Wednesday, December 05, 2012

It is confirmed: Microsoft sucks less

I spent the last two days in Redmond, invited by Microsoft (hey, they seems to be interested in Social TV, that is a good sign...).

As you probably know, I have never been a fan of Microsoft. In the early days of Funambol, they were the enemy. It was us and them. Open Source against the Evil Monopoly...

It was easy.

I even remember a Microsoft conference I was invited to attend in San Francisco, just the day after they announced that Linux was infringing on 325 of their patents. I showed up with a box full of t-shirts with a huge "325 more reasons to love open source". It was a big success :-) and I am told a lot of the Microsoft open source guys still have one of my t-shirts...

Microsoft was evil, the monopoly, invincible. They were about to do on mobile what they did on every other market. We needed to stop them.

I am not sure if I actually did anything, but they did not make it in mobile. Open Source won. They now look like the underdog. Which is amazing...

Now, I always love the underdog. With Apple looking more evil than ever, Facebook being a close second and Google a question mark, Microsoft has started to look a lot better.

Before leaving for Redmond, I bumped into the following video.

I know, it is hard to believe it is a Microsoft video. But it is. They really say "IE sucks less". That's their marketing slogan.

I believe it is brilliant. I am now considering installing IE 10 on my desktop PC. I swear.

Then I came here and they showed me a bunch of new stuff. They talked about Windows 8, Typescript (which is a very cool open source project), their plans around device management (wow) and a lot more. I played with the Surface with its weird keyboards, which surprisingly work pretty well.

All of a sudden, I realized that Microsoft is a company which is innovating. For real.

Think about Kinect. I am not sure there has been anything comparable lately, when it comes to innovations touching the consumers (Google and the cars that drive themselves are probably better, but the technology is just a prototype, and I am always scared when I pass one of them on the highway...).

Think about Windows 8. You really need balls to merge the desktop and tablet paradigm. I am not convinced it is going to work, but they are not afraid to try. For a giant, it is a huge gamble. It is amazing just to see them making this move.

Of course, they have plenty of issues, all over the place. For example, Windows Phone is completely separate from Windows 8, although they look similar. If you are a developer in the second screen space, you think mobile+tablet, as in the Apple world. At Microsoft, they live in two different domains, and this spells trouble for developers (and end users). The two platforms will not be in sync, with updates which will come at different times... They did the ballsy move to merge desktop and tablet, but they should bring phone in as well, pushing politics aside.

There are more examples like this. However, they are minor.

If I look at the big picture, one thing is clear to me after two days in Redmond: it is actually true that Microsoft sucks less. And this is news, or as they say: Progress. Unexpected and amazing at the same time.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Why Steve Jobs was wrong on the iPad Mini

I have always been a big admirer of Steve Jobs and his work. For an open source guy, the love I have for Apple is hard to justify (they are the most closed company in the world). I just like their stuff and I have felt Steve Jobs was rarely wrong (in particular, when he said that the cloud was the future of device synchronization ;-)

On the iPad Mini, however, I believe Steve Jobs got it wrong.

Of the smaller tablets, he famously said "This size isn't sufficient to create great tablet apps" and "The seven-inch tablets are tweeners, too big to compete with a smartphone and too small to compete with an iPad."

I have used an iPad Mini for 24 hours now.

The apps look exactly the same as they are on my large iPad. There is very minimal tradeoff here. The size of the Mini is perfectly sufficient to create great tablet apps. WRONG #1

I agree it is way too big to compete with my smartphone or camera (people who go around taking pictures with iPads are nuts), but it is definitely a huge competitor to the iPad3. Huge.

Look, the tradeoff is minimal. Mostly, it is the keyboard. However, if you keep it vertical, you can type with your thumbs, BlackBerry-style (formerly Gangnam-style, but now just depressing). I have not found a better way to type than with my thumbs. Even when I use all my fingers on the iPad3, I make mistakes. With my thumbs, I might be slower (might) but I am definitely more accurate. I will always be slower than typing on my laptop, but that is a given. I will never write long emails with a tablet. Period.

If the tradeoff is the keyboard and the Mini makes it even better in vertical, then what else is left?

Size and weight are a huge advantage of the Mini, for people who carry both a laptop and an iPad (again, those who go around with just a tablet are also nuts, the tradeoff between laptop and tablet is still gigantic).

Yeah yeah, I hear you: "it does not have a retina display! My eyes will pop out!!". No, they won't. Sorry, you have spent too much time in Silicon Valley. The retina display is something that only the 0.1% of the population (designers, artists) can really appreciate. The rest of us, we just pretend because it makes us look cool. You can live without a retina display, believe me. And if you wait nine months, you'll have your iPad Mini with the retina display, I guarantee it.

There you have it. I can't find a good reason to say that the Mini can't compete with the iPad3. The Mini is no tweener. It kicks his bigger brother. WRONG #2.

I believe the Mini will quickly outsell the iPad, as the iPod Mini did with the large iPod (remember?).

And where will your Mini live? Let me bet: in your living room, on your couch. The iPad Mini is THE device for Social TV. It is the perfect companion to your TV. It already looks like a big remote control, but 1,000 times smarter. It is the perfect trigger for the amazing growth of second screen apps, an unstoppable wave in 2013.

Now, if only Apple had the guts to price it below $300 ;-) They did not, and I clearly understand why: they know it will cannibalize the iPad3 and they did not want to do the same with the iPod Touch (which is still selling like crazy). Had they gone below $300, who would have bought an iPod Touch for its kids this Christmas? Nobody. However, now you are going to pony up $329 and buy them the Mini instead. Not bad. With time, the price will go down, because the premium Apple can demand will no longer be more than 50% like it is today (the Nexus 7 is $199). There will be a $249 iPad Mini one day, and more than one per household (hey, I wrote it a long time ago... There is a reason why the iPad has never been multi-user: they want one per person, not one per family).

Well, you can't be always right... I remember Steve Jobs saying that he would never open the iPhone to developers, because they would ruin the device. And than say the App Store is the best thing that they ever invented ;-) I am sure today he would say that the iPad Mini is more than 7". It is 7.9".

That 0.9 makes all the difference between a tweener and the best device ever conceived. Right?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My next big thing

I have been fortunate to spot the Internet at its infancy, when I started Internet Graffiti in 1994. I launched a web document management product in 1996, when the word Intranet was still unknown. I started Funambol ten years ago, when I felt mobile was going to be the next big thing. We built iCloud way before Steve Jobs said it was a good idea. I am a lucky man.

Sadly, you can't spot the next big thing by trying hard. It just hits you.

A year ago, I was hit. Again.

I was not looking for it. It just happened.

I am a huge sports fan. During the weekend, my schedule is CEO-style: soccer, baseball, football, Formula One, MotoGP. I like them all. I spend hours in front of the TV, always watching it alone (actually, my dog Roberto is a silent company, but he gets scared when I yell).

My dad is just like me, although his focus is squarely on soccer. My mom did not like it, but she surely loved my dad, and she would see every game with him. Just for the company.

A few years ago, I gave her an iPad. She loved it. When she passed away, my dad took it.

Thinking about the solitude of watching all those games alone, my brother told him: "Dad, when you watch soccer, turn the iPad on and open Skype. I'll call you, so we can watch the game together".

My brother is a genius. I found myself at home on my dad's couch, with my brother sitting next to me. Virtually. Screaming from the iPad at the referee. It was like having him there. It meant not being alone. That hit me.

Watching TV by yourself is pathetic, I admit it. TV was meant to be social. That's why we invite people over for a big game. Sharing is half of the fun (and even more).

I can't have people over every night (or I would be single, fast), but what if I could share the fun of the game with them, even if they are not physically where I am? I know they are watching the game. We talk about it the day after, always. I know their iPad is next to them.

The iPad mini is the perfect companion to your TV. It is the remote control of the future. At $329, Apple is going to sell a boatloads of them this Christmas.

88% of iPad owners use it in front of the TV. People in the US spend almost five hours a day watching TV (ouch ;-) It is still our favorite pastime, by far. All of a sudden, it is possible to talk with your friends, who are watching TV at the same time. It is called Social TV.

The TV advertising industry is huge, but they have no idea if you are actually watching their commercial, and they definitely cannot have you act on it (e.g. buy). Brand advertising is emotional advertising. It works with a 55" TV. But it does not work on the Internet. There, transactional advertising works. You can act on an ad. Buy.

Imagine how big the TV+Internet ad industry can be. Where you can show an emotional ad on TV and have the viewer act on it on the iPad. It is the Holy Grail of advertising.

There you have it. My next big thing is giving people back the fun of watching their favorite shows on TV together, even if they live far away. It works for sports, and for everything else you want to share (the Presidential debate, the Emmy awards, American Idol, you name it).

Hey, what about Funambol? Like I said two years ago, the company has being placed in good hands. It is growing so well: in the last six months, we have signed almost all the top carriers in the developed markets. In 2013, we'll have half a billion people with access to the Funambol technology (without a carrier in China or India, for now). I will stay involved with my baby indefinitely as Chairman of the Board and watch it thrive.

My next big thing is called

There is a new app for your iPad on the App Store. It is called TOK Baseball. It is the first voice enabled second screen TV companion app. It will allow you to watch the World Series with your friends, wherever they are (and GO GIANTS!!!).

You can TALK to them, not type (who wants to type after a home run? Not me, I am too busy screaming). If you are in the US, I would love for you to download it from the App Store and share your feedback with me. Actually, we can talk during the games, which would be even better.

For now, we have raised an angel round. If you think you can provide more than just cash, let me know, there is still a bit of room.

The app is just the first step. I would have called it a beta, but Apple does not allow me ;-) We built an MVP for baseball (Posey or Scutaro?), and we have a million features in mind. We are already working on TOK Football and we know the sky is the limit.

This is just the start of the TV revolution. It is called It is going to be big. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The last post

Yesterday, I was invited to give a talk at OSBC 2012, called "The Future of Mobile Open Source". The Open Source Business Conference has been the gathering for those involved in open source, and trying to make a living out of it. I have been there many times. Initially, it was a lot of fun, with all the startups innovating on the business model. Lately, well, things have matured a bit ;-)

Being forced to talk about the future of Mobile Open Source, I had to look back at what happened over the years I have been in this market. I realized it has been a phenomenal ride. From 2001, when Stefano started working on Sync4j (exactly when Luca Passani started working on WURFL, strange Italian connection...), to 2003 when we formed Funambol, to 2007 when the iPhone came out and Android went open source, to today.

Going back in time and assessing where we have come, made me realize one thing. The future of Mobile Open Source is actually today.

Look at this chart:

I do not know what else to say... It is a Pacman. Open source dominates in mobile, and I am ready to bet that it is just going to get better. The PC world will have an equivalent in the mobile world. Only reversed, where open source has more than 80% of market share.

Can you believe it? Open source dominates in mobile. Wow.

Look at this other one:

Chrome uses Webkit. Safari uses Webkit. Firefox is open source. If you consider that the growth is going to come from iOS (Webkit) and Android (Webkit), it is quick to conclude we are going to see another Pacman. Once again, with open source winning. Wow.

What is the only critique you hear about the mobile open source model today? I bet it is (drum roll...): FRAGMENTATION!!

I know, there are almost 4,000 Android devices out there, listed below.

That translates in a multitude of companies working on it. Fragmentation? Well, you can call it as you want. I call it open source being adopted by a bazillion of companies...

Now, how bad is this fragmentation, which can kill open source in mobile? Not too bad, actually. If you look at the current status of Android in the market, you see that over 90% of Android out there have Android 2.x... Fragmented? A bit. Devastating, I do not think so. You might not have checked the variations of JavaME or Symbian ;-) This is easy.

Lastly, let me quote Sean Moss-Pultz of OpenMoko fame: FRAGMENTATION IS INNOVATION.

Dont' you believe me? Consider for a second the Kindle Fire. It is a total fork of Android, made possible only because of open source. It took over 50% of market share in the Android tablet market, in a matter of months. Amazon is innovating on Android, faster than Google. The result will be some code from Amazon to come back to Android, making it even better and even faster in the market.

You call it fragmentation, I call it a better way to innovate.

After reviewing the state of Mobile Open Source, I concluded that the future is going to be just more of the present. More domination. We won, nobody is going to take it away from us.

What do you do when you are on top, you won and you realize the future is going to be like the present?

You quit :-)

Always better to leave where you are on top of your game.

Therefore, I have decided to close this blog. I opened it six years ago, because of a bet with Matt on Juve vs. Arsenal (he won). I am sure I would win that bet today, and it is just appropriate that I close this blog because Matt asked me to talk about the future. If you are interested, the slides of the talk are on Prezi and the presentation + audio is below.

That said, I am not disappearing. I am convinced I know what the next major disruption in our world will be, and I plan to share it with you as soon as I am ready. Stay tuned and thanks for watching!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The war on the personal cloud has started

I have been talking about (and doing) personal cloud for years now. Ten years ago I wrote the first line of code of what became Funambol (thankfully, now not including any line of code I wrote :-)

I have to admit it: I thought it would happen sooner. I was a tiny bit early ;-) Still, it is still a satisfaction to see it is actually happening.

Yesterday, Microsoft announced a bunch of new features of its personal cloud service, called SkyDrive (including a Mac and iOS app, which is cool). Strangely missing an Android app...

Today, Google announced Google Drive, strangely missing the iOS app...

Both look like great products, although way too vertical (Google is going to be mainly Android, and Microsoft will try as hard as they can to make it Windows Phone perfect) but still better than iCloud, which is the closest thing on planet earth.

However you look at it, today marks the start of the personal cloud war.

I am expecting Amazon to jump on it fully, because their Amazon Cloud Drive right now is just a mockup of what a good product it could be. Actually, I am surprised they will end up late to the party, when they started so early. I believe it is going to be a four horses race, eventually.

Honestly, it does not look good for Dropbox. They just do not have the weapons to fight in a war of this size. The price of storage is going down, and they have no business model or major feature advantage that can sustain their growth. Even worst for SugarSync.

Right now, I am so glad that we positioned Funambol not in the B2C space... I believe the opportunity for mobile operators and the other device manufacturers to fight this battle is still there. They have the size and the reach to consumers (and most importantly, the billing relationship) to make it. In particular, in countries where there are no credit cards and the OTT players are not that strong.

Especially when you look at cross-device synchronization, because I do not see Google or Microsoft or Apple to really do a good job there. And cross-device in a family means everything, in particular if you start adding a lot of other devices, like TVs, DVRs, game consoles, stereos, scales and so on.

The carriers, and those in particular providing a multi-screen service (Phone+Internet+TV) have a great advantage when you look at the family cloud. That is the next battle.

Long live to the personal cloud. We are living exciting times.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Why onboarding should be priority #1

If you do not live in mobile, you probably have never heard about the word "onboarding". Too bad, because it is the most important word in this space today.

When the mobile revolution started, phones did not store any meaningful user data. Yes, there was the address book, and it was a pain to move it around (for example, to your new phone), but the suffering was minimal.

Nowadays, your phone contains your entire life. Not just your friends, the pictures of your kids, the video of your graduation and much more. Losing a phone is a horrible pain, so many people do backups, or use a personal cloud solution (such as iCloud, or SkyDrive, or really soon Google Drive) to store their stuff somewhere secure.

That does not solve one little problem, actually it makes it worst: it locks you onto one platform. If you are an iPhone user and you start using iCloud, you are stuck for life. You cannot change device. The same for Google with Android, and soon for Microsoft with Windows Phone and SkyDrive.

Onboarding is the process of moving your data into a new device, just after you buy it.

It is simple if you buy an iPhone after an iPhone. However, if you have an iPhone and you want to move to Android, good luck. What about having a BlackBerry and moving to something else? Or a Symbian phone? Exactly.

If you are a device manufacturer, and you want to expand your market today, you need to steal a user from someone else. It is not a green field anymore. You need to take a user from a dumbphone, or another smartphone. You need to make it super duper easy to move its data. Or you are dead.

It is not just address book, video and pictures. It is everything. It is apps, for example. If I have 75 apps on my Android, how do I know if I will find them in the other device? Am I going to lose all of them? If you leave a user with a doubt, you are not going to convince her to move. Period. We have too much data in our phones now. The pain of switching is too big.

Funny enough, onboarding is a very tough problem to solve for a device manufacturer. Think about it: you need to build apps for different operating systems, own by your competition. Put them on their App Stores... It is a task nobody is assigned to, in a device manufacturer. Nobody owns this. And it is the most important thing you should be looking at, to get market share. Forget the color of your device and the megapixels of your camera, nobody will buy your phone if you cannot move their data.

Of course, I should add a disclaimer: I have been working on onboarding for a long time. The company I founded (Funambol) is the only one I know that allows data to move from a Blackberry to an iPhone, to an Android, to a Symbian, to a Windows Mobile, ... and back ;-)

That said, despite my clear bias, I still believe onboarding should be the most important task on a device manufacturer list. One that is always overlooked, left at the end of the process, just in time for that "oohhh crap, nobody is buying our phone because we are not giving them a way to move their data".

Interesting how fast this market moves. In the span of a few years, this item moved from priority #100 to #1. Trust me. This is where it belongs. There is no market for a phone that does not allow you to move your data. None.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Europe lost the mobile race. For good

When I moved to Silicon Valley in 1999, one thing really hit me: my grandma in Italy had a cellphone then, and in my soon-to-IPO tech startup only few people had one. I mean, in the heart of Silicon Valley, at Tibco, going IPO that year... I was puzzled, my grandma (she is over 90 years old now) was ahead of the geeks here.

At that time, the gap between Europe and US on mobile was huge. Europe had the fastest networks, the best phones (remember Nokia), the software developers (crying over JavaME differences), the ecosystem... Everything.

Here, we had nothing.

A few years later, I started pitching a concept of a mobile synchronization play to investors in the Valley. It was 2002 (Funambol is about to pass the 10th year mark, wow ;-) and there was no mobile signal whatsoever at 3000 Sand Hill, the heart of the VC world. For years, the mobile signal over there sucked.

For years, there were no mobile companies here. And the networks were so bad that I could drive from San Francisco to San Jose and have the connection drop five times (and I knew the spots where it was going to happen, so I could tell the european guy at the other end of the phone that I was about to drive into a tunnel...).

First, the mobile companies started showing up. I was one of the early people to say Silicon Valley will jump on the mobile bandwagon, that this valley would not miss the biggest change in our lives. Many in Europe thought I was dumb to try to do a mobile company here. They told me to move to Finland instead (too bad I like the weather here better ;-)

Then the mobile OS war started. Palm first. Then Apple with iOS. Then Google with Android. Then Microsoft moved their mobile team here. In a few years, the mobile world moved here. On mobile operating systems, iOS and Android alone command over 90% of the market. Easy. Bye bye Europe, with Symbian and all the other stuff.

Still, Europe had the better networks. UMTS, HDSPA, the 3.5G: just ahead of the US by a mile.

It all changed when I went to MWC in February. Before leaving, my friend Hal (our VP Marketing at Funambol) showed me his new Android phone. It had LTE. I did a SpeedTest and my jaw dropped. This thing is faster than my DSL at home. By a lot. It seems like something coming from the future.

Then at MWC, I heard the CEO of Telecom Italia say: "we have started an LTE trial in Turin".

Hey, what do you mean "An LTE trial"? Trial? But it is live in pretty much the entire US! And it works, I saw it with my eyes, from a guy who is not even a geek!

When a week ago Apple announced the new iPad, with LTE, I just had a flashback. Hal is like my grandma (sorry buddy ;-) and my geek friends now live in Pavia, Italy. They have no idea what LTE is and how fast it is. If Apple has LTE on its flagship device, it is mainstream, not a trial.

Mainstream is the US now. Europe just lost the mobile race. For good.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The return of the stylus

Among the somewhat interesting things I saw at CES, the Samsung Note topped the list.

Mostly, because Samsung made a big deal out of it: they hired graphic artists to sketch your face on the device and that created a long line of people (there is nothing people like more then themselves: smart move, Samsung...).

What is the Samsung Note? A huge phone or a small tablet, depending on how you look at it. It is 5.8 by 3.3 inches (if you are not American, don't worry, it means it is huge). It fits in your pocket, if you are ok with going around with a brick in your pants. You can also use it to make calls, unless you are worried that people will look at you holding an iron board.

You know what I think about super-sized phones (a.k.a. versatile bricks), and I have the same feeling about the Note. It is just too big.

However, the new (?!?) thing about the Note is that it sports a stylus pen. Yes, exactly like the one we had in the old Palm Pilots. The one we hated. The one we lost so many times, we all bought five replacement pens. It stays inside the device, you push it and it comes out. You can write or sketch on the device (there is a Note app), while you use the finger for anything else.

I had lunch with a friend a few days ago and he had one of these monsters. I sketched a face (not mine) and the experience was quite good. Still, the thing is too big, sorry. It will be a device only for a niche.

However, it made me think about the stylus. It was gone when the BlackBerry introduced the mini-keyboard and even more when the iPhone introduced multi-touch.

Do I ever miss it?

Yes, I did. I clearly remember one day when I went looking online for a pen. For my iPad. I could not find one that would actually work and I gave up.

Why was I looking for a pen?

To sketch ;-) And take notes while in meeting. Typing on an iPad in a meeting is just too much and the social experience is still bad: better than taking notes on a laptop, with the screen creating a visual barrier, but still bad because you must look at your fingers while others are talking. We are so good at writing, that we do not need to look at it. We write and we look at the person in front of us, or we alternate. It is socially acceptable.

The same for taking notes in school. Try doing it with your fingers. It is too hard. Personally, I believe tablet will totally eliminate sketchpads eventually. Now, it is not possible. With a pen, it could.

Somehow, the idea of a stylus for a tablet makes sense to me. And not only me: I heard rumors that Samsung is about to launch a Note 10.1, a tablet with a pen. It is something that would make it different than any other tablet out there. On a phone, I say no. On a tablet, oh yes.

More, let me predict one thing about the new iPad 3: you will be able to write on it with a pen. A magic pen, sold as an accessory. Probably nicely fitting in your cover.

This is the return of the stylus.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Is 2012 the year of Nokia?

I am on the plane back to the Bay Area from CES. Las Vegas is always a cool place, even if you have a lingering jet-lag. Actually, in that case you might be able to experience the beautiful dawn in the desert while sober, which is not common in Sin City. I definitely recommend it.

CES was packed with people, but lacked exciting stuff, in my opinion. I traveled the show extensively and I can't say many booths impressed me because of new gadgets. I actually felt sad in the empty BlackBerry booth, looking at a new tablet OS whose top feature is email (really? It sounds like a joke ;-) Even TVs looked like TVs, just oversize and slim.

The only place where I saw something exciting is the Nokia booth (yep, they had a booth this year, pretty big and quite crowded). The Lumia 900 was in big display. It is the Windows Phone device coming out with AT&T.

In particular, what caught my eye was the blue model.

 There is a reason for it: it looks exactly the same as the Nokia N9 I received as a gift from a friend, who works at Nokia (I guess they did not know where to throw them :-) The N9 is the last model with MeeGo on it, a defunct OS (or maybe still alive, but barely breathing). As soon as I took the device out of the box, my wife asked to look at it. As soon as she had it in her hands, she asked me if she could keep it. I tried to say no, but I had no chance. She fell in love with it, at first sight, as rarely happens. She is now the official owner of a Nokia N9, with an OS she does not care about. It is blue, it is gorgeous, she loves it. It is all about the hardware. One last important bit: she trashed her iPhone to have it.

I know the sample of one is meaningless, but she is my wife so she must have good taste...

Jokes apart, the Lumia 900 is a big deal. The hardware looks different. The shape is cool, and it feels great in the hands. It is simply sexy. Even without turning it on.

Once it is on, Windows Phone shows up. It is a eye-catching OS. Nobody is taking it seriously, but with a sexy hardware and a massive marketing campaign (just wait, combine Microsoft and Nokia budgets, both at the last chance to make it in mobile...), I think it has a big chance.

Honestly, I believe there is a concrete possibility this device will finally spark adoption of Windows Phone.

That would be exciting. I do not like monopolies, and duopolies are not that much better (it is what Apple and Google are doing these days, with the variation that Amazon is creating a lot of trouble for Google). With Windows Phone in the middle, the competition will be even better.

I personally thought Nokia was done for good (same for RIM, but I have not changed my mind on that...). Instead, I am now convinced they have a winner in their hands, despite the crappy name (said the guy who came up with the name Funambol...). They have the big carrier behind them, which is not going to push the iPhone anymore (and has no reason to push Android much). That will help tremendously. If they execute the plan well, at the end of the year we could be looking at 2012 and realize it was the year of Nokia.

In any case, welcome back old friend.