Category Archives: Mobile Applications

Which is Scarier – That the Rest of the World isn’t like Silicon Valley or Vice Versa?

I’ve been a HN (HackerNews) junkie for almost 4 years now. I’ve been living and breathing topics like MVP, lean start-up, Node.js, git, etc and am a very active person in the community. I truly believe in the customer development process and keeping things agile. Sadly though, I’ve come to the realization that the rest of the world simply does not think this way. I don’t live in Silicon Valley, but I “study” it constantly; trying to find the pieces of the culture that make sense and those that don’t. My impression of the SV startup view on the world is:

  • Anyone who builds a startup must follow lean start-up rules
  • It has to disrupt some business that already exists
  • It has to have to some sort of social 
  • It has to be featured in TC at some point to be worth something
  • If there is no mobile component it’s probably not worth pursuing
  • Pivoting is inevitable, so just plan for that ahead of time
  • Design/UX/UI is everything
  • Business networking is all done socially
  • You have to blog (tweet, etc) in order to be seen
  • Your business model can be based on zero revenues but be based on an exit

The reality is that there are so many companies out there being built outside of SV that do not incorporate these principles. In fact, I’d argue that companies that are built with this mindset represent an extremely limited and small subset of the overal startup spectrum. (note – there’s obviously no way to quantify that) The reality is – there is no one single way to build a successful business. There is no handbook, cookbook, or formula. Are there ways to reduce your risk? Are there some techniques that work well? Sure, but nothing in business is purely anecdotal.

SV start-up culture has an engineering mindset based on the belief that new business can be engineered, which I simply don’t believe to be true. More importantly I believe SV startup culture has actually created a larger culture (that includes myself) of people who hate to plan. For good reason, plans are usually thrown out in the first 5 minutes after reading them. But it doesn’t mean that plans aren’t important. My theory is that since the dot-com era, we are following a tolerance of failure curve inversely proportional to our adherence to plans. So, we’re do for a planning era when this 2.0 bubble bursts.

tolerancecurve

The problem I see is that the very few companies who do follow this pattern, only picked the pattern because they saw their idols successful at doing it. But just because these very few companies do become successful it doesn’t mean that everyone can build companies based on the same principles. For example: Twitter CEO, Evan Williams, is quoted for having said

“User experience is everything. It always has been, but it’s still undervalued and under-invested in.”

Point is – just because it worked for one company (and probably a handful of other ones) doesn’t mean it will work for every startup. So, while this advice is certainly good, it’s up to you to determine if it’s applicable to your business (web based or not).

Let’s take for example a company I used to work for: SAP. Most young people have never heard of SAP. Yet it does roughly $20bil in revenue and is probably used by at least one company that you interact with on a daily basis (including Apple!). It also has offices in Palo Alto, so it’s technically in SV. But you’re talking about an ecosystem of people who believe that a whole IT project has to be blueprinted several months (if not years) ahead of the actual build. SV startup culture says “screw it, let’s just build it”.

At the end of the day the important thing to remember is that companies like IBM, SAP, Twitter, SalesForce, AirBnB, Google, etc – all internet related businesses – have built successful business based on different priorities and principles. Just because IBM built and continue to grow their company in one way and Apple did it another way, the reality is that they all have proved one thing – they can create businesses and grow them.

Here’s my prediction for the future – we’ll continue to pretend like we can engineer successful businesses and continue failing at doing that. But it’s worth a shot right?

Dear Microsoft, Let Me Show You How to Sell Your Surface Tablet

Dear Microsoft,

I get it. Apple is winning. They know how to sell well. You are amazing at selling business products but rarely good at selling consumer products. I also understand that not only can you not just simply copy Apple’s design (both from a marketing perspective and product design perspective), but you need to do a better job at understanding when and where to pitch certain things. Let me explain….

First, you need to divise your pitch in such a way that it shows benefits to three different user sets:

  1. People who already own a tablet (iPad and Android users)
  2. People who don’t know what a tablet is or what it does
  3. Business people who want a reason to buy a tablet for work

Second, remind yourself that you’re in the hammer business, which means in order to sell your hammer you to create the illusion you’re selling a house. So, all of your pitches should not be able the problem the hammer solves, but rather what problem the house solves.

At the core of every good product/service pitch is a good website. So I’ll break down their website section by section.

Landing Page

First, what the hell is Windows RT and what is Windows 8 Pro? This makes zero sense to the average person. Most people still to this day do not understand what the difference between Windows Home and Windows Pro editions do. Unless of course your field of work is in the tech industry. Separate this the following way:

  • Surface for Fun
  • Surface for Business
  • Accessories
  • Support

Call to action

Good start with this. Clear call to action with an easy to click button with a video. However, the video button takes them to a site that opens another browser (big no-no) and uses silverlight. You’ve just lost 50%* of your video traffic because of those two things. This is one of those classic cases of how not to make something easy to use. *Obviously this is just an estimate, but just do some simple A/B tests and prove me wrong.

Timeless. Tough.

Oh please god no… Ok, I get it. Apple does this and this in their marketing. Their design is a work of art. So why not replicate it? It’s simple, don’t copy what they do here….just yet. Apple marketing wasn’t originally successfully because they told people in their adverts that their engineering was superior. They just engineered superior products, people figured it out and then they marketed it. So don’t talk about this until the creatives of the world actually have minted you first. This type of marketing move is a marketing re-enforcer, not a marketing introducer. Rather, focus on what problems this type of design does solve. This is where I see the massive opportunity for Microsoft. iPads aren’t fully replacing laptops just yet, but Surface tablets potentially do. So in your “design pitch”, I would focus on the following:

The size – I have no way of knowing how thin this thing really is. Put a picture of it next to something that has a consistent volume to it (currency such as a penny usually works here). Otherwise I simply cannot fathom any sense of the size.

The clarity of the display – You did this correct here but this needs to be on the front page. It’s important. So important, in fact, that Apple dedicates some major real estate (and HTML/JS functionality) to showcasing it’s retina display. Not only that but they clearly demonstrate it’s sexiness but it’s extremely easy to understand what problem is being solved – I can’t see anything properly without super clear, or so-called “retina”, graphics.

Kick. Start.

Alright, this is a cool feature, but show me visually why it’s cool to have this. Again, what problem are you solving? If this allows me to be hands free to watch videos, look at pictures, etc, then show pictures of people doing just that. This is the reason people hate Powerpoint presentations; because they people that create powerpoint presentations spend way more time writing garbled text than showing imagery. Make the person you’re pitching to expend as little energy as possible. This would be a also be a good time to very subtly show how viewing a tablet at this angle is ergonomically 10x better for your back/neck than trying to watch something on an iPad (that doesn’t have a specific case for it). See how Steve Jobs has to prop the iPad up on his leg in order to get comfortable.

This is fundamentally one of the problems that exists with long term use of the iPad, and dually why the snapable keyboard is such a good key differentiator for solving the potential issue of Gorilla arm with the iPad. The difference is also that the iPad is great for when you’re sitting on a couch but terrible for desk use. The Surface can do both. That’s pretty cool, but sell it better. Your better off with this image, but take a step further and show visually what it’s doing for the ergonomics of the human and make the imagery slightly more life like (showing a really cool picture of the grand canyon outside the window doesnt hurt either)

Click. Type.

Demonstrate this visually with a typical example. One of the painful parts of an iPad is when you try to switch into “hardcore mode”, i.e. when I need to write a long winded e-mail or write a document in Word. The iPad is a pain to type on. Attack this pain and attack it hard. Show a use case where two people are viewing the screen and then the context of that conversation switches to writing a long document/email; so unsnapped and snapped back in less than 2 seconds. Perhaps the specific context could be someone watching a YouTube clip and then writing a comment. So you show 3 images. First one shows the YouTube player UI with the video almost ending. Second image, shows the interace with the cursor ready to type, as the keyboard snaps slowly in. The third image shows the keyboard in and the comment submitted with 200+ “thumbs-up” or “likes”. The “house” you sell here is “make comments on youtube FASTER and on the go”. People will inherently get how this can be applied in other areas of life. Also, if you want to show it being spill resistant, SHOW IT, don’t say it. Perhaps an image like this.

Connect. Share.

Ugh. I don’t get this at all. These ports mean nothing to me. Show me a HDTV (with a super crisp image) connect to it, like this. Show me a digital camera with it’s slot open to the SD card, like this. Show me a typical example of why I need USB. What’s supported? Keyboards? Mouse? Show me an example and then throw the USB logo on there. I don’t care where the slots are physically on the device. Don’t waste your time.

Serious. Fun.

Uggggghhhhhhh. Stop. Please. Now. This is really simple. You need 5-10 showcase apps that people are dying to get their hands on. Show them in a left-right slider (like the slider used for the Siri section on Apple’s website). Preferably these are apps that don’t exist on any other device, or are enhanced by some of the features of your device. This will solve your developer/consumer, chicken and egg problem.

Surface for Business

Now, let me touch briefly on the business section.

This should be a dead simple sell. There should be one sentence here that says:

“You can do everything you did on your business laptop, but in a slicker, easier to use device”. Then show me Excel, Word, Outlook and Powerpoint. Then in the fine print, go in the legacy around security, control, governance, etc. Done and done.

Final Thoughts

I really would like Microsoft to do better in this market. Although I haven’t used the product yet, in theory, it plays much nicer to someone like myself (a power user) than the iPad does. If I’ve exposed the fact that either (1) they don’t have good enough gaming apps or (2) the office suite is painful to use on the tablet, than clearly the R&D development effort needs to be spent there. The best way to do this is to create 5-10 “experiences” that are native to the Surface Tablet and not allow them to be ported over to other devices (iPad, Android, etc). Make your garden gorgeous and build a nice wall around it.

Accessibility is the Most Important Thing in the Computing World

With everyone suing each other over what mobile device came first, there is an underpinning debate to this whole mess. He who controls the platform, controls the users. Developers only flock to the platform that has the most control (implicit or explicit) over it’s users. Subsequently this means that developers are in an absolute mess right now. We want everyone in the world to access our service, no matter where they are, how old they are, or how they are connected. Which comes to my point of this post: accessibility is the most important thing in the computing world.

I really love this quote from Steve Yegge Google Platform rant:

The other big realization he had was that he can’t always build the right thing. I think Larry Tesler might have struck some kind of chord in Bezos when he said his mom couldn’t use the goddamn website. It’s not even super clear whose mom he was talking about, and doesn’t really matter, because nobody’s mom can use the goddamn website. In fact I myself find the website disturbingly daunting, and I worked there for over half a decade. I’ve just learned to kinda defocus my eyes and concentrate on the million or so pixels near the center of the page above the fold.

I’m not really sure how Bezos came to this realization — the insight that he can’t build one product and have it be right for everyone. But it doesn’t matter, because he gets it. There’s actually a formal name for this phenomenon. It’s called Accessibility, and it’s the most important thing in the computing world.

The. Most. Important. Thing.

If you’re sorta thinking, “huh? You mean like, blind and deaf people Accessibility?” then you’re not alone, because I’ve come to understand that there are lots and LOTS of people just like you: people for whom this idea does not have the right Accessibility, so it hasn’t been able to get through to you yet. It’s not your fault for not understanding, any more than it would be your fault for being blind or deaf or motion-restricted or living with any other disability. When software — or idea-ware for that matter — fails to be accessible to anyone for any reason, it is the fault of the software or of the messaging of the idea. It is an Accessibility failure.

Device Fragmentation

We have a major accessibility problem in mobile computing and it’s largely due to the fragmented mobile smartphone industry. Facebook made a strategic decision awhile back to develop a majority of it’s mobile platform using HTML5 and it’s CEO has just said it was “the biggest strategic mistake” they’ve ever made. The HTML5 platform was supposed to alleviate the pains of the service not being accessible to anyone however, accessibility isn’t just a technological issue, it’s a sociological one. For example, let’s think about some basic web-based service functionalities like:

  • How do I login?
  • Where do I login?
  • How do I sign-up?
  • Where do I do “something”?
  • How do I do “something”?

Now try to imagine being able to answer these all accurately across a multitude of devices and platforms. Then think about different screen sizes, offline, online, connection settings, security, internationalization, localization, etc. etc. The list goes on and on. These are all accessibility issues and they are not easily solved by software, but rather by real human beings with the desire and intuition to find complex solutions while trying to balance all of these at the same time.

Why are we in this situation today?

Easy. Microsoft isn’t the dominate player in the personal computing industry anymore. We have a healthy competition between Apple, Google, Microsoft (and arguably several others) which has lead to an explosion of device and app innovation, which has subsequently lead to a fragmentation of abilities to develop on those platforms. Unfortunately for budget holders, looking to compete in today’s web, this means higher costs of doing business. However, this is mobile, it’s the present and it’s the future. If we don’t capture it correctly now, someone will, and it will be the death of many companies if not orchestrated properly.

Interestingly we went through this same situation in the 90s when the web was still trying to mature and the only real option was to create native desktop applications. The web matured with JS and HTML, and we can now do much of the processing on a web server, and display this data on a browser. Unfortunately there is one fundamental difference – mobile devices are not yet fully connected. We still have large infrastructure issues across a myriad of slowly innovative telcos and government regulations. Until our smartphones are constantly connected wherever we are, I don’t see the HTML5 mobile spec progressing as quickly as we all hope it will.

I’m in Technology Hell

I was recently dubbed a “hyper-organized” person by one of my superiors at work. Initially I didn’t know how to take that? Compliment? Insult? I guess it’s not such a bad thing to be hyper organized, right? Isn’t that every employers dream? Reflecting back, I do actually take it as a compliment. The problem I’m having now is that I’m constantly trying to manage EVERYTHING in my life. All the way down to the queue that I constantly build up in my “Words with Friends” app. It’s currently at 6 and I freak out if I fall asleep at night and don’t clear that queue out. Is this a cause of gamification? I’ve recently reflected on this and realized that I currently own a large range of software stacks that are all “supposed” to make my life better. However, the more and more things I need to manage, the more I think it’s driving me crazy.

Some of the things I do to say hyper organized usually involves a long list of pieces of technology. First my setup is a MacBook Pro which runs Max OS X SL and a VM containing Win7. Here are the technologies I utilize:

  1. I really only run a Win7 image for Outlook, everything else Office, and SAPGui. If Google docs could preserve the formatting of Office 100%, then I’d gladly kill the Office suite. Outlook is also much better Calendar integration than iCal or Google Calendar. Until then I’m tied to Windows.
  2. On the Mac OS X bit, I regularly use Chrome (general web browsing), Skype for IM/calls, OmniGraffle for mock-ups, Evernote for to-do (and everything else that has to do with notes), Spotify and iTunes
  3. Now let’s talk about all of the SaaS services I use:
    1. Dropbox – General back-up and sharing of files (pictures, etc)
    2. Evernote – I’m anal about my to-do list and use Evernote extensively to manage my to-do list (btw – I have no idea why people use anything more than a txt file for a to-do list)
    3. WordPress – This blog is WordPress installed on a shared host (WebFaction)
    4. Hypem – I listen to mostly remixs on Hypem, “regular” music via Spotify (monthly fee) and iTunes (amazon mp3′s usually)
    5. Yammer – Internally used at my company
    6. Twitter – This is almost a full time job in itself
    7. Facebook - Yes, just like you I have to manage my social life (also I realize FB isn’t really a “SaaS”, but still worth noting)
    8. Gmail – Both company and personal
    9. Tumblr – I manage my Triathlon blog on here: Trithlete
    10. Box.net  - We just recently moved our doc collaboration over to Box.net
    11. Assembla – For all of my project management
    12. Google Apps – Use this for work and collaboration on my apartment utilities, vacation planning, etc.
    13. Outlook Web – To manage my current project e-mail (I use the company’s e-mail)
  4. Then let’s talk about the apps I have on my iPhone that I use to make my life easier: Dropbox, Evernote, Tumblr, and Box
  5. Lastly there is the general communication apps I use on a daily basis: WhatsApp, Messages (built-in), E-mail, Yammer, Twitter, and Facebook

On an average day I’m managing a queue of people e-mailing me (which I generally keep to 0), phone calls/vmail (which I also always leave at 0), twitter, contracted company web Outlook, WhatsApp messages and Yammer. This is nearly a full-time job in itself. The amount of Chrome tabs I have open in a given day is extraordinary!

So what does this all mean? It requires an unreal amount of task-switching. I feel like I have to manage 100 different queues and they all need to be as close to zero as possible at any given point. Which leads me to believe…are all of those innovative technology products making my life any easier? Or am I in a constant state of technology hell? The problem is I realize what every single one of these services means to me and how important they are. So I’m not really willing to ditch any of them. For example, I don’t check Facebook as much as I used to but I realize that it’s important for me to have a presence there. I otherwise I may lose touch with a core set of friends and family which happen to live all over the world (Australia, UK, Germany, Sweden, California, Illinois, New York, etc).

I realize now why people don’t respond to e-mails right away anymore…because we’ve found 100 million ways to replace e-mail, because apparently e-mail wasn’t good enough.

 

Disruptive Technologies Will Save SAP

SAP’s ecosystem is in itself an absolutely massive market. Therefore SAP relies heavily on it’s partners to provide consulting services, conduct sales, and manage large scale implementations. There are three largely disruptive forces to this ecosystem and interestingly they all can be seen in SAP Business Intelligence:

  1. In Memory Technology
  2. Cloud Computing
  3. Mobile Applications

In Memory Technology – There is a huge market for OLAP and data-warehousing . The BI market is a multi-billion dollar industry. The in-memory technology (BWA and HANA initially) is largely disruptive to the way we store and report on data. SAP’s CTO Vishal Sikka commented on this by saying:

Together with our partners and customers, SAP is breaking down the boundaries between real-time events and real-time business decisions

SAP has made a strategic goal to eventually replace all reporting in the enterprise by use of the HANA (High-Performance Analytical Appliance). Many of my blog posts will centered around the evolution of this.

Cloud Computing – The buzz around cloud computing is absolutely crazy right now and for good reason. Unfortunately there are huge concerns for large enterprises to productively adopt the technology. For example: Big name firms form alliance to drive cloud standards Interestingly there is a large market for non-productive solutions, such as pre-sales, testing, proof of concept, etc. What’s even more interesting, SAP itself has been “eating its own dogfood” and has been utilizing cloud services for nearly 3+ years now:

Mobile Applications - Mobile applications represent a fundamentally different way that we interact with software. In enterprise ERP we often see feature rich (and subsequently clunky) applications. This is as SAP says “a game changer” as it not only means that there is a whole new way of developing software, but also their is a renewed focused on how we use enterprise BI applications.

So why will these save SAP? Three reasons:

  1. In-Memory: Other database/warehousing solutions are much faster than SAP’s current offering (such as NoSQL, Hadoop, MapReduce, etc) In-memory speeds this up.
  2. Cloud: IT infrastructure costs have grown enormously out of control. Cloud reduces that.
  3. Mobile: The adoption of mobile is quickly making itself into mainstream enterprise. Business is now done on the go. Mobile aids that.

The convergence of many of these technologies represents both a scary and opportunistic time for myself and the technologies SAP supports. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out and I’m glad that SAP has embraced disruption.