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.

Friday, April 16, 2010

What is Apple thinking with iAds?

Of all the things Steve Jobs talked about during his announcement of iPhone 4.0 OS, only one deserved his full enthusiasm: iAds. Those who have seen this live will tell you that his energy levels were at level high only when he talked about ads (here is the video).

Why is iAds significant?

The first easy answer is: it is Apple's answer to Google, they hate them now, Google stole AdMob from them, and they declared war on the #1 revenue stream Google has (and the only one: keep in mind how diversified Apple's portfolio is compared to Google).

Sure, that is key, but I believe there is more. To understand this, you must see the presentation and the ads they showed. Check this video. Again, do not read anything else in this post without watching the video.

Jobs says: "the same as a television show", but better because we are adding interactivity on top of the emotions.

When I looked at mobile ads as a business model for Funambol, my first instinct was to consider mobile an extension of the Internet.

On the Internet, you have transactional advertising, where the goal is to have you buy something. It is the business Google is built on. Click on an ugly banner or even text link, jump to a page and do something. The ad is a teaser to get you someplace else, a place you were looking for (you searched for it). Forget where you were. It is the same model used in newspapers (call this number for a super discount on a trip to Hawaii, and drop your newspaper). No wonder newspapers are dying and all that money is flowing to online advertising (note: TV is not dying).

Most people thought mobile will be the Internet on steroids. Not only you could jump somewhere, but you could also be physically close to that store. Because you are mobile.

If you look at TV, the model is different. It is branding, not transactional. They want you to remember their brand, not to leave your couch. TV ads are all about emotions. Videos, stories. They work wonders, although they are hard to quantify (but, once again, they work, look at the number of Droid sold by Verizon because of the campaign they built: no surprise it is the most used Android phone). Branding works the same on billboards and magazines.

Now, let's go back to mobile. When I asked Ujjal, one of my advisors, about mobile ads he told me: "I know everyone is convinced mobile ads are going to be transactional, but I think it will be branding instead". He told me the mobile device was not a good medium to do things (like buying stuff) because of the size, and location where you would be looking at the ad (in a parking lot). Yes, you might buy a book on a mobile phone (or a wallpaper, or another mobile app) but it stops there. You won't buy a mortgage in your parking lot, and that's where a lot of transactional advertising comes from...

Now I believe Ujjal is right. And I believe iAds is the start of the explosion of mobile advertising. I think transactional mobile ads will be linked only to Maps (and Google has a big lead there, so I am not saying they will be dead, at all). But in apps, it will be all branding.

What is iAds? Branding, with interactivity. "The same as a television show". But better.

Will the barber shop down the road have this ads? No way. It is the traditional brands, those that use the vast majority of their budget on TV ads. Where the real money is.

It is the TV money coming to mobile. Something that will generate a lot of revenues for developers, if the ads are properly targeted (and, believe me, they will: Apple will make sure they will). Something that will lock developers even more on the iPhone/iPad platforms. Why moving to Android when the billions of ads are flowing to the Apple platforms and you can make a ton of money? If money is made with Maps in Android, what is in store for developers? Nada, it is all dollars for Google, not for developers.

If the iPad is the future of computing (in the home, at least), and the Internet becomes a subset of the Mobile Internet, iAds could become the dominant force of advertising. Add interactive TV and it is game over.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

When Apple became Microsoft

I have been following the debate around section 3.3.1 of the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement. With the release of iPhone OS 4 SDK, Apple added one little paragraph that says:

Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited

One little sentence that kills any cross-platform development in mobile, and not just that, because the iPad is a home device. It is clearly aimed at Adobe and at the possibility of building Flash applications that would run on multiple devices (e.g. the Flash-to-iPhone compiler). As a byproduct, this might mean the kiss-of-death for companies like Appcelerator, although I really hope not because they are a cool team. Our about-to-be-released Mobile 2.0 Framework, instead, will definitely be ok (which is nice to hear).

It is interesting to look at the situation between Apple and Adobe. In my opinion, Adobe would not exist without Apple, because their initial traction was all on Macs (starting with Photoshop). And initial traction is everything. Then they decided to drop Apple and make Windows their main target platform (how to blame them?), pissing off Steve Jobs for good. This seems payback time. But I do not buy the argument that Steve Jobs is just a crazy maniac on a vengeance. There is way more to this story than personalities.

Let's go back to the desktop world: Apple had a superior platform but Microsoft took off faster: they had a better model, for that market, where being vertically integrated meant being different, and a niche... All developers built apps for Windows because they had a larger market share, leaving crumbles for the Mac (it happened with Adobe too...). With crumbles, I mean they built first on Windows with Microsoft tools, then - with the few remaining employees - they built also on Mac. They had 90% of their developers on Windows, 10% on the Mac (since the tools to develop were so different, you had to have a separate team with separate skills). The result: sub-par apps on the Mac, bringing even less consumers to adopt it.

Now, let's take a look at this new world of mobile (which, again, includes pads and it is likely to take over the desktop, excluding maybe inside the enterprise).

Who has the lead here? Apple, by a large margin.

What are developers doing now? Building iPhone/iPad apps first. Their teams are 90% iPhone, 10% Android (some have not even started any Android development).

How does Apple become Microsoft in mobile? Simple, just making sure this does not change. That developers build first iPhone apps, then they look at other platforms. Keep in mind that Objective-C (the language to build apps on iPhone) is way different than Java (the language to build apps on Android). You need a complete separate team to build for Android. You cannot move resources from one to another easily. There is an implicit barrier to entry and a very large cost, which pays off only if there is a large market to target (which is not there on Android, yet).

The only way around this? Cross-compiling platforms, which would allow developers to build one app and run it on both iPhone and Android. One developer team. One skill (Flash, for example).

That is what Apple just killed.

Now you can't do it. You need two teams. You will have to build first for iPhone/iPad (with Apple tools, which will make the apps better), then you can look at the other platforms. With the remaining developers you might not even have.

If this works as Apple hopes, the result will be better apps for iPhone/iPad, less apps and with lower quality for any other platform, which eventually will mean more consumers on iPhone/iPad and less on anything else. I have seen this before.

Apple is the Microsoft of mobile. And they are not going to let go that easy.

The solution, once again, is the web. What broke that Microsoft/Apple/Linux/Unix development tools craziness were web tools. The only way out of this are HTML, Javascript, CSS. Ajax is the solution. HTML5 eventually will win. But only if you can map it on native apps. Stay tuned, this is exactly what is going to happen.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Apple opens up: Open Source at work

It has been an interesting five days for Apple, and myself. It developed in three parts.

Part I
I received my iPad on Saturday. I followed the package from China (back) to Silicon Valley on the UPS site, daily. On Friday, I thought it would not make it on time. On Saturday, I kept looking out of the window to see the UPS truck. It arrived at midday. I opened it up, downloaded the Funambol app and synced all my contacts. It worked flawlessly. A big smile on my face.

I played with the device for days, brought it on a plane, used it on the couch, the bed, out in full sunlight. My conclusion is the same of when I first heard about it: it is a home desktop replacement. Something that makes total sense inside your home. The future of computing for the non-geeks, the other 99% of the population.

It is phenomenal for entertainment. Videos are great: I both rented a movie and "found" one divx movie online, converted and synced. Photos look awesome. I bought a book and it is nice to read in bed, without turning on the light (my wife appreciates it). It is the ultimate gaming machine: we downloaded WeRule and my daughter is still harvesting crops, every morning. I read the NYT after breakfast and I do not miss the paper a bit (heck, I finish reading and my fingers are not black from ink, that should count).

It is ok for everything else. Typing is ok, but I missed my keyboard badly. It is fine to write a short sentence on an iPhone, but with that large thing in your hands, you wish you could write longer emails (and the email app is so-so). The address book up is uninspiring (while the calendar is very nice).

It is bad for off-line use (even if you have 3G). All apps sort of sync but not enough. On the plane, you can see only the last 50 emails (you can push it to 200), and that is the time I use to catch up with my Inbox. Most apps are unusable without a connection. It is bad in sunlight: you simply can't read it. And I found myself wiping off finger prints three times a day.

Again, my conclusion is that it is phenomenal in the house. Best for entertainment. Enough for most non-geek users as their main connected "computer". Not really well suited for power users to be their main device. Not meant to be mainly carried around, although I would do it anyway because it is good enough.

Overall, the iPad is a platform with enormous potential, and definitely the future of home computing. It is going to have a large market, moving from niche to niche.

Part II
Now, here you have the second part of the week: I got depressed... We could not develop anything on it. We have a contacts app, which is kinda useless standalone. We could not have access to the calendar, because it was not in the API. Or the pictures. Apple blocked access to everything that matters to Funambol.

I had the future of computing in my hands and I could not develop anything useful on it.

For months, we had an internal debate: we should implement ActiveSync, pay Microsoft royalties and ask the user to create a fake Exchange account to sync contacts and calendar; we should implement CalDAV and ask the user to download our app for contacts, then guide him/her to set up a completely separate CalDAV account. We debated and the conclusion was always the same: it does not make any sense. The user will get confused. It is so much work for such a crappy experience. We are not developing software for geeks, we are doing it for the other 99%.

I told everyone that Apple will eventually get it. That they will open their APIs. That they will feel the pressure of open source, from Android, to Symbian, to Meego.

Honestly, I was not believing it myself anymore. I got even more depressed.

Part III
Yesterday, the unthinkable happened. Apple announced the iPhone 4.0 OS. Christmas came for Easter. Santa brought APIs for calendar and pictures. Apple gave us access to everything we needed.

Problem solved (the community has already developed a calendar sync app, it just works only on jailbroken devices), life is good. We can build the transparent cloud syncing service for the masses, including all those iPhone, iPod, iPad users.

How happy does it make me? Very. I got lucky. Again. Someone somewhere seems to be cheering for me.

Or maybe, it is just the power of open source at work. It has happened before, it is happening now. You get three open source products competing with you, and they force you to change. Apple could not alienate developers any longer (I was alienated, my team was alienated, we were all cheering for Android ;-) Just when I felt they were about to lose us for good, they got us back. It is not an open source platform (yet), but it is open enough. Let's build on it.

Another wall has crashed down. Go open source, let's keep doing it until there are no walls (hint: the next big one is open cloud).

Friday, April 02, 2010

Simplicity is the simple answer

You hear a lot about the iPad these days. I am getting mine tomorrow and I will bring it on the road with me, so I will know more soon.

For now, let me comment on one simple thing: simplicity.

Apple is a master at making things simple. I know if you are a geek you do not like it. You like complexity. Sense of power. Ability to be root. Emacs is a dream, with its easy-to-guess Control-x Control-c command to exit the application.

But if you are like the rest of them (I am a geek), they don't. I know, I know, the usual example of my mother is boring. But she is using a computer today and she is scared of it. And if you married a geek, good for you (I did, but she is not into computers). Most of them did not marry a geek. And their spouse do not like computers. Our kids look at technology and devices as tools. They do not need to go deep, they just want them to work (until they grow up and become geeks too).

Geeks do not get simplicity. But the vast majority of users just do.

Let me give you an example. Instructions on the Google site on how to add a Gmail shortcut on the homepage of your smartphone.
On Android devices:
1. In the browser, go to Gmail (be sure you've signed in)
2. Press your device's < Menu > button
3. Select More
4. Select Bookmark page and select OK
5. Press your device's < Home > button, then press the < Menu > button
6. Select Add > Shortcut > Bookmark
7. Find 'Gmail' and select it
8. A new Gmail icon appears on your home screen

On iPhone devices:
1. In Safari, go to Gmail (be sure you've signed in)
2. Tap the + at the bottom of the screen
3. Select Add to Home Screen
4. Tap Add to confirm
5. A new Gmail icon appears on your home screen
Can you notice a difference? I do. And it is for Gmail - a Google product - on Android - a Google product.

Why will people like the iPad? It is simple.