Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Zune is the future of mobility

You are the largest software company in the world. You have built a device that nobody is buying. You feel the next big thing will be in the smartphone market (hello!? anybody home?). What do you do?

You take that device and you make it a smartphone, of course!

Ok, the news about Microsoft taking the Zune and making it a smartphone are too funny to be true.

However, I said it before and I repeat it. I believe Microsoft needs a smartphone to compete with the rest of the world. The dream of replicating the PC world and have everyone in the world use Windows Mobile is gone. It did not happen. The opposite is happening.

In mobile, it is all about user experience. If you control the hardware and the operating system, you have a chance to build a great experience. If you don't, it is tough. See all the bad HW implementation of Windows Mobile. Or the G1 story (good OS, bad HW).

The good stories are all coming from the combo OS+HW: Apple with the iPhone, RIM with its BlackBerries and so on.

Therefore, I am in favor of a Microsoft-branded smartphone (although I do not believe they will have one ready for MWC in Barcelona, no way).

But please, do not call it Zune...

Monday, November 24, 2008

iPhone 2.2 and the Google envy

I updated my iPhone to 2.2 during the weekend (still a laborious task, if you want to keep it unlocked and jailbroken, but worth the effort) and I found the new update quite nice. Not that much that I would use, but the Street View of Google Maps is spectacular (although the compass feature of the G1 is even more spectacular).

The thing that caught my attention a lot more, though, was the voice search application launched last Monday by Google. You raise the phone to your ear, it beeps, you say what you are looking for, it beeps again and it gives you the result. No finger needed. Quite awesome.

I tried saying Funambol as a Northern Italian would (yep, there are at least two different ways to say Funambol even in Italy) and the results were hilarious. From football (hey, do the people at Google know everything about me?) to Lambo (as in Lamborghini). Nice.

I tried saying Funambol as a Texan would (not that I know how a Texan speaks but...) and it came out perfectly right. Amazing. Where did they find anyone saying Funambol to match it? A Texan-based robot, I would guess.

If you recall, the app was announced with much fanfare the week before but it took a few days to appear on the App Store. Theories abound but I have my take on this one for a simple reason: I envy Google. Badly.


Because the Google voice search app uses a call to an API that is not publicly available... The app starts recording your voice when you tilt the phone and put close to your ear. The tilt is in the official API, but the "close to your ear" depends on the proximity sensor (the one that turns the screen off when you talk). You cannot control the proximity sensor with the published Apple SDK. No way.

Google uses an unpublished call. They submitted it to the App Store and Apple let them go through, even if they always said they would not allow any application in the App Store that would access unpublished APIs...

Beside explaining why the publication took a few days (Schmidt calling Jobs and saying pleeeease? Jobs calling Schmidt and saying whaaaaaat, show me the money!), it is still a reason for most of us to be upset.

Our community wants to have access to the iPhone calendar badly. But we can't. Even if the version for the jailbroken phones has been mostly developed by the community, I won't ever try to publish it to the App Store. I can't risk Apple to kick our contact sync app out, just because they decide to do so... And I am sure over-the-air calendar sync is an important feature for most iPhone users (who might not want to use MobileMe).

Well, the end result is just that I envy Google. What a novelty.

P.S. I am sure you noticed that the iPhone 2.2. upgrade was made available by Apple the day RIM launched the Storm... What a coincidence! Apparently, Jobs was scared about the Storm and wanted to make sure people remembered that the iPhone is getting better by the day. No need to change, says Apple. I have to agree on this one: if you have a BlackBerry and you want to upgrade, get a Bold... If you do not have a BlackBerry, well, you got a lot of choices these days and the Storm is probably not the best one. Nonetheless, Apple felt the need to fire back, which is a signal: they were worried. That said, I am ready to bet the iPhone will win the Christmas season for smartphones, hands down.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Sorry, the Storm is no iPhone

I had very high hopes for the BlackBerry Storm. I had the opportunity to play with one this morning, thanks to one of our great employees (and her husband) who stayed in line since 5 am today...

Unfortunately, I was disappointed. That happens when you have high expectations, I know. But I had super high expectations for the iPhone and it flew easily beyond them...

Simply, the key feature - the screen with tactile feedback - is just bad. That is the one that should have been its flagship one, the better-than-the-iPhone one... However, it is not convincing at all.

First, you have visual feedback (box around the key turning blue) even when you do not click. So you think you clicked but you actually did not. Why they did not build the device to have the box turn blue when you actually click is beyond me...

Second, it take physical effort to press the key. You have to press the entire screen. It is heavy. I typed for a minute and my muscles were sore (ok, I am exaggerating, I am in good shape, I can handle a good five minutes of it :-) It should be mandatory for 24 hours fitness centers: train your thumbs...
Thanks, but I want my BlackBerry keyboard back.
On top of it, the scrolling is not smooth. If you accelerate the scrolling, like you would do on the iPhone, nothing changes. It always scrolls at the same speed. I do not expect the nice visual effect of bouncing at the end (although it is one of those that wow people on the iPhone), but it takes forever to scroll.
Thanks, but I want my BlackBerry navigation ball (or even the wheel) back.
When it comes to switching between portrait and landscape, the Storm is slow. A fraction of a second too slow. But still too slow.
Thanks, but I want my old BlackBerry back (or I would take an iPhone for it)
Oh, what about everything else? It looks good... but you can't go for the kill, miss it completely and then say "well, look at the rest". It just does not cut it.

BTW, for those interested, the Funambol sync client appears to work, but the email client needs a few touches. Too bad, but you know we'll get them working before you say "what?" ;-)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

AOL is live with open source sync!

We made the announcement of AOL choosing Funambol a few months ago. After a friends and family test, they are now out officially in beta.

For us, this is a great achievement because the Carrier Edition is now deployed at AOL. Talk about scalability -- our mobile open source software can now benefit all AOL users, and you know they have a lot!

To set up AOL Sync:
1) Go to http://aolsync.aol.com/.
2) Click "Register your phone".
3) Enter your mobile number, mobile carrier and device manufacturer and click "Send Code".
4) When the verification code arrives on your mobile phone, enter it and click "Verify".
5) Select your phone model and click "Continue".
6) To sync additional calendars or auto added contacts, check them. Click "Configure Now".
7) For iPhone, Windows Mobile and BlackBerry devices, the next step is to download a sync client. For other devices, you'll receive instructions on how to configure your phone's built-in sync client.
Here's a YouTube screencam about AOL Sync powered by Funambol:

To read more about AOL Sync, check out the post on the AOL website.

Stay tuned -- this is just the beta. We'll keep you posted on its progress.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Is RIM trying too hard to be a consumer company?

I wrote before about RIM trying to be a consumer company, how hard it is and how risky it might be for them. Exactly like Nokia trying to be an enterprise company, attempt which failed miserably.

My analysis came from the way RIM was presenting the Storm. Much more as a consumer device than as an enterprise device.

I wrote (sorry for quoting myself, it looks cheesy):
Where can they shine? In the enterprise. They still have 98% of the enterprise to capture. They are entrenched. They have to make sure nobody gets in. Like the iPhone. Or the Android phones. Or the Windows Mobile ones. Or Nokia.

I feel the Storm is a smart move in this direction. You have to give enterprise people a little of coolness (music, pictures, some social networking), being strong on your basic values (email), and improve on the competition.
Today, I read an article on The Register about the Storm launch in the UK. In a nutshell, if you are a consumer and you buy the Storm, everything works. If you are an enterprise and you need Exchange support, you are screwed. Not only it costs more (about $25 more), but you simply cannot get it right now.

Quoting The Register (much less cheesy):
"The BES service books for the Storm are not quite ready ... chances are it still wouldn't work. Obviously we'd rather not take the chance just yet until we know everything is working 100 per cent on that side."

All this is part of a "planned, phased rollout", and Vodafone tells us that the Enterprise-ready version of the Storm is coming over the next few weeks.
What is clear is that RIM is trying to launch the Storm as a consumer device. Period. Even taking the risk of pissing off their core customers. I think it is a big mistake on their part. Chasing the iPhone is a good idea, but upsetting your core target is a very bad one.

And, by the way, if you are an Enterprise buying a Storm and you want to save the $25/month, take a look at the Funambol Community Edition. It is free free free ($0/month), it has an Exchange connector and a BlackBerry client. You can buy the Storm as a consumer and use it in the enterprise.

After all, RIM is pushing you to do it...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

An Italian software story

I know the blog is about mobile and open source, but I bumped into this story of an Italian developer (on the New York Times...) and I could not avoid to write about it ;-)

The story is about Giacomo 'Peldi' Guilizzoni, a former Senior Software Engineering Lead at Adobe in San Francisco, who moved back to Italy and started a company called Balsamiq.

His company is actually a "Micro-ISV" or a single-employee company. That is, a guy in a studio. A guy who wrote a product called "Balsamiq Mockups" which allows anyone to build a mockup of a GUI: the genius is that the mockup resembles one you would scribble on a piece of paper, rather than a computer one. It sells online for $79.

To make the story short, the product is fantastic and he grossed over $100k in five months. And the business is growing fast.

Why do I know? Because he made it all public in his blog. He promised he would do it. And you have all the measures of his business (and how much he is donating to non-profits).

The story is great because is the counter story of all Silicon Valley VC-backed startups. Get money from VC and you have a chance to be rich quick... Peldi is doing everything the opposite way, and he is becoming rich quick. A one-man shop. The anti-VC story, much appropriate for an economic downturn. With software built with creativity in Italy. By a guy who lived in Silicon Valley. I have to love this one!

I do not know Peldi, but I hope I will have the opportunity to meet him one day. I am sure he is having a great time (and food) in Bologna, but I feel the pain he will experience when the company grows. He has great advisers and he is going to do just fine.

An Italian software story. Just a reminder on how smart Italian engineers are (ok, I am biased - I know - but do not tell me you did not like it ;-)

Monday, November 17, 2008

It IS a garage door opener!

Nice to be right, once in a while. I received many comments on my first post about the G1, when I claimed it was a garage door opener (actually, my wife did...). Some people said I was too harsh on T-Mobile and Google.

Today, I was vindicated. IntoMobile reports the G1 is actually a garage door opener. And it is even open source!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Change we can't?

There is an article on The New York Times that talks about our new President-elect Barack Obama and his addiction to mobile email. He is the first candidate for president (worldwide, I have to say) that was going around always with a BlackBerry in his hands. A tremendous slogan for those who live on mobile email :-)

Now, the security services are saying that he has to relinquish his BlackBerry when entering the White House. No more mobile email for him. BlackBerry is not secure enough.

I have seen this debate before: BlackBerry can't be used by politicians in office. Period. All emails go through RIM servers in Canada. As much as they tell us it is all secure and encrypted, they are a corporation and no government in its right mind would trust them. You just never know. And they are our competitors!! :-))

Jokes apart, how can our next President keep in touch with the rest of the world? How can he have a reliable secure controlled untouchable mobile email system that nobody can hack?

Ok, you know where I am going... Open Source. Open Source is the answer.

First, you install Funambol in the White House (not in a corporation).

Second, you have a bunch of engineers look at every single line of code to make sure those evil Italians did not put any dangerous code to steal vital information: look for
if (user == "Barack Obama") send_email_to("Silvio Berlusconi")
Third, once the code is certified clean, apply your super secret security patch and you are good to go.

As a device to carry, may I suggest OpenMoko? Fully open source, including the device and its design.

Barack, we want you back in the mobile email world as an ambassador for mobile email in the world. You need it. You are addicted to it. You can't live without it. We gain from it.

Dump your BlackBerry, go for Open Source. You can have mobile email in the White House, yes you can.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Android for carriers

The conventional wisdom is that with Android you get Google. Therefore, if you are a mobile operator and you are looking at Android, you must take it all. The G1 comes with Google, you need to put in a Gmail login to turn it on. Android is Google. As a mobile operator, you must kill any hope to control your users and give them all to Google.

Well, that is not true. Android and Google look intertwined but it is a lot easier to take them apart than most people think. Actually, it is quite easy...

First, the OS is totally available and it is based on the Apache license. If you take that code and run away, you do not have to return anything back to the community. Not my preferred license, but... that's what Google chose. Good for them I guess.

Second, the Google part in the OS is really the Gmail client and the sync. Nothing else. Gmail is a visible app, and easy to remove (if you really want to). The sync is a bit deeper, but again, fairly easy to unplug. You just have to put something else there: email and PIM sync (guess who can provide you with that? ;-)

It is very easy, at least, for a company who has decided to package Android as an OS and sell it to mobile operators. A Red Hat of mobile. I am expecting a bunch of them to appear and grow fast. I met one yesterday...

What do you get if you are a mobile operator? A full phone, you can brand. Totally brand. From the HW to the SW, including the look and the applications on it. And you can put together a service to provide a MobileMe-like solution for your users. The full package, without Google.

So why not LIMO or any other Linux variation? Where is the difference? Why Android?

Well, it is the applications. How many apps are out there for Android? Plenty. I mean, a lot... Check the Android Market. It is unbelievable. Developers drive applications. And they go where there are deployments. Deployments go where there are applications and developers. It is a positive loop.

Are there any LIMO apps? Nope... Will developers build for it? It depends, let's see if there are deployments. No deployments? No apps. No apps? No chance to make it a success... Google broke the cycle pushing apps even before the first phone came out. Their brand did the trick, now it is a snowball effect. Not for LIMO (yet).

If you are a mobile operator, do not look far. Take Android, strip out Google (or leave it somewhere, but not make it a Google phone and kill your brand) and have your own branded phone with a branded experience on the service side. Allow people to download their applications and customize their experience.

You need a couple of companies to make it happen (do not do it yourself, that is not your business...) and you have a BIG winner.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The source code matters more in a downturn

Today I was in a meeting with a future customer (hey, you have to be optimistic on a Friday night, stuck in an airport ;-) and we talked about commercial open source companies providing source code to its customers.

The source code has always been an important advantage for us. If you are buying Funambol, you get the source code. No need to resort to costly Escrow agreements (which are a mess, I did one when I was at Reuters). You simply get the source code. And a lot of people that know about it.

We call that "The Bus Factor". If I get hit by a bus, and so does the entire Funambol team, our customers still have the source code and a lot of people behind it (most likely, many in their own town). You can't get that with an Escrow agreement...

Marten called it once the airbag in the car. You do not want to use it, but when you need it... you are thankful it was there. And you make sure it is in the car when you buy it.

How does the economic downturn matters? Well, not for us, but for everyone of our competitors. The likelihood of them going belly up in the next twelve months is quite high. Most of them have high burn and little revenues. With no cash in the bank due to a recent significant fund raising. And zero chance to get more soon.

If you are a service provider or a device manufacturer and you license the code from one of our competitors, how high is the probability of you being stuck with a piece of unusable code in the next 18 months? Being pessimistic (see, I am not always optimistic...) I would say very high.

Having the source code is a much more important factor these days. The Bus is the economy. And when it hits you, you better have an airbag...

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The iPhone with a keyboard

If there is one feature (or lack thereof) that people talk about is a keyboard for the iPhone.

When the iPhone was announced, everyone said "it will never work" because the keyboard was the most important feature for any BlackBerry user (it still is). Therefore, people said "the iPhone will never make it in the enterprise". Now, surprisingly for some, the iPhone is in the enterprise.

True, it is mostly a consumer device. But you hear few people complain about the lack of a keyboard these days. Mostly, because the iPhone is an upgrade from a phone without a keyboard... Therefore, it is better than zero.

However, in many cases people did move from a keyboard-full device to the iPhone. They bitched for a week, balancing the lack of a keyboard with the coolness of the device. Then they forgot about it. They learned. They became proficient at it.

Actually, when we did a test at the OSGR conference, iPhone users won the contest against BlackBerry users for fast typing. It was more than surprising, not only to me but to the iPhone users.

Now that I have used a G1, I was shocked that I found the iPhone virtual keyboard better... I still prefer the BlackBerry keyboard, but I can definitely live with the iPhone one.

When the BlackBerry Storm will hit the stores later this month, we'll see if the tactile feedback they added makes a big difference. I am ready to bet it does. And that it will make all mobile keyboards obsolete.

Unless you are someone that would buy the one in the video below. If you do, then please buy a netbook instead ;-)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Funambol Developer Conference

After a lot of requests, we gave up and organized the first ever Funambol Developer Conference (or FunCon ;-) It will happen on November 25, 2008, in Milan, Italy, at the Politecnico di Milano. In the open source spirit, we made it free to attend (free as in beer). More info below, directly from the website.

The conference's purpose is to provide a forum for Funambol community members and development partners to meet with the Funambol engineering team. The aim is to conduct an open discussion about Funambol technology, products, future plans and ways to improve community interaction.

The conference will provide an opportunity for Funambol to inform everyone about the state and future of our products. It will also be a chance for Funambol community members and development partners to inform the Funambol engineering team and each other about what they are doing with Funambol software, what they would like in the future, and how Funambol can help and improve the community. It is a chance for Funambol development partners to network with the Funambol engineering team and community, which may be helpful for their future endeavors.

For people that are new to Funambol, this will be a chance to learn about Funambol Sniper Projects (Code, Phone and Lion) and get a head start with participating to the first mobile open source community.

The day will feature presentations by the Funambol engineering staff and community. If you are interested in attending and/or presenting, please contact Stefano Maffulli, Funambol Community Manager. The conference is free and open to everyone, although we do require that people register in advance so that we know how many people are planning to attend.
Great opportunity for all you out there in our community. Did I mention it is free? ;-)