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.