Goodbye GitHub: MCE Controller now on CodePlex

I love git. I love GitHub. But GitHub doesn’t seem to appreciate open source projects that require hosting more than source code.

MCE Controller is an open source Windows app intended to be used by non-developers. This means it has an installer, online documentation, and requires a discussion forum for support for end users.

GitHub never really provided great support for this kind of project. For example, there is no forum/discussion feature (although some claim you can use their bug/issue tracker for this). GitHub used to support the ability to host downloadable files such as installers, but a few weeks ago they removed that support.

So MCE Controller has been moved to CodePlex which has nice support for all these things.

In the process I’ve created an updated release, Version 1.8.1, that includes links to the new resources as well as a few bug fixes.

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

MCE Controller 1.7 Released – Now Supports RS-232

Serial Server TabBy popular demand (shocking, I know), MCE Controller now supports RS-232 in addition to TCP/IP connections. This means that you can now control any Windows PC via the serial port.

MCE Controller is an open source application I built for my home control system. It makes it easy to integrate Windows PCs with other devices and control systems. Any device that can send strings over TCP/IP or (now!) a serial port can now send commands to a PC running MCE Controller.

For example, sending ‘up’ causes the equivalent of an up-arrow keystroke. Or sending ‘screensaver’ causes the Windows screen saver to kick in on the target PC.

You can simulate mouse, keyboard, and Media Center remote control input. You can start applications, change windows’ z-orders, and even invoke Windows system functions (e.g. shutdown, standby or hibernate). MCE Controller is extensible as well, allowing you to define your own commands.

Enjoy!

MCE Controller Links:

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

Be as Excellent at Saying No as Saying Yes

248264_757341629179_1871075467_nWhile in Amman Jordan last month, I had the opportunity to speak at Amman Tech Tuesdays, a local startup event held every month there. I was asked to talk about what I’ve learned in my career to an audience of about 500 geeks and entrepreneurs.

I decided to talk about focus, a topic dear to my heart. The title of the talk is “Be as Excellent at Saying No as Saying Yes”. 

Below the video of my talk captured by TechSparks. It is just over 6 minutes long.

 

I’m currently writing a longish post on what I learned in Jordan. Be looking for it.

Related posts on focus and decision making:

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

Four Things I Learned in Jordan

The Treasury At Petra

I wrote a guest post for the Huffington Post on Dec 7, 2012. You can read the full post here, but here’s the TL;DR:

  • If the Middle East can stay relatively stable for just 10-15 more years, entrepreneurship will have a major long-term positive impact on the social-economic future of the region.
  • As the Middle East grows as a source of commerce and technology for the rest of the world, Arab women entrepreneurs will be the region’s most powerful and differentiated asset.
  • I previously did not understand what “Arabia” meant. I, like most Westerners, thought the Arab world was defined by a combination of geography and religion. I now understand how important the Arabic language is to what it means to be an Arab.
  • There is very little adoption of electronic payment systems in Jordan and other Middle Eastern countries. Changing the structural and cultural barriers to using electronic payments will cause more economic growth in the region than any other factor.
© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

Apps are Dead. Long Live Experiences. Powered by Buddy.

Dinner

I like to get people’s attention by asserting “apps are dead”. I do this because it causes people to pause and think about what “apps” really are. After Apple started the app explosion in 2008 most apps were primarily client-side code. Today, however, it is almost impossible to find an app that does not rely on at least some Internet based service. In fact the apps most people use most of the time are almost all server-side code. The client-side code is there to project the experience on to one of many devices the user may have.

I also believe “apps are dead” because the end-user value proposition is no longer based on some piece of code a user buys in an app store on their device, but an entire experience they choose to use that spans all of their devices.  These experiences are powered by Internet (aka cloud) services. Examples of what I mean by experiences are Pandora, Kindle, Xbox LIVE, Netflix, Facebook, Gmail, and even The Walking Dead. All of these “apps” are available on all my devices and are curated over time.

Experiences are the new app.

Building great experiences requires the brand that is building them to be excellent at some core competency. For example, the people at American Idol need to be excellent at producing TV shows, identifying artists, managing Steven Tyler, and other things related to the entertainment industry. But to extend their experience beyond the TV (which they do) they also need to deliver excellent client-side code for a myriad of devices that connects to stable, secure, and scalable, Internet scale services.

In talking with brands and developers building these types of experiences three things are clear:

  1. They want to focus on their core competencies.
  2. Dealing with cross-platform mobile client development is their biggest challenge.
  3. Building Internet scale services is their second biggest challenge.

I’ve written extensively on why I think solutions like Xamarin’s can really help ease the pain of cross-platform mobile development (and why I think HTML5 and WORA is a fallacy).

This post is focused on the third problem: The challenge of building Internet scale services.

In the past two years this trend away from “apps” has led to a bunch of new products intended to make it easier for brands, agencies, and developers to build  experiences. These new products range from Amazon’s AWS which provides what people call IaaS, or Infrastructure as a Service, to Heroku, which provides PaaS, or Platform as a Service. I see a place for all of these offerings (although there’s going to be some serious consolidation in the next few years given the number of these offerings that exist today).

The existing IaaS and PaaS offerings all make it easier for you, as a brand or developer, to write code that runs on the server.

I’m a huge fan of the newest type of “aaS” product, that is designed to enable you to power your experiences by not having to write ANY code on the server. These products are known as “BaaS” or Backend as a Service offerings. I’m a huge fan because my experience building the Windows Phone application platform, and engaging with all of the brands, publishers, and developers building apps made me realize the pain.

BaaS solutions are pain killers for brands and publishers and “It’s far easier to sell a pain killer than a vitamin.”

This is why I am an advisor and investor in one of the leading BaaS providers:  The Buddy Platformclip_image002

Most BaaS providers provide low-level constructs in their service. I found the diagram below that illustrates the low-level kind of thinking these providers embody:

The Buddy Platform is unique amongst the BaaS providers in two primary ways:

  1. Buddy provides a set of scenario based APIs.  Instead of just providing low-level primitives like collections and entities, Buddy also provides high-level constructs focused on the scenarios most mobile experiences need. 
  2. The scenario based approach enables Buddy to track API usage with high “semantic knowledge”. This enables Buddy to provide amazingly powerful real-time analytic information about the experience, and the users who use the experience.

Buddy’s APIs are built around the scenarios in this poster: 

BuddyVerse

To illustrate the concept of “scenario-based” consider Pictures.  Instead of just providing a blob store with search and indexing, which is what other BaaS providers do, Buddy provides high-level constructs for photo albums and image filters. With Buddy, it is a trivial exercise to build an Instagram clone.

Another example is the Game API which, instead of just providing the developer with raw table/collections APIs, provides facilities for tracking players and scores. It includes player ranking semantics, boards, and supports tracking in-game state on a per-user basis.

DiagramBrands building experiences today are clueless about how and where users are using their apps. They would love to know how many mobile users are using the app in a coffee shop versus a bar, for example. They are hungry for the data, but building the back-end systems that collect it and synthesize it is out of their reach. Buddy’s scenario-based approach provides deep analytic information about a brand’s customers.

The Buddy Platform provides a complete back-end-as-a-service without writing a single line of server side code. Publishers get Internet scale performance and scalability without having to buy any servers. The scenario based APIs allow the service to provide the incredibly valuable analytic data that would require an entire team to build.

Today, Buddy launched a new component of the Buddy Platform: Commerce as a Service.

Everyone and their brother is trying to build in-app commerce solutions. In particular, doing in-app commerce in Facebook apps and games is huge right now (and a pain in the butt). Buddy’s new “Commerce as a Service” solution makes it ridiculously easy to build a Facebook app or game that supports purchasing things within the experience.

Publishers can now manage inventory outside of the app, and generate rich user insight via a robust analytics platform cross-referenced with purchase history. Using the Buddy Developer Portal the publisher manages a database of goods listings with prices and item metadata. “Store APIs” are provided to pull store inventory in real-time. These new APIs combine with the other Buddy APIs to optimize inventory, offer targeted promotions and cross reference purchase history against other information such as user demographics, social engagement, geo-location and other in-app activities.

imageAn end-to-end user experience is a cohesive combination of devices, people, brands, channels, services, and content that improves over time.

For years people (BigCos, startups, investors, and users) have viewed the “app” as the center of the universe. And in the heyday of the Apple App Store this made sense.  But the proliferation of mobile platforms and the desire of brands to reach the largest number of customers means that, now days, this is flawed thinking. The new centerpiece of the consumer computing value proposition is the end-to-end user experience, and that user experience must be available on multiple platforms and is powered by cloud services.

IaaS, SaaS, and BaaS providers hold a unique, valuable, position in the industry right now. I’ve been extremely impressed with the Buddy team and their ability to build what I think is a unique pain killer for publishers and brands. They are on a roll with landing Nokia and regularly improving their offering with things like the new Commerce as a Service API.

Related posts:

What are your thoughts? Comment below.

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

A Year of WP Engine

It has been almost a year since I gave up trying to be frugal about hosting my blog and handed over hosting to WP Engine. I’ve been completely satisfied with the service since then.

Forever, I hosted my own blog, first on my own home-built static HTML system and then on .TEXT. Eventually I moved to WordPress. I ran WordPress on a Windows Server box at home and on a Linux VM on AWS. It was always fun (in a sadistic sort of way) keeping things running, but I quickly grew tired of the tasks involved.

Last December I had a series of spectacular failures caused by posts I wrote getting TechMeme’d, Fireballed, and Slashdotted (do people even read Slashdot anymore?). In case you don’t know getting Fireballed means John Gruber links to your blog. Whenever he does so, the target will get hit with 10s of thousands of hits within minutes.

Someone pointed me at the guys at WP Engine and they helped me move my blog to their platform.

Since then I’ve been Fireballed several more times and performance has stayed fantastic. Where, before, I knew I had been Fireballed because some kind friend would call or text me telling me my blog was down. Now, the only way I can tell is by looking at the spikes in usage in the JetPack stats package WP Engine provides.

I’ve noticed my blog being down once in the past year, and it turns out it was a general Pacific Northwest Internet failure and had nothing to do with WP Engine. Their support system was super responsive and they helped me identify the problem quickly (which resolved itself). I also run with confidence knowing WP Engine is backing things up for me.

There are tons of blogging technologies and platforms out there. You can certainly do it for far cheaper than you can with WP Engine. You might even be able to do it better (I’m not sure how, but it’s possible). I stopped treating running a blog like a toy to play with a long time ago; now I just want it to work, even under load.

I’m a happy customer, and happy to pay a premium for the WP Engine service.

Disclaimer: I was partially motivated to write this post because WP Engine has an affiliates program. At the end of the day, I would never recommend any product or service if I didn’t really believe in.

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

Word as a Blog Writer? Finally?

I have fallen in love with Windows Live Writer as a blogging tool. I love how it reads & writes to my blog seamlessly, how it renders my posts within the editor as they’ll be posted, and how it handles images and other uploads easily.

So I’ve been pretty disappointed that there is no version of Windows Live Writer that works on Surface.

@AlexBream just made me aware that Word 2013 has a “Blog Template” that appears to work well. I’m composing this with Word 2013 on my Surface to see how well it works.

Pros:

  • Full Word editor.
  • Posts can be round tripped to my WordPress based blog. I was able to publish a first draft of this as a “draft” and then open it from my blog to continue editing. This is a great thing about Writer that I use frequently because I’m often using different computers andmlike to treat the copy stored on my blog as ‘truth’.
  • I was expecting to see the typical horrific HTML Word normally generates (with all that mso: crud), but was pleased to see the tool emits only the bare minimum. It does however, put style information that it shouldn’t (see below).
  • Images pasted in get uploaded automatically.

Cons:

  • Not WYSIWYG. No local theme. This sucks as it is one of the best things about Writer: It brings down your blog’s theme and presents an editor that is WYSIWYG. With Word the font I am looking at as I type this is Times New Roman and the margins are as though I have an 8.5″ piece of paper to work with.
  • Not only does it not pull down my theme and use that, but it embeds font styling in the uploaded HTML. Note this post is in the wrong font? Lame. Super lame.
  • Copy & paste is a critical task in writing blog posts. Surface/Win8’s text selection and copy/paste system is sub-optimal, especially using touch. Keyboard shortcuts help as does the mouse pad on the Surface Touch Cover. This is not a Word vs. Writer issue, really, but an overall Surface problem. A native (Metro!) Writer app could help.
  • Categories do not appear to sync (and I can’t actually see what categories I’ve selected…rendering bug?). Actually, the whole Category feature appears completely broken to me.
  • Slow – Word on ARM is a dog. For example, dragging the screen shot to the right around was a painful experience. 2-3 seconds between each drag operation before I could re-engage.

I’m not impressed and until I find a better tool, won’t be using Surface to do any blog posts…

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

Computer Vision Explosion

We are about to see an explosion in the use of computer vision systems. If you thought Kinect was cool or you think Creepy Cameraman is scary, the technology right around the corner, and its impact on our lives will blow you away.

We’ve all dreamt of the day when natural user interface (NUI) systems were “real”. For example, in 1984 I built, as a high school project a system that allowed my school to do a mock Presidential election…by voting via speech. I wish I could find the specs on the voice recognition card I used for the Apple ][ (or even the code I wrote <sad face>), but suffice to say the promise was big, the results…not so much.

I sincerely believe (again?) that we are finally, really, truly, on the cusp of a NUI explosion. We’ve seen massive improvements in the real-world usage of touch (iPhone), voice (Siri), and computer vision (Kinect) the the last few years. I think this is just the beginning. 

There will be huge strides made in voice and touch based input, but in my view, the area where our world will be rocked the most is in computer vision. Cameras are everywhere. They are dirt cheap. They can see things we can’t. And as amazing as the tech in Kinect is at decoding all those signals, interpreting them, and figuring out your body’s intent is, you haven’t seen anything yet.

I had the chance to visit Israel in 2011. I met with several companies in the computer vision space and visited several of the top Israeli university research groups working on computer vision. I was under NDA so I can’t discuss details, but I’m sure you are aware that Israel has been leading the way in computer vision technology.

I found it amusing the Creepy Cameraman story and this story on a new Microsoft patent came across my feed at about the same time.  I also recently upgraded the CCTV system in my house from analog cameras circa 2002 to modern IP based digital cameras (I use a GeoVision based CCTV DVR system that is functional but very haphazardly implemented).

These modern cameras all record 1080p in real time with audio. The software I have is just OK, but is nowhere near state of the art.

Another example: sports cameras such as GoPro and Countour. Next time you are a bike event, out on the lake, or skiing notice how many people are wearing these cams. The quality is fantastic and they are getting dirt cheap.

Remember, that due to networks, we have the ability to combine camera inputs from multiple sources, meaning that future computer vision systems will not be integrated as Kinect is today.

Some scenarios where I see breakthroughs coming:

  • Detecting and tracking people’s emotional state. Imagine your TV being able to sense whether you are happy, scared, sad, or mad and adjusting the content to either amplify that state or change it. This could be used for good (making a game even more immersive) or bad (adjusting advertising).
  • Predicting intent. By understanding ‘normal’ behavior games, user interfaces, and other systems will be able to predict what you are going to do, before you do it.
  • Tele-presence. Kinect shows how easy (ha!) it currently is to allow a computer to, in real-time, build a 3D model of human bodies and do intelligent things (control a game). We also know its easy (ha!) to map photorealistic imagery on 3D models with Google/Bing/Apple Maps.  Combine these technologies and it’s not a stretch to see Princess Lea floating in front of R2D2.
  • Augmented Reality. The work Google is doing on Glasses is a great example. I can imagine combining my the three other examples above with not only a head mounted camera, but also a more direct input into the human vision system (a tiny monitor you wear like glasses is actually pretty lame; I’m much more excited about research going on regarding directly inserting imagery into the brain).

Most importantly, I think, is the impact these breakthroughs will have on mobile. I joke that I think “Mobile is Dead”. What I really mean is that I think mobile is now ubiquitous and everywhere and that it’s high time we stop thinking about it as some discrete ‘space’.

What do you think? What scenarios do you see coming? What are the risks to society and industry?

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

Why Win8 Picture Password is Not Secure

Windows 8 includes a slick feature intended to make it easier to log in: Picture Password. You select a photo that will be displayed on the login screen and then setup a simple gesture that you “draw” on the image to login.

It makes quickly logging in easy, especially if you use strong passwords and you use a touch screen. And given Windows 8 pretty much requires you to link your Windows login to your Microsoft account you should use a strong password!

However, don’t be confused: Windows 8 Picture Password is not really secure and can easily be hacked. A picture is worth a 1000 words from our DELL XPS ONE 27:

picpass

It is pretty clear that the gesture to unlock is to draw a smiley face on Benny.

Of course on a non-touch screen where you’d use the mouse to draw the gestures this wouldn’t happen.

Cool feature, but understand the limitations.

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

Has MS Finally Gotten Through To DELL?

I complained on Twitter to @MichaelDell that I could not buy a DELL XPS One 27 with “Microsoft Signature”. Today I got tweet from @MaryFadAtDell that read:

The full of her email is below:

Charlie – I wanted to get back to you on your concerns about
purchasing the XPS One 27 on dell.com vs. at a Microsoft
store. With the introduction of Windows 8, particularly on
our XPS systems, we have committed to a very clean software
pre-install that does not include any bloatware. I’ve provided
a list of the pre-installed Apps/Tiles below. I hope you’ll
agree that they are not bloatware, but please feel free to
reach out or follow up with me to discuss.

Thanks,

Mary

Dell Preloaded MSFT Apps

• Photo Gallery

• Movie Maker

Dell Preloaded Apps

• Office Trial (30-day)

• Windows 8 Getting Started Tile

• My Dell & Dell Backup & Recovery

• Dell Shop S&P App

• Amazon, Kindle

• Amazon Taskbar App

• Retail Registration

• Cirrus

Dell Hardware Enablement

• Skype for Metro

• CyberLink Media Suite

• NetReady Metro App (digital delivery)

In case you aren’t aware, Microsoft Signature is a program (in the US) where Microsoft selects OEM PCs and resells them with a Windows install that is tuned by Microsoft for optimal performance. Microsoft removes all ‘crap ware’ and ‘bloat ware’ and provides some pretty background images.  They sell these PCs via the Microsoft Store (both online and retail).

At some point some OEMs (I don’t recall which ones; I thought it was DELL, but I think that’s wrong) would sell Microsoft Signature PCs themselves.

A few years ago I vowed to never buy another OEM PC without Signature.

This program was created by Microsoft a few years ago in an effort to demonstrate that PC’s didn’t have to be slow to boot, have dozens of stickers on them, and full of useless software that interfered with the core usability of the PC.

It’s a good move by DELL to support, effectively, Signature on their premium line of PCs (XPS). However, you’ll note, that non-XPS DELL PCs don’t get this treatment.  DELL still makes a bunch of money by pre-installing crap and bloat on most of their PCs.

I have to wonder how much an impact Surface had on this. As you know, the primary goal (IMO) of Surface is to be a “North Star” from Microsoft on how PCs should be built and sold. Is DELL on the right path? We’ll see.

FWIW, we have found the DELL XPS ONE 27 to be a really, really, great machine. It is a 27” touch screen all-in-one computer that sits in our kitchen and is my wife’s primary computer (her new Surface is her secondary).  The screen, at 2650×1440, is gorgeous.  With Windows 8 pre-installed it is very fast with a Core i7 processor and 8GB of RAM. The touchscreen has great responsiveness and can be titled almost horizontal, making it great for situations where you are standing above the device (e.g. on a kitchen counter).  It has a fan, but it is nearly silent.

Like most PCs, even Signature, this machine suffers with needing a slew of updates right away. It took hours to get through all the Windows Update reboots and so forth; including a few times when the PC wedged/hung while trying to access Windows Update.  This continues to be a huge thorn in the side of PCs (and the Mac, by the way, is not immune to this; they require updating out of the box too!). Since being updated it has run flawlessly.

The only real nit we have is the keyboard. For some reason my wife simply cannot type on it without the spacebar not firing. I didn’t have this problem but it drove her nuts so we just used her old keyboard which is a Microsoft Wedge (which she, for some reason loves).

Ironically, I think Windows 8 works even better on a device like this than on the Surface!  This is primarily because Windows 8’s second (or 1st depending on your perspective) personality is not neutered.  That is, the old-school Windows desktop and legacy apps work completely as expected on a full-PC like this whereas on the Surface only a subset of Office (no Outlook) works and interacting with the old UI is difficult with touch.

On a side note related to touch-screen-all-in-one PCs.  I was completely prepared to buy a 27” iMac for my wife, but only if it had a touchscreen.  No way would I buy a $1500-2000 device without a touchscreen these days. Apple has, ironically, missed the boat on this one.

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

If This Looks like This in 3 Weeks, We’ll Know The Answer

This is the VerizonWireless Smartphone device page as of today.

This is the “Featured” view, which means Verizon decides what devices appear at the top of the page.

Untitled

In about three weeks, if there aren’t a few Live Tiles a the top of the page then the canary is dead.

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

Keeping Tracks of Books I Read

imageEach January I post a list of books I read during the previous year (one of my favorites this year is @Scalzi’s Redshirts). Even though almost all books I read are via Amazon and Kindle, it is still a total pain in the butt to create those blog posts.

http://ceklog.kindel.com/category/passions/books/

This has me thinking about a potential app idea and I’d love to hear from YOU about how you keep track, document, list, and share the books YOU read.

I’m sure the vast majority of people don’t care to keep track.  But some, like me, do.  If you are one of of those, please let me know in comments below how you do it…and how you’d like to do it.

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

LockerGnome Guest Post on Mobile Fragmentation

Today LockerGnome ran a guest post by yours truly titled “The Fragmentation of Mobile Fragmentation”. This is a follow-on post to my post focused on Android in January, intended to express my opinions on the broader mobile ecosystem.

(Note, as of right now, the post on LockerGnome does not have my byline. They are working on fixing that).

Mobile fragmentation is going to get significantly worse over the next few years. While this fragmentation will be bad for end users in some cases, it will be particularly bad for developers.”
                – Charlie Kindel, LockerGnome, Oct 22, 2012

The TL;DR is:

  • Mobile fragmentation exists across five axes (UI, Device, OS, Marketplace, & Services).
  • Fragmentation along these axes within platforms is bad and getting worse.
  • Fragmentation across platforms is getting even worse.
  • Devs will suffer, but in the end it is really a positive thing because it’s a sign of competition and innovation and proves “Software is Eating the World”.

Head on over to LockerGnome and join the discussion in the comments.

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

Revisiting the Mullet: Why Surface is not a MS Business

A few weeks ago a bunch of people (who should know better) were running around like chickens with their heads cut off yelping “Surface will be $199!”

Exasperated, I wrote a post1 describing just how idiotic a concept that would be. I showed that even if Microsoft was serious about Surface being a real business, it could never sell it for $199 this fall. I promised to wear a Kasey Keller like mullet to Build if I was wrong.

In that post, I asserted that

I think it is far more likely that Microsoft will sell the Surface for $599. They’ll sell every one they make at that price and earn a respectable 20% margin (maybe 3 million in 12 months; maybe). And in so doing, will support the broader ecosystem that is required to keep the existing Windows business profitable by shipping 350 million PCs next year.

It turns out the Surface with a cover is $599. Without, it’s $499. I had done my back-of-the-envelope math assuming it did not include a cover. Thus I was very, very wrong when I said Microsoft will “earn a respectable 20% margin”.

The $499 price means Microsoft will not make any real margin2 on the Surface.

They may make some profits on the cover, assuming the cover isn’t ridiculously expensive to make (it might be). But even then there is no way the amount Microsoft will make will come close to the $85 they are reportedly charging OEMs for Windows RT licenses.

Worse, every Surface that sells is one less non-Surface Windows RT unit that sells meaning Microsoft not only doesn’t get the $85 from the Surface sale (they’ve priced it so close to wholesale there’s no margin in it) they won’t get $85 from the OEM.

Surface is a North star product for the Windows business. It is not a “Microsoft business” (Microsoft businesses generate $5B+ a year in PROFIT). The Windows business makes $11.4B in PROFIT every year. This profit margin is under pressure from the price of a Windows license being forced down. Surface makes this worse and provides no path to recouping that profit via other means.

I don’t know how MS plans on generating more profit with Windows. But I’m really sure it is NOT Surface.

 

1A $199 Surface? I Will Wear a Mullet

2Retail Pricing, Markup, and Margins

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

I Want A Surface Keyboard for My iPad

I had two hilarious encounters with the new Microsoft Surface advertising this weekend. One is just funny. The other is telling.

Here’s the ad:

Microsoft’s first real TV spot for the Surface

Funny item #1:

Multiple people asked me if, at 13 seconds in, I had a little cameo:

No, that’s not me. I know people think we all look alike though.

Funny, but not so funny (for MS), item #2:

We’re watching the Flordia State v. Miami football game (I hate both teams, not sure why I was watching it). The commercial (“Movement”) comes on…

After it’s over:

My wife:

“We should have gotten that keyboard for Christine’s iPad instead of the one we got.”

(Christine’s our daughter, we got her one of the Logitech iPad keyboards).

Listen, my wife has been around a lot of technology for a long time. She’s always just put up with it (and me). She calls it as she sees it.

She thought it was a good commercial. She had no idea what it was for. She seriously thought it was for an iPad accessory. 

This is not her fault.

This is Microsoft’s fault.

Windows 8, Windows RT, and Surface are massively confusing. This is a mess for Microsoft.

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

The Market Sides of the Mobile Ecosystem

I’ve been using a taxonomy to describe the market-sides of the mobile ecosystem that looks like this:

 

image 

Up until now, my writing on the mobile ecosystem has been focused on smartphones, because their adoption and sales dominated. Given the season of the tablet has started, I need to make some points about how tablets relate.

Even though we use the term “mobile” to describe scenarios involving both phones and tablets, before I go further, get this through your head:

Phones are not tablets and tablets are not phones.

The market and business dynamics of phones are fundamentally and significantly different than those of tablets. Why?  Because phones require a voice service, either pre-paid, or as subscription to be useful. Thus the primary channel for phones is carriers. This is more true in the US than the rest of the world, but it still generally holds. Phones are generally subsidized by the carrier and that subsidy is made up over the life of a (typically 2 year) contract.

Tablets are useful without a voice connection. Some tablets are sold with embedded cellular data connectivity, and a subsidy, but the vast majority do not include anything but WiFi connectivity. Thus the primary channels for tablets are retail and online, not carriers.

If you follow me to this point, you’ll agree the taxonomy picture above is phone specific. It includes Carriers but not other channels where devices are purchased by end users.

When I first wrote my piece explaining how fragmentation of Android was good for Android but bad for Google I almost included Services as a specific market-side. However, at that time, service fragmentation was mostly just theory and I felt it would add complexity not required to make my point. Since that time Amazon has demonstrated how serious it is about building a competitor to Google’s app store and Apple kicked Google Maps out of bed. 

These examples and more mean we are going to see a significant amount of platform fragmentation along the services axis in the next year. I plan on writing my thoughts on why and how, thus I need to add Services as a key side of the taxonomy.

Here’s the updated taxonomy that changes “Carriers” to “Channels” and adds “Services”:

image

The Six Primary Sides of the Mobile Ecosystem

The mobile ecosystem is a multi-sided market where each side gives and receives value from other sides. The six primary sides of the mobile ecosystem include:

End Users: Own the disposable income. Idealistically they drive the ecosystem; realistically they are slaves to marketing and advertising.  Examples: Me and you.

Channels: Own the sale of the device and/or service to the End User. Own billing. Own Sales. In the case of carriers, own the physical pipe. Because the money flows through them, they, effectively, are the primary owners of the customer relationship. They also are often directly responsible for the majority of the marketing. Examples: Verizon, Amazon.com, Best Buy, Apple Stores, iTunes, Windows Store.

Device Manufacturers: Own the hardware. Own the industrial design. They hate not owning the customer relationship. But their HW bias (and manufacturing capex structure) prevent them from breaking out of this (there are no proof points of large hardware manufacturers becoming successful software companies).  Examples: Samsung, Apple, Nokia, Microsoft (for Surface).

OS providers: Own the core of the customer experience. Think they own most real innovation. They hate not owning the customer. In some cases, their core business models (search, desktop/server OS, office, …), means they are at the mercy of some middleman between them and the customer. Examples: Apple (iOS), Google (Android), Microsoft (Windows).

Services: Own key components of the customer experience. Tend to be sticky. Examples: Apple Maps, Google Search, Xbox LIVE, Kindle Fire App Store.

3rd Party Developers: Deliver the most of the end-user benefit.  Actually own most of the real innovation. They target platforms which have the greatest promise of ‘eyeballs’. Some care deeply about monetization features of the platform; others care more about distribution. They despise the inter- and intra-platform fragmentation that exists.

This fall starts the season of the tablet. Between Apple’s rumored iPad mini, Microsoft’s Surface, the new Kindle Fires, new offerings from Samsung and other Android device manufacturers, and the coming onslaught of $100 tablets we are on the cusp of an explosion in the tablet space. 

It’s important that we have a common framework for understanding the dynamics of this ecosystem. I can’t control what taxonomy and lexicon YOU use, but I can try to be clear and consistent with mine. Hence this post.

Would love to know your thoughts…

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

Mobile is Mobile

In the past, I’ve instinctively associated “mobile” with “phone”, as in something that has cellular voice as a primary function. But most of the world has, apparently, decided to include tablets (but, curiously, not laptops) in this definition.

I did an informal poll on Twitter. I asked:

The vast majority of respondents said “Yes”.

I don’t much care either way, I just want to be consistent. Therefore, based on this little poll:

From here on out, if I use the term “mobile” I mean a user, business, or developer scenario where the primary device is not tethered to mains power.

Thus a scenario involving a smartphone, a tablet, a laptop, a netbook, an computer embedded in the dashboard of a car, a connected camera, or a device like a Fitbit is “mobile”.

Of course, this means we can also imply “Mobile” is everything but desktop computing, data-centers, cloud, and television.

(For the record, I’m making this statement because I’m working on a set of posts where I don’t want to have to argue about this. I figure if I write a post that defines what I mean I can just reference it).

Update:  More here

Discuss…

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

MileLogr now Supports Outlook.com!

On September 10, Stefan & I launched the beta of MileLogr. We got some great feedback and have just launched a major update.

MileLogr is a Calendar App that Creates Mileage Logs.

MileLogr integrates with your calendar and creates mileage logs for taxes, expense reports, and timesheets. Automagically.
For Free!

The new update incorporates the following new features:

  • Now supports Outlook.com (Hotmail/Live) based calendars in addition to Exchange/Office365 and Google calendars.
  • For calendar systems that support it, MileLogr now uses OAuth for authentication meaning users do not have to provide their usernames & passwords to connect.

Lower your taxes.

Do less work.

Reduce risk.

Give www.milelogr.com a try and let us know what you think.

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

Motorola is a Sunk Cost (and a sinking Titanic)

M.G. Slieger wrote, regarding the horrific “deal” Google got in buying Motorola:

Google bought the Titanic. And they bought it when it was already underwater. – @parislemon

This is cute (and true), not the right analogy because it makes people think Google bought Motorola for Motorola’s business. They did not.

Google paid $12.5B to become a patent-superpower like Apple and Microsoft. They had failed in getting the Nortel patents (or were thwarted, depending on your perspective) and panicked.

They are now dealing with the fallout of that impetuous decision.

Yes, Google bought the Titantic. And, yes, it was already underwater when they did so.

I suspect they now view that $12.5B as a sunk cost. Pun intended.

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

The Conversation Amongst MSFT, NOK, VZW, & ATT

NOK to MSFT: We really need to get all major carriers at WP8 launch.

MSFT to NOK: Agree! Let’s make it happen.

NOK to VZW: Do the 920 for launch!

VZW to NOK: Well, ok. Maybe.

MSFT to VZW: Do WP8!

VZW to MSFT: One word: Kin.

MSFT to NOK: Hey, Elop, beg them please!

NOK to MSFT: Ok, working on it…

Meanwhile.

MSFT/NOK to ATT: Do the 920 at launch.

ATT: Sure. We’re in. Let’s do it.  But we can’t spend much on marketing.

MSFT/NOK to ATT: What would it take for you to spend more?

ATT: How about an exclusive?

MSFT/NOK to ATT: Can’t really do that. Need to support all carriers. What else?

Meanwhile…

NOK to MSFT: VZW is dragging their feet. I think they hate you.

MSFT to NOK: Yea, they’ve always hated us. Fuck.

NOK to MSFT: Maybe we should give ATT a 3 month exclusive. It’s clear VZW is not committed. Better to have one committed carrier than two who aren’t really committed.

MSFT: Agree. Let’s do that.

Meanwhile…

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.