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January 17 2013

The software-enabled cars of the near-future (industrial Internet links)

OpenXC (Ford Motor) — Ford has taken a significant step in turning its cars into platforms for innovative developers. OpenXC goes beyond the Ford Developer Program, which opens up audio and navigation features, and lets developers get their hands on drivetrain and auto-body data via the on-board diagnostic port. Once you’ve built the vehicle interface from open-source parts, you can use outside intelligence — code running on an Android device — to analyze vehicle data.

Of course, as outside software gets closer to the drivetrain, security becomes more important. OpenXC is read-only at the moment, and it promises “proper hardware isolation to ensure you can’t ‘brick’ your $20,000 investment in a car.”

Still, there are plenty of sophisticated data-machine tieups that developers could build with read-only access to the drivetrain: think of apps that help drivers get better fuel economy by changing their acceleration or, eventually, apps that optimize battery cycles in electric vehicles.

Drivers with Full Hands Get a Backup: The Car (New York Times) — John Markoff takes a look at automatic driver aides — tools like dynamic cruise control and collision-avoidance warnings that represent something of a middle ground between driverless cars and completely manual vehicles. Some features like these have been around for years, many of them using ultrasonic proximity sensors. But some of these are special, and illustrative of an important element of the industrial Internet: they rely on computer vision like Google’s driverless car. Software is taking over some kinds of machine intelligence that had previously resided in specialized hardware, and it’s creating new kinds of intelligence that hadn’t existed in cars at all.


This is a post in our industrial Internet series, an ongoing exploration of big machines and big data. The series is produced as part of a collaboration between O’Reilly and GE.

Related:

December 17 2012

Four short links: 17 December 2012

  1. TraceKit (GitHub) — stack traces for Javascript exceptions, in all major browsers.
  2. SCADA Manufacturer Starts Own Anti-Malware Project — perimeter protection only, so it doesn’t sound to my inexpert ears like the whole solution to SCADA vulnerability, but it at least shows that one SCADA manufacturer cares.
  3. Platform Competition in Two-Sided Markets (PDF) — The economic effects of multihoming are fascinating. (via Tim O’Reilly)
  4. Silicon Valley Straps on Pads (WSJ) — SF 49ers hiring tech people to do what Harper Reed did for Obama. Interestingly, the tech people are the ones who must see what can be done, though they’re slowly working on the rest of the org: [W]ith scouts “what we found is we have to push them to dream even more, because usually it’s like, ‘OK, we can do that for you,’ and it’s done overnight.” Now, he says, scouts are far less shy about seemingly impossible technological requests.

October 12 2011

Four short links: 12 October 2011

  1. Steve Yegge's Google Platforms Rant -- epic. Read it.
  2. Guidelines for Securing Open Source Software (EFF) -- advice from the team that audited some commonly-used open source libraries. Avoid giving the user options that could compromise security, in the form of modes, dialogs, preferences, or tweaks of any sort. As security expert Ian Grigg puts it, there is "only one Mode, and it is Secure." Ask yourself if that checkbox to toggle secure connections is really necessary? When would a user really want to weaken security? To the extent you must allow such user preferences, make sure that the default is always secure. (via BoingBoing)
  3. Ladder of Abstraction -- a visual and interactive exploration of design that will delight as well as inform. (via Sacha Judd)
  4. On "Build It And They Will Come" -- I wasn't saying "build it and they will come"—I was saying "don't build it and they can't come". Wonderfully captures the idea that success can't be guaranteed, but failure is easy to ensure. (via Ed Yong)

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July 29 2010

Which Social Gaming companies are Hiring

Disney's announced purchase of Mountain View gaming startup Playdom, follows on the heels of EA's purchase of London-based Playfish last November. Based on active users Zynga remains by far the biggest online social gaming company, but what other independent companies are growing?


To see which companies are expanding, I used our data warehouse of online job postings1 to detect recent hiring2. Zynga and Playdom put out the most job postings over the last three months, with (Redwood City startup) Watercooler finishing a distant third3:



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While I focused on online social gaming companies, I checked to see which companies were showing interest in games for smartphones, and found not too many were mentioning the iPhone or Android platforms on their job posts. Outside of Zynga, Playdom and Popcap Games, none of the other companies had (many) job postings that mentioned the iPhone/iPad or Android platforms4:


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(1) Data for this post if for U.S. online job postings through 7/25/2010 and is maintained in partnership with SimplyHired.com. We use algorithms to dedup job posts: a single job posting can contain multiple jobs and appear on multiple job sites.

(2) Online job postings are from thousands of sources, and there are no standardized data formats (e.g., a field for company name). I quickly normalized company names for this post, but the results remain best approximations.

(3) Our data is for U.S. online job postings, so does not reflect hiring for overseas subsidiaries (e.g., Playfish/EA is based in London). Moreover, we did not include social gaming companies based outside the U.S. In the Facebook ecosystem, some of the top gaming companies have headquarters in East Asia and South America.

(4) iPhone does seem to be the (smartphone) platform of choice for these companies. Of the Jan-to-Jul 2010 job posts placed by the companies listed above, 23% mentioned the iPhone/iPad and only 2% mentioned the Android.

July 21 2010

Where Facebook's half a billion users reside

Facebook announced this morning that they now reach 500 million active users (just five and half years after launching). But where do these half a billion users reside? Refreshing my post from February, the share of users from Asia continues to rise and now stands at 17% of all Facebook users1.


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Africa is the other fast-growth region and I'm expecting the region's share of active Facebook users to rise sharply over the next year. In terms of market potential, the number of active users in Asia is 2.3% of the population (1% in Africa) so the company still has lots of growth potential in the region:

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The share of users age 18-25 remains higher in regions outside the U.S., especially in Asia, the Middle East / North Africa, Africa, and South America. 14% of users in the U.S. are 55 or older, the corresponding figure in Asia is 2% (in Europe and Africa it's 6%, in the M. East/N. Africa it's 3%, in South America it's 4% ). [For recent growth rates by age group, click HERE.]

pathint


Over the past 12 weeks, Facebook added over a million active users in fourteen countries, including 5 in Asia and all three members of NAFTA:

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I close with a list of countries where Facebook is growing the fastest2:

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(1) Data for this post is through the week ending 7/18/2010 and covers the 180+ countries where Facebook has a presence.

(2) Measured in terms of percentage change in active users over the last 12 weeks.

March 17 2010

Google's New Marketplace Has over a Thousand Apps

One week into its public launch, the Google Apps Marketplace has just under 1,500 (enterprise) apps. Combined with Salesfore.com's app exchange (also with over a thousand apps), enterprises interested in moving to cloud apps have an increasing number of software tools to choose from.


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Popular apps (measured in terms of # of installs) includes graphic design and office integration apps (aviary design suite and offisync), a collaboration and project management tool (manymoon), a free travel planner (tripit), a basic ERP app (myerp.com), and a CRM application (Zoho CRM).


The typical supplier has about 2 offerings in the Google Apps Marketplace. Below are the suppliers with the most number of unique apps:


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(†) Data for this post was through 2/16/2010.

March 03 2010

1 in 4 Facebook Users Come From Asia or the Middle East

Asia's share of the more than 400 million active Facebook users recently surged past 15%:


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With a market penetration of 1.7% in Asia and Africa, the company has barely scratched the surface in both regions. While the company continued to add users in Southeast Asia, there were an additional 2.3 million users from South Asia over the past 12 weeks. In fact according to Alexa, Facebook has already overtaken Orkut in India. It didn't take long for Facebook to threaten Friendster's leadership position in Southeast Asia so something similar was likely to happen in India. But I thought it would take them longer to overtake Orkut in India.

The share of users from the Middle East / North Africa remains stable (at just over 8%) and the region had the second fastest-growth rate over the past 12 weeks:

pathint

As was the case in my previous post, the share of users age 18-25 remains higher in regions outside the U.S., especially in Asia, the Middle East / North Africa, Africa, and South America. [For recent growth rates by age group, click HERE.]

pathint

While Asia and the Middle East are the fastest-growth regions, Facebook continues to add users everywhere. Eastern Europe continued to be fertile territory, with the company close to doubling its active members in Romania (up 86% over the last 12 weeks). Below is a list of fastest-growth countries in each region:

pathint

(†) Speaking of Orkut, for what it's worth, Facebook added 800,000 active users in Brazil over the past 12 weeks.

Reposted bymenphrad menphrad

Apps for Army Launches - The Hybrid Enterprise?

This week the U.S. Army announced the launch of Apps for Army. It is modeled on the Apps for Democracy contests in the District of Columbia and is being run by the same indefatigable Peter Corbett and his iStrategyLabs. It looks to uncork the Army's cognitive surplus and let soldiers start solving their own problems in code without the personal risk of going off reservation to do it.

An overview of the program can be found here; or in video form here. Army Deputy CIO, Mike Krieger, discusses the Army's goals for the program here and Lt. General Sorenson, Army CIO, will discuss the program at 1:30pm EST on March 3rd during a round table. You can listen in here.

Now that the obligatory fact dump is out of the way, I want to delve in a bit more. While Apps for Army looks a lot like Apps for Democracy, the similarity is only half the story. The differences are interesting too, as is the path the Army took to get here.

What Apps for Army and Apps for Democracy share is an explicit attempt to harvest latent intellectual capacity toward emergent rather than planned outcomes. They are intentionally establishing the conditions for emergence by making data and platforms available and essentially saying "if you have a good idea, and you can execute on it with this stuff, please do." The big difference is who they are saying it to. D.C. said it to citizens effectively external to the "enterprise" while the Army is bringing intentional emergence inside.

The Army has always had innovation in the field, they just couldn't bring themselves to completely sanction or acknowledge it. It's the simple reality though. When the unmet needs of mission-oriented soldiers in the field build up enough, innovation starts shorting to ground with whatever tools are at hand. Terms like "county options" and "drive by fieldings" express the enterprise's grudging ambivalence toward these difficult to integrate and support local developments. The Army and other services have long wrestled with the reality that these local options are critical to the mission, but that they are expensive and inefficient (pdf). Also, they just aren't readily provided by a Big Army centrally planned acquisition system which is focused on shepherding the big stuff through the process and has little bandwidth left for big volumes of little things.

short to ground.png

Apps for Army is a first step in a long term effort to reconcile enterprise control with local initiative. Apps for Army might not claim such high goals for itself, but in effect it is the Army's attempt to have its cake and eat it to. Open platforms, source, and data should greatly increase generativity and the potential for innovation inside the enterprise. However, by supplying and certifying the platforms and code that runs on them, the Army hopes it can do it without sacrificing enterprise controls or security the way it does with today's unmanaged local point solutions. This makes it look a bit more like Apple's app store processes embedded inside the enterprise than like the original Apps for Democracy. It also partially explains why it took six months to launch rather than the two months originally planned. Apps for Army simply couldn't happen before the platform provisioning and application certification stuff was worked out. The processes behind Apps for Army are necessarily more complicated than those involved in the outside the firewall Apps for Democracy.


Some Background

In March of 2008 I wrote a piece here on Radar that talked about the need for generative systems inside the Army. I wrote it as sort of an orthogonal response to Noah Shachtman's talk at ETech. I got a bunch of things wrong in that post but the best thing that happened was that Paul Lin, a California National Guard soldier left a comment about his experiences in the Iraq theater. Paul and his good friend Carlos Castillo had deployed together and quickly got frustrated dealing with manual processes that could be easily automated using skills that they brought with them from their civilian careers. They set about the process of getting a linux server certified on the network (it took six months for one box) and then once it was available, began solving a wide variety of problems for an unexpectedly huge swath of users. Essentially they brought the generative web with them into the enterprise and once that server was established on the network it became a platform for rapid cycles of local innovation. These guys are my fatigues-wearing coder heros.

I was fortunate to be able to arrange a meeting in the Pentagon between Paul, Carlos, and Lt. General Sorenson, the Army CIO in December '08. Their story seems to have stuck as a powerful example of what is possible and should be encouraged (and also of what is wrong - since once they rotated out of theater there was no one to take care of the stuff they built). I've heard both General Sorenson and his Deputy Mike Krieger re-tell this story many times. It's only a small part of the bigger picture, but a seed had been planted and along with it a really great propelling narrative.

At about the same time I was circulating a paper inside the Army that talked about enabling the long tail of emergent development inside the enterprise. I proposed that they build a "battle command innovation platform" (BCIP) that would intentionally enable the emergent end of the enterprise development continuum. One part Google App Engine, one part content API strategy, and one part social coding with App Store like deployment processes it would support innovation at the edge. The goal was to intentionally enable non-traditional developers to build things they hadn't thought of yet which would improve the Army's "maneuverability in code."

long tail.png

I spent a lot of time in meetings suggesting to incredulous Army researchers and acquisition people that they go play with Scratch and imagine an environment like that grafted on top of Git (to give a layer even simpler than Github). Such a layer would not only enable development at the edge, but would also provide the kinds of social support and learning that would be needed to really make it flourish. Eventually we got to build a small prototype of the idea for Army CERDEC.

There are lots of other people advocating similar ideas in the Army (and throughout the DoD - for example, Dan Risacher and the DoD Storefront initiative). Back in 2005 Carol Wortman and Rob Pitsko, two Army civilians working on Battle Command systems at Ft. Monmouth, wrote a paper called "Toward an Information Management Framework" which described a platform concept to "enable warfighters to build their own capabilities on a common managed foundation." By the time of this story Carol had become part of the CIO staff focused on enterprise architecture where she continued to advocate for the adoption of these ideas. Now she is involved behind the scenes in Apps for Army.

The fact that the Army was fighting two wars and the acquisition system simply couldn't keep up with all of the needs in the field added to the growing sense that something had to change. The deployed soldier has to be enabled to solve at least some of their own problems. Besides, a two million person force, even if it didn't explicitly staff for it, was bound to have some people in the field who could code.

General Sorenson spoke at the Web 2.0 Summit last Fall and in the process cemented a relationship with Tim O'Reilly that ultimately led to plans to introduce him to the other service CIO's in the Pentagon. In the Spring I shared my BCIP paper with Tim and, as it resonated with his ideas for Government as a Platform, he passed it on to General Sorenson with the suggestion that it might be a starting point to harmonize Army efforts with the kinds of things that Vivek Kundra was promoting more broadly.

At the same time Apps for Democracy was still generating buzz as a model for innovation in government and Tim suggested to Peter Corbett that it might be possible to apply the same model to the military. In June of '09 all the ducks lined up and General Sorenson arranged a meeting in the pentagon with the other service CIO's, Tim, and Peter Corbett to discuss an Apps for Defense contest. I attended as a kind of web-military translator and because there was some thought that the work we were already doing might be able to support the contest. It was perhaps a bridge too far for DoD-wide contest at that point and Apps for Army was born under General Sorenson's sponsorship.

General Sorenson first announced his intent for Apps for Army at the annual LandWarNet conference in August '09 where he repeated Carlos' and Paul's story. With repeated tellings, it had started to sound like folklore so I arranged for them to get on stage together at the Government 2.0 Summit in September. Lin Wells, General Sorenson, and General Justice (at the time PEO-C3T) discussed their goals for "innovation at the edge" (video) and then officially announced the Apps for Army contest. They were followed onstage by Carlos Castillo telling the details of his and Paul's story (min 25'ish of the video). After Carlos finished, Gunnar Hellekson relayed the story of a reservist RedHat employee who had also built some really innovative local solutions while deployed.

I wonder what Peter Corbett would have thought if, walking out of the Pentagon last June, he had known it would take till now get Apps for Army launched. I give him tons of credit for staying with it this long and wrestling the DoD contracting issues to the ground. I have no doubt the process was much more difficult than he imagined when this started.

A lot of people reading this will probably wonder "how could it take that long?" Well, there are a lot of answers for that but not many of them all that good or even very interesting. Mostly good intentions implemented in bureaucracy. The awesome thing though is that General Sorenson sponsored it the whole way through and his staff stayed with it until it was done. Through the legal details to platform provisioning to security and etc. This is a tough thing to pull off in the DoD and I'm just thrilled to see it launch and can't wait to see what comes out of it.


The Hybrid Enterprise

I see this exercise as much bigger than a contest. Naturally, I hope that it delivers some cool and useful apps, but what I'm really hoping is that a successful first phase of Apps for Army will encourage further experimentation in emergent development across all of our military services. As these "super-enterprises" of massive scope demonstrate the value of intentional emergence at their edges, I hope it will cement the idea of the hybrid enterprise by demonstrating the effective combination of planned systems development in the core with emergent platforms to serve the edge. If it does, don't be surprised to see Apps for Yourco coming to an enterprise near you.

January 28 2010

Check Mate: Apple's iPad and Google's Next Move

75M-iPodt-iPhone.png
"I think this will appeal to the Apple acolytes, but this is essentially just a really big iPod Touch," said Charles Golvin, an analyst at Forrester Research, adding that he expected the iPad to mostly cannibalize the sales of other Apple products. - The New York Times

There is an axiom that the biggest game-changers often result from ideas that, at first blush, seem easy to dismiss. So it goes with yesterday's launch of the iPad, Apple's entry into what they call the 'third category' of device -- the middle ground that exists between smartphone and laptop.

Why is the iPad (seemingly) so easy to dismiss? Well, for one, it is an evolutionary device when conventional wisdom suggests that it needs to be a revolutionary device to find a wedge into a new market.

After all, the iPod and iPhone that came before it were truly revolutionary devices, offering wholly new functionality, delivering new value chains, and fundamentally changing the relationship that consumers had with, first their media (in the case of iPod) and then their communications (in the case of iPhone).

By contrast, the iPad truly does look like a really big iPod Touch, and given its evolutionary nature, it begs the question of who buys this thing and why, especially if you already have a smartphone and a laptop?

Confusing the Tail with the Dog
Thus, a reasoned analysis is that the iPad is to the iPhone & iPod Touch as the MacBook Air is to the MacBook. In other words, a cool product with a devoted base of happy customers, but in relative terms, a niche product in Apple's arsenal of rainmakers.

In fact, the opinion of the above-referred Forrester analyst is hardly unique. Quite the contrary. Check out the discussion boards across Engadget, AppleInsider, and Silicon Alley, to name a few, and do a twitter search on iPad, and the sentiment is 5 to 1 to the negative, with recurring phrases like 'fail,' 'yawn,' 'over-hyped' and 'apple blew it.' Heck, even two-thirds of the audience invited to Apple's own event look bored, offering only feint applause when prompted by Apple CEO, Steve Jobs.

So is Apple hosed? Did they blow it? Not even close.

But before I get into the 'Why,' let me present, to set some contrast, a favorite saying within Google. Google, after all, is Apple's open 'ish' frienemy, and the company who so many cite as being 'destined' to beat Apple in the mobile wars (if interested in that fork, check out 'Android's Inevitability and the Missing Leg'). If what's good for Google is not so good for Apple, then perhaps the opposite might be true, right?

In any event, within Google they like to say that what is good for the Web is good for Google, the premise being that the more the Web evolves as the core fabric from which applications, communications, entertainment, social engagement and information exchange proliferate around, the better it is for Google as the company that organizes it, makes it searchable, and then monetizes it via advertising.

So if what is good for the Web is what is good for Google, then what is good for Apple?

It's the Platform, Stupid!
125M accounts.png

As I am listening to and watching Steve Jobs deliver what very well could be his last launch of an entirely new product for the same company that he birthed (with Steve Wozniak) 34 years ago (in 1976), I am struggling with two conflicting sensibilities.

One is that some of the heart-stopping, holy-sh-t, gaming-changing aspects of Apple's tablet creation still lie below the surface, like an iceberg that only reveals a fraction of its actual mass above the waterline. (More on that in a bit.)

In other words, add me to the list of expectant Kool Aid drinkers struggling (then) with a cupful of 'that's it?' punch.

But, far more resonant is a second sense that a rapidly rising tide called iPhone Platform is lifting all boats derived from it; namely iPhone, iPod Touch and now iPad (and I still very much believe that Apple TV is due for a near-term reboot to plug into the same ecosystem).


And here's the thing, if this was a presidential debate between Apple and Google for the hearts and minds of consumers, developers, media creators, publishers and businesses of all sizes, then the launch of the iPad is Apple's closing argument for why they should be #1 (watch the full video, and let me know if you agree//disagree).

Consider this: A $50 billion company that is so profitable that in the last quarter alone they dropped another $5.8 billion of cash into their coffers (now they have $40 billion in cash). Assertion one: not only do we build great products, but we run our business the right way (read about Apple's Q1, 2010 Earnings Call HERE).

No less, this same company has been the game-changing innovator at not only the inception of personal computing and not only in transforming the music business, but also the mobile phone. Assertion two: we are the only game-changing innovator who has both stood the test of time and repeatedly matched past successes with new successes.

But, here's the kicker; in iPad, Apple is presenting multiple levels of leverage that virtually assure that they will be successful with this new entrant. Why? Because even if iPad (somewhat) cannibalizes sales of another Apple device, as the afore-mentioned Forrester analyst proffers, it's money going out of one Apple pocket and into another.

In fact, far from shying away from this truth, Apple wholeheartedly embraces it, with Steve Jobs specifically noting in yesterday's presentation that "because we've shipped over 75M iPhones and iPod Touches, there are already 75M people who know how to use the iPad."

A note aside, this premise that existing iPhone and iPod Touch users simply pick up the iPad and know what to do with it is a concept that not only has been affirmed by virtually everyone I know who has played with the device, but is an idea that should be wholly unsurprising to anyone that currently owns either an iPod Touch or iPhone.

250M-iPod.pngNow, perhaps you might argue that that's fool's gold, tapping into a mine that is destined to run dry, but that belies the fact that Apple just recently sold their 250 millionth iPod, so I would argue that 'there's a lot more gold in them thar hills.'

And that is the key thing that you should take from the iPad launch event; namely, that being evolutionary and doing the same thing over again - by creating a derivative product from the original mastering effort (just as the iPod and iTunes gave rise to iPhone, iPod Touch and App Store) - is good strategy when the strategy not only is working in the market, but also rewards the investment your customers and partners have already made in your ecosystem.

apple-tablet-keynote_088.jpgAlong those lines, virtually the entire library of 140,000 iPhone Apps will run unmodified in iPad (with pixel for pixel accuracy in a black box, or pixel-double running in full-screen), a decision that takes care of both current iPhone Developers and iPhone/iPod Touch Owners. As you might expect, the same is true with iTunes libraries.

I can tell you that when I bought a second iPod Touch for my kids over the holidays, the premise that my entire library of apps and media (not to mention, photos) from my first iPod Touch could seamlessly be re-used in the new device was a bit of an 'AHA' moment. Leverage, after all, is a good thing.

Mind you, this is independent of the iPad-specific optimizations that developers can take advantage of within the updated SDK (a note aside, now with two flagship devices that are not phones, calling the platform 'iPhone Platform' seems decidedly out of date, and I noticed that in referring to the updated SDK, Jobs & Company referred to it as the SDK, versus iPhone SDK. Expect a developer event, likely tied to the release of iPhone OS 4.0, that brings some order to the naming confusion, in addition to formally conveying clearer constructs for harmonizing development across the two different form-factors).

Okay, one last chess move laid out by Apple yesterday, and seemingly, a more focused shot across the bow of Google, and their loosely-coupled approach, was the assertion that "we're the only company that can deliver this type of solution with this price and performance."

This point, which is also amplified on the Apple web site (check out the iPad intro video, which feels in its presentation style akin to getting the co-creators of iPad to sign their name on the product), is bolstered by the fact that the iPad is the first device using Apple's own proprietary silicon - the A4 chip, the first offspring of the P.A. Semi acquisition - yet another piece in Apple's proprietary integration chain, including battery technology (iPad touts ten-hour battery life), hardware design, software, developer tools and online services.

Google, your move.

The Good, Bad and (not so) Ugly of iPad
apple-tablet-keynote_050.jpgLet's start with the good. The consistent refrain from users that have actually played with the device is that it is fast, surprisingly fast. As John Gruber of Daring Fireball notes, "everyone I spoke to in the press room was raving first and foremost about the speed. None of us could shut up about it. It feels impossibly fast." In other words, unlike netbooks, there is nothing underpowered about this device.

Secondly, is the fact that with over 1,000 sensors in the touch-based user-interface, Apple is effectively doubling down on the core belief that they have found the future of personal computing, and it doesn't involve a mouse and a physical keyboard.

apple-creation-0337-rm-eng.jpgIn fact, noteworthy is that not only did Apple deign to completely re-design it's iWork productivity suite for the iPad (it looks very functional,), but a number of the demos spotlighted how having a larger touch-based user interface facilitates all sorts of interesting innovation around virtual controller schemas, since you simply have more real estate to play with, and the level of sensor density translates to a high degree of responsiveness.

For example, EA's re-work of their 'Need for Speed SHIFT' racing game showcases the ability to quickly toggle between the inside and outside of a race car, and the ability to change gears from the inside of the car, something unimaginable in the much smaller iPhone.

MLB-overlay.pngSimilarly, MLB (Major League Baseball) showcased their MLB app, which overlays graphics, information feeds, video clips and live game programming in a way that is simultaneously immersive, interactive and highly entertaining. It is both suggestive of a media-centric killer app for the IPad and a bellwether for the future of TV Anywhere, yet another reason that I believe Apple's ambitions with respect to Apple TV remain very much alive.

Anecdotal, to be sure, but also pointing in the Apple TV direction, is the fact that iPad applications will be able to display content specifically targeted to an external display connected to the iPad (via the Dock connector), a capability that was never allowed with the iPhone SDK.

But the final bit of noteworthy, and compelling, good about iPad is that this just feels like the device that real people (read: non-techies) are going to flock to. For one, the intimidation factor of a tiny device, something that held back Baby Boomers, like my parents, suddenly becomes a non-issue, and, of course, there is the matter of the price.

At a $499 entry point, mass consumer is an achievable goal in due time (plus, no pricing overhang for competitors to swoop in).

So what's not to like? Well, for starters, Apple was slim on the details behind their vision for tablet-optimized applications, although it's worth noting that the iPhone SDK didn't actually launch into beta until a full eight months after the release of the first iPhone. In other words, the developer side of the iPad story has a second act that is forthcoming, no doubt gated by the extreme secrecy leading up to the device's launch.

hero7_20100127.pngSimilarly, while iPad lays clear Apple's ambition to pursue the e-book market aggressively (they demonstrated a nice iBooks player and added an iBook Store to complement the iTunes and App Store marketplaces), they demonstrated virtually nothing that harnesses the touch, tilt, rich media and programmatic elements that they can bring to the re-invention of print media.

This could be gated on the aforementioned developer's event or on difficulties with the print media industry, but it's worth level setting that what they launched is, more or less, iterative to the Kindle's value proposition (Jobs even gave props to Amazon in the presentation) than a complete disruptor.

Other random quibbles are the lack of a camera in iPad (for video conferencing, augmented reality apps and plain old photo taking); a lackluster carrier value proposition on the 3G version of the iPad; and for some, the continued (and I assume permanent) lack of support for Adobe Flash. But these are quibbles, not what I consider showstoppers that stand in the way of iPad's eventual success.

Netting it out: The best way to think about iPad is as the device that inspired Steve Jobs to create the iPhone and the iPod Touch. It's the vaunted 3.0 vision of a 1.0 deliverable that began its public life when the first generation of iPhone launched only two-and-a-half years ago, and as I wrote about previously HERE, it is a product that is deeply personal to Steve Jobs, and I believe the final signature product on an amazing career. I would view yesterday's launch in that light.

Related Posts:


  1. Rebooting the Book: One iPad at a Time

  2. iPad: The 'Boomer' Tablet

  3. It's in the Bag! The Apple Tablet Computing Device

  4. The Chess Masters: Apple versus Google

  5. Holy Sh-t! Apple's Halo Effect

January 05 2010

The Google Android Rollout: Windows or Waterloo?

Google-Android-Napoleon.pngWatching Google's rollout of Android to date, including this week's announcements about the Google-branded, HTC-built Nexus One phone, I am left with two conflicting thoughts.

The first is that everyone I talk to within Google is supremely confident that the data they are looking at suggests that they are poised to win in the market.

The second is that I am confused. Relative to the 'battle' and 'war' analogy, what is the battle that Google is fighting, and what is the war that they expect to win?

After all, at this stage Android is not in the same league to WIN the potential iPhone buyer because, relative to iPhone, Android lacks on hardware design, developer tools, media libraries, apps momentum, and marketplace functionality.

Yet, based upon RIM's last quarter earnings report, it's not as though Android is taking market share from the Blackberry, either.

My best guess is that Google is REALLY going after the Nokia and Symbian ecosystem, which is fine and logical, as it represents a comparable structure in supporting a broad variety of device form-factors and a multi-carrier approach. Plus, it offers (relatively) easy pickings, as Nokia/Symbian has a dispirited developer base, making it low-hanging fruit.

The only paradox is that to win that audience you can't be competing with the handset guys (i.e., Motorola, HTC, Samsung, LG) in either hard or soft form - i.e., by anointing a preferred device/partner or formally branding and marketing a Google device.

Why? Because a successful platform play demands clear delineation points between the areas where the platform creator is looking to the ecosystem to fill the gap (and, thus the platform provider won't compete with them); where they consider something proprietary to themselves, and thus won't allow a third-party to augment/swap out; and where it's more akin to 'co-opetition' (the platform creator will cooperate, but reserves the right to compete as well).

When You See the Fork in the Road, Take It

In Google's case, they have positioned themselves as the more open alternative to iPhone, and have been very vocal from the get-go (i.e., during the two years that they have been courting handset makers) that they are not getting into the hardware game.

In fact, just two months ago, Andy Rubin, VP of Engineering for Android at Google, scoffed at the notion that Google would "compete with its customers" by releasing its own phone.

"We're not making hardware," Rubin said. "We're enabling other people to build hardware."

Yet here we are, and it appears that Google is indeed materially changing the rules of the game by rolling out a Google-branded phone.

History suggests that when ecosystem partners conclude that the platform creator is competing with its own constituency or using built-in advantages unfairly, they will become less loyal and less dedicated to the platform.

In the Android market, the most likely way this manifests is handset makers more freely making product decisions that are at odds with the 'greater good' of a unified Android platform, thus accelerating the rate of Android platform fragmentation.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that Apple has been a saint in how they've managed their relationships with developers. They haven't, and have been rightfully pilloried for their deafening silence and sometimes-capricious handling of the App Store approval process (in terms of their interaction with third-party developers).

The difference is that with Apple, the ecosystem is making real money, the universality of iPhone/iPod Touch App and Media distribution is compelling, and the monetization workflow is straightforward and just works, so Apple developers cope and deal. Besides, as a developer, you always prefer a unified platform to a more heterogeneous one, right?

Hence, the argument here is that Google watched the rate that the iPhone Platform is evolving and how rapidly consumer and developer mindshare continues to grow, and concluded that 'staying the course' was unpalatable, and decided to do something dramatic about it.

In other words, this move was dictated by what Apple is making happen in the market rather than any pure failing of Android. Nonetheless, it's a telling statement on what Google now believes is the quickest way to get the best possible Android phone out, a statement they appear willing to make even if it results in collateral damage to the Android ecosystem.

Call me a naysayer, as it's certainly contrary to conventional wisdom, but I believe that this move is an indication that Google has misread the market, and now faces a choice between a fragmented Android marketplace or abandoning the core precepts of Android (as an open, hardware vendor-neutral software platform play) in order to go toe-to-toe with Apple in areas that, I would note, Google hasn't proven to be strong at; namely, hardware design, user experience, and developer tools.

Framing this dilemma, MG Siegler of TechCrunch nicely captures one bit of fallout from the imminent Nexus One launch in his excellent piece, 'With Nexus One, Is Google Eating Its Own Dogfood or Its Own Children?':

Google is unveiling the Nexus One just two months (nearly to the day) after the Verizon Droid was released. The Droid, of course, was seen as the Android platform's Messiah by some, and the one phone that could maybe hold a candle to the iPhone. Sales have been good, and the general consensus is that the phone is a winner. But now, just two months later, we have a new Android phone that by just about every account is better than it. In fact, the only real upsides for the Droid over the Nexus One is that it runs on Verizon's network, and that it has a physical keyboard. The Verizon point is certainly a fair one - there's a reason why everyone is clamoring for a Verizon iPhone. But the physical keyboard argument seems moot, as the consensus is that the Droid keyboard is a pretty poor one.

I don't know about you, but I'd be pretty annoyed if I just shelled out my money for a Droid, and locked myself into a 2-year contract (even one with Verizon). It reminds me of when Apple first unveiled the iPhone for $599 then slashed the price just a few months later, leaving all the early-adopters bitter. Apple eventually gave a partial rebate to those buyers, but it still was a curious move. And Google's is arguably worse here, as it's not just about the money, but about the unveiling of a superior piece of hardware so quickly after it put a lot of its own marketing muscle behind the Droid, trying to convince customers that it was the Android phone to buy.

Mind you, this is the same company whose credo is "Do No Evil," and just a week ago delivered a somewhat sanctimonious, self-serving and much-derided manifesto on the Google definition of openness. Daring Fireball's John Gruber commentary was by far the richest: proclaiming, "It's the biggest pile of horseshit I've ever seen from Google."

Fair or unfair, when you emblazon yourself as being more open and less evil than everyone else, as Google has, you put a bit of a target on your back.

Somewhat paradoxically, Apple gets a free pass here, because with Apple, product positioning is all about the products and the user experience, and not about morals and openness.

Everything Old is New Again

The prevailing meme in assessing the battle between Google's Android and Apple's iPhone is that it's a redux of Microsoft Windows v. Apple Macintosh, with the premise being that the company with the broadest base of hardware OEM support will inevitably outflank and usurp the market position of the integrated and more proprietary hardware, software solution provider (read: Apple then and Apple now).

That chapter has yet to be written but I would submit that there is another chapter from tech history that bears re-reading: Novell v. Microsoft.

Novell-Windows-Mac.pngIn 1994, Microsoft was rapidly moving into the driver's seat as the de facto leader of desktop/personal computing, yet many forget how utterly dominant Novell was.

In fact, at one point, 90% of the market for PC-based servers was under its control via its NetWare Network Operating System and surrounding ecosystem of hardware, software, integration and education/training partners.

At that point in time, it was not apocryphal to wonder whether the Network was poised to swallow up the Desktop, or vice versa, in much the same way we ruminate today on whether 'The Cloud' will swallow up Edge-Based computing.

But then something interesting happened. Novell's Ray Noorda, believing that its strategic position gave it a secure foothold from which to establish a beachhead in the desktop environment, opted to take Novell head-on into Microsoft's Office stronghold by rolling out a product suite that included WordPerfect and Quattro Pro, a one-time Excel competitor that had been acquired by Novell from Borland.

When the dust settled, not only had Novell lost the desktop battle badly, but in the process of focusing its forces to fight Microsoft on its home turf, Novell missed the disruptive power of the TCP/IP-based Internet (NetWare was built on a protocol stack known as IPX/SPX), and now, relatively speaking, nobody uses NetWare anymore.

Netting it out: rather than seeing this as a Microsoft v. Apple analog, maybe Google should view this as a Microsoft v. Novell analog, with Google sitting in the Novell position. Either way, the Mobile Wars are shaping up as the juiciest industry battle in years.

Related Posts:


  1. Google Android: Inevitability, the Dawn of Mobile and the Missing Leg

  2. Open "ish": The meaning of open, according to Google

  3. iPhone, the 'Personal' Computer: The Future of the Mobile Web

November 20 2009

Asia Continues to be Facebook's Strongest Growth Region

With Facebook topping 330 million active users over the past week, the company's strongest growth region continues to be Asia. Over the last 12 weeks, Facebook added close to 17M active users in Asia alone. Since my previous post, the share of active users from Asia grew by 2% (to 13.5% of all users), and roughly 1 in 7 users now come from the region. With a market penetration under 2%, Facebook is poised to add many more users in Asia (and Africa).


pathint


Compared to the U.S., the proportion of Facebook users in their teens (13-17) or in the 18-25 age group are much higher in Asia:


pathint


As was the case in other parts of the world, expect the share of users 45 and older to climb as Facebook becomes more mainstream in Asia. Growth was strong across all age groups in Asia over the last 12 weeks, particularly among teens (+90%) and the 18-25 age group (+60%).


pathint

In other regions, notably North America, Europe, the Middle East, and South America, growth in the 18-25 age bracket, lagged behind users 45 and older.


In closing I want to highlight countries (within several regions) where Facebook has been growing rapidly:

pathint

In Europe, growth has been fastest in the East: as an example, the number of active users in Poland doubled over the last 12 weeks. Growth in Southeast Asia remains strong in countries that have been home to Friendster's core user base. While Facebook added over 800,000 active users in Brazil, for now Orkut remains the dominant social network in South America's most populous country.

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