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.