Friday, December 19, 2008

Ad-funded mobile email? It works!

Messaging in mobile is the killer application. I have no doubts about it. The phone is a communication device, you either talk or send a message. The rest of the time (less than 5%, in my opinion) you do something else, like browsing. But browsing is an emergency activity. Messaging is core in mobile.

Now, the next question has always been: if the browser is the killer app on the desktop and Google made tons of money on browsing, adding advertising, what can you do in mobile? Well, you put advertising in messaging, of course... and the Google of mobile will come from messaging and not browsing.

Easier said than done. Ads in messaging might be perceived as spam, could be intrusive because of the lack of real estate on the device screen, risk to raise tons of questions on privacy.

All true.

However, what if you have a micro banner on top of the mobile messaging client, that is not intrusive, and could actually bring you useful ads (the one that you want to see)?

You could do a lot of research and ask people. They will probably tell you "no, thanks". Or you could give them an actual working client with ads and ask them "ok, now what do you think?".

We did the latter. We put ads on a subset of mobile email clients in myFUNAMBOL, we let it run for a while, then we asked the users about their usage and perception (also having objective data on our service, totally anonymous).

It is all reported in the free research report entitled, "Market Potential for Ad-funded Mobile Email", summarized below.

The report summarizes the findings of a survey that was conducted with users of the ad-funded myFUNAMBOL mobile email service. The survey was performed to gauge user acceptance of mobile ads and to learn about a broad range of issues relating to an ad-funded mobile email solution. The report found that there is good potential for an ad-funded service. Users indicated that they are willing to accept ads as long as the ads are non-intrusive and relevant, user privacy is maintained, and ads subsidize the service cost. The report also discusses the financial prospects for an ad-funded solution. It found that users generated $10 each per month and were willing to pay about $6 per month for the service.

The free report is available immediately and can be downloaded, with free registration, at
The result is that people are:
  1. ok with ads that are not intrusive
  2. even willing to still pay for the service, just at a lower price
And... that if you launch it you could make $10 per user per month... Which is a lot of money, knowing that 2B people will use email on their devices by 2015 (my not-objective estimate).

Too good to be true? Maybe, since our user base in myFUNAMBOL is skewed towards techies. They get more emails than others. But they tend to be more annoyed by ads. So I feel it evens out.

Let me write it again: the Google of mobile will come from messaging. Now I have a tangible proof of it. You just have to do it smart.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The new Apple netbook

Christmas is the time of the year where people think about giving. It is also the time of the year where the Apple fans speculate about receiving, in particular on what MacWorld will bring them (it is Jan 5-9).

It is hard to imaging MacWorld without any announcement. Steve Jobs likes a good surprise, just to screw up CES and have everyone in the world think MacWorld is better than CES (with just one company presenting...).

Rumors are plentiful. No Christmas season without them... So, let me join the fray. I have been pretty accurate to predict the recent Apple moves, therefore it is time to go back to missing expectations.

What is the number one issue these days? The economy. People do not have money to spend (or maybe they do, but they feel like they don't). Therefore, they have started to ditch laptops for netbooks (the very small laptops, with a cost around $500).

Steve Jobs said that Apple does not "know how to make a $500 computer that's not a piece of junk". Therefore, you would think they would definitely not announce a netbook.

Still, I think they will. Just to save Jobs' face, it will be $549 ;-)

There is a nice space between the iPhone ($199) and the cheapest MacBook ($999) and it is a sweet spot for a new device, an hybrid between the iPhone and the Mac.

My guess:
  1. it will be between half of a MacBook and double an iPhone, with wifi and a built-in camera for webcams
  2. it will have a touchscreen, like the iPhone (no touchpad)
  3. it will have a keyboard, like the MacBook Air
  4. it will have a set of default apps on the screen, little widgets like the iPhone. Just add a word processor, a spreadsheet and a presentation tool on top of what I have on the iPhone and I have everything I need.
  5. it will allow the download of apps from the App Store, no external installations. It will be another closed and controlled environment. Actually, iPhone apps will work natively because the OS will be the same. Developers will just have to adapt them to a new screen - if they want to - or they will run as separate small windows on the screen.
  6. MobileMe will be pivotal for the syncing of all your data with the rest of your world (your Mac at home ;-)
The main risk for Apple is to cannibalize the MacBook (I do not see issues with the iPhone because it serves a different purpose). Still, with a closed environment and a limited set of apps, I do no not see that risk (or, at least, it is limited).

Wishful thinking. Probably :-) But it was worth a try...

UPDATE: apparently, Steve Jobs is not giving the keynote at MacWorld. That sounds like a "we got nothing new to show" message. If I can bet, they are pushing it out to a new Apple-only (not IDG) event in Spring or they might just skip it and go to Apple Dev Conference in June. Too bad, I wanted a netbook in January ;-)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Palm Nova: not about the OS

An article on BusinessWeek says that Palm Nova will be presented at CES in January. Palm Nova is the new operating system by Palm, the one Palm is betting on to go back to its past glory.

I have some insider information because of our work at Funambol, so I can't comment on pretty much anything... but I have my feelings on what is needed to make Nova a success (and you can't hide your feelings under an NDA ;-)

For starters, I do not believe it is the OS that will make it or break it. It is well known it is going to be a Linux variation. Linux might have been a plus a few years back, now it is mainstream (gulp, saying that mobile open source is mainstream feels weird...). Actually, not being THE Mobile Linux OS is actually going to be a risk. If Android wins - they are in the driver seat, because they launched early and have a ton of apps already developed - being a second or third tier Mobile Linux OS might actually become a negative.

I believe the most important thing to make it a success will be the hardware it comes with... The new Palm phone must be shiny, super cool, sexy and all of the above. If it is dull, black or anything like a G1, Palm is doomed. The G1 can go by, because it has the Google superverycool brand attached. Palm can't afford it. It must be a WOW phone. Or else...

The other key element is services. For example, having something like MobileMe, that actually works. A very integrated phone, that does not force you to think about data, since it is all on the cloud and synced on your phone from your desktop. Data sharing would also be nice.

So... it is not about Nova. It is about what is around it (the hardware) and far away (the services). The OS is a commodity nowadays. It could even be Android. Actually, it might have been a good idea...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Android on the iPhone?

The world of open source does not stop to amaze me... Last week I found out someone ported Linux to the iPhone. The project is called OpeniBoot and they have pretty much all the basics working.

Why would anyone port Linux on the iPhone? Well, that is too much too ask ;-) But it is a fun exercise anyway... And it is the same as asking why would you port Unix to the Intel PC in the first place. Because it is open source. Because it is open. Because the source is available. Because it spurs innovation. Look what actually happened to the PC world and where Linux is today.

The next step, I guess, is porting Android to the iPhone. I know it is an insane thought, but why not? It is going to be the most supported Mobile Linux distribution, with developers building apps on it. If I had to choose one Linux distro for the iPhone, it would be Android for sure.

Who would actually put Android on an iPhone? Geeks. Not Apple for sure. Not Apple distributors. This is not the PC world. A single device manufacturer controls the device, there are no clones... End users are geeks and only geeks.

So, it is just for fun. And the quest for openness. That is what amazes me more than anything else.

The end result? The iPhone OS becoming open source. It will happen. It will happen. Give us just more time and more fun, and it will happen. Geeks and market forces working together...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Symbian vs. Android vs. Windows Mobile

I spent a night last week at a Symbian dinner. Very interesting discussions with other mobile bloggers (the real ones, I do it as a hobby...), with an hands-on pretty cool demonstration of the Nokia N97 (yes, it is a very nice device, a mix between a N95 and a Tablet N810, although I am not a big fan of sliding keyboards).

Most of my thoughts on Symbian, though, were on the open source plans. They confirmed to be on track for a 2010 full release, although some parts will be available in open source earlier. They told me they have some components that they can't open source right away, which is a quite common problem for commercial products that want to become open source (and very painful to complete to the last bit).

Since the complete take-over from Nokia, my antennas in the market have been up to see if some of the Symbian backers would defect to other initiatives. The one to look for are device manufacturers.

Yesterday, I saw the first sign: Sony Ericsson announced support for the Open Handset Alliance, the one behind Android, led by Google.

This is big news.

I know, I know, everyone is announcing support for everything... It is no big deal. Sony Ericsson has Windows Mobile as well... blah blah.

Still, it is a flag. They have been a huge supporter of Symbian and they are breaking out from the pack, now that Nokia owns it completely.

There is a possibility that Symbian will end up being a one-device-manufacturer-shop (Nokia), while Android will see lots of device manufacturers, because they do not perceive Google to be competitive in their space. And they have the feeling they can strip out Google features from Android and launch phones on a well supported platform, with development mindshare and applications.

This spells trouble for Nokia, if it happens, since developers go where devices are. Making Symbian open source might not be enough, although it is a very significant step in the right direction.

Anyway, I still believe Microsoft will open source Windows Mobile in the not-too-distant future. They have no other choice. But I am very alone on this one :-)

Friday, December 05, 2008

JavaFX is Sun's big chance

Last night I attended the launch of JavaFX in a bar in San Francisco. Pretty cool show put together by Eric and the Sun folks.

Jonathan Schwartz presented the product, the answer from Sun to Flash/AIR from Adobe and Silverlight from Microsoft (or are they the answer to JavaFX, who knows?). In a word, a set of tools for developers to build Rich Internet Applications (RIA).

He received loud cheers from the crowd when he moved one application out of the browser and into the desktop. It is not just cool. If you think about mobile, that is how you can create and deliver mobile widgets, without an app store. It is big.

He received my smile when he called IE and Chrome hostile browsers... Yep, let's free ourselves from the evil browsers ;-)

Jokes apart, what sets Sun apart is the legacy of the Java (and JavaME) installation. It runs on the billions of devices. And the declared goal of the platform: to run on desktop, browsers, mobile and TVs.

It is the dream of a developer. One platform to develop your app, and you have the entire world to deploy it on. It did not work that well on JavaME, because the "runs everywhere" story never materialized. I feel Sun has learned from that mistake and it should be much smarter this time.

The game is going to be played on mobile, of course. Developers here have reached the point of no return. Too many platforms to build on. iPhone and Android have made the number too large. There is nobody in the industry that can actually make money, being forced to support 10 different platforms (excluding someone who actually built a business around an open source project, ehm...). The market needs one big platform (although I just love fragmentation and what it has brought to Funambol ;-)

JavaFX could be that big platform. Sun needs to get device manufacturers to bundle it with devices, as they have been bundling JavaME so far. If that happens, Sun has a real big chance. It might be the one that will lift the company to its original glory.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

A mobile open source taxonomy

Andreas Constantinou is one of the sharpest analyst around. His latest publication of "Mapping open source into mobile: who, where and how" on the VisionMobile blog proves it once again. It is an absolute must read for all those of us into mobile and open source (maybe you are not, but then - why are you reading my blog?? ;-)

I suggest you read the entire article, to get a complete taxonomy of mobile open source. But if you are in a hurry, just take a look at the figure below...

Monday, December 01, 2008

Another victory for AGPL

If you read this blog, you know I am a vocal supporter of the AGPLv3 license, the version of GPL which maintains copyleft also in the SaaS model ("copyleft in the cloud"). I always said, and I guess I will always say, that AGPL is the open source license for the future. The only one that covers the SaaS model, the only one you can build a sustainable open source project (and business) on, in the years ahead.

There have been some discussions within Debian about AGPLv3. Even if we pushed AGPLv3 to be approved by OSI, Debian was not considering it as a "good" license to be embeddable in the OS... It all changed today, as explained in the Software Freedom Law Center blog.

Late last week, the FTP Masters of Debian - who, absent a vote of the Debian developers, make all licensing decisions - posted their ruling that AGPLv3 is DFSG-Free. I was glad to see this issue was finally resolved after months of confusion; the AGPLv3 is now approved by all known FLOSS licensing ruling bodies (FSF, OSI, and Debian).

It was somewhat fitting that the AGPLv3 was approved by Debian within a week of the one year anniversary of AGPLv3's release. This year of AGPLv3 has shown very rapid adoption of the AGPL. Even conservative numbers show an adoption rate of 15 projects per month. I expect the numbers to continue a steady, linear climb as developers begin to realize that the AGPL is the "copyleft of the Cloud".
Hear to AGPLv3. Mark, this is another step forward... I am getting close to maybe one day have a slight chance to win the bet.