Friday, 23 December 2011

A future for HP's WebOS

A friend recently bought an unlocked HP Veer in the recent HP WebOS fire sale for about 100 USD (inc shipping & duties to Barbados).  Decided he didn't want it, so offered it to me for the same price.  I thought "100 USD for an unlocked smartphone is worth a punt, right?  Worst case, it will be a cool toy for the kids."  This is a 4G smartphone, with wifi, GPS, 5MP camera, capacitative touchscreen and a slide out keyboard in a tiny 103 gram package.  For 100 USD... and it rocks!

Don't get me wrong, when I say smartphone, I mean in terms of equivalent features.  In comparison to the iPhone or a decent Samsung Galaxy or Motorola Droid its 2.4" screen is really too small for anything other than glancing at notifications, just as the keyboard is too small for typing anything other than quick questions / searches / tweets. But that's all I really need when I'm totally mobile.  I'm not one of those idiots who sends a lengthy text standing in the middle of the pavement or while sitting in a traffic jam.  If it's not urgent enough to call the person, it can wait until I'm sitting with my tablet or laptop in front of me. So this tiny phone, at 100 grams (most smartphones are 135+ grams) is perfect for me.

But it runs WebOS, not Android or Apple's iOS.
That's actually a benefit. Here's why: the user interface for webOS is based on 'cards' (apps, basically) that you can arrange in 'decks'. You swipe up to move out of a card, and swipe left/right to move between cards, and tapping the card to reopen the app. To discard the card (close the app), simply swipe up from the deck.  It's like Expose on the mac, except even easier. And here's the clincher: it works on tiny screens. WebOS doesn't even need the single button that Apple iphones/pads have.

But WebOS is dead, right?  HP killed it after their tablet and phone sales tanked, primarily due to lack of apps because all the developer effort/money was in iOS and Android phones and tablets.  Well, HP have opensourced it (so licensing it is free), but many are still predicting that it is simply too late for this admittedly neat OS.  I'm inclined to agree... for smartphones.  But not for other simpler devices that need easy-to-build, intuitive functionality on robust, simple interfaces (a touchscreen). Like watches. Or kiosks. Or musical instruments.  Anything with a simple LCD screen could conceivably swap that out for a touchscreen and run a simple app on WebOS.

With some deft industrial engineering to tweak the physical chassis, the HP Veer could be an incredible smart watch. Just turn it on its side and add some wrist-friendly contours: make the back curved, with a curved slide-out keyboard (tricky), add a nice wide strap. It would be chunky, but chunky watches are cool right now, at least for men.

Even if Apple upgraded their iPod Nano to be an iPhone Nano, the only way they could compete with the usability of WebOS would be to fork iOS (again) and integrate WebOS features into it.  Ditto for Android. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if Android integrates the features into its next version, as it is already opensource.

So, HP: forget the phones and tablets. Think watches and LCD replacements (you could start with your printers!).  Give us a shout if you need a hand.

Have a great festive season everyone..!

(thanks to ZDnet and Engadget for the images)

Monday, 12 December 2011

Google Currents: the key is production

So Google released their 'Currents' mobile app the other day. At first glance it looks like a number of other swishy, turn-your-newsfeeds-into-a-magazine style apps: flipbook etc.  So is this just an update to Google Reader?  After all, you can select your existing GReader feeds to add to your, uh, magazine rack, in addition to the showcased titles.  Well, yes and no.

It is definitely a more narrative reading experience than Google Reader: pick your site/magazine, and you can flip through it page by page, or pull up the contents bar to hop to sections you prefer. The layout is magazine boxes, with pictures, rather than lists of headings.  So Google are giving the reader a more tablet-friendly experience on their existing newsfeeds.  But why that showcase content?  Huffington Post, Forbes etc. all have apps content icons (appzines?) on there.  Are they seriously trying to compete with the Flipbooks and Pulses of this world?  And what about all those publishers with their own apps, like the FT and Economist?  Just what is the point?

Well, I stumbled upon the Google Currents Producer this morning and it all became clear: the power of Google Currents is not in its output, but in the ease of production.  Bloggers and content managers, amateur and pro, who have invested hours and money on buffing up their blogs to pixel perfection only to have them shredded by crap formatting on tablets and phones, now have a tool with which they can create a tablet- and phone-friendly appzine in minutes.  We're not just talking RSS feed aggregation, either: Google Docs, Youtube vids, Google+, photo streams... basically you can curate your life as an edition, broken down into rights-controlled sections (of articles, photos, videos, news feeds, social feeds etc.) and publish it, magazine-style, via Currents.

It's good for consumers, but it's great for producers.  And that could be the key difference.  Especially if they put in-app payments into this thing: imagine being able to charge micropayments by the section.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Atos bans internal emails

Interesting news last week that the French Consulting firm Atos is banning internal emails.  While I'm not sure it is practical across the board, it is a bold step in the right direction. 
So much email is bulky, repetitive trash, either because senders are not judicious enough about who they include on their distribution lists, or because some recipients use it to throw the monkey back on your back ("could you resend me that report?").
Pushing such a policy should at least drive staff to focus on what is important. IM is both synchronous and asynchronous, so it should, if coupled with decent document collaboration tools, tidy up and speed up office communications.  It remains to be seen whether the collaboration tools are up to it, though.

An interesting stat from elsewhere (source?) shows that only 16% of teenagers use email as a primary form of communication - most use IM and voice.  This would imply that email's days are numbered, but, as we broach the festive season, there's clear evidence in xmas cards and annual letters that old communication media never die, they just mutate to different, more specialised purposes.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

OS vs Web vs Apps

This post provides excellent advice on anyone planning to develop a mobile app. Infographic republished here, as it is so good (from Vision Mobile originally):-

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Apple over-hyped

Having just seen the Apple event liveblog today (thanks @arstechnica), I'm actually disappointed.  I shouldn't be, but I am.

Is it because there was no iPhone 5, just an updated iPhone 4S, with some upgrade bits inside? Not really.

  • It doesn't have 4G support, just lots of +ve spin about new twin antennae that make it 'faster than most 4G phones claim' - so Apple are reduced to fighting claims with claims now?  I thought they left that to lawsuits.
  • It has a new camera, which is x% better than the old one - which was perfectly adequate.  Let's face it, we're never going to be doing portraits or feature films on phones, so who really cares?
Is it because iOS 5 just copies a bunch of stuff from Android (notifications, universal messaging, twitter built-in)? Not really.
  • It still doesn't have Android's killer feature: the universal 'share' button.  Imagine the built-in Twitter, but not just for Twitter, for any app that you allow.  So you want to share that document/pic/webpage to your blog? Fine. To Evernote? Sure. To another NFC device? No prob, if your phone can do it.
  • It still doesn't have WebOS's brilliant way of handling multi-tasking, with card decks and swipes.
  • iCloud is just doing what Android already does with Google (email, calendar, contacts) and Amazon (books, music, vids); it's probably more seamless, but taking 5 years to untether your iPhone from your PC/mac is rather more self-serving than customer-centric.
No, what bothers me is the same level of hyperbole, the same reality distortion, but without the innovation sparkle that used to justify the swagger.  I get the sense that Apple have reached an innovation plateau, like every successful company does, and rather than consolidating, toning down the hyperbole and just modestly pushing out these modest updates, they continue to shout about being the all-time most successful and revolutionary company of all time.

The Apple fan community doesn't help matters, as they all want the scoop on the next 'revolutionary' product, but I rather suspect that the next truly 'revolutionary' product is a few years away.

Apple, you're good: be comfortable with that. Tone it down and delight people with your modesty: don't let your words outstrip your actions.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Facebook is not free

With the recent fuss about Facebook adding some functionality and changing it's look yet again, I've seen some friends moan about it and others retort that they have no right to moan because they get the service for free.

Since most people don't use Facebook metrics it's fair to assume they don't appreciate the full power of Facebook as a marketing tool.  The metrics that it provides companies whose groups you join and promotions you like are at least an order of magnitude better than typical web analytics.  The reason is simple: every time you click on that blue 'Like' button on any website, you have effectively filled out a fairly comprehensive questionnaire about your sex, age, hobbies, preferences etc. - most of that stuff on your Facebook profile. In some cases this information is anonymous to the company in question, and in others it is full disclosure.  Either way, it is extremely valuable to them.

If you're not paying, it's because you're the product. So be demanding about your Facebook, holler if you don't like it, and stamp your feet at the Facebook developers. It is your inalienable right because, after all, without you Facebook would have nothing to sell.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Facebook's intrinsic value

At nearly 800 million users Facebook is a phenomenon, although not because of the aforementioned number.  Facebook's tech celebrity ancestors, Microsoft Windows and Google, have many more users.  [Microsoft even got (gets!) to charge each user a fee, which remains beyond Facebook's capability!] The reason for Facebook's hefty valuation is, basically its position as a media channel.  While more people use Google, they typically land, search, and head off to the intended destination, maybe clicking an ad or two on the way.  With Facebook, people loiter, like teenagers at a bus stop.  Average Google session: 20 seconds; average Facebook session: 20 minutes.  That's sixty times more advertising potential.  That may justify a high valuation to investors, but what about the intrinsic value of Facebook?

Well, let's take a look at the Caribbean context.  Most internet technology doesn't reach the Caribbean, either because the commercial aspects don't work (I can see it, but I can't buy it!) or because they are surplus to requirements (I don't needs Google Streetview because I know most of my island).  Yet Facebook has been a quiet phenomenon here, at least in Barbados.  Why?

First, there's the technical: there are no transactional complexities (buying, selling etc.) and Facebook comes included on most mobile devices, which is still by far the most common access platform to the internet in the region.

But there's also the cultural: social networks have always been extremely important to Caribbean societies.  The Caribbean (as in CARICOM states) is a micro diaspora, a plethora of small towns: 15 million people, scattered across 500,000 square kilometres and 20 states (that's less than 5% the size of Europe in half the number of countries).  Communities are close-knit, yet inter-island living is also very common (for work, for school, to visit relatives, for vacation and sporting events).  Such conditions are an ideal structure for an online social network.

There are also the social habits: Caribbean folk are gregarious, be it at church, beach, sports event or rum shop, we bump into the same people quite often and are usually slightly wary of strangers,  unless they are tourists, in which case we'll be polite and chatty because they typically have no long-term value in our social networks.  Our social networks are also important for commerce: most folks know that the way to get best service/price is to know someone in the company, who can do you a deal.  Even if the deal is just a standard deal, the common perception is that it's always better if you know someone on the inside.  If I'm buying a car, the first question I ask is "who do I know in car dealerships?".  Social networks matter here.

But does Facebook matter?  Sure, it's popular.  But is it adding value?

I'm not sure it is, at least not in the way that an investor might hope.  I've been using Facebook since about 2006, when I lived in Bermuda and it was a great way to keep in touch with family & friends in UK and in the Bermuda diaspora (Bermuda is a big expat crossroads because strict work permits mean the expat workforce turnover is quite high).  But my way of using Facebook has changed in recent months.

Most of us only use Facebook for the newsroll: that perpetually scrolling screen of updates from friends and groups we subscribe to.  I started using Twitter, and the interface is very similar, scrolling through people's updates (tweets), except in Twitter you 'follow' people's updates - they don't have to accept you as a friend first.  So you can follow your favorite celebrity or publication or acquaintance or friend without having them potentially knowing all about you, your friends, your photos etc.  So I wanted a way to splice the two together into a single newsroll, as well as send an update to both at the same time  (or toggle to just one for those private, friend-only thoughts). Enter Tweetdeck.  Just what I wanted: it supports multiple Twitter accounts, allows you to comment on and 'like' people's updates, including photos, and it includes Google Buzz too.  Perfect.  It's owned by Twitter, too.

Now, I no longer use Facebook.  Oh, I subscribe to it, and I update it - still very much an active member of the social network.  But the adverts?  The apps? All these 'value-added' services? Nah.  I just have a screen full of updates, grey for Twitter, blue for Facebook and red for Buzz.  And that's it.
Consumer 1, Producer/Investor 0.

But for how long?

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Testing from BlogAway

Just testing posting directly from BlogAway app for Android (the best I have found in terms of being able to manage and edit multiple blogs, both off- and online)

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Adaptive Consulting blog is up

So, the Adaptive presence is now extending to the blogosphere!
Consider this blog an Adaptive lens on news events in Technology, Banking and Media - commenting on them, and, where appropriate, trying to put them all into the Caribbean context.
This blog includes Twitter favorites (follow us @AdaptiveC), and will be mirrored on the (obligatory) Adaptive Consulting Facebook page, as well as LinkedIn, and when the APIs come out, Google+.

Please feel free to comment & share your experiences/opinions.