Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The day open source saved the carriers

I was certain of the future of open source in mobile, so much that I bet my career on it, despite many saying it would never happen. The last place to conquer in mobile was wireless and we did it.

We did it, despite the carriers saying it would never happen. It took a lot of sweat but, eventually, they embraced it. What is happening on Android is amazing, to say the least. Open source is becoming the backbone of the mobile carriers on the server side as well. It just happened.

One thing I would have never imagined was that open source would actually save the carriers business. At least not the current one. I thought it would change the way they would do business, and eventually allow them to make even more money. But I was convinced it would take a long time.

Instead, today open source saved the carriers. The FCC decided to not impose the net-neutrality rules on the mobile operators, focusing only on the wired world. The reason: open source.

From this article, here you have an excerpt of the press release:

Further, we recognize that there have been meaningful recent moves toward openness, including the introduction of open operating systems like Android. In addition, we anticipate soon seeing the effects on the market of the openness conditions we imposed on mobile providers that operate on upper 700 MHz C-Block spectrum, which includes Verizon Wireless, one of the largest mobile wireless carriers in the U.S.

In light of these considerations, we conclude it is appropriate to take measured steps at this time to protect the openness of the Internet when accessed through mobile broadband.

See, they did not touch the mobile carriers because of "open operating systems" like Android. There is no equivalent in the desktop world, where Windows has 92% of market share and Mac 5% (and there are no signs of a quick change in the future).

I was expecting everything, but not that mobile open source would save the carriers. The unthinkable happen. You are welcome: this what you get for telling me that it would never happen ;-)

Monday, December 06, 2010

The future of the TV remote

I have been thinking about the connected home a lot in the last few weeks (hint: I finally have time to think, what a novel concept ;-) One area of my focus is the couch and what's in front of it: the TV.

I just bought a wide-screen LG TV, which I am not allowed to unwrap until Christmas, so it is sitting in my living room (these self-presents are such a bad idea...). Like you, I am moving to a bigger and bigger screen.

Contrast that with the move to smaller screens. Your mobile phone and your tablet. None are good enough to really watch TV or movies. They are second class citizens in the video world. You do it, because you do not have anything better. You do not have a couch when waiting for a bus, or on a plane. You do not have a 50" TV. If you do, if you are around the house, you are going to sit on the couch and watch the TV.

Yes, I also believe you do not like to sit at your desk at home in front of a computer, even to watch a stupid YouTube video. You would rather do it laying on the couch under a blanket, with some popcorn on the side (ok, I am going too American on this one, let's make it pizza for international purposes).

Now, the TV is getting connected. This is the Christmas it is happening. It can be your actual TV with wi-fi, but most likely for now a device that connects to the Internet and puts stuff on your screen. Such as Apple TV, or Roku, or just your Wii-Playstation-Xbox being able to get content from the outside world and show it on the big screen.

It is happening now. People are streaming more Netflix movies (me included) than ever before. Not sure if you heard about this stat, but a recent study showed that Netflix represents more than 20% of downstream Internet traffic during peak times in the U.S. That is a lot ;-)

What is lacking in this big scenario? The remote.

Why? Your actual remote sucks. Actually, the remotes. If you look at my couch, I have a thing to hold the remotes, with four pouches: TV, DVD-Player, TiVo and now a Wii remote (it made it into the fourth pouch once I started streaming Netflix from the Wii. Before, it was stored somewhere else. It kicked out the VCR remote for good).

Remotes have been forever an afterthought, which has always amazed me, being a usability guy. Ata, the Funambol Product Manager and another user fanatic, uses this example to define a good vs. bad user interface: what is the most important button on a remote? The PAUSE button, which you need to click in an emergency when your wife calls you, the phone rings or someone is knocking at the door. Can you find it in the TiVo remote below?
Good job, that was not hard. TiVo gets it right (there is a reason why I love their product ;-)

Now what about here?

Yep, I thought so ;-)

Now, let's make it a bit more difficult. Let's try to imagine a connected TV. Let's go with what Google is doing. Here is the remote for the Google TV (I am serious, they are actually selling this thing). Where is the Pause button?

Ok, this is ugly... If we have a connected device and we do not know how to control it, how is it going to work?

Well, I think it is going to still be ugly for a while, but I have a feeling.

There is a device that is laying on my couch now. I use it to browse the web. I use it to interact with people while watching TV. I use it to multi-task while watching boring games.

It is my tablet. The iPad or the Galaxy Tablet, same thing. It is touch based, it can change its look depending on the goal I have, it can suggest me things to watch (think here, a very cool concept), it can even stream video directly to my TV (that is Airplay on Apple TV, a new and very interesting idea).

The tablet is the natural TV remote. And a lot more.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Finally, I can focus on what I love

I started Funambol with a couple of friends eight years ago. Pretty much the same day when my daughter was born. I called it the Big Bang. It was a double new-beginning, something like seeing a double rainbow, but not on drugs (well, my wife might disagree...).

Eight years have passed and Funambol is a great success. We are doubling our revenues compared to last year and we have ten new Carrier Edition servers going live this quarter around the planet. One of the top carriers in the world launched two weeks ago and they put two million users on the platform right away (systems are well, up and running and smiling ;-) More to come in the next weeks, since there is a rush to go live before Christmas from a lot of our customers.

Overall, the cloud synchronization and device management space is red hot right now, in particular due to the shift towards connected devices (starting with tablets and moving to connected TVs this Christmas). All things I predicted years ago, including the explosion of mobile open source (I got lucky!) On top of it, we have plenty of cash in the bank since I closed a new funding round in September.

Eight years have passed and my daughter is now skiing with me. We talk about how kids are born (actually, that was my wife's duty, I promised I will tell the boys). She corrects my English, while I correct her Italian. She is a big girl. Sometimes, I think about the day I will walk her down the aisle. I know I will not be the only man in her life forever. She will grow up and need someone else.

That is what happened with Funambol. Eight years in the life of a company are like twenty-four in the life of a person (baby, do wait after college, please). Funambol is ready. She needs a new man. She needs to grow up. She needs to scale to that billion dollar company I dreamed for her.

In October, I went to the board and suggested we hire a new CEO to bring Funambol to the next level. Amit Chawla, who has 25 years of experience in the Telco space, is our new CEO. We have been working together for a couple of weeks now. He is the man who will scale Funambol.

I took the role of President, and I am also the Chairman of the Board.  I am now free to focus on what I love, which is awesome. I am happier than I ever been. I know It was the right move at the right time.

People close to me will tell you that I always said "I will not be the CEO of Funambol when I will turn 40". Today is my 40th birthday. I achieved everything I wanted in life so far. I am a lucky lucky man.

Focusing on what I love is the best present I could wish for.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Why tablets are jump-starting the connected home

I have been thinking a lot about mobility inside the house, lately. It is a novel concept, if you think about it. In your house, devices were not supposed to move. You had a landline phone, a desktop PC and a TV, plus a VCR/DVR and so on. All static.

The fist moving part was probably the wireless phone. Initially, a wireless version of your landline phone, then your actual mobile phone, becoming the main way for you to communicate with the world - even at home.

Then you bought a laptop. Mostly a desktop replacement, so you can use it while moving around (starting with coffee places). But you wanted to use it around the house as well, or - at least - you did not want to plug an ethernet cable every time. Therefore, you added a wi-fi router, close to your Internet router. If you are like most people I know, your router was in the home office, close to your desktop. For some, the wi-fi coverage of the initial wireless network did not travel too far. Too bad the signal was weak near the TV or the toilet, you could live with it.

Then came the iPad (and all its sisters). A weak signal near the TV means a weak signal on the couch. The main repository for the iPad. The place where you really want to use it (while your laptop is in your home office). Otherwise, why did you get one? Same for the kitchen, because that recipe on the iPad looks so yummy. Or your bedroom, because nothing beats watching a stupid YouTube video on the iPad before going to bed. And what about the restroom? Hey, you can hold this thing with one hand, like a magazine, but it contains a full newspaper... You definitely need great wi-fi coverage there as well.

And so it happened: your home is now fully connected. There is no spot in the house where wi-fi is weak. It is strong in the office, the living room, the kitchen, the bedroom, the restroom.

Think about it: your home is now fully connected, because of your tablet. And you are not alone, this is a trend that will bring all homes fully connected. For Thanksgiving, Toys"R"Us was selling an Android tablet for $139.99. Everybody is getting one. Even just to have it and tweet about the game on the couch.

If the connectivity is good on the couch, it is good for the TV. Your Wii gets connected, even if you bought it as standalone. And now you can use it to watch Netflix movies. Your TV gets connected.

Then it spills to the bedroom, where your alarm clock gets connected. Picture frames appear around the house, all showing pictures taken a few minutes before. Appliances in the kitchen have connectivity: your gas appliance knows it is going to be freezing cold tonight and turns on a bit earlier. Your sprinklers know it is going to rain in the afternoon so why bother even starting?

It is the connected home, the Internet of Things moving its first steps. It all started with a stupid tablet that most people buy, not sure what to do with it. It provided the connectivity for everything else to get on.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Windows Mobile 7? No thanks, I am a developer

As you might remember, I have been quite positive on Windows Mobile 7, from the user perspective. It looks like a well designed UI. I haven't had the opportunity to actually play with a device for an extended period of time, but it looks good - at least from the outside.

Clearly, Windows Mobile 7 is a big gamble for Microsoft. They had an enterprise-ready operating system and they trashed it, in favor of a consumer one. While doing it, they also trashed all Windows Mobile 6 applications, which are not compatible to Windows Mobile 7. That forced developers to start from scratch while waiting for the new OS to appear.

The vacuum has been filled by Android, which has attracted the largest share of developers for the enterprise. The rest are building for iPhone.

Now that Windows Mobile 7 is actually available, what are developers doing? Will they build consumer apps for it? What about the enterprise ones?

My first checks are not positive. At all.

The Funambol Community Manager posted in his blog yesterday and summarized what he does not like about Windows Mobile 7:
  1. No support for open source licenses
  2. Only C# supported
  3. Missing APIs
He concluded:
developers will sit and wait, not considering Windows Mobile 7 a serious OSs until a new release is out
I can't agree more. He is a developer. He knows what he is talking about.

Lack of OSS licenses limits development, but you can go around it. Forcing people to develop in C# is a huge requirement, which will trim down the amount of developers (although Apple was able to convince a lot of people to code Obejctive-C, so you never know).

The last one, though, is the killer. Just take Funambol and our community as an example. We are ready to go and we would love to build a sync client to bring Windows Mobile 7 in the family. However, we simply cannot do it. There is no PIM API in Windows Mobile 7. There is no way a developer can access contacts or calendar data.

If you recall, I bitched about Apple not providing APIs. Eventually they did. I bitched about Apple initially providing only contacts, and not calendar. Eventually they did (at version 4 of the OS...). I believe that was a mistake, but they could go away with it, because they were early.

Microsoft is late. They cannot get away with it. An operating system without developers is dead. If you cannot get the developers to build on it, you are doomed. They have lost the enterprise developers and they are not doing nearly enough to get the consumer developers.

Very risky move for a latecomer.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Finally, Apple is making MobileMe free

I have been saying for a while that Apple will eventually open up MobileMe, making it free.

Synchronization of your personal data in the cloud is the stickiest service imaginable. Once a system has your spouse cell phone (which you do not know, trust me) and the picture of your kids, you are locked in. No chance to move out. They have you.

Look at Flickr, which does picture "sync". I have my entire life there. If they raise the price to $50/year, I will simply pay it. I just cannot conceive the idea of moving out. Too much effort, and too much risk. My pictures are my life. I do not want to mess with my life. I am ready to pay any reasonable price for it.

What I never understood was the price for MobileMe. $99/year is an hefty price. One that prevents the masses to join. One that limits Apple's ability to get sticky-er. A price paid only by few (geeks).

Synchronization does not work like that. It is impossible to find millions of people willing to pay for it. If you are a pure consumer, you just do not see the value in it. It is a nice-to-have, not a must-have. Until you start using it. At that point, you cannot live without it. It is your life on the cloud, moving across your devices. It is you.

Think about losing your phone, with no cloud service where you stored your data. Think about losing all the pictures you took (and you had no way to sync somewhere, or you were just too lazy, because you needed a cable or to click on an icon). Think about losing all your friends contact info. Yes, at that moment you realize the value of transparent synchronization, the value of having your data automatically stored somewhere, the value of getting everything back with one click.

But you would not pay for it, probably. It just sounds like an insurance.

However, once you are using a cloud sync system, you are in for good. It is just like having push email on your mobile phone. "Nah, I do not need it". Then you start using it and you would kill anyone who wants to take it away from you. The famous Crackberry.

No, no, it is not just for business people. It is you, the consumer. Let me take away your SMS, your Facebook. Let me take away your iPhone and move you back to a dumb phone. See... You will kill me.

Think about it. Once you start using synchronization, you are locked in. It is too good. You see your life moving across all your devices. You know someone is taking care to secure it for you. They do the backup you always forget. They will save your friends and your kids.

At that point, you are not going anywhere. And once that happens, there are so many ways to monetize it. From advertising (Facebook is making billions of dollars, you know...), to storage (think Dropbox), to paying for restore (this is a smart one, more once we have launched a few customers on it ;-) There are billions in cloud sync. Billions.

So, cloud sync is sticky. Few want to pay for it. But once they use it, they are locked in. Make it free, you will get everyone in the world to join. And you will make a boatload of money on the premium part of the freemium model.

I am sure Apple knows it. I am sure they realize it. There is a reason why they have built a huge cloud computing center in North Carolina. They want to store your life there. Starting with your music. iTunes on a desktop is going to be replaced by iTunes in the cloud. The cable is going for good. All your data will be synced to the cloud and back to your devices (did you notice that the new Apple TV is just a cloud device? Did you notice that the new MacBook Air does not have a CD? It is all going in the cloud, then synced and streamed back to your devices).

So, what was the missing link? MobileMe becoming free. I have been waiting for it for a long time. Today, the rumor became true.  In the new iOS 4.2 builds, there is a message that says: "The maximum number of free accounts have been activated on this iPhone".

Here you have it. Not every aspect of MobileMe will be free. Just the part that will lock you in (let me bet: PIM sync, with a storage premium on rich media, for starters). They know how to make money on the rest, beginning with selling you content (music, books and movies). Maybe, they were just not ready, so they put a high price on MobileMe, to make sure they would have a limited set of "test" users. They now have the cloud computing capacity to make it happen. And they are going for it.

Facebook and Google, be worried, Apple is coming. It all starts with cloud sync.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Facebook is attempting suicide by spam

I remember clearly the moment when I thought Facebook would be the future of messaging, replacing email. It was a few years back, I am not exactly sure when but I would guess 2008.

My wife told me she sent an email to a friend, and the friend did not answer. She waited a day or two, then she realized her friend was on Facebook as well. Therefore, she sent her a Facebook message and got an instant reply. Curious, she asked her friend why she did not reply to her email.

The answer?

"I did not receive it. It must have landed in my Spam folder."

Pop. A light went on in my brain (there must be some empty space there, I guess). It became obvious to me: that failed attempt represented my wife's last email to her friend. From that moment on, email was dead in their conversations. It was going to be only Facebook messaging.

Many people think of spam as something annoying they have to delete. In reality, the killer is not the spam you receive, is the messages you send which are flagged as spam. The false positives. They kill your faith in the system. They give everyone an excuse ("Sorry, I did not receive it". "Yes, you did, you liar!". "No, I swear I did not. It must be in my Spam folder!". "Yeah, right...").

The beauty of Facebook is that there was no spam. Nobody could send you a message, unless they were a friend. There was the risk of being spammed with requests for friendship, but who would do it, knowing it would automatically get a no? The simple way to avoid spam was to be sure your Facebook friends were actual friends. Not a difficult task.

Yep, this messaging system had a flaw: you were not able to receive messages from strangers.

But that flaw was its #1 strength.

Who cares Facebook messaging did not cover email? If I wanted spam, I would have continued using email. Facebook messaging was about the messages I really wanted to receive. Not the ones I hated.

Facebook new messaging system, announced this week, turns the table around. Completely. They are now allowing you to have a email address. You can also import other email accounts in it. It is email + SMS + IM in one Inbox. Now strangers can send you messages in Facebook. They can spam you on Facebook.

The future of messaging, they say. The thing that will kill email, they say.

Maybe. Maybe it will kill email. But it could kill Facebook messaging as well. Facebook has decided to welcome spam in their system. The one thing that made their system great, because it was not there.

Facebook is attempting suicide by spam.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Finally I know why there is no Facebook iPad app

I have used an iPad since the day it was released. I went from avid users to casual user. Initially, I put the iPad in my bag every day, to eventually find out I never took it out. It now lives on my couch and it comes with me every time I fly somewhere. I love my iPad (and I think it loves me too).

The app I want to use more in my iPad is Facebook. I do not have time during the day to play with Facebook (sadly), but I do have time at night in front of the TV (hoping that someone will eventually discover that stupid multitasking is the cure for Alzheimer).

The problem?

There is no iPad Facebook app.

I know, I know, there is an iPhone Facebook app. You can download that one and use the tiny window with an enormous black frame, or stretch the tiny window to a full size with horrible UI degradation (in particular for pictures, and - you know - Facebook is the largest photo site in the world since 2008...).

For months, I wondered: why? Why? Why are you forcing me to a crappy experience or, worst, you want me to open the browser and access Facebook there? It is insane, the browser is not meant for it. I am not going to do it. The native Facebook iPhone app is the best Facebook experience, even compared to a desktop browser. It is what a mobile app is supposed to be. It is where mobile plus a touchscreen show why they are the future of computing.

Why there is no Facebook iPad app? One with the same usability of the iPhone app, but at full screen, with beautiful graphics, great photos, using the power of a larger screen? It would be the best Facebook experience ever.

TechCrunch reported a week ago that the official Facebook answer is: “The iPad isn’t mobile”. Ergo, use the browser as on a desktop and suck it up, you losers.

What? May I call BS?

Yes, I do. This morning I opened the iPhone Facebook app on my iPad and for the first time ever I noticed one thing: it does not have any advertising. I just do not know why I did not notice it before (maybe ADD due to stupid multitasking). There is no ads. None. Period. Facebook is making zero dollars zero on the iPhone app. They make all their ad money on desktop and the browser...

Here you have it. This makes sense. Facebook does not yet have a mobile ad machine. If they push a great iPad app and the tablets become the future of computing, they are screwed. They need first to find a way to stuck some ads in the mobile app, then they will do it. For now, they are just trying to force you to use the browser on the iPad, so they can push you all their ads.

Oh, BTW, I would pay for an iPad Facebook app with no ads, Zuck. You got me locked in. That is what I want to do on my couch. Just do not BS me, please.

Friday, November 05, 2010

The open cloud just got a bit more closed

Something interesting happened today in the open cloud world: Google shot at Facebook...

It is no surprise that Google does not like Facebook much, considering one in five Facebook employees came from Google and that Google is trying to catch up on the social war (no results so far, but I am told the man in charge is Vic Gundotra, so it is just a matter of time).

The war here is on a different turf, and it is close to home for me: the open cloud. Google has tried to portray itself as an open cloud, one that does not lock in your data (since my data is my data, and I want to take it with me wherever I go). The Data Liberation Front is at the forefront of the Google marketing. Their motto is "Users should be able to control the data they store in any of Google's products. Our team's goal is to make it easier to move data in and out". I like it. And I used it a couple of times. It is not just marketing. It is real stuff.

On the other side of the spectrum? Facebook. They built their entire business around collecting your data, and they definitely do not want you to take it with you. Or, worst, share it with other clouds. They have made some openings lately but it is probably not even close to what they could do.

What happened today? Google changed a tiny paragraph of the Terms of Service for the Contacts API:
5.8. Google supports data portability. By accessing Content through the Contacts Data API or Portable Contacts API for use in your service or application, you are agreeing to enable your users to export their contacts data to other services or applications of their choice in a way that’s substantially as fast and easy as exporting such data from Google Contacts, subject to applicable laws.
Looks small, right? Just contacts, after all. It is one of the many data types out there... Well, it is THE data type. Friends are in the address book. Social starts in the address book. Calls, messages, everything starts there. Believe me, when it comes to synchronization, the address book is king.

How do you read this? Well, "if you suck data out of of cloud, you must allow us to suck data out of your cloud". Pretty simple.

If you are naive, the move from Google reads "we want an open cloud, we are open, you should be open too!". If you are cynical, it reads "we want to keep our data for ourselves, forget the BS about data liberation, we were joking... It works only if it does not harm our business, and Facebook is. Our cloud is as open as the other ones out there".

Pretty scary. The open cloud just got a bit more closed.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The end of the CD drive on laptops

Wednesday, Apple is holding an event called "Back to the Mac". People expect an announcement around a new version of the Mac operating system. Not hard to believe it is going to be called Lion, looking at the picture in the invitation card...

I am expecting Apple to also announce a new laptop. One that looks like my MacBook Air, with solid state disk and no CD drive.

I believe this moment will mark the end of the CD/DVD drive era on laptops. All Mac laptops, from now on, will look like the Air (which is a fantastic device, just a bit too pricey and slow, all things that are easy to solve today).

I have been living with a laptop without a CD drive for five years, at least. Starting with a Compaq Evo, then migrating to the MBA (as they call the Air). In all this time, I had two instances where I needed a CD drive... In both cases, someone around me had a CD drive and shared it for me on the network. The gain in weight is significant, and it means more room for battery (which is something you use a bit more often).

Apple has killed the floppy disk before, now it is time for the CD. You can put all that in an USB stick (yes, the new laptop will have more than one USB port). And if you really really need a CD/DVD drive for that emergency, you can get a USB one (but it is probably not going to pay for itself).

The world is moving to the cloud. Get ready for it. Shed some weight.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Is my iPad too big?

I have been an iPad user for over six months now. I went through all the phases: excitement (wow, this is cool), doubt (cool yes, but what am I going to do with it?), depression (really, it does not have a front camera?), acceptance (cool device, and useful, I am going to keep it and use it). I have left it in my bag for a few months, going back and forth from home to the office and to meetings in the Valley. Once I figured out I never took it out of the bag, I decided to leave it on the couch. Now it travels with me only when I take a plane.

Overall, I am quite happy with it. It is the perfect couch device. I rarely browse, I do some Twitter-Facebook-Linkedin (still wondering why the last two do not have an iPad application) and mostly email (95% reading, 5% writing). I have watched five YouTube videos - at most - and I have used FlipBoard for a while, although I am already bored with it (somehow, I end up reading only work-related stuff and it is not really what I want to do on the couch). It also comes with me to the bathroom, but only when I leave from the couch (I know, too much details, but I never walk to the couch just to grab the iPad before going to the restroom, and this is an interesting fact ;-)

When I travel, it is mostly a gaming machine. An amazing one, BTW. I play to kill time. I have watched a few movies, some rented, some found online (ehm...). I have read a few books. I have looked at the stars in the dark outside with my daughter using Star Walk (amazing app). I would not leave home to get on a plane without my iPad. It is the only thing that I take out of the bag on a plane. The laptop stays in the overhead bin these days, thankfully (in particular, if you fly economy or, worst, low-cost in Europe). I do love my iPad.

My family loves the iPad too, although for them it is just a gaming machine. WeRule is huge in my household. They cry when I leave for a trip and take away the device with me (and then they realize they should cry also because I am leaving).

Last week at CTIA I met for the first time the new Samsung Galaxy Tab(let). It runs Android 2.2. My first impression was extremely positive. I am not sure why, but I was expecting a slow tablet (maybe because Google said that 2.2 is not an OS for tablets, way to set expectations low I guess). Instead, it was very fast. The screen was great, the app I am used to (I also own a Nexus One) were there and looking even better. I downloaded the Funambol client and it worked right away. It just felt very natural, like the best of the iPad combined with the best of the Nexus One.

Once I put down the device, I was left with one major question: is my iPad too big?

It is an interesting question. I did not wonder whether the Galaxy Tab was too small, I wondered whether the iPad was too big. The iPad has a 10" display, the Galaxy 7". The difference is substantial. The Tab is almost half the weight of the iPad. It feels small, in a good way. And I never wondered if the iPad was too big, it felt just right before I tried the Galaxy.

It is fascinating to look at screen sizes and usability. The 4" screen is the way to go, for a pocketable device. I would not talk into anything bigger (the 5" Dell Streak makes you look ridiculous), take a picture (the camera on the tablets is only for video chats, in my opinion) or navigate a map while walking with anything bigger in my hands (a smartphone is just perfect). From 4" to 7", therefore, there seems to be a gap. Devices in the middle are too big to fit in a pocket and too small to deliver much more than a phone. At 7", apparently, the device seems big enough for my needs: email and browsing on a couch, gaming+movies+books on a plane. At 10", maybe it is even too much. I was surprised.

I was expecting a lot of tablets to challenge the iPad. I was expecting different UIs, USB ports and front cameras to be the big differentiators. And I was sure none had a chance. Instead, the challenge came from size. A smaller iPad is interesting in itself. It is different. And it definitely has a chance.

What's next from Apple? Let me guess: an iPad mini, at 7". They must be ready to ship it, I bet.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Finally, you can put AGPL sofware in Google Code

A LOOOOOOONG time ago (March 31st, 2008), I wrote a post on this blog attacking Google for not allowing any AGPL code into Google Code. First, they said AGPL was not OSI-approved. Fair point, so Funambol got AGPL to be OSI-approved. Still, they did not accept any AGPL code, for reasons I could only describe as evil. I felt then, and I still feel now, that Google will never like AGPL, which is the license that allows us to take open source in the new cloud era. I started barking up that tree back in 2006...

On September 10 2010, about three years later, Google finally gave in. Chris DiBona wrote a post titled "License Evolution and Hosting Projects on Code.Google.Com". Quick quote:
[..] this new way of doing things is a better fit to our goal of supporting open source software developers. The longer form of the reason why is that we never really liked turning away projects that were under real, compatible licenses like the zlib or other permissive licenses, nor did we really like turning away projects under licenses that serve a truly new function, like the AGPL.
Oh, wow, two in a row. Not only AGPL is finally allowed into Google Code, but Google admitted that it serves a function ;-)

Well, to celebrate we should probably consider moving Funambol into Google Code.

It is a sweet day, even if it took so long. Or maybe because of it.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Now you can snoop on your kids

Device Management has been a category going from hot (at the beginning of the millennium) to cold (a few years ago). Now, it is hot again. I know because we sell that product and it is flying off the shelves...

Why now?

Let me guess.

First of all, if the problem was significant when we had a lot of feature phones, with the advent of connected devices it is becoming huge. A carrier must be able to control what is coming into its network. Now more than ever, because the amount of devices is exploding (from phones, to e-book readers, to cameras, to cars and so on).

However, this would not explain the explosion. I think there is more. And it has to do with Android and its open source roots.

See, before Android, it was impossible to find a device you could actually remotely manage (e.g. wiping it out, killing it, managing the configuration, ...), unless you were the carrier. No OS would allow you to go so deep in the phone to touch basic features (no WM, no iPhone, no Palm, and so on). You would need the carrier and the device manufacturer involvement. That means: small market.

With Android, the game has changed. You can do it. Even as a developer that does not talk to the carrier or the device manufacturer. You can build an Android client and manage devices remotely. You can build a cloud service and manage a device, going around the carrier.

There is another piece of the puzzle falling into place: 4G. People think of 4G as "more bandwidth", so what's with device management? Well, the difference in 4G is that the device is always connected with an IP address. There is no case where the phone is on and the device does not have an IP. None. It is built in the protocol (we are working on WiMax with Clearwire). Therefore, you are guaranteed that you can monitor the device at any time, as long as it is on. It is not the same for 3G.

This is huge. We are starting to see consumer device management as a new category. It is relatively easy (starting with our Android DM client, for example) to put together a parental control service. I know plenty of parents who would love to be able to stop their kids data plan when it goes above the cap. Or to know where they are if the phone is on (and where they went). I know, I know, snooping on your kids is not the way to make them grow and feel independent. Still, most parents believe they need it ;-)

Being able to go around the carrier also means DM in the enterprise. When we sold our product to Computer Associates years ago, I do not think the market was ready for enterprise deployments. Now it is. It is ready for management of devices, whatever they are (phones, cars, laptops and more). Because you do not need a carrier of a manufacturer. You just do it yourself on Android.

Connected devices and open source are opening the door to a lot of new business plans. From M2M communications to device management to synchronization and more. We have waited a bit (a lot ;-) but it is here. And it is going to get bigger and bigger.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Where are the enterprise developers going in mobile?

Funambol Community Edition is used as a mobile platform inside enterprises, to sync a lot of data on mobile devices from corporate data sources (Email servers, Groupware, ERP, CRM, you name it). We have over 27,000 Funambol servers online around the word, every day. Lots of people, lots of developers. Not to brag, just to set the stage about what comes next, trying to claim I know what I am talking about (which is not always the case ;-)

For months, I had a question in my mind: where are the enterprise developers going in mobile? I mean, if you need to build a mobile app for an existing enterprise solution, which platform would you choose? Which device?

The answer, few years ago, was simple: Windows Mobile. Any app I knew in the enterprise was built on it. Rugged devices were all WinMo. Microsoft had a solid grip on the enterprise. Yes, BlackBerry has always been also big, but it is the choice mainly for managers. Not something that would give you enough reach to build a corporate app. So, WinMo was it.

Then the iPhone came. It started to trickle in the enterprise. But it was a consumer device. With a consumer model. Not enough security. Initially, not even a way to have email on it from an Exchange server. No ways to install apps ad-hoc. Enterprise developers kept doing what they were doing: they stayed with WinMo.

Then Android came. Similar consumer orientation of the iPhone, but a bit less. The first devices had a keyboard, something that was perceived as enterprise-ish. The business model looking like the old Microsoft (providing the OS) plus HW vendors. Something already seen, something easy to understand. Where Google is Microsoft. That was the beginning of 2009. Not ages ago...

Lastly, Microsoft killed WinMo in favor of a consumer OS (at MWC in February, this year). Not backward compatible. Giving up entirely on the enterprise. Just when developers started getting more comfortable about Android, while still slightly doubtful about the iPhone (do not ask me why, maybe it is just the Apple brand. Everyone in this industry knows that Steve Jobs does not give a damn about the enterprise. Enterprise developers know it, and they do not want to go for it).

Imagine the panic as a WinMo developer. Knowing you have to throw everything away and start from scratch. On a platform with zero traction (no Windows Mobile 7 device in the market...). A pure consumer platform. What would you do? If you have to start from scratch, why not looking around for a new platform, one that has already devices and traction, one that looks more enterprise-ish?

Yes, the answer to my question is Android.

Android is exploding, shipping more devices than iOS. We have passed the tipping point. If enterprise developers were thinking Android around the end of 2009, in Spring 2010 they received a confirmation from Microsoft. And now that Android is exploding, there is no turning back.

I can see it from the downloads of the Funambol Android client and SDK. The growth is spectacular, Android is winning over the enterprise developers. And there is probably very little Microsoft can do to get them back. Since Windows Mobile 7 is purely a consumer platform. I guess they do not even care... They gave it up to Android on a silver plate. Bad mistake, in my opinion.

Android is going to be the dominating mobile enterprise platform of the future. It happened so fast...

Friday, August 06, 2010

Beta testers are Guinea Pigs

This morning a read an interesting blog post from Brian Gartner on the demise of Google Wave. He makes a few points, summarized below for those tired of clicking on links (a growing population: Flipboard is a sign that hypertext might be getting old):

  1. Google culture comes from the recent trend of kids education: everyone gets rewarded, even when they fail
  2. Therefore, they killed Google Wave (which has been a a failure of phenomenal proportions) also saying that they are cool for killing it when they realized it was not taking off. This, with no respect to the users that actually were using it
  3. Google should do a lot more testing internally before shipping anything, instead of using users as testers
  4. The conclusion is that Google’s corporate culture puts a higher premium on the needs of their engineers than their responsibility to users
I have to say these days it is actually trendy to kill stuff and get praised for it (see Microsoft killing Kin 48 days after birth...). And that I am really fed up with the idea that every kid always wins, since life is quite different...

That said, I disagree with the conclusion. We are living in times where the market moves too fast. You can't spend a year to test things internally and then release them to the public. You have to do it with HW, you can avoid it with software. If you do, you are left behind.

All software start-ups I know are doing it: build a stable first release, test it with friends and family, open it up to the world as beta. The users are doing the real testing.

If you want to compete with start-ups (you should if you are big, because they move fast), you have to iterate quickly, test and throw away what does not work. Fast.

Should you be worried about "the users", in case you have to shut down the system?

Yes, you do not want to piss off anyone. You need to put in place ways for them to recover their data and maybe run the service themselves (which Google is doing, creating tools to "liberate" their data and putting the Wave software in open source).

However, those who jump on a beta service know very well what they are getting: a beta product that might never see the light of day. Remember, these are free services...

Beta testers are a self-selected bunch. My mom would never start using Google Wave in beta. I would. But I know the game, and I would not be (too much) pissed if there is a bug or the system gets killed.

It is very different with HW. Those four or five kids who bought the Kin should be really upset (at themselves, what were they thinking? ;-)

In software, beta testers are Guinea Pigs. No reward for them. That's ok, they are not kids.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The BlackBerry Torch wants to please everyone

I took a look at the specs and pictures of the new BlackBerry Torch, just announced in an Apple-like event (not really, but good try anyway).

The first impression? The BlackBerry Torch wants to please everyone:
  • Are you an old BlackBerry user? Here's your keyboard and four buttons.
  • Are you a more recent BlackBerry user, used to the wheel? Here's your wheel.
  • Are you an iPhone/Android user or someone that wants a touch screen? Here's your touchscreen.
Four input devices are a lot... The number suggests feature creep or need to please everyone, which is rarely a recipe for success.

Granted, this is a device which many consider the last chance for RIM to catch up to Apple and Google. Therefore, they needed to please the vast majority of users out there.

However, I have the feeling they might have missed the mark.

Maybe because of the low resolution screen (480×360 LCD, really, is it still 2005?) and low  performance 624MHz CPU (hey, this was supposed the device where you catch up... not the one where you show how far behind you are...), but I can't see the mass market going for the Torch. I can't see people that wanted to buy an iPhone or Android change their mind and choose BlackBerry instead. They won't.

I see BlackBerry users thinking twice before leaving RIM. I see old BlackBerry enterprise users that have bought an iPhone or an Android considering to jump back, because they seriously miss the keyboard and the Torch is a decent compromise. Not consumers though, just enterprise users... Even for them, however, when you have something "cool", it is hard to go back to something "uncool". You need a lot of self-esteem to do it. And few have it (sorry, world of low-esteem people :-))

Bottom line: if the goal of RIM was to stop hemorrhaging users to other platforms and maintain a growing market in the emerging world (where owning a BlackBerry means being a "Manager", therefore someone who makes money, therefore cool), I believe they have a winner. If they were looking at expanding and catching up with the rest of the pack (which is what their investors wanted), I do not believe they made it.

Sadly. I do not think the BlackBerry Torch will please everyone.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Droid brand by Verizon is genius

When Verizon launched the Droid, I was a bit puzzled. They came up with a brand name for a phone, which was built by Motorola. And picked a brand from the past, for which they have to pay royalties to George Lucas...

Today, I see the genius in that campaign. They are now launching more Droids, built by different device manufacturers (from HTC, for example). Reading this article, it even seems that - in the US - consumers know what Droid is, but have no idea what Android is... Part of the success of the brand is actually that it existed in the past, and it is linked to a geek phenomenon (one I will never understand, I might be the only geek in world who does not like sci-fi). I am not sure they would have been so successful, had they invented a new brand.

Why is it genius? Because the carriers are progressively being made irrelevant by device manufacturers. You buy an iPhone, not a phone from AT&T (actually, you even wish you could have it on a different carrier...). You buy a BlackBerry. You buy a Windows Mobile (really, are you sure?). You do not buy anything which is carrier specific.

Instead, now you want a Droid. A device from Verizon. Actually, not one device, a set of devices. By different manufacturers, which disappear in the marketing campaign. Yes, there is Motorola somewhere on the billboard, and also Google. But it is The Verizon Phone. The Droid.

There are a lot of Android phones, and some are way better than the original Droid. But the number of Droids sold is unbelievable. If Android is where it is, it is because of Verizon and the Droid (and the need for an answer to the iPhone, and the AT&T network sucking). The marketing campaign was an outstanding success. A carrier making the device manufacturer irrelevant.

Bottom line: the carriers have tried in the past to remove the manufacturers from the equation and have failed. The brands that count today are the device ones. With the Droid, Verizon has been able to turn the table around.

Apple would call this move "magical". Or "genius". I agree.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

MeeGo? It could actually make it

In my last post, where I was commenting about Microsoft and their sequence of failures on mobile, I wrote:
if you want other companies to manufacture devices with your OS (the Windows mobile vs. the Apple model) today you need:

  1. to charge zero dollars for your OS
  2. to make your OS open source and allow your ODMs some freedom to differentiate
  3. to have a cool OS
Someone in the comments asked me: "what about MeeGo?"

Well, if you look at the list above, MeeGo passes #1 and #2 right away.

I have installed MeeGo on a laptop and the OS is really cool (including the pre-installed option to sync with Funambol just above Google ;-) Therefore, they pass #3 as well.

Does it mean they are going to make it?

There is more to an OS to be successful. You need device manufacturers, developers and users. You need all of them to be there. Users bring developers, developers bring users, device manufacturers come if there is traction: if they know there are developers and there will be users.

Who brings the device manufacturers? Intel. They are pushing MeeGo like crazy.

Who brings the users? Nokia. They have a brand in mobile that is not going to disappear that fast (despite what people say). If Nokia has a sexy phone with MeeGo, users will buy it.

Who brings the developers? The Linux Foundation. They are a trusted party in open source. The fact MeeGo is the equivalent of the root of Linux is a big factor.

If you consider all this, you can see a positive spiral developing. With device manufacturers launching MeeGo products because of Intel. With users jumping in because of Nokia. And developers joining in, seeing the traction plus the Linux Foundation stamp.

Yep, I think MeeGo can actually make it.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Microsoft: a mobile story

When I started Funambol, Microsoft was the dominant force in IT. I was early, as usual, and everyone told me: "Wait until Microsoft gets in. They will wipe out this market as they have done with every other market". I had my doubts, the big one linked to open source in mobile. I was convinced it was the only way to go, and - if that was going to happen - Microsoft in mobile would be screwed.

Fast forward to today. Microsoft launched the Kin devices and killed them after 48 days. A world record. An astonishing acceptance of failure. Nonetheless, a huge failure.

Yeah, yeah, I hear you saying that the reason is Verizon charging too much for the data plan. I agree. I put it in writing the day they launched the Kin: "it is not going to make it, the data plan is too expensive. If you are targeting rich kids, they will get an iPhone instead". I was right. You were right. However, there is more.

It has to do with Microsoft and their story in mobile. Let's compare them with Google.

Google bought a potentially great company called Android in 2005 (for little money, I believe). The founder, Andy Rubin, was previously a founder and CEO of Danger. Google turned Android to open source and they are the fastest growing OS in mobile, a force to be reckon with. And not only on mobile devices, we are talking connected devices here, the future of information technology (tablets, pads, cars, TVs, alarm clocks, picture frames, microwaves...). They have a chance to dominate this space, one Apple will never be able to conquer (although they will still make a ton of money with their vertical solutions).

Microsoft bought a great company called Danger in 2008 for $500M (ehm, yes, the same company). A company that had a very good product in the Sidekick and demonstrated its success. They were early in the market but had a very loyal fan base. A little jewel of a company, full of smart people. It led to the Kin... No changes, no open source, same old Microsoft story. The Kin is now dead, making the entire investment worth zero (they are folding the former Danger into Windows Mobile -> good luck with that ;-)

See the difference? Yep, me too.

It is not all open source, obviously. There is more to that. But I am convinced of a couple of things: if you want other companies to manufacture devices with your OS (the Windows mobile vs. the Apple model) today you need:
  1. to charge zero dollars for your OS
  2. to make your OS open source and allow your ODMs some freedom to differentiate
  3. to have a cool OS
Microsoft is not doing #1 (although they could and should, in my opinion) and are ages away from #2 (although everyone else, including Nokia and Intel with Meego, are doing it). They are focusing on #3 and I believe they could make it there (actually, they did it: the Kin had a cool OS :-)

Bottom line: if you keep hitting your head against the wall, maybe you will understand it just hurts, eventually. I do not think the Kin failure is hurting them enough. I do not think the Windows Mobile 1-6 hurt them enough. I guess we will need the Windows Mobile 7 failure to convince them. But the risk is that it will be too late.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Why I believe the iPhone Verizon story

In a Morgan Keegan report I read today, they claim they have counted 312 stories about the iPhone coming to Verizon along the years. It is true, every other week someone is saying the iPhone is coming to Verizon. And it never has.

This time, though, I think it is really going to happen. And in Q1 2011, as reported recently.

There are many reasons for it.

First, Apple is seeing the fruits of supporting multiple carriers in the same country. They started doing it in Italy, for the first time (see, the BelPaese is still #1 in mobile, apparently ;-) where both Vodafone and Telecom Italia offered the iPhone. Then it moved to other countries. In all cases, having multiple carriers increased Apple sales. It makes sense for Apple to pursue the same strategy in the US as well.

Second, the AT&T network sucks. As much as they are trying to make it better, it still sucks. In particular, if you live in the Bay Area, LA, NY. Just where everyone that has an iPhone wants to live :-) Verizon has a much better network and they will sell a lot more iPhones just for it. Even current iPhone AT&T users will switch, believe me: the consumer allegiance is with Apple, not with the carrier. Apple made AT&T a pipe (warning to the rest of the pack, make sure you avoid pipefication… there are tools out there that allow you to fight).

Third, Apple really wants to bring the fight to Android. If there is a mistake they made, it was not launching the iPhone at Verizon, therefore forcing Verizon to find a hero phone they could launch against the iPhone. They picked the Droid (it could have been Palm…) and now Android is big and challenging iOS big time. I think a piece of it was due to CDMA vs. GSM, and the need to manufacture a single different phone just for the US. Apple just thought it was not worth the effort (and needed a big push from AT&T at launch). They probably miscalculated it a bit. But once the iPhone is at Verizon, Apple expects to crush the Droid (although I am not that sure it will really happen). Definitely, it is going to be the battle to watch.

Lastly, AT&T is preparing a big hero phone launch for the BlackBerry 9600 this fall. They already have a hero phone… They would not need to push the new BlackBerry, unless they knew the were losing their hero phone in a quarter.

That said, expect the iPhone at Verizon in Q1 2011.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The future of RIM

These are tough days for RIM. The maker of BlackBerry reported slightly disappointing numbers and the next day the stock went down 10%. As if they were about to disappear, mirroring what happened to Palm. When they are actually doing quite well…

The market is worried about iPhone and Android. If you ask people with an iPhone or Android which phone will they buy next, they will tell you "the same device". We are talking 90% of people. The ones in line to buy an iPhone 4 were almost all old iPhone users, loyal to their device. It is not the same for a BlackBerry: if you ask their owners, they majority will tell you they are ready to switch to an iPhone or an Android.

There are good reasons to be worried. But I am still optimistic.

Sure, BlackBerry is losing ground in the US. But it is gaining it very fast in the rest of the world. Earlier, all pundits were hammering RIM for being too reliant on Verizon. Now that they are growing elsewhere, they are hammering RIM because they are losing ground at Verizon (to the Droids, I believe). Doh...

BlackBerries are perceived as the best messaging devices. Period.

However, there is way more than messaging in the Mobile Internet. There are apps, maps, search, and more. Most of all, the devices are becoming an extension of your entire life, one that starts at home and moves with you to work.

Here, RIM is behind. Way behind.

Messaging is still big, do not get me wrong. Email in the enterprise, and social networks for consumers. BlackBerry Messaging is a huge success, one that RIM should push a lot more.

However, the rest is where RIM needs to catch up. Consumers want to have a social address book, take pictures and see them on their computer later (and push them to Facebook or Flickr or Picasa), import Google calendar and share it with friends, and so on. Messaging is a piece of the puzzle, PIM is the second, rich media the third. If you rule on #1 and you are nobody in #2 and #3, you are toast in this market. Believe me, this is a market I know very well.

Most people focus on the lack of a BlackBerry with a decent touchscreen being the main issue. I disagree. It is an issue. A big one (if you check my first reaction on the BB Storm, you know how badly I thought of it). But the apps, the PIM + rich media services integrated with the cloud are where they are losing mind share. Not only with consumers, also with developers (and they are key now, remember?).

Will BB OS 6 solve all this? I hope so. It has to come with a decent device, nothing special (do not tell me the iPhone 4 looks special, the look of the device is now secondary), with some pizazz and - most of all - an integrated consumer experience on PIM and rich media. That means cutting the cord with the PC (BlackBerry Desktop should be taught in usability classes as the example of what to avoid at all cost...), creating a cloud service that seamlessly syncs all your data among your devices, plus a web view of your data. Something like MobileMe, MOTOBLUR, Nokia Ovi, Google everything. Possibly better.

The problem with RIM is also perception: most of the people believe they only sell to the enterprise. Wrong. 70% of their devices are now bought by consumers, using BIS (BlackBerry Internet Service) instead of BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server). BIS gives you nothing, only messaging. Sometimes, even that is bad, like the Gmail integration: I am seeing in my Gmail Inbox on my BB all my Buzz messages (the one I send out)… Beside that, no PIM sync, no rich media. Nada.

Changing the perception of the world means having a cool looking device (consumerish, not enterprisish), attached to a cool cloud service. Something people can see, something RIM can market on TV, something that says WOW that's cool. That goes through PIM and rich media support, all in the cloud.

Cool. That is what RIM is missing. They need it badly, or the stock will keep diving (perception is everything in this world, sadly).

Monday, June 07, 2010

Apple FaceTime and Big Brother

I watched the Apple keynote today, including the hilarious moment where the demo collapsed, working on the old iPhone but not on the new one (see, it happened to Google and then to Apple, they are in a fight!).

The main announcement was pretty obvious: a video chat application called FaceTime (BTW, I got 100% of my sure and likely predictions, zero surprises). I believe I was still in Italy when 3 launched their videophone, and I have moved to Silicon Valley eleven years ago... Can't say it is magical or innovative, in particular because it works only on wi-fi (the 3 videophone worked on the cellular network...), although the two cameras support looks cool. And their video is a gem of marketing (despite having a hard time believing the room where I saw my daughter on the ultrasound machine had wi-fi :-)).

What is new about FaceTime?

Simple: there is no friends list. None.

You look at your address book and boom, all your friends who own an iPhone 4 have the videochat feature automatically enabled. No need to log in, no need to see a list of your friends. Easy (see bye bye to Skype).

How do they do it? Well, you can only guess. Let me try (hoping to be wrong and that there is a lot more opt-in to do). NOTE: I added the mapping on the email address, because I now think it is actually what they are going to do, since they already have that information in their servers via iTunes (it is your login).

They have you connected to their servers all the time, because of push (at least). They suck out your cellphone number (or email) and put it in their server, mapping it to your current IP (did I give Apple permission to suck out my cellphone/email number??). They look into your address book and find everyone you have in there which has a cellphone/email they have in their list (mmmhhh, did I give Apple permission to map my phone number/email into your address book??). When you click for a FaceTime, they open a peer-to-peer connection from your phone to their phone over IP (wi-fi only for now).

If this is the case, it is borderline. Actually, a bit bigbrotherish. Apple collecting all cellphone numbers/email of all iPhone users (which they already do for email, since it is your login name on iTunes). Mapping them at will on your address book... I guess if this works for Apple, it is going to work for Google as well (they can do exactly the same thing on Android).
Big Brother at work. Are you willing to trade some privacy over features? Probably yes: just a small percentage of the population is scared about it.

Still, open source and open cloud look a lot safer to me.

Friday, June 04, 2010

My predictions for Apple WWDC 2010

It is that time of the year, when I feel compelled to predict what Steve Jobs will announce on stage (Monday at 10 am). I have a pretty decent batting average, so far.

One thing for sure: the new iPhone. I believe it is going to look pretty much like the device found in a beer garden near to our office, with a camera in the front (although it would be time for Apple to start introducing new colors, as they did for the iPod). I am not expecting many surprises on the HW or basic SW front (it will all about services and the cloud). Actually, I believe the reason why the iPad does not have a camera is just to have something interesting and new on the iPhone 4 hardware. Without it, I do not think you would be able to pick one single reason to buy the new iPhone... Anyway, with the front camera comes a new video chat application, and - I believe - some other video related apps (about time ;-)

Likely: some new and cool ads, linked to the iAds story. And tools for developers to build applications generating ads dollars (it is a developer conference, after all). Apple going after the only revenue generator for Google (which is big news, in my opinion. Great battle ahead). Also, the search bar adding Bing (but not removing Google).

Possible: a complete new mobile cloud sync story. Something that starts with MobileMe being freemium, to a music service tight to your device, to a direct cloud integration into Apple TV (with streaming). In a way, I have a feeling Apple might finally decide that iTunes on your PC won't be the center of your life anymore. I do not think Jobs believes in the PC being the hub, as he did in the past (while Microsoft still believes in it...). He is moving into the world of connected devices. Devices that are synced to the cloud directly. That means moving iTunes in the cloud, and finally cut the damn cord that attaches all your devices to your PC. It is time. It all started with HotSync on Palm and it is all moving to the cloud. Cut the cord, Steve!! (yep, I am writing it with a smile on my face).

Unlikely (but still possible): the iPad for Verizon. Also, some new Apple apps on the iPhone. In particular, I am expecting them to be working on removing their ties to Google, such as Maps and YouTube. But I am not sure if they are ready yet.

Very unlikely: the iPhone for Verizon.

That's it, let's see if there is a surprise somewhere ;-)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Versatility is not the panacea

Today I bumped into a video showing the new Dell Streak, or as Dell calls it "the versatile 5-inch Android tablet".

I am very sorry for the Dell employee in the video. I am sure it is not his fault. But I had a hard time not laughing when he put the brick close to his ears to take a phone call. I mean, that thing is HUGE...

Some days, I find myself wondering if all these years of mobile device sales have not taught us anything. Look around you, look at the devices that sell well. They all make you look cool. Anything portable is a fashion item, something that walks with you, that tells everyone around you something about you. You are cool because you have an iPhone. Because you have an iPad. Because you have a Nexus One (kinda cool, with a vibe of geek). Or the Droid (and you wear all black). And so on.

You can't tell me you would not laugh at a guy holding a 5-inch versatile Android tablet close to his ear. Even someone trying to do it with an iPad would make me laugh. probably hard.

Who in the world would do it?

This is the problem with versatile. You can do everything. Like a swiss knife. You have a 5 inch tablet and you can use it to chop vegetables (I saw Stephen Colbert do it with the iPad, it works). Or play ping pong. Or even make a call.

Guess what? It does not make sense.

The race for the perfect device is on. You have a full spectrum of sizes, from the dumbphone to the full tablet. Every size can have its perfect uses and eat some of the ones above and below. With a smartphone, you want to talk. You might want to watch a movie, but it is going to look better with a device slightly bigger. To read a book, you want a book-size device (not 5 inches, more). To listen to music, who cares, a pen would do it. If you have to type a large document, you better have a keyboard. To browse, something in the middle is ok, and maybe you can compromise and do it on a smartphone, in an emergency. And so on, and so on. 

However, just do not try to push it too hard. Versatile is just the wrong goal. Doing more with a device I do not even need is a bad idea. A tablet I can use to make calls? Why? Stick to Skype and video chats, do not give me a phone number on a device which is not made to call.

You know, I want to look cool...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Apple MobileMe will be free(mium)

I wrote about freemium at the beginning of the year. Quoting myself (very bad thing to do, I know):
In my space, Apple charges $99 per year for MobileMe. There is a lot of room to cut that price (and it works only for the iPhone, so good luck if someone in the family has a different device). At the other end of the spectrum, Google charges zero for Google Sync (albeit it is quite a bad product, sometimes free can be of a depressing quality...). How do you move between these two extremes if you are a carrier? Per-month, per-year, free, advertising or freemium?

I say, for now, stick to per-user per-month on the high end of the market, and check freemium for the masses (they are coming).
In the last five months, the market has moved superfast. No surprise here: mobile is the hottest thing around and sync is the killer app when it comes to connected devices. Everyone jumped into this market, from MOTOBLUR to Nokia Ovi to Microsoft My Phone. Lots of activity, lots of opportunities.

Google itself has been pushing its cloud even more. They made it a bit too tightly coupled with Android, in my opinion, but I can understand why they are going that way. They are going for an open platform with open source, but tightly coupled with a cloud service. In a way, it is an horizontal-vertical play, if there is such a thing. Go horizontal and open source on the device (a step forward from the Microsoft model), but vertical on the cloud integration (a step forward from the Apple model).

It seems to work. You have a lively community of developers, but most of the Android phones come pre-bundled with the Google cloud services. You get your address book, your calendar, your pictures automagically synced on the Google cloud. It is sticky. It is easy to use (so much that it is transparent). And it is freemium (2GB of storage are free, then you start to pay). What not to love?

What about Apple? Well, they chose a different route. They chose to charge you $99 per year for the MobileMe service. I hear it is going reasonably well, but nothing to be bragging about (in fact, they never brag about it on stage, and that is a sign for things that do not work too well at Apple). They had technical issues at the beginning, but I do not think that is the problem.

The issue is the $99/year.

People want sync, they want to backup their data to get them back in case they lose their phone, but they are not going to pay for it right away (I still believe you can charge upfront in the enterprise, but consumers are only for freemium today). Same for picture sync (Flickr) or networking (LinkedIn) or many other freemium models. Get them hooked and they will pay, eventually. They will recognize the value. Maybe not 100%, but a good percentage. Enough to justify a business model.

Apple missed the mark (to use a Facebook term ;-) They were greedy and thought they could make money right away. They are probably not making enough. And they are not making their service sticky enough. While Google is attacking them and eating in their plate, with a freemium cloud service strategy (which, eventually, might even be only supported by ads).

Since I am good at predicting what Apple announces at its conference (am I?), I have one for you: Apple will make MobileMe freemium at WWDC on June 7th. They will have a free service for everyone, and a premium service for those that want to pay for more storage or more features (such as Find my iPhone).

They should have read Hal's paper for mobile operators "Using Free-nomics to Avoid Pipe-ification" six months ago...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Google Chrome OS and Android conundrum

If you went to the Google I/O conference - or just listened to the live webcast - you probably left with the impression that Google has a pretty good idea on how to conquer the world. From desktop, to mobile, to TV. Even despite the horrible Google TV demo (see, it happens to everyone, not just me ;-)

One thing though was not clear: the future of Chrome OS and Android. How they will co-exist, how they will work together, how they will eventually merge (if they will).

The Google people had no convincing answers. None.

You hear about how Android is going to dominate mobile, then they show you an Android tablet and you think "iPad killer", then it comes an Android Google TV and you think "my TV does not move, Android is not just an OS for mobile!". Quick leap of faith to a world where mobile takes over the desktop (e.g. the desktop becomes a non-mobile mobile device, like your TV) and you could easily conclude: Android is the OS that could dominate our future, the OS for our new world of connected devices.

If you go back to the history of Android - as far as I know - the original idea was exactly that: to build an OS for connected devices. Smartphones came later, as an implementation of the idea. Android is just fulfilling its original destiny. It is open as in open source, it has a commercial entity behind (a rather big one...) and an ecosystem of developers (very excited ones, since they get a phone at every Google conference). It seems a done deal.

Then they start talking about Chrome OS. The OS for the web. The OS in a browser. BTW, the same browser we have in Android. But now it has a separate marketplace, called Web Store for Apps. Not the Android apps, the other ones, the web apps, the one that also run on Android. Because it has a browser.

And it is just for netbooks (a dead category) and tablets (where we also have an Android version).

Wait? Am I confused? Yes. And I am not the only one...

Their answer: "Android and Chrome OS will likely converge one day". The better one will win, it is a Darwinian process...

The conundrum is clear: Chrome OS brings the web to your device. It is the ultimate platform to expand the current Google business model. If everything becomes a browser, including your TV, Google has 90% of the advertising in the world. Chrome OS is the chosen one.

Unfortunately, Android is taking off like a rocket... It is a platform where their current advertising model does not work very well. It does in Google Maps. And maybe in Search (maybe). But the apps have a completely different ad model. The in-app advertising is a new science, one that nobody has mastered yet. Maybe AdMob, if they ever manage to close the acquisition (I am starting to have serious doubts it will happen, sadly for Omar and his team It closed today!). In any case, it is a new market altogether, one that Apple is attacking full-force with iAds. One where transactional advertising is likely to be less important than branding (and Google has zero branding advertising business).

See the conundrum?

Chrome OS fits perfectly with the Google business model. Android does not. But it is winning, and you can't stop something that is winning. At the same time, you can't easily make a choice of killing the chosen one.

So you keep them both and wait until one dies (hoping it is Android).

When Android wins, you scramble to adapt your business model and kill the other one in a graceful way: "Chrome OS merges in Android, the Web Store for Apps becomes part of the Android Marketplace" and so on. I take bets on this one.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Is Android the new Microsoft for Apple?

There is one thing humans are good at: pattern analysis on a blink (a-la-Gladwell). Looking at one company after seeing 1,000 gives you some ideas on how that particular one would develop (that is the common VC argument). History repeats itself, after all. It is not rocket science, but it has been empirically proven. If you do proper pattern analysis, you get it right most of the times (works with the stock market too).

One quick look at the following picture and a pattern develops in front of my eyes.

The picture says that Android now sells in the US better than the iPhone. I have a hard time believing it by looking around me, but NPD has been quite reliable in the past, so we have to assume they are right.

Quick look at the mobile market today: there is an Apple operating system which is closed and no device manufacturer can put its hand on (it is only shipped by Apple). There is another operating system that is available to any device manufacturer who wants it (at low cost), and it can be put on a small, medium, large device (in fact, any connected device would do it).

Any pattern recognition? I bet. That's the PC business. One Apple operating system which was closed, and one Microsoft operating system that hardware manufacturer could adopt and ship at "low" cost (for the time). Apple was better and now they have 4% of the PC OS market share.

I feel history might be repeating itself. The major difference is that now the operating system must be open source (or you are out), and be zero in the BOM (sorry Microsoft), and that the amount of devices is actually ample.

Actually, the race to connected devices might be the key  here. Apple can chase Android on smartphones or pads, but Android is getting on millions of "other" devices (set-top-boxes, home appliances, cars, and so on). Devices Apple does not care about. Devices which will run in the billions in a few years: they will give Android an enormous installed base, which could lead to a lock-in.

Lock-in... I think I have seen that before too.

Friday, May 07, 2010

The iPad: personal or family device?

I know everyone is tired of hearing about the iPad. But it is a fact that Apple sold one million devices in a very short time. Very short. It is the fastest device to gross a billion dollars. It is a phenomenon that goes beyond high tech. It is an incredible story.

However, I feel the interesting part of the story is yet to come.

The iPad is intrinsically a personal device. It is an iPod on steroids. Something built for a single person, for personal use.

However, ask most people who bought it (mostly male in the 35-45 age group) and they will all tell you the same thing: "I brought it home, my wife took it away from me, then the kids saw it and I haven't had a chance to play with it since" (notice the word - play - ;-)

All of a sudden, the iPad has become the family device. One that requires turns. Used by multiple people.

That morphs it into a shared device, like the TV. Remember the fight for the remote? I want to watch baseball and my daughter wants to see Martha Speaks? Yep, same thing.

The iPad does not have support for multi-accounts, as the Mac or PCs. It was built for personal use. It is now used, instead, as a family device. Multi-accounts driven by sets of different apps. In some families, I guess they might be splitting home windows (you have only four, though…).

Do I really think the iPad is a family device? Nope.

Do I believe Apple will add multi-account support to it? Nope.

The iPad is and will remain a personal device, as your iPod or your iPhone. I already know people that bought two, three or four. One for each member of the family.

Everyone in the family will get an iPad, eventually. Apple is more than happy to have you not fight on the remote. So nice of them.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Why HP should open source WebOS

As you might remember, I am a big fan of Palm. One thing you might not know, is that I am a big fan of HP as well. I spent time at the HP Labs as an invited scientist in 1995, and the HP Way always stuck with me.

Therefore, you might understand my happiness when I heard about HP buying Palm. I was quite worried about the future of Palm, and now they have someone with deep pockets behind them. They are not going away. They are staying and have a great chance to succeed.

Where is the big value of Palm?

Easy, it is WebOS, with its tight cloud service connection (Synergy and the continuous sync in the background). The best implementation of an OS I have seen around. Better than iPhone and Android, in my personal opinion. Just a tad slow on the Palm hardware, but that is easy to fix for HP.

My suggestion on WebOS is easy: open source it. Fast. If there is one thing I believe Palm did wrong, it was following the Apple model. Keep it closed and you die, unless you are ahead of everyone and big. Palm is none of the above.

Look at what is happening in the browser world. Internet Explorer market share is collapsing. Firefox and Chrome are catching up extremely fast. Give it a couple of years, and the open source browser will dominate.

On mobile, it is even more important. Developers count. They are everything for a platform. As you cannot sell a mobile phone without cloud services today, you cannot be successful without developers. What drives sales are applications. And they are built by developers. And developers pick platforms that are open source (unless you are ahead of everyone and big, such as Apple).

Symbian got it. Nokia got it. Intel got it. Google got it.

Apple does not have to do it (unless someone catches up badly with them, but I do not see it happening that soon), Microsoft should but they do not get it (guys, believe me, the operating system market does not tolerate a closed OS you have to pay for, you will have to get it one day). HP must.

If they get it, WebOS might become a force in the market. I expect HP to put it on netbooks, and a lot of connected devices. Make it open source and you get a winner. Keep it closed and you have yet another missed opportunity.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Google, where is the calendar API in Android?

We are in the middle of a lot of debates these days: is Apple the new Microsoft? Is Microsoft following Apple with Windows Mobile 7? Should HP open source WebOS (more on another post, my answer is yes)? Is Google Android open or closed?

I have been bashing Apple for months (years?) because of the lack of Calendar API on the iPhone. It was a very large visible sign of closeness on their part. A lot of apps need to create an event on the calendar (thing anything medical, where you need a reminder) and the lack of API access was hard to comprehend.

Now Apple finally opened the calendar API with iPhone OS 4. Curiously, though, if you download and install the emulator, the API is not there yet. But one can only be optimistic: they have documented it, presented on stage, it is going to show up one day... That day, we'll start developing for it...

I was quite happy we finally had a chance to build the calendar sync on the iPhone and iPad, when I received a note from one of our developers. The email explained we had problems building calendar sync for Android. They added that the reason was that there is no public calendar API on Android.

Whaaat? No calendar API on Android?? Are you kidding me????

Unfortunately, developers do not lie, so it is true (had I heard it from a marketing person, it would have been quite different ;-) There is no public calendar API on Android. Unbelievable.

Wait, but Android is open source, right? You could download the calendar client, compile it, put it on the emulator (which does not ship with it), add the data provider and you would be good to go. No need for public APIs when you have access to the source code.



You can do all that, and it works pretty well when you just read the calendar. However, as soon as you try to write to it, creating a new calendar, Google gets upset. At the next sync with Google Calendar on the cloud, any calendar that is not on the Google servers gets wiped out on the device. Not nice. Not nice.

Any other option? Yes, one is to create a calendar in Google and write to it on the device, ultimately doing double sync (one in Google Calendar, one in your Funambol server). It is like double dipping, though, and the likely effect is spreading duplicates instead of germs. Bad idea (but we are going to explore it).

On top of it, I have no idea what happens with devices that ship with a modified UI, such as MOTOBLUR or the HTC Sense UI. I guess the behavior might be different: yep, I know, I said once that fragmentation is innovation, maybe I was wrong :-))

Overall, I am a bit shocked. An operating system that is meant to be open and one of the most basic APIs is closed... Is Android open or closed? You pick ;-)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tether your iPad, do not bother buying the 3G version

I have used an iPad for a while now. At home, in the office, up and down a few planes (tip: you do not have to take it out of the bag at security, which is nice), at conferences. My iPad is Wi-Fi only. It does not have the 3G option.

Many people have asked me if I will upgrade to the 3G version. My answer? Nope.

First of all, let me ask you this: do you have a smartphone? Do you have a data plan on it? If the answer is no, then it is a different story. But if you are an early adopter (and only early adopters get a device that has been released less then a month ago), you already have a smartphone with a data plan.

Now, the next question is: are you paying for your smartphone data plan? If the answer is no and your daddy is paying for it (or your company), then you might not care. But if you pay for it, what Apple is asking to do is to pay twice. It is $14.99/month for 250MB or $29.99/month for unlimited. On top of your data plan, which - if you have an iPhone on AT&T - is $30/month.

Granted, the iPad data plan is prepaid, so you do not have to buy it every month. You can decide not to pay when you are home and pay when you go on vacation. But does it make sense? Only an idiot goes on vacation with an iPad (guilty as charged :-) And when you taste 3G... you won't live without it, and you will pay every month.

Ok, let me ask another question: when do you think you are going to use the iPad with 3G? Not at home or in the office. Not at the coffee place (they have wi-fi). Not at the airport (same as before). Not on the plane (you have to turn it off anyway, and if they allow you to connect, that will be wi-fi).

So, when do you need 3G? When you walk down the street? With a thing that does not fit in your pocket?? Taking it out of your bag to check maps and walk around with the device in your hands (it is heavy after a while, even if it is light...)? Didn't you say you had a smartphone and you could do that with it?

Ok, I get it. On the train! Unless they have wi-fi, of course. And unless you are in the US (and you know how to drive :-))

Honestly, if you are like me and you have a smartphone, the need for 3G on the iPad is limited. In a month of use, I had the need only once: I was in an airport that charged a fortune for wi-fi, and my daughter really wanted to buy a stable on WeRule (very addictive online game...). I could have paid for wi-fi, though...

Or maybe one day I will need to buy a book online on the bus to the airport. Or on a cab. Or in a bar with no wi-fi. Or at the stadium (not where the Giants play, there is wi-fi there...).

My answer for these extreme cases? Tether it to your smartphone. It has 3G already, and you are paying for a data plan. Make them talk and you are good to go.

The issue is that the iPad has only wi-fi. So you need your smartphone to create a wi-fi hotspot the iPad can use, you connect to it and your phone bridges the network to 3G. BTW, this works also for your laptop, so it is an added benefit, in case you are traveling with your laptop and the iPad.

The problem is that the carriers do not like it... It sucks too much data off their network. They will prevent this from happening as much as they can.

What are your options? It depends on your device. In any case, using any of the solutions below means breaking the contract you have signed with your carrier... I am not giving you advice to do this, do it at your own risk and peril. If they catch you, they could make you pay or, most likely, shut you down.

iPhone: I use mywi. It works like a charm. It is $9.99 and it requires you to jailbreak your iPhone (I told you, AT&T does not like it). There are other ways to do it, but this is the simplest.

Android: you have to root your phone (same as jailbreaking for the iPhone), then get the Barnacle Wifi Tether app from the Market. Also, there are some mods that have tethering installed. One that I would like to try out, when I find some time to do it, is putting the HTC Sense UI on my Nexus One.

Symbian: I haven't tried it personally, but I am told that JoikuSpot works well.

Palm: WebOS is the only OS I know that allows you to do it legally, simply because Verizon is nice. Actually, they might just be desperate (Palm) or not believe they will sell many (Verizon), but since the beginning of April you can now get Mobile Hotspot for free (it was $40/month...). On Sprint, you are out of luck (sorry...) since they are pushing MiFi (see below).

BlackBerry: I looked around but I could not find anything. And my Curve does not even have wi-fi, so I cannot try it anyway... If you have a solution, feel free to add it in the comments.

Windows Mobile: I do not care anymore, I use mine only for demos. I am waiting for WinMo 7, so should you.

What if you do not want to root, jailbreak, or do anything illegal? You can always buy a MiFi from Sprint. It is free with rebates, but you still need a data plan... If you are not planning to tether your laptop as well (or your wife's iPad), you are back to square zero.

And, BTW, it is only for emergencies, so you can actually survive without tethering...

Monday, April 26, 2010

The enterprise does not matter anymore in IT

If you have been around in IT for long enough, you must remember how technology decisions were made in the past: first, the Enterprise would adopt a technology, then it would trickle down to consumers.

Apple tried to break this cycle, pushing the Mac in the consumer world, just to be crushed by Microsoft. The enterprise adopted the PC, Windows ended up in consumer homes, game over.

If you look at what is happening now, thanks to mobile, it is exactly the opposite.

The enterprise is pushing Windows Mobile? Consumer buy iPhones, bring them into the enterprise, and the IT Manager has to suck it up and build an infrastructure to support the iPhone. The CEO ego is bigger than any policy...

One more evidence? Look at the master of the enterprise software: Microsoft. They built an enterprise mobile operating system. They had a large market share there (second to BlackBerry). They started losing it fast, then they shelved the entire Windows Mobile 6.x strategy. In favor of a purely consumer-centric operating system, Windows Mobile 7. They went all the way, throwing away years of applications built by enterprises. Pissing off every IT Manager in the world.

Does it make sense? Of course, because now consumers make choices, and the enterprise does not matter anymore. The IT Manager has to take what others bring in the door.

This is not a small change. For now, this is limited to mobile phones. But it is starting to move fairly quickly to netbooks and the iPad. Who is not betting on your fancy CEO using the iPad to ready his/her email? What is going to be the result? Yep, the IT Manager supporting the iPad.

If you want to build a large company in software, you have to target the consumer space first. The enterprise will just follow. The world has changed. Mobile changes everything.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Android is evil, but not for the cloud

Few days ago, Andreas Constantinou posted on the VisionMobile blog an intriguing question: Is Android Evil? As usual, I liked the post. And I loved even more the comments (you should read them, in particular if you are thinking about starting a blog ;-)

His final response?

[There are] the two types of ecosystems in mobile: the pre-load and the post-load ecosystem.
- The pre-load ecosystem (aka 2nd parties) is made up of handset manufacturers, operators/carriers and their 350-400 trusted software suppliers and integrators. These are the guys shipping, marketing and supporting phones.
- The post-load ecosystem (aka 3rd parties) is made up of software developers who can download the source code, SDK or get a developer-edition phone without signing any NDAs (and usually) not paying any access fees.
The Android pre-load ecosystem is closed (as per my 8 control points), while the post-load ecosystem (the 3rd party developers) is totally open – and indeed more open than any other operating system in the history of the mobile industry
Overall, I believe Andreas' analysis to be fair. I do not think Google is a great open source citizen. I never believed it. They give what they want to give, and keep what they want to keep. They are a corporation built on a very closed IP. They will use open source when is useful for them. Period.

For developers, Android being open source is marginal (what counts are APIs, even if the OS is closed). However, I was told by my engineers that they were able to build Android apps faster, because - whenever they had a problem understanding how the APIs were supposed to work (docs usually suck, it is a law of software) - they could look at the original code. That works only if your source code is public.

For OEMs, Android is evil. However, there is an area that I believe Andreas is not focusing on. Something both the OEMs and the carriers are doing: leave the OS alone, build applications on top that interact with the cloud (but NOT the Google cloud).

This is the most interesting area today on a mobile phone. Anything below the surface is boring and does not add any differentiation. The Home Screen is king. Services tight to the cloud are the queen.

MOTOBLUR is a good example. Android is left untouched, everything look the same (including the Market). But the Home Screen is different. It is connected to the cloud. It delivers social networks updates. It presents a social address book.

We are seeing more and more device manufacturer approaching us to add Funambol as an additional sync engine on Android. One that works in parallel with the existing Google Sync engine. However, instead of delivering your address book and pictures to the Google servers, it syncs them to the Funambol server, inside the carrier network. It is "Android without Google".

It is the power of an open OS, although it could be done with a closed one too: HTC was able to do it on Windows Mobile, although it seems Microsoft won't allow any changes to Windows Mobile 7 (are they really sure Apple is the model to follow?).

Android being open guarantees it will be always possible. If you consider how you differentiate on a mobile device as an OEM or a carrier, having the ability to take over the Home Screen and the cloud services attached to it is HUGE.

Google has created Android to maximize their cloud services and ad revenues. However, they have left the door open to strip out just the cloud services part... Definitely not evil.