it was led from the US with little engagement of regional and national marketing teams.
  • Scott Thompson – stayed for five months. Allegations were made about his education, better due diligence on his recruitment required.
  • Ross Levinsohn – Ross served as interim CEO after Thompson left. It is hard to know what CEO he would have made. But his successor seems to have borrowed his strategy.
  • Marissa Mayer – Despite the goodwill Mayer had going into the job she hasn’t managed to change Yahoo!’s current business. That the company’s strategy is being driven by activist shareholders says a lot.

Problems in execution

Yahoo! had its fortune hitched to brand display advertising. Growth has dropped in this for the past ten years. Yahoo!’s declining advertisng revenues started in Q2 of 2006. Part of the problem was that Yahoo! had been too successful to begin with. Yahoo! sold its display advertising for way more than it was worth.

Yahoo! failed to monetise search as well as Google. And then handed its search business over to Microsoft, who failed to do as good as job as Yahoo! managed on its own.

Yahoo! failed to execute in mobile, despite some smart early efforts. Photo community Flickr was the default photo app on Nokia’s N73 blockbuster smartphone. The N73 launched at the end of April 2006. It was was one of the last things I worked on before leaving. Given that headstart Flickr could have been Instagram. Instead its a more specialist community of ‘proper’ photography enthusiasts. Yahoo! Messenger and Mail both worked on Nokia handsets from the mid-2000s. Yahoo! Go was an app which provided access to services including:

  • Flickr
  • Address book
  • Calendar
  • Email
  • Maps
  • Search
  • Content: news, weather, finance, sports, entertainment

It could have provided the same function that Android provides for Google, but Yahoo! considered as ‘beta software’ right up to is finish in January 2010. Yahoo! has been providing Apple with weather information and stock data for the iPhone. Yet it hasn’t managed to build a successful iPhone app.

One way of illustrating the decline of Yahoo! in mobile is to look at the user numbers of Yahoo! mail, which seems to have peaked around September 2011.
Yahoo! Mail, Hotmail and Gmail users over time
Hotmail shows a linear increase over time, likely due to organisation changes as it has moved to the cloud and Gmail takes off, presumably on the back of Android – though iOS users also have Gmail accounts.

Yahoo!’s acquisition process was broken. Ever since Yahoo! wasted 1 billion dollars buying Mark Cuban’s Broadcast.com the business slowed down. Broadcast.com was a scare on the collective memory. Capital decisions took longer, acqusitions took longer. The cheque book was harder to open. Under Marissa Mayer, it was finally let loose, but the purchases seem to have made little difference.

Yahoo! failed to become a media company. Back when I was at Yahoo! we launched Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone – a sort of proto Vice News in 2005. Despite Semel’s Hollywood background, he and following CEOs never made it work. Despite the fact Yahoo! had joint ventures with TV networks in Australia and Canada. When Marissa Mayer finally managed to get talent in the door, audiences had moved to other sites:

  • Gawker Media
  • Buzzfeed
  • Daily Beast
  • Aol’s blog network
  • Huffington Post

Yahoo! failed to make social work. Yahoo! owned pioneer social brands:

  • Yahoo! Chat – chatrooms were the Facebook Groups of yesteryear. Yahoo! was doing social before it was a thing
  • Delicious – neglect, internal politics and corporate interference meant that Yahoo! never capitalised on Delicious. Despite its tribulations there are some people who still use it, though I am not sure why
  • Flickr – corporate interference and neglect destroyed the potential growth of photo sharing site Flickr. The site is kept going as a photographic enthusiasts community. It could have been Instagram. Thankfully, Yahoo! only spent $30 million on it
  • Yahoo! Messenger – Yahoo!’s Messenger had a poor mobile client, but could have been WhatsApp. Facebook dominates the sector along with Tencents WeChat, NHN’s LINE and Daum Kakao’s KakaoTalk
  • Tumblr – Yahoo! was forced to writedown the value of Tumblr to nothing. The company failed to monetise the popular blogging and curation platform. Tumblr is one of Yahoo!’s few products that attracts a millennial audience

Yahoo! products had a poor experience. I launched over 14 products at Yahoo! in just over a year. I only ever used 2 of them on a regular ongoing basis – Delicious and Flickr. Other products like Yahoo! 360, Yahoo! Answers or Yahoo! MyWeb 2 – fell into three categories:

  • Dogs to use – particularly in the set-up part of the process
  • Not particularly useful – Yahoo! Answers, great idea in prinicple but poor cultural fit. That poor fit meant that it filled up with noise, Yahoo! Answers isn’t as useful as Quora
  • Strangled soon after birth – so it became frustrating to commit your time to them as a user

Politics paid a part in this process. The Communications group (responsible for Messenger and Mail) had a lot of duplicate products. Yahoo! Photos was a bad version of Flickr. For storing your bookmarks there was:

  • Yahoo! Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! MyWeb
  • Yahoo! MyWeb 2
  • Delicious

This all bogs management down and sucks away resources. There were also so many projects that never saw the light, due to constant changes in priority.

More information
Fortune 500 firms in 1955 vs. 2014; 88% are gone, and we’re all better off because of that dynamic ‘creative destruction’ | AEI Ideas
Microsoft’s Bing/MSN Results Truly Horrifying — Loss Rate Balloons To ~$3 Billion A Year | Business Insider
Stupid Business Decisions: Excite Rejects Google’s Asking Price | Minyanville 
A Microsoft First: Activist ValueAct Gets a Board Seat – WSJ
How Yahoo! Blew It | Wired
Yahoo! Could Have Bought Facebook For 2% Of Today’s Valuation | Business Insider
Sorry Microsoft, Yahoo — Google Just Got Bigger | Ad Age

Huawei’s expansion into smartphone market

Huawei released their annual results for 2015 last week. By going through their press release library and annual reports I have tried to piece together a picture of their consumer business and how it has grown over time.

Huawei isn’t like other businesses you might be used to in terms of corporate structure. It is based around worker participation in profits with Chinese colleagues benefiting from profit share. It is a private company so it’s numbers don’t have the same level of disclosure requirements as public companies. It’s books are audited by a reputable accounting  firm.

I found some inconsistencies in the way information is disclosed. For a number of years Huawei used to quote US dollar equivalents to its numbers, but has stopped doing so in the 2015 report.

Other inconsistencies:

  • High-end device sales are only listed for the past three years as the company started to focus on the premium marketplace
  • Honor sub-brand device shipments were disclosed for 2014 and 2015 as the brand filled the low-to-mid market segments Huawei’s range had previously extended down to
  • I only have two years worth of revenue numbers from Western Europe, if I get more I can then start looking at trends over time
  • In 2014, they disclosed the proportion of sales from e-commerce and the number of Huawei branded stores. In 2015, they disclosed the total number of retail outlets worldwide that sold Huawei phones

Between the currency fluctuations and the slight changes in information there may be some errors in my numbers – please bare this in mind.

I have outlined my charts below as JPEGs and have embedded a presentation at the bottom for convenience.
Consumer devices shipped
Consumer average revenue / device
Huawei consumer business growth over time

What does 2016 and beyond bring?
Overall sector outlook
Looking at forecasts from market analysts and The World Bank Huawei will experience tougher market conditions with lower growth forecast across major markets like China. Smartphone market maturity will mean lower exceptions of sector growth as well.
Macro economic data
As a presentation