Tag Archives: Microsoft

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Good Things on a Tuesday

3 quick observations this morning from the land of tech, all fueling a sense that a fun and relatively rosy future is ahead in the industry.  All from the tech section of the NYT.

At a basic infrastructure level, it was neat to read about Violin Memory’s launch of its data storage cards being made available for individual computer servers.  If you spend any time in this industry, you know that  the march of Moore’s Law is going to increase the capacity and capabilities of computing technology, you just need to give it time.  But it’s always fun to see a discontinuity in things like storage, at least it is to me. :)  I’m not sure what I’d need to buy an individual server iwth 1.4 terabytes of flash memory, but man, would I like to see it.  What Moore’s Law giveth, we all find ways to taketh away.  It’s a Good Thing to read about Violin Memory’s launch, hope they do well.

Second, it seems the disruption of Old World Media by technology continues, with the NYT report that TV Pilots are turning to Netflix, Amazon, Microsoft’s XBOX division and others, as opposed to TV networks.  For a while now, traditional media of TV, movies, and music have all been victims of tech’s massive disruption.  They’ve had to respond, with anything.  To a drowning man, everything looks like a raft.  And it’s awesome to see these new channels and customers coming online.  Netflix’s House of Cards was terrific content, and while there’s always a lot of dreck on the tube, you can find a lot of gems–Justified, Breaking Bad, The Wire, etc., etc.  More distribution channels over the web for better content–nom nom nom.

Third, fun to see a headline calling out the “Cult of Evernote.”  I’m a total Evernote Fanboy.  Not necessarily a cult member, I don’t think, as I’ve not yet found a way to use anything in the Evernote “Trunk,” but I’ve got to hand it to them.  An absolutely fantastic product that’s never let me down, Evernote has built a great franchise.  Let’s hope the recent security scare from the weekend is handled well (so far, so good), as a breach of Evernote would be absolutely disastrous to me, and I assume others.

All in all, 3 Good Things on a Tuesday morning, a nice way to start the day.

 

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Disruption Daily: Early Thoughts on Facebook Graph Search

Peter Drucker dies at 95

Big tech news today with Facebook announcing its new Facebook Graph Search.  Wall Street apparently didn’t like the news, sending FB down -2.74% on a day the rest of the market was pretty sharply up.  I might need to lean in and pick some up.

I think it is a big tech story for 2013.  I agree with David Weekly’s initial observation that this is a serious ongoing threat to Google.  It’s a pretty obvious step for Facebook and I think its going to pay off for a few basic reasons.

First, it starts to highlight in a very mainstream way how Facebook has, in effect, become the internet for many people.  People are spending so much time on Facebook that it makes sense that FB would invest in convening a “Dream Team” of Google Search engineers to do some semantic forking and NLP stuff to make Facebook the place you go for search.  It makes all the more sense when you consider that Facebook content isn’t really searchable via Google–I can’t go to Google and search for that status update, photo, or meme you posted.  Just doesn’t work.  So an obvious strategic move.

Will it succeed?  I’m bullish.  It’s one of these strategies where Facebook’s chocolate meeting the peanut butter of search seems to fit really nicely.  Certainly it seems a lot smoother of a fit than Google trying to veer into social with G+.  (With Marissa Mayer taking her talents to Yahoo, I think Google’s push into social is perhaps even more at risk, as her fingerprints in terms of user experience and design were so pervasive.)

Second, I think that there are a variety of scenarios where FB search could be quite disruptive in the shorter term–with local in particular.  We are all connected to friends through Facebook, and I’d bet that a lot of accounts have a huge portion of friend connections who are nearby.  The next time you need to know whether that new Chinese place is any good, are you really going to go to Yelp or Google, or would you like to see that 6 of your friends had “Liked” the place on Facebook.  Local is a big kahuna market, and FB has a nice route to going after it.

Third, it’s a winning move in that FB is growing engagement and retention, and search (along with mobile) gives it a new avenue to continue driving this lift.  Surely there’s an opportunity to go for the jugular over time with Google, and this is good for the industry.

A final point on Facebook’s capacity to disrupt Google in a major way… I remember reading an interview of Peter Drucker in 1997 or 1998, around the time that the Department of Justice was lining up to take on Microsoft for anti-trust violations.  The interviewer asked the father of modern management what his opinion was on the anti-trust case. His answer, basically, was that in the case of the technology industry, the market moves too quickly.  When a company becomes as big as Microsoft  the seeds for obsolescence are in a sense already planted.  He forecast that based on Microsoft’s size, some small, disruptive company that no one had yet heard of would step up to take on Microsoft in relatively short order.  Though there’s no reason to think Drucker had ever heard of them in 1998 when the interview happened, it’s pretty clear that he was prophesizing Google.

Now certainly we’ve all heard of Facebook, so this time around is a little different.  But at the same time, it’s not lost on me that in the same week that the Department of Justice announced it would not pursue action on Google after 2 years of investigation–the true sign of being a tech behemoth–Facebook announced its Facebook Graph Search.

 

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Thoughts on Apple’s Tim Cook’s Apology on Maps

Today, Apple CEO Tim Cook posted an apology letter to its customers over the release of its mapping product in iOS6.  It is direct and sincere.  It also recommends partner (or potentially competitor) products to users.  A link to the letter is here, and it is a clear sign of Cook’s leadership style and how this style differs from Jobs’ style.

One of BlueRun Ventures‘ portfolio companies, Waze, is specifically recommended to users.  This is quite a turn of events, as just a few months ago, Apple’s announcement that it was launching its own mapping product had led many in the technorati sphere to pronounce Waze roadkill.  What a difference solving a hard technical problem makes.

This is not a post that is negative to Apple at all.  It is still the most amazing and most valuable company in the tech world, and rightly so.  I am a big time Apple fanboy.  At the same time, today’s development is actually great news for startups as a whole for several reasons.

There are no sure things.  First, today’s note is evidence that just being the 800# Gorilla isn’t enough to guarantee winning a market.  With some markets, even if you are the most valuable company on the planet and you can literally devote limitless resources to a technology, you are not guaranteed a win, at least straight out of the gate.  In some market segments, like Maps, people depend on them and care about them greatly.  And it turns out the technology solution is difficult and takes more than just money to solve–it’s going to take, in the estimation of some analysts “two or three years,” to for Apple to build  a competitive offering.

Competition is good.  The second observation that’s good for startups is that this is evidence of a healthy and competitive marketplace.  Imagine that this happened in the PC ecosystem at the height of Microsoft’s dominance with Windows…  Users would have complained and raised a fuss, and Microsoft would have stuck with the message that ‘as more users use our [crappy] maps, the maps will get better,’ but there wouldn’t have been the same ecosystem support and robustness.  There’d also not have really been an alternative.

Today, not only is Apple recommending products like Waze, but analysts are wondering whether this will drive more users to Google’s Android platform, where Google Maps are happily distributed.  This is the wonder of competition–the invisible hand is clearly at work.  More competition at the platform level is good for startups and good for users, as it drives more diversity, more desire for offerings that each ecosystem can build upon.

Mobile is about local and real-time–maps here are key. The third observation that is that #MapGate and the customer uproar over it highlights things I’ve written about before.  Namely,  the Mobile Web 3.0 is upon us, and it offers the opportunity for real time commerce right here right now at the hyper local level.  When you  think about computing as being very local and real time, you realize that the map is the central locus point, that the map is extremely strategic in this world.  This is great news, not just for Waze, but for the coming future of the Mobile Web 3.0.

 

http://techcrunch.com/2012/08/11/analysis-web-3-0-the-mobile-era/

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Silicon Valley is Stupid

David Weekly is in terrific form with his post today on GigaOm Silicon Valley is Stupid Which is Why it Works.  It is a delight to read his writing–David’s energy, intelligence, wit, and wattage come shining through.  The article itself is spot on, and is really a must read, particularly for groups trying to build more of the Silicon Valley ethos into their region, town or country.

One additional element to Silicon Valley that I think is important, at least based on my own experience, is the openness and general inclusiveness of the community.

In most places, the existing social hierarchy–where one went to school, whose kid you are, whether you have friends in high places–exerts a huge influence and can be a huge help (or barrier) depending on where you fit.  Of course, Silicon Valley has an element of this–certainly being on a first name basis with A-listers like a Ron Conway, Mark Zuckerberg or John Doerr would likely confer a some benefit to you: who you know matters.

It’s not as much who you know, it’s what you’re doing.  In my experience, two elements really balance this out.  First, here in Silicon Valley, the core arbiter is really around what you’re doing and what you’re building.  This focus on what you’re doing (and the quality of the people you’re doing this with) overshadows, in my view, whomever you might know.  For example, I’ve talked to people who claim they were the right hands to Larry (Ellison) and then went built businesses for Steve (Jobs) whom I thought were complete yo-yos.  At the same time, we’ve funded successful companies where the founders were basically unknown and unreferenceable, as they had so few LI connections or prior real work experience. Put another way–if you had the choice of being an awesome team working on awesome projects with no network versus being super networked but working on a meh project with a meh team, you’d take door #1 in a second.

Silicon Valley is more open.  The second element is that the Silicon Valley network is as open as I think you’ll find anywhere in the world.  Not only are the most seasoned and experienced investors or executives generally findable and reachable, but the vast majority of them operate with an ethos that they’ve always got to be growing their networks.  This is not to say that barraging them with a spray and pray email form letter is going to get a response, of course.  That style blows and you won’t get far.

But broadly speaking, if you want to connect with anyone, and you work at it thoughtfully, you can get it done.  Concretely, visualize Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) in the movie Wall Street, who’d chased his prey, Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas).  You may have to work at it to connect with someone, but with persistence, creativity, and quality, you should to connect to them.

My own experience in Silicon Valley over these last 5 years is evidence of this.  I moved to Palo Alto from Tokyo, Japan, where I’d spent nearly 4 years working for Microsoft in its Japan subsidiary.  Although I’d really enjoyed my time at Microsoft, I really felt that in the tech industry, so much growth and innovative thinking was occurring in SV that I had to get there.  I knew that I wanted to stay in tech, and I knew I wanted to get involved in smaller companies (an easy threshold to meet, given that when I left MSFT had more than 90,000 employees).

In any case, when I showed up in Palo Alto, other than some former Microsoft colleagues who’d moved here, I effectively knew no one.  I had a network of zero, basically.  From day 0, however, I found that I got great opportunities to meet great new people, that vast majority of them were interested in helping me find my way.  This ethos was quite broad, and time and time again, I was struck at how helpful and thoughtful people were in helping me out when there really wasn’t much upside for them.

Nowhere is this more clear than how I actually met David Weekly.  When I lived in Tokyo, working for Microsoft, I was getting really serious about leaving MSFT to head into the great unknown of Silicon Valley.  I was reading about Silicon Valley, and surfing around LinkedIn to learn about people.  I stumbled onto an article about the SuperHappyDev House events that David was hosting at the times.  (They’ve since mushroomed into something much bigger and more broad.)  These were apparently all night hackathons at some house he was retngin up in Hillsborough.  And what struck me was that his LinkedIn profile had an Endorsement from a police officer who had come to, I guess, break up one of these parties.  I remember thinking to myself, “I’ve *got* to meet this David Weekly guy!”  (I also became a user of PBWiki, a great product, btw.)

Anyway, fast forward 3 or 4 years, and I’ve got myself here, helping out at the FounderInstitute, Adeo Ressi‘s global startup incubator.  Adeo and I were basically neighbors when I moved to Silicon Valley, and he couldnt have been more helpful and fun to get to know.  He was getting the FI rolling, and he was kind enough to give me opportunities to speak, facilitate, and at times just help out.

Anyway, I was moderating an evening’s events at the San Francisco FounderInstitute, and there as one of the guest speakers, was David Weekly.  I introduced myself like a total fanboy, though I’m not sure that I asked for an autograph.  :)  I introduced him to the FI founders with my Tokyo story.

A culture where people are most honed in on what you’re building and what you’re doing.  An environment that’s really open, where people tend to want to just be helpful to others in getting out there and building cool stuff.  Those are two more of our additional stupidities out here that make this place so very great.  Thanks David for the great article!

 

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A Giant Awakes: Microsoft Surface

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 18:  The Microsoft tabl...

Microsoft yesterday announced its new Windows Surface tablet.  Though prices and release dates are not yet confirmed, this won’t stop the prognosticators from calling Surface DOA or a Kick Ass Return.

I’m bullish.  I’m excited.  For a bunch of reasons…  Here they are:

We need competition on Tablets.  Right now, iPad is totally kicking ass in Tablets–it’s not even close right now.  Android Tablets are the Bump of the Tablet world–lots of press that there’s tons of users, but no one has seen a user in the wild. Having MSFT enter with a credible device is good for the tech industry and for the world.

I want a keyboard!  I love my iPad: it is totally and completely awesome for reading and deleting email, and for reading news.  It is total crap when it comes to composing or dealing with emails that are not deletes.  Why?  No keyboard–you can’t type.  I appreciate Siri as an alternative–in the phone form factor in particular–but having a keyboard for a tablet is definitely something I’ll check out.  Would be great to have an easy way to power through more email via keyboard than trying to speak to an iPad.  Nice!

Office + Surface <> MSFT Zune.  If you believe MSFT’s earning calls, which I do, many of us are still using Microsoft Office products.   I still use MS Excel and PPT a fair amount.  (Goog Docs is fine for most docs.)  Blending Microsoft Office and Surface is something I’m super excited about.  Can’t wait.

To me, this is the big kahuna as to why I’m bullish on this effort where I was more skeptical on Zune.  Zune was trying to battle against Apple’s iPod and iTunes service–a value proposition that Apple had all the strength and leverage.  Surface is different.  Surface leveraging Microsoft Office is a big deal, as Office is still a huge franchise.  This makes this play totally different.  (BTW, for Microsoft watchers, don’t forget: Windows President, Steven Sinofsky is the former head of Office, so this integration will be slick #justsayin’.)

Hardware Channel Conflicts will get worked out.  MSFT haters are pointing out how much pushback Windows OEM partners will have on Microsoft’s entry into the Tablet and the Hardware space with tablets.

Do you know what my response would be if I were at Microsoft talking to these OEM partners?

I’d probably ask these questions:

How long have we known about the iPad?  (3-4 years.)

How many SKUs have we produced that are reasonable alternatives? (0)

How important do you view the Tablet business over next 5 years? (Very.)

Given that, would you rather be part of an ecosystem that has at least 1 credible alternative or would you rather continue getting your ass kicked by Apple?

The answer is clera.  In 2012, there are effectively zero competitors to the Apple iPad.  We’ve all seen the device in market for years, and the best offerings so far– the Samsung Galaxy Tab IMHO–have gained little share.

So my view is the Microsoft ecosystem has got to  take it to them and raise the water line on Apple a little bit.  Let’s make them sweat at least a little bit .  Ultimately: let’s get on the field.  Then let’s get the ecosystem moving forward.  Let’s build a next generation as the WinTel / WinARM consortium of the 90’s and get after it.  But let’s get on the field.  Otherwise, we’re all just going to continue to get screwed.

 

So to me, a Giant is now very much awake.  And the Giant of MSFT should be: Tablets are about as core a threat as Microsoft can face.  All hands are on deck, and while yes its late, and yes its not got the apps, the Surface and the Microsoft effort here will be one to watch.  Certainly not to be trifled with or discounted.

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RIP Zune

Today’s New York Times has an article titled “RIP Zune” that notes Microsoft’s announcement that its discontinuing the Zune Music/Video service in favor of the better known XBOX Live services.  A no-brainer decision by MSFT, more wood behind a stronger arrow.

I received a Zune device (generation 1, I think) in early 2007 as a gift for a launch I’d worked on at Microsoft.  It was alright, and truthfully, the rental service–a lot like an early version of Spotify though with a smaller catalog–worked well.  The iPod at that point was still just so much farther ahead that it was difficult to see how the Zune would really catch up.

I did have a funny Zune story though.  I left Microsoft on August 31, 2007 and was on a flight back to the US from Tokyo, where I worked, on September 1, 2007.  As I got into my seat on the flight to San Francisco, where I would be starting my new career and head into the unknown, I dropped my Zune.  My seat mate picks up the device, looks at it for a few seconds, and says, “Is THAT A ZUNE? I’ve NEVER seen one!”  I let him play with it for a few seconds, as we giggled about the rareness of these devices.

Within a week of moving to the Bay Area, I’d dropped the Zune for an iPhone.  Within a quarter, I’d moved from Windows to a Mac.  Now our home is filled with Apple devices–Macs, iPhones, iPods, iPads, and Apple TVs.  Come a long way since owning a Zune 5 years ago!

 

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The Vice Tightens

Nokia warned this week of softer than expected revenues and a slower uptake of its new line of gorgeous Lumia phones running Windows Phone.  Nokia also announced aggressive price cuts to drive volume.

Its an expected, necessary response to slow consumer uptake on this launch.   The  price cut also exposes the challenge in front of Nokia and Microsoft–namely that to become a credible “third ecosystem,” they’re going to have to carve out a niche that is distinctly different and protected from Apple/iOS on the high-end, and Google/Android on the low-end.

Though Android is now clearly winning on unit volumes in the smartphone market, Apple is still earning the bulk of profits.  Consumers yearn for Apple products, and Apple appears to still have a lot of marketing magic in terms of whipping us into a frenzy for its new product releases.  And more importantly, the developer ecosystem around Apple  remains strong.  Developers know how to make money on iOS and it remains a ‘must target’ platform from a developer standpoint.  So long as these factors remain true, expect Apple to retain the high end.

Google Android has arrived big time.  Now the leader in terms of unit share run-rate, Android is now the market leader in smartphone shipments.  Being #1 has benefits, in particular, any hardware manufacturer not named Apple basically has to be in the Android ecosystem.  Google’s strategy of giving away the OS and its better than free value proposition to hardware OEMs, which Peter Fenton discusses in this great post, is great competitive defense.  If there’s any weakness in the Android ecosystem, its that the profitability of the developer ecosystem seems lower than iOS’s.  Developers I speak to generally find Android users less likely to pay for an app, less likely to complete in-app purchases etc.  Android runs too many units for developers to not target the platform, but the developer revenue seems less clear.

With these two leaders in place, then the question is how does Nokia / Windows fit?  It will be difficult to compete with Android’s less than free.  To the extent it is successful in gaining (buying?) share at the low end, this strategy has to problems.  First, Nokia/Windows have a business model that will have to likely compete against the better than free model of Android.  While charging nothing to handset manufacturers, Google makes revenue on default searches and reportedly shares this revenue with carriers/handset makers.  This is better than free, and MSFT/Nokia will have a challenge responding.

The second issue here, also important, is the signaling to mobile app developers.  Most mobile app developers I speak to tell me that Android is a broadly distributed platform, but it is nowhere near as profitable (in general) as iOS.  Developers will run you through a litany of complaints: the Android Market is a mess, the in app purchasing platform is weak, users don’t upgrade to the latest versions of the Android OS (or their apps), etc.  The other issue is a function of price point: Android users are generally cheaper and more price sesnitive than iOS users.  Developers know this.  With Windows / Nokia chasing this segment, they are heading into a problem area for their developer efforts–namely, developers will want to understand what the profit profile is for building apps on the platform.

So Windows Phone / Nokia will have challenges fighting against Apple.  And opening a front against Android will I expect prove both costly and difficult to attract developers.  This is the risk of becoming a third ecosystem.  This is what happens when the vice tightens.

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6 Observations from Mobile World Congress 2012

GSMA Mobile. WorldCongress

Image via Wikipedia

This year’s Mobile World Congress drew record crowds to the beautiful Fira de Barcelona venue.  The scale of attendee growth–up over 30% from last year and forecast to be well over 100,000 next year–drove home the obvious message: this mobile thing is going to be really big. 

As venture investors who’ve focused on mobile investments for over a decade, BlueRun has been coming to MWC/GSMA for years, and its interesting to track the moves occurring in the industry year on year. 

At a high level, this year felt relatively incremental versus last year–a lot of overall market growth, but few individual moves.  Here are a key observations that I came away with, generally with observations on a year over year perspective. 

  1. Brands are getting in the game in a big way, but the days are early.
    One of the biggest changes I saw year over year was the interest big brands have in mobile.  We saw this most clearly at the mini-conference AppNation, which was produced in partnership with Nokia, BlueRun Ventures, held its Social Loco conference at MWC.  In it, speakers from a broad range of companies–from Ebay/PayPal, Visa, ESPN, Verizon Wireless, Four Square, Waze, Groupon, Retailligence, Bing Mobile, Keep, and others–discussed how the rise of SoLoMo was impacting their businesses.  The net/net is that we are in the early innings of mobile’s rise in increasing as a new outlet for brand franchises to build and nurture. 

    Over the last 12 months, brands have watched the rise of firms like Groupon (couponing), Zong (now Ebay) (payments), and the opportunity is starting to become clear.  At the same time, the opportunity to do much, much more in terms of building relationships with users is still very apparent.  One example: loyalty.  One panel asked each speaker to name a company who’s mobile strategy had improved the loyalty the speaker had with that brand.  Everyone on the panl could name one brand: Amazon, Starbucks, Delta (sic).  But everyone’s list was relatively short. 

    Brands to date are using mobile as an extention of their brand, e.g., ESPN is now available with scores, news and highlights in your pocket.  Or perhaps they’re using mobile to help extend the ability to drive commerce, e.g., Amazon now gives me the ability to price shop whenever I’m in the store.  But when thinking about how brands really think about building loyalty via mobile, few could point to brands that are yet thinking about this.  Right now, mobile is mainly about driving foot traffic and sales at point of sale, according to the folks that I spoke to.  I expect much opportunity over the next 2-3 years for brands to think really hard about not just closing sales through using their mobile strategies to build real-time purchase intent, but also to spark opportunities to drive long-term loyalty.

    At the same time, in the shorter term, there was a lot of discussion at this from brand’s perspectives about this being the year where m-commerce really explodes.  Several felt that the ecosystem around NFC is finally in place.  And with the next generation of phones having wallet technologies turnkey ready, there’s a sense that we’re finally going to see m-commerce and m-payments really poised to explode.  So for the time being, the brands that were speaking here are looking most heavily at how they position themselves to capitalize on this.  All in all, that’s good for the whole ecosystem. Its going to drive a big solid step for mobile as a market, and it highlights how much opportunity remains in front of us. 
  2. Microsoft / Nokia partnership progress has exceeded expectations 1 year in.  A year ago at MWC, the MSFT/NOK partnership had been just announced.   Leading up to last year’s MWC, Nokia had just released new CEO, Stephen Elop’s “Burning Platform” memo, a clear-eyed assessment of how far behind Nokia had fallen and the level of urgent focus required.   At last year’s show, Elop proclaimed that the Nokia / Windows Phone partnership would provide a “3rd Ecosystem.”  But at the booths of both Microsoft and Nokia, no phones existed, few partners were on board.  So last year, the pronouncements were strong, but the execution wasn’t yet there–skepticism was the order of the day. 

    What a difference a year makes.  Nokia’s Lumia 900 looks awesome–I got a 7 minute demo (and finally had to beg to leave the booth)–for the high end and should grab some share in the premium smartphone market.  At the same time, there are a range of lower end smartphone devices that are going to disrupt the feature phone share. 

    Much work remains.  The app ecosystem is still way too far behind and developers I speak to are not seeing a need to prioritize WP ports yet.  For gaming, the lack of OpenGL and the inability to program in native C or C++, has several mobile game developers unable to shift their focus.  And how WP users will monetize in this 3rd ecosystem is still a big wild card.  Developers I speak to in general understand that iOS monetizes far better than Android.  How WP users will monetize is hazy, especially given that a big chunk of share WP will grab will be feature phone replacements. 

    But all in all, given where Nokia and Windows Phone were a year ago, more progress has been made in a year than I think most would have forecast.
  3. Android’s ecosystem continues to hum.  Last year, Google’s Android presence was in a word: awesome.  Their Android area was a party, and all the cool apps were there.  Cool visualziations of Android activations conveyed the global momentum.  And a smoothie bar and slide rounded out the momentum with “googley” good cheer. 
    This year all this stuff was on display.  Momentum still strong, no big change here.  Steady progress, the stance of a leader.  Kind of like the Dallas Cowboys under Jimmie Johnson–they’re expecting to win. 
  4. Samsung’s Tablets made a lot of progress since last year.  Last year Samsung was demoing its first mainstream Android tablets.  They felt like good version 1.0, but Apple’s iPad really seemed quick, faster, and more real as a producct  The Samsung Galaxy tabs at the booth last year also got really hot, like drop out of your hand hot. 

    This year, Samsung’s product line up is eye-opening.  These machines cover a range of sizes and hit a range of prices.  The software is faster and much more responsive.  The hardware feels sturdier, no device felt hot, and the screen resolution is terrific.  Whereas last year, I thought no tablet would really stand up to the Apple iPad for years, I’m wrong.  Samsung is in the ring.  Game on! 
  5. Blackberry is still dead.  On first impression, the two things that caught my eye at Blackberry’s booth were both negative.  First, they had a Porsche 911 4S in their booth.  Always a bad sign when you’ve got to bring a power car into the booth of a big company like this–its a signal your products aren’t cutting it. 

    Second, it was really dark, low lighting inside the booth.  This also usually conveys to me that the vendor doesn’t really want you to see stuff clearly.  This was in sharp contrast to the Samsung booth, which is light like the inside of a surgical theater–brigh, bright lights. 

    Inside the booth, it just seemed as though there wasn’t much excitement, a high ratio of RIM employees to attendees.  Uninspired product line, with the Playbook still seeming basically at least 18 months behind in terms of product functionality. 

    The lack of momentum here carried over to the Developer Day they hosted.  The developers I talked told me that the Blackberry Developer Day wasn’t really developer focused at all.  The first hour of the session was basically a bunch of marketecture.  The first question in the Q&A was from a developer who asked, “ok so what can we do and what can’t we do?”  This is basically the Developer 101 question that any developer has of any platform.  The developers I spoke to expressed exasperation that on top of having so little market momentum, such weak products, that Blackberry would put together a Developer Day that was so disconnected fromm what developers want to hear about. 


    In addition to the big ecosystems, here are some other big shifts that I perceived out of this year’s show.
  6. The big carriers are still struggling with this new world order.  Because of the huge size, scope and presence of many big carriers, Mobile World Congress / GSMA retains some of the feel of the mobile industry pre-2007, before iOS and Android.  In that old world, the carriers had huge power at MWC (and indeed everywhere), but the carriers were synonymous with distribution.  To get your mobile app or service in front of users, you had to convince a handset OEM (Nokia, HTC, etc) and/or a carrier to support you.  The carriers have the ultimate billing relationship with the user, so their power was pretty much unrivaled.

    That world is over, and now MWC is a walking illustration of how the great unwashed masses of app developers have ridden the iOS and Android waves to liberate their routes to market.  With the ever falling costs of distributed computing services provided by Amazon’s AWS, Rackspace, and others, along with the rapid rise of new mobile-oriented instrastructure services such as Urban Airship, Parse and others, developer power is only going to rise.

    Facebook announced the integration of carrier billing into its platform, a great move and one that makes Facebook even more interesting as a mobile dev platform.  And it exposes a central challenge to carriers–they need to avoid becoming just a ‘dumb pipe of data,’ but how concretely will they achieve that?  I don’t think there is yet a crisp answer here.  I do think that we are starting to see slightly more aggressive and creative carriers, seeking to build value in this new world order.  The Facebook integration with billing systems is one move.  Some carriers are getting more aggressive about the work they do with startups.  Verizon Wireless in the US is one example. 

    But this carrier evolution needs to continue.  Startups and mobile apps and services I spoke to at MWC talked about how difficult it is to work with carriers, how it takes 10+ meetings to get even the simplest things done.  One VP at a very prominent mobile service expressed to me that at last MWC, the carriers he talked to felt as though they still had a lot of leverage over his company.  This year things have changed, he remarked.  When asked why, he said, “Well, we more than tripled in size!”  No more discussion of leverage, the startup has it, no discounts, no rev shares.  Put me on the phone and let’s go.  I expect more of that, not less so. 

    So a big year at Mobile World Congress.  Great to see everyone there, and great to see the industry with as much vibrancy and excitement as there was.  Can’t wait for next year! 
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My Top 5 CES 2012 Observations

I got the opportunity to go to CES in Las Vegas last week. A lot of interesting stuff, as always. (I want me that new Sharp TV, Mom!) Here are my top 5 observations from the show.

1) The Microsoft Windows Phone 7 and Nokia partnership has executed above expectations in year 1.

I don’t think this is controversial. We saw journalists saying that the upcoming Nokia 900 phone was one that they wanted to buy wtihout even being able to put their hands on it. That’s buzz, and its focused at the high end.

We also saw Nokia / MSFT pulling a little blue ocean strategy. Nokia’s US launch of the 700 w/ T-Mobile at the break-through price point of $50 makes it an alternative to feature phones, not iPhone or Android. That’s going to be disruptive, and that’s going to get WP7 share. No question.

Again, this is execution beyond what folks believed would occur in year 1. The market would benefit from a “3rd ecosystem,” and it looks like the market is going to get one.

2) RIMM / Blackberry is still dead.

I visited the RIMM Blackberry booth. It was still a big presence (so was Kodak’s, btw, but I digress), but the energy was gone.

Big booths with red hot energy: Samsung, Microsoft, Sony, Intel, even Motorola Mobility.

Big booths with weak energy: Blackberry.

I wish the company the best, it is a trailblazer. But the wares it was showcasing won’t get them off of the mat.

3) Samsung Galaxy Tabs are worth another look.

Samsung’s hardware form factor for tablets has been strong for about a year. The product feels well built and sturdy. But a year ago, the Android OS felt a little bit laggy, not quite optimized for the tablet form factor.

This year’s CES, the Samsung Galaxy Tabs were screaming fast from a performance standpoint. This I thought was impressive.

I don’t expect a massive uptick this year in Android or Samsung, but they are even more on the map.

4) The Internet of Things is coming.

The user experience in cars and in home automation is really improving, at least based on what I was seeing at CES. I’ll be looking to the technology included in a car or home utility upgrade in the next few years, and I won’t be the only one.

These are blazing the trail for the oft-talked about “Internet of Things.” This is coming our way.

5) Windows 8 / Metro is going to be big.

It may be the former Microserf in me, but I’d put money on W8 and Metro making a big impact. The progress on the OS has been steady—there won’t be some massive reset that delays it 2 years, given how far along it is. The ecosystem seems relatively coordinated. And there are clear contrasts and differentiations for consumers, in particular, that should reinvigorate the Windows ecosystem.

Not talked about as much, but also relevant to this point, I think the Kinect with PC should be an interesting opportunity as well. I am watching that with interest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Google’s Huge Q3 & Why It’s Huge for Mobile

Android robot logo.

Image via Wikipedia

Google had a huge Q3 and its great news in the mobile startup world.

Mr. Page added that revenue from mobile devices, largely from use of its search engine on smartphones and tablets, is on pace to generate $2.5 billion over the next year. The figure is up from a $1 billion-a-year pace Google disclosed a year ago, thanks in large part to the proliferation of devices powered by Google’s mobile operating system, called Android. Mr. Page said more than 190 million Android devices, the vast majority of which come pre-installed with Google’s search engine, had been activated.

WSJ, 10/15/2011

We all know and are excited about the promise of mobile.  Mary Meeker‘s fantastic presentation from last fall showcased how the mobile internet and the gadget centric world that is oncoming is a tech trend far outpacing the speed and impact of the internet of the late 90’s.  We’ve seen huge tectonic shifts in the mobile ecosystem with big moves from players including Google (buying Motorola Mobility), Microsoft (purchasing Skype), Amazon (releasing its Kindle Fire), and Apple (just being awesome).

But this announcement from Google has got to be a wakeup call to us all.  Mobile is upon us.  In a big way.  And faster than I’d have expected.

This is a great development to see, as it shows that this huge market — mobile — now is developing a profit pool in a second key ecosystem.  For the past several years, Apple has owned the profitable developer ecosystem.  Apps were built and monetized principally through Apple’s ecosystem.  It was great–Apple offered an ease of distribution unthinkable before the iPhone.  But it had limitations–if Apple didn’t like what you were doing or if your model didn’t fit their approach you were SOL.

Android is much more open.  Developers can experiment with all kinds of different business models and approaches, in ways that wouldn’t work anywhere near as well with Apple.  The promise was great, but the reality was unclear: we all knew Android was out there, gaining traction, but we didn’t know its health as a developer platform.  Well, this announcement should go a long way towards removing the doubt.  Now Google’s Android platform is both broadly distributed and starting to generate money.  This is a big announcement and its great for developers, investors and consumers in the mobile ecosystem.

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