Category Archives: Mobile Application Stores

Big Game Hunting for Mobile and Social – at the Big Game

The Big Game has become the “Super” event for new mobile and social promotions.

The challenge for advertisers and brands is to create a virtual social environment within the year’s biggest physical social event

The TV ad escalation for the Super bowl grew out of the need to make the Ads their own event.  The higher production value of theses ads is designed to delay that inevitable bathroom break.   The goal of social and mobile media is to make the ad a continuous event during the game.

There are three factors that I believe are important in a social application.

  • Entertainment: Examples are interactive games and passive videos
  • Social Status: Examples are check-ins, followers, and game rank
  • Contextual Information: A key success factor  of Twitter and Facebook.

Get these right and you earn the pay dirt of any social campaign…longevity.

Your app or promotion can be successful with just one of these factors.  If you have two you can be a  wild successes (Zynga). With all three you are Facebook. YouTube or Twitter.

The reason that Superbowl ads are now $7M/minute is that that audience that the broadcast aggregates only lasts 4 hours.  It is a perishable resource that commands a premium price.  What if this audience was addressable with an effective social media channel on a regular basis?  What would that be worth?  For a clue you can read about the IPO of Facebook.

Using these factors as our yardstick lets look at two of the higher profile social game plans and make some pre-game predictions.

Coke is presenting an interactive version of their Polar Bears on a Facebook application.  The bears will react to plays in the game.

Prediction:

While this app will generate a lot of buzz for its “cool” factor, I view this as a very clever branding exercise, rather than a true social campaign.   It will generate a reasonable number of views of the Coke brand and therefore should be very cost effective on an equivalent CPM basis. (As of Friday it had 21K members, but I expect that number to significantly increase on game day)

Will this aggregated application audience have any reason to come back to this app after 10:30 pm on Sunday?

Entertainment Value: High, until novelty wears off

Social Status: None

Contextual Information: Low

I have this Apple app on my iPad.  The enticement is that you get a license plate number to watch for on the Chevy Television ads.  If you see your number you win a Chevy.

Prediction:

This will get some more viewers to watch the Chevy ads closely.  If you are not one of the 20 winners, then what? The rest of the app is populated with Twitter feeds, trivia  and YouTube videos.  Similar to the Coke Facebook application, this application will likely have a half-life that ends at 10:30 pm on Sunday.

Entertainment Value: Low

Social Status:  Zero – unless you win the car!

Contextual Information: Low

My view is that these types of campaigns are still outside the “redzone”.  Once an audience is aggregated, it is a crime not to effectively and continually engage that audience, grow it and profit from it.

The most effective use of social media is still the simplest and cost nothing.  Advertisers put their Superbowl ads on YouTube. That strategy has generated an additional 360M views!

One Last Prediction: Giants 31 Pats 24

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Filed under advertising, android, Apple, Content, iphone, mobile, mobile advertising, Mobile Application Stores, Smartphone, Social Media, social networking

Google Acquires Patents – and Also Motorola

Google + Moto is the BIG NEWS of the summer.  It was big enough to grab me out of my blog vacation.  While the pundits are filling the airwaves with analysis on this one , I view it perhaps more simply, more straightforward.

The battleground for supremacy in connected devices (mobile smartphones, Tablets, and  set-top boxes) has moved from the R&D labs to the court rooms.  The patent wars between Apple and Google are fierce, with Microsoft bulking up on its own portfolio as part of the consortium that bought the Nortel patents.

Motorola was worth the price Google paid just for their patent portfolio.  In patent wars if you get sued, you better have a patent in your portfolio that can hurt the attacker.  In this way you trade mutual assured destruction with a patent stand-off.

When Google acquired the rights to Motorola’s 25,000+ patents, they bought both defensive capability and offensive firepower.  Apple may go after Android for an Apple patent but what are the changes that Google now has a patent that can hurt Apple?

It is impossible to design and produce a device such as an iPhone, iPad, or Android device that will not infringe on someone’s patent.  Impossible.  What a company must do is acknowledge that they will infringe and hope the other guy also infringes on their patents and us the mutual infringement to to either create a license arrangement or to have both companies do nothing.

Google’s price of $12.5B is about $500,000 per patent, which seems to be a bargain compared to the $4.5B  Apple and Microsoft for 6000 Nortel patents.  Their price was  $750,000 per patent.

Lets assume that the Motorola sale  is approved and Google gets the Motorola patent portfolio.  Google’s next problem is that they have also bought a company that makes handsets.  I say this is a problem because this is a huge company in a market that is different from Google’s core competency.  This is also a company that competes with Google’s other OEM partners for Android Devices.  The conventional wisdom is that these other OEM partners will start to defect, en mass,  to Microsoft.

Yeah right….

What does defect even mean?  Microsoft will pay these companies to produce some Windows phones anyway.

Android is free.  Can Microsoft compete with free?  Google makes its money on Android from their ad business.  Microsoft must make money from their software license for Mobile 7 operating system.  Besides for being years late to the party, Microsoft is structural disadvantaged to compete.  At best they can hope to be a number 3 player.

Google has two choices.

Number 1: They can acquire the patent portfolio and then spin out the Motorola Mobility Business, probably re-cooping half their initial investment.  They could sell Motorola’s handset and tablet businesses, along with licenses to the patents they now own to either HTC or Samsung, their two most important OEM partners.  This would be an amazing move.

Number 2:  Keep the Motorola hardware business and expand Android into the Cable Set-Top Box market.  This is the riskier of the paths as the sheer weight of a big manufacturing company could alter the culture of Google for the worse.  This path would be an attempt to become “Apple”.  While this path seems to be the assumed defacto strategy of Google, I am placing my bets on scenario #1.  This will take a couple of years to play out, so hold onto this link and let’s see if I am right.

An indicator that we are on Scenario 1 will be if Microsoft acquires RIM (Blackberry) or Nokia.  This would be an acknowledgment that the Google OEM manufacturers are not going to defect to Microsoft and that they must own a hardware company to compete.

This has only gotten worse in the last 10 months!

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Filed under Acquisitions, advertising, android, Apple, blackberry, Cable, Droid, Google, HTC, iPad, mobile advertising, Mobile Application Stores, mobile commerce, smart phone, Smartphone

Why I like the iPad 2….confessions of an Android user

My experience with the first generation iPad ended with my returning the loaned device without a purchase While my first experience with the IPad1 left me wanting, I was completely seduced by the iPad 2. With all my positive experiences with my Droid Incredible, I had been holding out for a new Android tablet.   I succumbed to the iPad 2 when I realized that what I wanted  in a tablet could be provided by Apple.

This was my wish list

1.  Business applications and the ability to leave my laptop home for some business  trips

2.  Infotainment, interesting multimedia formats for my news

3.  Entertainment, generally video from my favorite Television and Sports programs

4. Great looking device, want to be one of the “cool kids”

5. New applications coming everyday that matter

6. Decent customer support

I concluded that for this generation of devices, the iPad2 is king.  Here’s why…

To begin with I have a Wifi-only 32Gig model.

For business apps I need email access to multiple accounts, including Exchange. The iPad was easily configured for 4 accounts and I had all my email singing within a minute.

Next, I need to edit Microsoft office docs.  I installed “QuickOffice” and it works great for most light-editing tasks.  I am writing this blog article using the word version of quick office on my iPad. Of course, I also need to print documents. These are several printing apps for the iPad.  I use “PrintCentral” for printing. I just installed the app and it found all the printers in my house. I was able to print from my iPad with less problems than we typically have from a Microsoft machine!

I also require access to the “Dropbox” application. This is a shared, synchronized cloud storage service. I use it to share files among my computers, Droid Smart phone and now iPad, with clients and family.  This app effectively adds 50gig of virtual storage to my IPad.  I have Microsoft office files, music, video and pictures in various Dropbox folders.  Not only is the Dropbox app for iPad great, but Dropbox  and Google Docs seamlessly integrate with QuickOffice.  The permission and privacy features on Dropbox allow me to share access for specific folders with specific people.

A mission critical business app for me is Skype.  While it works great on my Droid phone, having the iPad (really an iPhone App) with video is a good addition.  I wish Skype would upgrade their app to take more advantage of the real-estate available on an iPad screen.

Another business oriented app I tried was “logMein”.  Initially, I  thought this was a new dish at my local Chinese restaurant, but it is program that connects with a Mac or PC and displays the screen of that machine on your iPad.  LogMein (Log-me-in) gives you full control of your remote machine to access files and programs.  I have to admit that while it works, I am not sure how often I will actually use it.

So, for business environment the iPad gets high marks.

Infotainment

Generally this category consists of websites turned into interesting multimedia applications for the iPad.  I have the NY Times, CNN, the Daily, CBS News, Fox News, ABC news, Huffington Post, The Onion, BBC, USA Today and even my old college newspaper, now an IPad app, “The Concordiensis” from Union College. The mix of text, photos, audio and video creates a multimedia publication unlike anything else.

Entertainment

This is the area that I originally had the most concern for the iPad due to the lack of native  (or any) Flash support. The savior for entertainment is the app “iSwifter”.  Using this proxy browser app I am able to watch web video from NBC, Fox and even HBOGo. The video I want to see on the web is completely accessible on my iPad, even Flash video.  Other great entertainment apps include MLB At Bat 11. If you like MLB on an iPhone or Android, you will love it on an IPad.  I just wish you did not have to pay for it separately on each device.

Kudos to the guys at MLB for having the best Sports App…period.

Another cool app is “Tune-In”.  This is a live radio app that gives streaming access to many radio stations within the US and the world.  I recently listened to a Tampa/Carolina NHL hockey game on my IPad.  All of these entertainment apps are in addition to the usual YouTube, iTunes, and video apps that are built into the IPad.

Great looking, cool device.

All I can say here is that like most Apple products, the iPad sets the standard for physical design that all the other tablets will chase. The incorporation of the smart cover is another great feature. Among its other capabilities, the ability of the cover to support iPad at an angle for typing is key.

Applications

This is a major reason for my decision to go with an iPad in lieu of an Android. Unlike the smart phone app market in which there is a rough equivalence between the must have iPhone and apps, Apple seems to have a clear lead in tablet specific apps. Apple also has a huge sales lead in tablets. For these reasons my logic is that an iPad will have a distinct app advantage for the duration of this generation of tablets. (Next year or so)

Customer support

Generally I have been very happy with customer support from Apple. An exception to this was a call I made for an iPad issue. The first I tried to sync my Mac iTunes to my iPad, none of the music or videos would sync.  I called Apple support and the first answer I got was that since all of my music was not bought on iTunes, it would not sync.   What??! Despite the logical problems with that statement, the Apple rep stood firm with his answer.  I then called back and got someone different who directed me to “clear my sync queue” with a program called “iSync”. After I followed her directions, all of my media was able to sync.

Overall, I have been pleased with the new iPad.  As a confirmed Android user for Smart phones, I was hopeful that the Droid tablets would be more competitive with the iPad.  This round goes to Apple.  We will have to wait another year or so to see if Google will catch-up in this segment as they have with smart phones.

As for Blackberry or Windows Tablets?  As we say in New Jersey…

Fuggeddaboudit!

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Filed under android, Apple, blackberry, cloud computing, Content, FLASH, Google, HTC, iPad, iphone, Ipod, microsoft, mobile, Mobile Application Stores, movies, reviews, skype, smart phone, Smartphone, Social Media, Twitter, Verizon, widgets, wifi, Windows, Windows Mobile

Microkia – Birth of a New Species? or Death of Old Ones?

Last Week Nokia announced that they were ditching their Symbian Smartphone OS in favor of Windows Mobile 7.  For those consumers who live, work and play in North America this announcement barely warrants a yawn.  For the rest of the world- the world in which Nokia has been the number one mobile device for what seems like forever – this is big news.

I was an “involved player” in the early formation of Symbian.  At the time a Palm-like device from Psion was dominant in Europe.  The three intelligent organizers (as they were called 14 years ago) came from Palm, Psion and Microsoft.  The conventional wisdom, at the time was to not allow Microsoft to establish a monopolistic stranglehold on mobile platforms, like it did in the PC.

From this strategy grew the Symbian operating system that was used primarily by Nokia and Ericsson. Symbian was based on the Psion OS.  During the BiCE (Before Iphone common era), the coolest smartphones were in Europe and ran Symbian.  Microsoft tried to continually adapt a desktop centric design philosophy to mobile devices.   They had very modest success, far less than their corporate ego would admit, externally or internally.

The good news is that the strategy worked.  Microsoft never established a monopolistic foothold in the mobile space.  The industry exchanged one dominant force for another. Apple and Google have established that position in this next generation.

In the AiCE (After iPhone Common Era) period the world changed.

Nokia’s dominance which was (is) based on great physical phone design, radio interfaces, button placement, and distribution, suddenly seemed less relevant.

The great Symbian operating system was like the  Neanderthals, once Homo-sapiens appeared.

A report released just 4 days ago listed Apple with a 45% share of Smartphones in Europe, followed by 16% for both Android and Blackberry.  Symbian had fallen to around 12%, and is in free fall.  Nokia’s Smartphone share in the largest Smartphone market (North America) is close to nil.  On a worldwide basis, Symbian  has just been eclipsed as the leader by Android with both around 30% share.

Against this backdrop, Steve Elop the CEO of Nokia and most recently a top executive at Microsoft, issued an internal Memo in which he likened the Nokia business to a burning oil platform with multiple fires. Great imagery! (His complete memo to the Nokia troops is at the bottom of this blog)

Meanwhile Microsoft has also been ablaze, except they continue a public stance of  “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead”.  They seem to have temporarily righted their ship with Windows 7 sales, mainly because businesses refused to buy the disastrous Windows Vista.   They are becoming the Xerox of the new millennium- Lots of great ideas and ground breaking technologies,  with very poor execution.

I have mentioned in previous blog articles that the Windows 7 Mobile, on the surface looks like a viable technology. However, the product is very late to the party, is called “Windows”, and its marketing was linked to Zune (Do you have one?) and Xbox.  Good ideas, poor execution.

Against this backdrop, Steve Elop hooks up with his former Boss, Steve Balmer and the two sinking ships attempt to tie themselves together to stay afloat.  Nokia will have to navigate through the support issues for the millions of Symbian consumers and also there now seemingly aborted relationship with Intel on the Meego Smartphone platform.  Nokia is rationalizing themselves as a hardware platform vendor, not a software producer.  They are making a deal that seemed unthinkable for over a decade.  They have been pushed into a partnership with Microsoft by the success of Apple and Google.

The real winner is Microsoft.  Nokia is betting their Smartphone future with the Windows Platform and hoping that it turns around its plummeting Smartphone share.   Microsoft is risking much less because they have much less to risk in the mobile space.  They have a single digit of market share.  The announced Micorosoft relationship with the largest manufacturer of mobile devices, as they say, “Can’t hurt!”.

The integration and production of  “Microkia” phones will take at least 6 months and  more likely a year.  That’s another year of innovation and product releases from Apple and Google.

The Micorosft /Nokia combination must define a new class of Smartphone, perhaps aimed at developing markets , that is a clear differentiation from the highend iPhone and Droids.   Without a new Smartphone species, Microsoft and Nokia with continue to look like Neanderthals and suffer a similar fate.

——————————

Steven Elop – CEO of Nokia – Memo to his troops

Hello there,

There is a pertinent story about a man who was working on an oil platform in the North Sea. He woke up one night from a loud explosion, which suddenly set his entire oil platform on fire. In mere moments, he was surrounded by flames. Through the smoke and heat, he barely made his way out of the chaos to the platform’s edge. When he looked down over the edge, all he could see were the dark, cold, foreboding Atlantic waters.

As the fire approached him, the man had mere seconds to react. He could stand on the platform, and inevitably be consumed by the burning flames. Or, he could plunge 30 meters in to the freezing waters. The man was standing upon a “burning platform,” and he needed to make a choice.

He decided to jump. It was unexpected. In ordinary circumstances, the man would never consider plunging into icy waters. But these were not ordinary times – his platform was on fire. The man survived the fall and the waters. After he was rescued, he noted that a “burning platform” caused a radical change in his behaviour.

We too, are standing on a “burning platform,” and we must decide how we are going to change our behaviour.

Over the past few months, I’ve shared with you what I’ve heard from our shareholders, operators, developers, suppliers and from you. Today, I’m going to share what I’ve learned and what I have come to believe.

I have learned that we are standing on a burning platform.

And, we have more than one explosion – we have multiple points of scorching heat that are fuelling a blazing fire around us.

For example, there is intense heat coming from our competitors, more rapidly than we ever expected. Apple disrupted the market by redefining the smartphone and attracting developers to a closed, but very powerful ecosystem.

In 2008, Apple’s market share in the $300+ price range was 25 percent; by 2010 it escalated to 61 percent. They are enjoying a tremendous growth trajectory with a 78 percent earnings growth year over year in Q4 2010. Apple demonstrated that if designed well, consumers would buy a high-priced phone with a great experience and developers would build applications. They changed the game, and today, Apple owns the high-end range.

And then, there is Android. In about two years, Android created a platform that attracts application developers, service providers and hardware manufacturers. Android came in at the high-end, they are now winning the mid-range, and quickly they are going downstream to phones under €100. Google has become a gravitational force, drawing much of the industry’s innovation to its core.

Let’s not forget about the low-end price range. In 2008, MediaTek supplied complete reference designs for phone chipsets, which enabled manufacturers in the Shenzhen region of China to produce phones at an unbelievable pace. By some accounts, this ecosystem now produces more than one third of the phones sold globally – taking share from us in emerging markets.

While competitors poured flames on our market share, what happened at Nokia? We fell behind, we missed big trends, and we lost time. At that time, we thought we were making the right decisions; but, with the benefit of hindsight, we now find ourselves years behind.

The first iPhone shipped in 2007, and we still don’t have a product that is close to their experience. Android came on the scene just over 2 years ago, and this week they took our leadership position in smartphone volumes. Unbelievable.

We have some brilliant sources of innovation inside Nokia, but we are not bringing it to market fast enough. We thought MeeGo would be a platform for winning high-end smartphones. However, at this rate, by the end of 2011, we might have only one MeeGo product in the market.

At the midrange, we have Symbian. It has proven to be non-competitive in leading markets like North America. Additionally, Symbian is proving to be an increasingly difficult environment in which to develop to meet the continuously expanding consumer requirements, leading to slowness in product development and also creating a disadvantage when we seek to take advantage of new hardware platforms. As a result, if we continue like before, we will get further and further behind, while our competitors advance further and further ahead.

At the lower-end price range, Chinese OEMs are cranking out a device much faster than, as one Nokia employee said only partially in jest, “the time that it takes us to polish a PowerPoint presentation.” They are fast, they are cheap, and they are challenging us.

And the truly perplexing aspect is that we’re not even fighting with the right weapons. We are still too often trying to approach each price range on a device-to-device basis.

The battle of devices has now become a war of ecosystems, where ecosystems include not only the hardware and software of the device, but developers, applications, ecommerce, advertising, search, social applications, location-based services, unified communications and many other things. Our competitors aren’t taking our market share with devices; they are taking our market share with an entire ecosystem. This means we’re going to have to decide how we either build, catalyse or join an ecosystem.

This is one of the decisions we need to make. In the meantime, we’ve lost market share, we’ve lost mind share and we’ve lost time.

On Tuesday, Standard & Poor’s informed that they will put our A long term and A-1 short term ratings on negative credit watch. This is a similar rating action to the one that Moody’s took last week. Basically it means that during the next few weeks they will make an analysis of Nokia, and decide on a possible credit rating downgrade. Why are these credit agencies contemplating these changes? Because they are concerned about our competitiveness.

Consumer preference for Nokia declined worldwide. In the UK, our brand preference has slipped to 20 percent, which is 8 percent lower than last year. That means only 1 out of 5 people in the UK prefer Nokia to other brands. It’s also down in the other markets, which are traditionally our strongholds: Russia, Germany, Indonesia, UAE, and on and on and on.

How did we get to this point? Why did we fall behind when the world around us evolved?

This is what I have been trying to understand. I believe at least some of it has been due to our attitude inside Nokia. We poured gasoline on our own burning platform. I believe we have lacked accountability and leadership to align and direct the company through these disruptive times. We had a series of misses. We haven’t been delivering innovation fast enough. We’re not collaborating internally.

Nokia, our platform is burning.

We are working on a path forward — a path to rebuild our market leadership. When we share the new strategy on February 11, it will be a huge effort to transform our company. But, I believe that together, we can face the challenges ahead of us. Together, we can choose to define our future.

The burning platform, upon which the man found himself, caused the man to shift his behaviour, and take a bold and brave step into an uncertain future. He was able to tell his story. Now, we have a great opportunity to do the same.

Stephen.

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Filed under android, Apple, blackberry, Google, iphone, microsoft, mobile, Mobile Application Stores, mobile commerce, Nokia, smart phone, Smartphone, Windows, Windows Mobile, wireless

Calling Microsoft’s Next of Kin

In  Microsoft’s struggle to remain relevant in the exploding mobile device market, they withdrew their latest attempt at a teen social networking device from the market.  The Kin’s market life was about 50 days.  It was a decent device , just  two years late to the game.

You can light a candle in memory of the Kin at kinrip.com. Its a very touching memorial website.  May its memory be a blessing.

According to Engadget part of Kin’s delay was caused by Microsoft scrapping the IP, or part of it, that it paid $500M for in their acquisition of Danger and instead re-developing the device on the soon to also be defunct Windows CE system.   Engadget also reports on corporate power plays, executive infighting and internal office politics.   Not what you would expect.

If this is not a Harvard Business Case Analysis in the making for a new crop of Cambridge bound MBA’s , I don’t know what would be.  You can read the full Engadget analysis through this link. The key element that is dominating the new super-phone marketplace is the ever-increasing velocity of innovation.

Microsoft announced their new Smartphone OS –Windows Mobile  7 – in January 2010.  The first devices with this Microsoft OS are expected to hit the market near the December holiday season.  In that same period of time Apple released their new iPhone and a new iPhone OS, the iPad, an Ad network, and who knows what else we will see in the next 6 months!   The Android ecosystem will have almost two-dozen variants, with each new device more spectacular than the last.  HP acquired Palm and is integrating their technology into their netbooks, and perhaps producing another new line of smartphones.  RIM’s Blackberry will have several releases and a new OS,  and of course Nokia’s product line has a makeover with a new operating system.  The speed of innovation is accelerating at a dizzying pace.  This is great for consumers, great for innovation and great for moving services to the market quicker.

And Microsoft?

They introduced, and then killed one phone and announced that they will have a new system by the end of 2010.

One thing is certain; the world is not waiting around for Microsoft to deliver their Windows Mobile 7 devices.

But maybe we should be, and here’s why.

Microsoft has  too much corporate talent, financial resources and computing market reach to just pull up their tents and go home in the most important computing segment.   Microsoft survived the debacle of Vista because they are Microsoft,  and have had virtual monopoly power in desktop computing.  In mobile, Microsoft is not the leader in market share, thought leadership or industry hype.  They have to slug it out with a crowded field of very nimble and powerful competitors.  This means they have to innovate and be quick about it to survive.   Having almost a one-year duration from product announcement to introduction is just not getting it done.

The irony is that the marketplace could really benefit from a strong Microsoft presence.

Apple is getting very economically aggressive with their high perch in smartphones.   Google’ Android Platform will likely eclipse Apple in aggregate sales in the next year. Do we all want to place our computing futures completely with Google?  Make no mistake about it , I am a big fan of Apple and Google.  It’s just that absolute power in markets has its downsides.  From a U.S. perspective, the only companies with the overall corporate strength to play on the same field with Apple and Google are RIM and Microsoft.  Nokia could be a legit player, globally,  but their position in the U.S. is just not strong enough.

In the irony of ironies, Microsoft is the leading candidate to challenge the emerging monopolistic leaders in the smartphone business.  They can keep the competitive environment going well into the future and prevent it from stagnating into a duopoly.    The issue is that Microsoft seems incapable of getting out of their own way, with failure following failure in this space.  The Kin is just the latest mobile problem for Microsoft.   Even the name “Windows Mobile 7” is a window (sorry for the pun) to the desktop corporate computing bias.   Android, Blackberry and iPhone all sound cool.  Windows Mobile 7 conjures up images of blue screens.

I know that’s not fair but,  it is what it is.

Windows Mobile 7  seems like a name picked for internal synergistic and political reasons and not one geared for mobile market success. If there was ever a company that seemed to have all the assets in place to dominate the mobile smart phone business, it was Microsoft.  Now they are trying to be in the mix and be relevant.

If Windows Mobile 7 is not a success, then the last card for Microsoft to play will be the another acquisition , perhaps RIM?

For the sake of keeping Apple and Google honest in this space, I am hoping for a success from Microsoft.

Do you believe that Microsoft’s Mobile team can deliver?

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Filed under Acquisitions, android, Apple, Droid, iPad, iphone, microsoft, mobile, Mobile Application Stores

Saying Goodbye to my iPad – Is there an App for that?

Since my iPad loaner period is about complete, its time to record what I like and don’t like about the sexiest device to hit the market since…..  well probably ever.

If your main activity is light web browsing and email, the iPad is in your sweet spot.  The apps that are made specifically for the iPad are  really few in number, so Safari and Mail will likely dominate your use.   As the regular readers now, I am a fan of Google docs, which couples with the iPad nicely.  Google docs gives me great compatibility with word, excel and powerpoint.

One of the companies I consult with makes extensive use of the “Dropbox” application, which works great on the iPad.  Dropbox is a virtual “cloud” drive that easily mounts on a Mac , PC, Android Phone and iPad.  It is clearly the most promiscuous and functional file sharing application I have come across.

I would be remiss if I also did not rave about the incredible battery life of the iPad.  When I use it as an occasional browsing and email device, I only have to charge it about once a week.

There are, however, a few things that the iPad is not. It is not a device that is meant to be shared amongst friends, family or colleagues.  If you use the email app and let someone else borrow your iPad, they have all of your email.   If you install an app and then let someone use the iPad and they also install apps, you will need each others iTunes credentials to enter into the iPad when those apps have updates.  The iPad I have been using has been passed between three users.  I can only update the apps that I installed.  So scratch multiuser friendliness for now.

Most sadly the iPad is not a great video entertainment device.   It could be the ultimate travel entertainment device,  but it fails.  I say this because of the annoying lack of Adobe Flash support.

If you want to watch a show from a network site…. fail

If you want to use your HBOGO subscription….. fail

If you want  to play your favorite game on Facebook….fail.

Anything with Flash…..epic fail.

The war of words on this issue  between Steve Jobs and Adobe are well chronicled in the Press and the  Blogosphere.

Speaking as a user and developer on the iPad, I view this as a major Faux Pas.  I know you can download video from the Net, convert it to an iPad supported format and load it via iTunes, but that’s really beyond most users capabilities and completely misses the point of a Net connected device.

If there were a competitive Android Tablet device on the market that compared head to head with the iPad, I would get the Android version just for the Flash Support.   When I now want to watch a web videoon the go , I use my Droid smartphone because of the Flash Support.

This would be like developing a PC that only supports one browser.  Even Microsoft in its most Machiavellian days permitted other browsers to be installed within its operating system.   I wish I could say this was anything other than Apple trying to drive all video for the iPad to be within apps and iTunes. The Apple Flash policy is pure, raw monopolistic power being wielded, clear and simple.  To call it anything else is just poor technical rationalization.  Apple used to be the underdog, the company of the people.  Oh well.

(Click Here for Jon Stewart’s take on Apple’s Corporate Aggressiveness – funny)
This is a real shame because the iPad could be a super personal video device.  And yes, I know that there are videos available on iTunes and special built video apps, but the world is bigger than iTunes, and a Net connected browsing device should be compatible, with the Net! (End of Rant)

Prophetic commercial?

The next question is will I miss not having an iPad in my electronic arsenal?  In this case I am probably very unique among iPad users.  How many give up there iPad after a month?

My iPad has been useful in business travel and meetings .  Somehow I managed to survive travel and meetings without this wonder device in the past and I bet I will be just fine without it.   I just won’t look as cool!

If I suffer severe withdrawal symptoms I will let you know!

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Scanning your Life

It is not often that someone shows me something in tech that makes me go “WOW!, that’s cool”.  I had such a moment recently when I met Jonathan Bulkeley, CEO of ScanBuy.  Regular readers of this blog know that I rarely promote products and services, but rather just give my “guy on the street” views.

Unless you are George Bush Senior, you know that there are barcodes on everything.  There are the ubiquitous  1-D UPC codes that you see in the supermarket and a host of new 2-D barcodes.  With the inclusion of barcode readers in smartphones (my Android is very capable in this area) you can go to a store, scan the barcode and be linked to product information websites, Google shopper, Amazon, etc.  You can do instant online price comparison in a store, and if you like purchase the product.  It seems that stores are catching on and are starting to put there own barcodes on products that then links back to their own website, not a competitor’s.  This is not the “WOW” part.  I’ve been doing store scanning  for some time.  Its fun and seems to thoroughly annoy sales staff (and sometimes my wife!)

The company that Bulkeley runs is the one that produces the Android app that I use to scan barcodes.  You can think of a barcode as a web url that directs the application to go to some specific website or activate an application.  You can imagine that the directory service of linking codes to a website is an interesting business area.

Now for the “WOW” moment.

When I was talking to Bulkeley,  he showed me his business card that had a 2-D barcode on the back.  He said, “go ahead scan it”.  When I scanned it, the application opened up the contact manager on my phone and auto-populated all of his details and asked me to confirm.  That was WOW.

You see ScanBuy and its consumer facing ScanLife website gives you the opportunity to have your own personal 2-D barcodes that link to a website or launch a contact application.  There are codes you can make for websites, phone numbers, SMS, Twitter, and even a menu of items.

Here is my contact 2-D Barcode:

And here is another that links to my personal Website:

And yet another that I made to link to my favorite Youtube video. I bet you can’t guess which one?

You can even change the destination website of any barcode on the ScanLife website.  If you have a smartphone with a ScanLife application, you can scan these codes directly from your computer screen.

He told me his daughter has a barcode on her dorm door and changes the website with her mood and likes.

I could envision a whole new market in fraternities, sororities and dorms.  No need to put a piece of clothing on the door knob as the signal of an “overnight” guest.   Just make sure your roommate scans before he enters!

But as they say – Wait –there’s more to this story….

A day later I was taking the train back to New Jersey from New York.  The train was full and I was sitting alone in two facing seats.  Three others came to occupy the other spots.  There were two young women – maybe 22 – one with bright purple hair and lots of interesting body art and the other very blonde and pixie-like.  Their androgynous boyfriend rounded out the group.  Needless to say, I did not have much in common or much to say as the went on about their art exhibits and music performances.  This was not the “Hey! how about those Yankees?” crowd. And I was not up on the latest exhibit in the Village.

This all changed when Miss Pixie took out her Android phone.  Ah!, now something of a connection.  We had a long discussion on apps and her favorites. Her two interesting friends also had Androids, but older models (at least 6 months) and seemed behind the curve.   Pixie liked the same apps I did.  I am not sure what to conclude from that, so moving on…..

She had Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Skype and Google Navigation.  Her really favorite “cool” app was, you guessed it –  ScanLife.  She did not even know the name of the company, just that she could use it when she shopped.

At this point her rather purple,  pierced  and tattooed friend perked up and said , “I always wanted to get a barcode tatoo.”

Not wanting to waste a good promotion opportunity for Mr. Bulkeley’s company, I explained how she could have her own personal barcode that linked to something that she could pick, and even change.  She was delighted and copied down the info.

For this group of avant-garde artists, it was one more cool thing to adorn their body with , and something they could scan with their phones.

The train pulled into my stop and my new friends, who were brought together by our Droids and barcodes, parted ways.

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My excellent iPad adventure in the land of Les Habitants

During the past couple of weeks I have been using an iPad and trying to figure out where it fits in my digital hierarchy.  For the record my technical stack includes an iMac , a  MacBook,  a netbook and, an HTC Droid Incredible and a Kindle.   While at home the iPad was a toy.  It was something to use while watching television.  Thus it was slightly more convenient than having a macbook or net book  for light browsing and email.  As a book reader it was much nicer than my Kindle (which I still like).  I installed the Kindle app on the iPad and read  a couple of books on it.   It was aggravating that movies that I can watch online easily with my Droid phone cannot be watched on the iPad due to the lack of Flash support.  When will we have an Android Pad?

The interesting part of my iPad experience came when I had a business trip last week.  Instead of taking my laptop I went cold turkey and just took the iPad as my second device, in addition to my Droid phone.  This decision shocked my colleagues, including the one who lent me the iPad to try out!

The iPad did well on the plane as I read the New York Times.  This was especially interesting since the person next to me had the paper version and lusted after my alternative format.  After finishing the Times, I read USA Today, played a couple of games and started to read one of the books I had downloaded via the Kindle app.

I could also imagine that the iPad would make a great personal Video device for longer flights.

At the business meeting I was the cool kid at the table.  After all, what do you really do with a laptop at a meeting? You browse the web, check email and possibly access a presentation.  Since I did not have a presentation to show, the later two were just fine.  For the record if you want to display a power point presentation on your iPad the easiest way is to upload it to Google Docs and then access it directly from the Web.   The iPad is really shines as a net connected device and thus using cloud services is the way to go.  If you don’t have Web access then converting the presentation to JPG images or video also works.  I also installed dropbox on the iPad and it worked great giving me access to my Cloud virtual drive.

The funny part of my day occurred as I was leaving to fly home.  My meeting was in Montreal and that day was also the first day of  iPad sales in Canada.  At an airport sports bar I was killing about an hour why reading on my iPad.  I attracted a crowd of very interested on lookers.  The waitress even brought her boss out to have a gander (Canadian Goose reference…)  Again, I was the cool kid.    This was similar to elementary kids who have their school lunch sandwiches cut on the diagonal, instead of squares.  (Or at least that is what I was told by my kids)

When I passed through Canadian security I was asked if   I had a laptop and I of course proudly proclaimed, no – I have an iPad.  At that point Ihad no less than 4 inspectors handling my device.  They made me turn it on for “security” reasons.  Once I had it on I demonstrated some apps and the book reader.  I was decl

ared safe.   It was a slow day in Montreal for air travel.  This had the makings of a real live Apple commercial.

Note to Steve Jobs:  Get that security tape and air it – great publicity.

When convinced that I no longer was a threat to Canadian airspace with my iPad, I proceeded to the gate.  The flight was an hour late and I began to read my book on the iPad.  Again I drew a crowd when a little kid pointed and yelled – Look DAD, that’s an iPad , cool! I was then obligated to give another demonstration and let some of my fellow passengers check it out.    Just when I was feeling my coolest someone asked me – “hey it looks cool, what does it do?”  All I could thing of was – “It will do whatever you want, once someone figures out what you want”

Understand ? Ehh?

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Augmented Reality? Really?

I have tried over 100 apps on my new Super-Droid, the HTC Incredible.  One of the more interesting and  hyped areas is that of Augmented Reality.  Here is the  Wikipedia definition for AR –

Augmented reality (AR) `is a term for a live direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment whose elements are augmented by virtual computer-generated imagery. It is related to a more general concept called mediated reality in which a view of reality is modified (possibly even diminished rather than augmented) by a computer. As a result, the technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality.”

On my Droid, most AR applications are a mash-up of GPS, Google search, camera viewing, compass heading and overlay visuals.   The overlays are anything from tourist locations, buildings, roads, bars, restaurants, and of course Starbucks.   You look at your phone as the phone’s camera looks at the world and adds its own heads up display (HUD).

While these apps have an “Ubber-Cool” factor, AR does not yet seem to have found its mainstream raison d’être.  Its fun to show your friends and get them to say  -“ooo”, and “ah”, but then what?

Who is going to walk around holding their 4 inch screen in front of them while looking for something and following an arrow in their AR world?  All sorts of enhanced navigation programs, either for driving, walking, hiking or public transit already exist with great mapping displays.  The potential fro AR is likely huge in the future as the applications further develop.  But for now, it is early days.

If you want to try out AR for and judge for yourself here are 5 programs you can download for free on a Droid.

-Layar

A Legal Neighbor listed as a "Bar" - needs some work..

Layar  (get it –  LayAR) is an environment that permits others to development AR functionality on displays and maps. It is in essence an AR aggregation platform – an AR browser- that is mostly ad supported with some premium subscription services.  I can use my virtual Droid HUD to find everything from apartments, nearby Tweeters, Foursquare locations,  local wikipedia entries and even the weather.  Weather?  Yep – look through the HUD and see an AR cloud superimposed in your view with the temperature on it.  There is even a weather app for tornado warnings.   If you have to look through the phone to determine you are looking at a Tornado, its may be Darwin Award time.

A Landmark on Foursquare

Just because you can do something with technology does not mean you have to do it!  Similar to overall smartphone apps, let a million apps bloom and something good will happen.

Here is the web catalog of all Layar powered AR apps.

-Laser Level

The program superimposes perpendicular red “laser” lines in your HUD to help you straighten that picture you just hung.  The app works pretty good, but not really efficient for hanging pictures and I would still want my contractors to use a physical level.

-3D Compass

This app floats a compass and a map on your screen, along with speed and altitude.

Its fun to play with this app when I take NJ Transit into NYC.  For the record, the trains hit a top speed of around 60 mph, New York is east of New Jersey, and the train rarely gets airborne.

-Zagat NRU

This is a curious app that displays all Zagat rated venues within circular range bands, arranged by compass heading.  Its great to showpeople, but then what?  Okay gang lets go to this new Italian restaurant; we have to walk at 37.6 degrees  NNE for 1.5 km?

-NYC Wayfinder

Hold up your HUD display and it will point out subway entrances.  Does it also paint a target on your back and add a European carry-all to you, virtually?

The potential for AR applications exists and like any technology in its early phases, many potential uses will be explored.  What is amazing is how relatively easy it is to make this apps with the basic tools and capabilities of the Android (and yes, iPhone too)

What will the killer AR apps be?  I have two predictions for AR apps.

My first prediction is for massive multi-user, AR enhanced games.  Pick your favorite version of Human/Zombie, Capture the Flag, etc –   and have all the players be able to track each other in an AR enhanced world and even “shoot” each other and record “hits”, all in augmented reality.  This can take the collaborative gaming experience of the XBOX 360 and get everyone outside actually running around and exercising.  Just like kids did before computer games.  Ironic…..  Of course this is what he U.S. military does, for real. So who would be most motivated to fund and produce such an app?

Another interesting app, assuming the key development enabler of cheap AR viewing glasses will be virtual tours.  Instead of holding a small screen, view the AR world all the time?  I could easily see tourists using these to get around various venues and even have embedded virtual tour guides pointing out local areas of interest.  Imagine visiting the ancient Roman port of Caesarea in Israel and having your virtual guide enhance your view to show you what it really looked like 2000 years ago – virtually. For Real.

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“Where” is that Secret Facility on Foursquare?

One of the really interesting aspects of smartphone apps is the innovation and product mutation process.  Over the past couple of weeks I have downloaded over 100 apps on my Droid.  Some apps were good, many were not.  With the exception of Skydroid (99 cents), all were free.  For the record the Skydroid golf GPS program worked really well on my recent golf outing.  It did not help my game at all, but it was useful ad fun to use.

"Where" Local Information Portal

One of the more interesting and useful apps I have been using is “Where”.   “Where” aggregates all the most important mobile search and information functions in one app that utilizes your location for giving you the most relevant results.    Weather, News (including micro local news!), Places (a combination of restaurants, hotels, shopping, bars, etc), Movies, Gas prices, Yellow Pages, Traffic, and even a dedicated icon for the nearest Starbucks.  For the city-folk, it includes an app to locate a Zip Car.  All of these come with easy lists, or are searchable via text or voice input.

Instead of going into several dedicated apps to do the same “on the fly” searches, you can just stay within the “Where” dashboard.   They also have a widget for the Droid that will give you the latest alert on any of the categories you have displayed.  The widget still needs some work, but is useful.

There is a similar function to “FourSquare” that encourages venue checkin and reviews. Foursquare is  the much bigger app for the “hey look where I’ve been crowd”, but “Where” should be watched.

What is interesting about both “Where” and “Foursquare” is how they took a

Foursquare places near me - Interesting...

working model on mobile and morphed it into something more useful.   “Where” actually went backwards to go forward.  They observed that the single function search and LBS apps were good but cumbersome to use in a real life use case.  For example, let’s find a movie to see, a place to eat and maybe a club later on.  “Where” handles that use case.  “Where” re-invented the information portal.

For the record I have no idea what the top secret Delta Facility or the Mothership are in my list.  But I will now have to check them out!  If this is my last blog article you will know why!

My Mother's Day Trip - on Foursquare

Foursquare capitalized on the fascination with Twitter and tweeting your status and focused it on venues.  This creates a social scene network.  Where are your friends?  Do you want to see them?  What do they think of that bar, restaurant, deli, etc?  It is a real time social networking app that is part Twitter, part Zagat’s, and part dating and hook-up.  Foursquare also uses location based services to locate you and give you a list of close by venues for you to check-in.

Both of these apps are using geo-located search technology to make their apps very easy to use.  They are both ad supported.  “Where” has a coupon tray for local coupons on products and services.  They both provide functionality that is superior to a vanilla Google search.

So what do they need to move to the big time?

Foursquare is clearly in the Zagat space.  Foursquare is what the mobile version of Zagat should be.  Foursquare and Zagat announced a partnership in February.  The combined application should be interesting!  To the leading edge augmented reality crowd –  yes I have tried Zagat on NRU – its very cool and the whole subject of augmented reality will be the topic of a future article.

“Where” needs the venue reviews and overall utilization that Foursquare and Zagat enjoy.  Additionally “Where” can benefit from the social networking features of Foursquare.   What I am not to subtly suggesting is that while Foursquare and “Where” have definitely moved the bar (no pun intended 🙂 ) , they are much more compelling together, and eventually even more compelling in a real partnership with Zagat.

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