Friday, January 30, 2009

Me me me Mephone from Dell

Rumors have been around for years that Dell would ship a phone, one day. Now the noise is reaching levels that make me think it is happening for real. The Wall Street Journal this morning confirmed the last rumor: Dell will have two phones out for MWC in Barcelona (which starts to look like a pretty juicy event, we need one ;-)

One phone is going to be Android and one Windows Mobile.

The name? MePhone.

Really?? MePhone like iPhone but Me instead of I. A mix of iPhone and MobileMe? Naaah, I can't believe it. Not for a second. It must be a codename.

Whatever the name, the move is interesting. The choice of OSs even more. Not because either one does not make sense: Dell is a big Microsoft partner and Windows Mobile fits the bill. Android is an OS that gives Dell control of its future and it sounds quite reasonable (we'll see plenty of those at MWC, I am sure).

It is interesting because they did not choose ;-) Coming out with an open source OS and a closed source one is a no-choice. A way of saying "We do not know what the market will do, so we'll let it choose for us". A way to keep Microsoft calm and open a door to the future (which is open source, however biased I am). Let them fight and see who wins. Nobody gets upset.

On the other side it also says "we are not investing our own time and resources on this". I mean, it is an experiment. We are not committed 100%. We are not placing a bit bet. Just a bet. And then we'll see.

I think it is a smart move. They do not take risk, they do not expose themselves too much, they will pick the winner later. The only risk of not making a move is not making a move. If the market moves too fast (it always does) they risk to be defocused and have to jump on one bandwagon quickly, dropping the other one. Motorola has done exactly that. But they are desperate. Dell is not.

My prediction is that they will ship both for a long time, lowering the focus on Windows Mobile over time and putting all their resources on Android quickly enough. This will happen quite shortly, in a few quarters.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Microsoft needs some buzz in mobile

Microsoft is getting hammered in any market, but in particular in mobile, which happens to be the fastest (and only) growing segment of the market (yep, netbooks are part of mobile in my world).

When it comes to mobile, Microsoft flagship product is Windows Mobile. A bad looking, badly managed, low performance, slow selling operating system. In any market, Microsoft usually gets it right at version five. In mobile, we are at 6.5 and still they are years behind the competition (quoting Apple).

The last blow to MSFT is Motorola abandoning any effort on Windows Mobile. They are fully and only concentrating on Android. It is public news, you can even look at areas where MOTO is hiring: Android only. Windows Mobile is becoming just an add-on, something to drop soon.

Same for Palm. They are about to come up with the new Pre. Guess what will happen to their Windows Mobile lineup? Yep, we agree.

Who is left? HTC. Granted, they are fast growing. But they are now the leading supporter of Android (the G1 is made by HTC and I would guess the G2 will be HTC as well). And maybe Samsung and LG, that seem to have other plans as well.

Bottom line: the game of Microsoft, to reproduce in mobile the dynamics of the PC world has failed. There, they have a ton of HW vendors selling the same exact OS. Here, it just did not work as they planned.

I used to joke about this with something I heard once: if I give my daughter a hammer and tell her "be careful you could get hurt", she is likely to get hurt (maybe your kids are smarter than mine, I urge you to try it tonight to see if it is true ;-) Anyway, she will get hurt once. But she won't do it again. I can guarantee you.

HW vendors have seen what happened to them in the PC world. Totally marginalized. They won't let Microsoft or anyone else do it in mobile as well. They are much smarter now. They know they have to control their destiny and differentiate on the OS as well. They know the answer is open source.

Now Microsoft needs to do something. Quick. In an interview with CNET, Andy Lees said:

[..] Microsoft's efforts to make sure that its mobile software could run on a wide range of phones resulted in an operating system that failed to take advantage of advances in hardware. "We aimed to go for a lower common denominator," Lees said.

Nice way to say "we tried the game we played in the PC world and, oops, it failed".

He added:
"You are going to see a bunch of announcements at Mobile World Congress but also it is going to be the beginning of a 12-, 18-month period where you are going to see a whole bunch of different stuff"
So, MWC in February is the turning point. They have to come up with something great, something that will have people say wow. It is probably be a combination of the Sky services (a MobileMe and AppStore equivalent) and - maybe - a new strategy for the phone (or a phone itself? I would not rule it out). I haven't heard much since they acquired Danger and I am ready to bet MWC is going to be their coming out party.

They need buzz. Badly. A new phone would be just the right thing. They are a HW company after all (the XBox is one of the few positives going on at MSFT right now). Or it might be open sourcing Windows Mobile. That would be so cool.

With a suggestion to Andy: please try to avoid statements like the following, if you can:
"Our competitors are scrambling to try and copy our success"
Yeah, right. The one you had in the PC world ;-)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Apple, do you remember push? You promised...

Yesterday, Apple pushed out a new firmware version of the iPhone (2.2.1). A whopping 246.4MB of firmware for two exceptional features: it improves Safari stability (yep, it crashes a lot) and fixes one bug in the Mail client with images. That is it. 246.4MB for nothing.

Nobody complains about the size of the download anymore. That is good. Once they kick you in the face 10 times, you don't feel the 11th. Market expectations are set properly. The only thing this upgrade fixes is screwing up the 3G unlock... I guess that's 245MB out of the total. Nice move.

In any case, there is one feature that it is still missing: PUSH!!

Apple promised push in June. They showed a slide about it (pictured below). They said it would be available by September. They missed it. They put it in the 2.1 SDK beta, then they pulled it (oops, expectations not set properly). Rumors were they would put it in 2.2. Nope. Maybe 2.2.1, nope, sorry.

Where the heck is push? Nobody knows. But it is an important feature.

As I wrote before (cheesy to quote myself, I know, but I am lazy):
The idea they explained in the keynote is that you can actually send only the notification, there is no process in background. Your application does not really wake up. You either hear a noise (custom sound), get the icon of your app to change with a number (icon badge) or see a text message (same as when an SMS arrives).

It is not perfect, there is big brother in the middle but I can live with it.
It is an important feature. When you lack multi-threading, it still allows you to do push email, IM, calendaring, social network stuff, VOIP and a lot more.

What's going on (options):
  1. They panicked because they could not make it work
  2. They decided to wait because the new OS will make this obsolete
I vote for both. I believe the new OS (maybe 3.0) will have multi-threading support (they have to, Palm has it). They will also have cut&paste (they have to, Palm has it). And more.

We'll see it one day. Just not before June 09, in my opinion.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Calling all Italian designers

As you might know, the Funambol R&D center is headquartered in Italy. We have developers everywhere on the planet, but the core comes from the land of fashion, haute couture, furniture, glasses and so on. The land of design. The Made-in-Italy.

I always say that Italian software ends up being good because of this. Software is creativity and Italians have it in their DNA. Pretty simple. Italian software designers are top notch.

That said, when you look at Funambol there is a component that is made in California: the GUI, the graphical elements, the look&feel. Strangely enough, we have designed the stuff here from day one, while it has been always engineered in Italy.

That bothers me a bit (although our designers here are top of the world). Sometimes, it feels like Apple and the iPod. Designed in California, made in Italy :-) It is a bit insane, looking at how many foreigners come to Milan to learn at Italian design schools...

I would like to change this and make Funambol a fully designed in Italy product (and web site). Made in Italy, all the way.

Therefore, I am calling all Italian designers to send me their portfolio. We are looking at freelancers and we'll go for a quick competition to see whom to work with. Our VP Product Management will be in Italy in a week or so and can meet the people that pass the first cut in person as well.

If you are interested in applying, please send an email to jobs at Below you find the job description.

We are looking for a talented designer who always has the user in mind and can build beautiful and functional user interfaces for software applications ranging from advanced browser-based applications to mobile client software.

- A proven track record of user interface and software interaction design for web-based applications, online services and other user-facing software applications on desktops or mobile handsets.
- A history of working closely with product management and engineering during all phases of design and production
- A passion for users and exceptional attention to detail

- Detailed design of application/screen mockups in Photoshop or similar application including icon/graphics design to explore various possible design directions and look-and-feel options
- A functional prototype of the designed application implemented in HTML/CSS/JS for cross-browser use and testing of the software interaction
- Close collaboration with engineering to implement and integrate the designs/prototypes into an existing or new web/AJAX or client application framework
- Design and delivery of application icons in various formats and styles for client software running on desktops or mobile handsets
- Design and delivery of graphical elements for various client or web-based applications
- Design of various client software application screens and interactions

Monday, January 26, 2009

RIM's new reality is a nightmare to come

Today I was stunned by a report by Engadget, citing a WSJ article on the BlackBerry Storm.

As you might remember, I was not that positive about the device. I hold it in my hands for two minutes, I tried the new "soft" keyboard and gave up on it completely. Too hard too press, no visual feedback. Just a good idea turned into a bad product. Or a bad idea turned into the right thing?

Apparently, WSJ reports that the Storm did not fare that well. Good sales at the beginning, then flat. I am actually more interested in knowing the numbers of devices returned and exchanged for a Bold. I am ready to bet they are super-high.

In a word: the Storm has been shipped too early and with no real user testing (that's my opinion, of course).

What shocked me is the comment in the article:
Now, instead of pleading for mercy at the feet of disgruntled consumers, RIM co-CEO, Jim Balsillie, calls the post-launch scramble part of the "new reality" of making complex cellphones in large volumes.
If this is the "new reality" for RIM, then they are headed for disaster. A company that has always been known for reliable products. Not shiny, not cool, but reliable. Something you can count on, even if you are the President. Now it is turning to just building software (and hardware) quickly, with minimal user review. "We'll fix it later" attitude...

I think this is suicide for RIM. If the CEO says to his people "do not worry, ship it with a million bugs, we'll fix it later", you are guaranteed it is going to happen. It is not reality. It is going to be a nightmare.

You can compare this attitude with Steve Jobs maniacal precision. The iPhone came out of the gate as a great product. Few quirks in the distribution of the device in the shops (to increase the buzz) but a great product from the get-go. Improved quickly via firmware updates. Somehow, people value this...

What if you do not have a CEO that is a maniac? Well, there is open source. Peer pressure, bug reviews, a transparent way to ship software is the key to good software. And good software makes happy customers.

There is a reason why Google and Nokia chose open source vs. proprietary for Android and Symbian. It is not just cost. It is quality. Something that you get, even if you do not spend your precious time on it. The community will do it for you. They will keep you honest. They will give you tremendous feedback and set the bar right. You might slip a deadline (maybe) but the result will be an excellent product.

Good products, happy customers, great sales, big returns. It is that simple.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Barack keeps his BlackBerry

Watching Obama inauguration has been inspirational.

Here is a guy who is swearing in front of a gazillion people and he simply screws it up (ok, I know, it was not his fault, but... they had to re-do it again a day after... and it was not a long statement to remember, whatever Chief Justice says). Then he goes down the stairs and tries to shake hands with a marine who is saluting him (ooops, he was not ready).

I mean, it makes you feel you can screw up a little, even if you are the CEO. And life goes on. And people still believe you are going to change the world. Inspirational.

But as a CEO, you have to stood on some principles as well. You can't hope for bailout every day.

The most important principle: keep you mobile push email going (ok, ok, it is just for Barack and me, but now you can see the inspiration flowing).

He did not flip-flop on the issue: he fought hard and he kept his BlackBerry. He might give up nicotine addiction, but not push email addiction. How good a message is this for our market? Inspirational.

The BlackBerry Force One (what a gift to the Canadian brand, BTW) is going to be equipped with extra super duper security, including I guess someone who is going to look at it - just in case it drops while he is jogging.

I still would have preferred him to use an open source product, since he has been talking about OSS a lot (Scott McNealy of Sun has been tasked to provide him with a white paper on open source). I am told there are some very good mobile email open source products, where your communications do not have to go through Canada, and where applying the super duper security patch is a whiff (and you can see the source code)...

That would have been inspirational a bit too much.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I want an App Store too

There are two products topping every device manufacturer wish list:
  1. App Store
  2. MobileMe
The same for carriers, because they can't leave it to the device manufacturers. Or they will become a dumb pipe before the rest of the world will realize it...

I am not going to talk about MobileMe for now (although you know where to find it ;-), but I will focus on the App Store.

Everyone wants one. Everyone is announcing one. I might actually get one too.

First it was Apple with the App Store (congrats for being the first as usual, and thank you so much for that, we would not be here without you ;-)

Then it was Google with the Marketplace for Android, soon to accept paid applications.

Lately, Palm announced its App Catalog. Quite expected.

Now RIM is making public they have one too, called Application Storefront (they are definitely less creative than others, having just enlarged the name from Apple ;-) If you are a developer, you can actually submit your apps today.

The last one (yeah, right) to join the fray is Microsoft. But for that, it appears we need to wait until MWC in Barcelona. There, they are likely to announce the Sky services. You bet, the SkyMarket is their answer to the App Store. At least they came out with a new name. And, BTW, they will also have their MobileMe product, called SkyBox. I know, I said I did not want to talk about it, but...

In any case, having 100 app stores might turn out to be a nightmare... If you are a developer, you need to post your app on every one of those, and they are all slightly different. Then you have the app stores run by the carrier (e.g. T-Mobile). All requiring some money to post your app. You do the math and you are back to square zero. Maybe the app store is not the answer. Maybe the browser should be the main tool for app discovery. Maybe we do not need a third party between us and the user.

But we definitely need MobileMe :-))

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Mobile Geek's Sync Utopia

I found a post on a blog that I really liked today. It is from one of the people that are using Funambol. What makes me proud is that I know there are tons out there doing the same (BTW, this is a small marketing gem: we have over 12,000 Funambol live server right now. That's huge).

Anyway, Guy Cross writes:

Funambol helps me by syncing:

  • notes I make on books between my PDA, netbook and desktop PC
  • clips I take from websites or resources like Wikipedia between all my devices
  • to-do items on my PDA that I enter as I think about them, letting me see them on my desktop/netbook when get I to my home/office (where I am more likely to be able to action them, but need a gentle reminder)
  • email between all my devices, even my cellphone - which means I can use my cell's data plan if I am outside of a wifi area.

Having my contacts up to date on all of my devices really lets me use my commute to communicate and on whichever of my devices is most appropriate, if I am on a busy train I can use my PDA to email, but if I have more room my netbook is up to date and synced with all of my address books (in reality since starting to use Funambol I only have one address book!, The Funambol contacts list is as comprehensive as any PIM I have used). The setup was a complete no-brainer, just installing the appropriate program for each of my devices (cellphone, PDA) and an extension for Mozilla Thunderbird/Lightening, from there the setup was guided by simple wizard style helper programs, perfect for the non-techie geek that I am.

These are the things that make my day and convince me even more that open source is the way to go.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Palm is innovating again

As you might know, I have been a fan of Palm for years. Seeing the company disappearing in the background has been painful. The people that brought us the Palm Pilot and HotSync were just not innovating anymore. The company was dying.

Now they are back.

The Palm Pre and the webOS, announced at CES, are pure innovation. They managed to take the iPhone and improve on it, which is remarkable (many tried, nobody made it so far...).

Why I think this might be the comeback for Palm:
  1. The device looks slick. I am not a fan of sliding keyboard, but this one seems ok. I am sure we will hear "an iPhone with a keyboard" quite often. And this is a real keyboard, not the suicide attempt of RIM with the Storm
  2. The UI of the OS looks slick. The concept of cards, the gestures (I like the one where you throw away your application), the support for multi-touch. From the first look, it seems "an iPhone with copy and paste". Not a small feature. Look for Apple to finally add it, if the Pre has any quick success
  3. The development environment seems to be the nirvana of developers. What I have been talking about for a while: a web development system (Ajax, HTML, Javascript, CSS) for local apps. Palm claims all their apps use the same system. If it is true, they might have solved the issue of how to attract developers to build applications for this platform. Developers will come. "An iPhone with an easy development environment". BTW, the OS underneath is Linux, which is just cool.
  4. They have a transparent synching technology called Synergy. It is what MobileMe is to the iPhone or the Android Gmail integration. But it works. And not just for or accounts. From the people that brought us HotSync comes the future of syncing. Ok, a bit too much enthusiasm, maybe... But the engine Palm is using is the best of the best in the world (wink wink ;-) "An iPhone that syncs with the world".
  5. The accessory to power the phone without wires is soo cool. "An iPhone without wires, not even to charge it". I love this one. If you looked behind my desk, you would know why... This is the future.
Bottom line: Palm is innovating. A lot. They are back. I am happy.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

2009 and no news: Apple vs. Motorola

I am not that negative about 2009, compared to others. Obviously, I am an optimist, so I might be biased. Or maybe I am just lucky to be in a positive mood ;-)

However, 2009 started a bit slow for my taste.

I was not expecting anything from Apple, since Steve Jobs was not giving the keynote. With the bar so low, I was hoping for a surprise (see, I told you I am an optimist, it is just a matter of setting your expectation right...). Instead, Apple did not announce anything, just that it has been their last MacWorld. Sad.

I was not expecting that much from Motorola either, but for a company in panic mode I feel the phone made by recycled bottles might be not enough. It seems they were just trying hard to be featured on the news, any news, anything... Unfortunately, this is not exactly how you turn a company around...

The difference between Apple and Motorola is striking. Apple did not really announce anything, but nobody cares. They can afford to stay quiet and let the bad times pass. They are healthy as ever (even Steve Jobs seems to have found the cause of his illness), they have cash and they are selling products. On the other side, Motorola did not really announce anything, and still nobody cares. Unfortunately, not about the lack of announcements...

I am still optimistic for Motorola, but they have to rush this Android phone...