Why I like living in the US

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I think I know now why I like living in the US. Above anything else, it’s the casualness, the informality that permeates everyday interactions the same way as business life. It’s partly due to the language: there is, e.g., no distinction between a formal “Sie” or an informal “Du” as in German and many other languages. There is this unfamiliar usage of words like “guys” when addressing a group of (sometimes unknown) people. (There is also this admittedly disturbing tendency to overuse the f-word, which inspired some volunteers to contribute an article worth reading on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuck.) But it’s more than that.

I see people tell strangers in the elevator how they like something they’re wearing, or their hairstyle. I can address someone by their first name, even if they’re 20 years older and I just met them for the first time, say at a business trade show. I find myself talking more openly about personal preferences, cravings, experiences, as I see others do the same. Sometimes it’s in simple things, such as mentioning to the person taking my order at a fast food restaurant how I love their fries. Sounds stupid? Well, it’s a little human interaction at the most unlikely place that can sometimes make the difference between an uplifted spirit or a “meh” type of afternoon. Who knows how they’ll react? You can’t know if you don’t say it.

The style I see people writing business email in, the style of presenting new ideas at conferences, the style of talking to a sales prospect about your products. It’s casual. It’s normal. It’s the opposite of stuck up. It’s what I can identify with. It’s where I can be myself, even though I’m at work.

Waiters come to my table at a restaurant and introduce themselves by name, tell me how they’ll be “taking care of me tonight”. And lately I actually catch myself calling my waiter by their name half way through the restaurant and asking them for a free refill of my soda or a free side order of that delicious sauce of theirs.

Cashiers at the supermarket checkout ask me how I’m doing. I tell them I’m doing great and how about themselves. Now you might say that’s that typical American superficiality and they don’t REALLY care about how I feel or do. But you know, I’d take superficial friendliness over genuine rudeness ANY time.

There is a “can do” spirit in the air, mixed with occasionally child-like curiosity, that is simply inspiring. I see people driving the weirdest and most exaggerated cars or trucks, probably pimped by their own hands’ work. Man how much fun that must be! Sure, these vehicles might not be the most environment-friendly things out there, but maybe the same people are making up for that in ways I can’t currently see? I don’t want to be judging. Which, by the way, is another thing that Americans teach me.

I see people pursue the weirdest sports and hobbies. I see people try out things, fail, and try again. I see people not ask questions. I see people find the most exotic reasons to come together and celebrate, have a party, enjoy life. A “blocktoberfest” in October that claims to have something to do with Germany? Silly, but sure, why not! (FYI: the original Oktoberfest only happens in one of the 16 states of Germany, and it’s in September.) A “Dos-XX-Mas Party”? Uh-huh, happening. “Drinko de Mayo”, remotely – strike that: entirely NOT – related to a Mexican celebration in early May? Why yes please!

Now you might think that life where I come from is the opposite of everything I’ve described. Hell no. That would make it an exceptionally boring place, which it isn’t. But the combination of all of this, in an eclectic mix that distorts most of what it’s original European heritage is, together in one big place that doesn’t take life all too seriously, is what I find myself drawn to in ways I couldn’t imagine before I came. I like living here. And I don’t want to leave, just yet. Thanks, my American friends, for letting me be a part of this adventure.

And if you could now please excuse me, I have to put the turducken into the oven.

Goodbye Acer Aspire R7 and Windows 8. Come back when you’re ready!

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After playing around with the brand new Acer Aspire R7 running Windows 8 for quite some time, I have decided to return it. While I don’t want to spend the time on a full-fledged product review, I do want to share the highlights of WHY I made that decision.

Aspire R7:

What I like:

  • The flexibility of the screen. The “Ezel Hinge” is a nice and mostly practical idea. Even though I actually only used the mode where the screen would cover the touch pad to be a bit closer to touch. I rarely used the machine in tablet mode – way too heavy and clunky to be a tablet. And the ability to flip it around is something I simply don’t need.

What I don’t like:

  • The Wifi module is very weak. I couldn’t catch the signal in my office room at home. Show-stopper. Known problem according to Google.
  • The R7 they had on display at BestBuy had a broken Space bar. It would only work if you hit it on the left 30% of the bar. While I don’t see that problem on my own R7 yet, I fear it can only be a matter of time until it breaks there, too
  • When you touch on the screen in an editable area, the screen keyboard pops up. Every time. Even though the OS (and the device. by checking how the screen is positioned) knows that I am constantly using the physical keyboard. That’s annoying.

I really want to focus more on Windows 8, though, so here it comes:

What I like:

  • The tiles and general touch features of Windows 8 are nice when you use it like you use a tablet. That, however, is rare with a laptop.
  • Search. Hitting the Win key to get to the start screen and then just starting to type, plus the ability to search in various apps or pages (Amazon, eBay, Google, Bing, Apps, Store, Wikipedia, …) is nice.
  • That’s … about it

What I don’t like:

  • Touch doesn’t make sense in an office setup where you have the screen higher up and external keyboards and track pads/mouses, and where you use it 8 hrs/day. Touch, however, is awesome for occasional and hobby use. No doubt about that
  • Windows 8 is definitely “not quite there yet”.
  • The mix of the new full-screen, touch-optimized look with the “old-school” windows feels half-baked. When I learned about Win 8 and the idea to have one OS for smartphone, tablet, and laptop/PC, I considered that a good idea. Something that ultimately all OS vendors would steer towards. Now that I’ve used a touch OS on a laptop for a while, I have to take that back. Touch simply doesn’t make sense on a machine that you spend a lot of time on. It is tiring. It makes you slower, as the UI becomes simplified, which isn’t what you need with professional use.
  • Traditional apps that have grown in complexity while you grew with them, now have a simplified UI. You feel dumbed down. Nothing for me, a professional computer user.
  • Compared to Mac OSX, it feels flaky. Not as smooth. Occasional flickering when switching apps.
  • The configuration of Win 8 is a joke. A gigantic, utter joke. Just this morning, when I opened the laptop after quite some time, I saw a note at the bottom of the login screen talking about a restart needed after some updates had been downloaded. A restart?? On a 2013 machine? OK, I thought, I’ll do it some time later. I logged in and saw the start screen. After 2 seconds, or so, the machine just started installing the updates and restarting, WITHOUT EVEN ASKING ME. Are you fucking kidding me???
  • By the way, how shitty must an OS be if it needs weekly updates that you can’t skip!?
  • Powerpoint 365 wouldn’t open a PPT file from my Mac. Not sure who’s at fault here, but I blame it on Microsoft, either way.
  • Outlook and email management in general is ridiculous. The Win 8-style Mail app is a toy, completely useless. And Outlook? I wasted hours trying to setup my 3 email accounts, 1 Exchange, 1 IMAP, and 1 POP3. It wouldn’t work. It complained about missing .pst files, it wouldn’t show the accounts even though they showed in the “email configuration” part of the control panel (which is hard to find, by the way – you have to know it’s there). Till today, I cannot use Outlook. I tried manually uninstalling it once. A support site shows pages of directions on how to do that (instead of just giving me a .bat file that would’ve done all the steps automatically). I really think I did everything I had to do. After re-installing Outlook, though, it still claimed my .pst files cannot be found and it wouldn’t start without them. Ridiculous.

The Outlook and email configuration issues alone made me want to throw this device out the window. If this is all that Microsoft can come up with after years of development, then good night. This is probably the last time I gave Windows a chance. That’s it.

Thank you Apple, for giving me a reliable, powerful, and beautiful OS I can get my work done with. An OS that doesn’t make me waste my time with configuration hell.

These are the last words I’m typing on the Aspire R7. Now going through a factory reset, then heading to BestBuy. Roger, over, and out.

WebRTC business models (and impressions from WebRTC Expo 2013 – East)

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WebRTC, WebRTC, WebRTC. I just returned from 3 days of WebRTC. Nothing but WebRTC. I was right there, in the eye of what probably is the heaviest hype storm of the communications industry at the moment. It was interesting to see which businesses were there, jumping the bandwagon of realtime communications brought to “the Web”, and also who wasn’t there (traditional communications service providers and mobile carriers, for instance). A LOT of startups. And quite a few incumbents, too. A few impressive show cases of what’s going to be possible, but even more “me-too’s”.

It became obvious at the Expo that there clearly is a correlation between the maturity of a market and the ability of conference speakers to handle the microphone. Speakers at the WebRTC Expo were exceptionally bad with the microphone – showing that WebRTC is still predominantly a techie play, not yet a solutions play. Otherwise we would have seen more marketers speak, who know that you are supposed to speak INTO a microphone, not wave it around as you’re gesticulating to try to make your point.

However, for something that is a techie play, and – even more importantly – NOT a mobile-first initiative, the interest in WebRTC is surprising. But don’t get me wrong – it entirely makes sense (for Google, above anyone…) and will definitely happen. The question is just when, and how.

To get to the topic of my blog post: I want to provide a classification of current vendors that deal with WebRTC, hoping that it can help you get an idea of who’s playing what.

I see 5 main categories of vendors in the WebRTC realm. The companies I will be listing as examples are only those that had a presence at the WebRTC Expo.

1) Media Engine and Gateway vendors
These are companies that offer gateways and engines for transcoding, trans-rating, trans-sizing of video/audio codecs, whether at small(ish) scale or largest possible scale (carrier-level). VB8 is new, H.264 the incumbent. No agreement on codec = their business model. No startups here, unsurprisingly. This is where the rubber meets the road.

Examples:

  • Audiocodes
  • Dialogic
  • Radisys

2) API and SDK vendors
These are companies that primarily provide APIs and SDKs to help developers implement WebRTC solutions. They all offer a hosted infrastructure (mostly on the shoulders of existing PaaS/IaaS vendors such as Amazon), and some provide their packages for on-premise deployments as well. This category shows a good mix of startups and established companies.

Examples:

  • Apidaze
  • Bistri
  • Crocodile
  • Quobis
  • Voxeo Labs

3) Full Stack Platform vendors
These are either hosting providers (PaaS) or software/hardware providers offering the full stack of technology needed for running WebRTC solutions incl. STUN/TURN, media engines, gateways, presence, etc. These companies typically sell to service providers (B2B). Again, no surprise: almost no startups. These vendors have a legacy of VoIP and networking expertise and technology.

Examples:

  • Genband
  • Ingate Systems
  • Mavenir
  • Oracle/ACME Packets
  • Sansay
  • Temasys Communications
  • TokBox
  • Xirsys

4) Solution Providers
These are (primarily) cloud vendors that provide specific solutions or applications (horizontal and vertical) around WebRTC. Most startups are to be found in this category. Use cases primarily group around the contact center/customer service, and video conferencing.

Examples

  • Avaya (as it relates to customer service and contact center)
  • Bistri (hosted Click-to-talk-to-me service)
  • Bolder Thinking (click-to-talk solution embedded in a hosted contact center)
  • CDE/Browsetel (click-to-talk solution embedded in a hosted contact center)
  • Genesys (click-to-talk solution embedded in a hosted contact center)
  • popexpert (expert finding and connecting service)
  • Presence Technology (click-to-talk solution embedded in a hosted contact center)
  • Priologic Software/tawk.com (free video conferencing service)
  • Requestec (video conferencing service, collaboration service, video contact center)
  • Solaborate (social networking and collaboration platform)
  • vLine (video conferencing service)
  • Weemo (video conferencing service)

5) Professional Services companies
These companies primarily provide app dev and SI expertise around WebRTC deployments

Examples:

  • Daitan Group
  • Priologic Software
  • Quobis
  • Requestec

For most incumbents, adding WebRTC to their portfolio is a natural, logical, and easy move. None of them have to change their business model to support it. WebRTC is an evolution after all, not a revolution – it doesn’t really enable applications that weren’t possible before. Which of the startups will survive of course depends on a multitude of factors, among them differentiation and … what Apple will do. Total number of users will be more important for the social network-type solutions (like Solaborate).

Where will it go? We will see. See you at the next expo to find out…

Apple, Bring the WOW Factor Back!

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Apple is immensely successful. As you might know, I have the deepest respect for a company that TRULY revolutionized 2 markets (the music industry through iPod, and the telephony and mobile communications industry through iPhone), and created an entirely new one with the iPad. (They didn’t invent any of these 3 product categories, though. They just made them perfect.) They are so great because they understand the importance of usability. They further understand that only by owning both the hardware and the software stack can they create products that exceed anybody else’s when it comes to usability. While that necessarily results in what the industry calls “vendor lock-in”, I do believe that it is a necessary evil you can’t get around if you want products that not only work but also leave no room for frustration.

But does Apple really own both the hardware and the software stack? They own the hardware and the operating system, and contribute a little bit of software themselves through some pre-installed apps (things like calendar, mail, basic messaging, a very week Reminder app, a weather app that works but doesn’t do much beyond that, etc.) and functionality such as Siri. The rest they leave to the developer community, while holding a tight regiment when it comes to releasing their apps in the App Store. But why?

People say Apple hasn’t innovated for three years now. I’m inclined to still call that a rather short period of time, given how immensely successful they still are with sales. But yes, I am becoming increasingly impatient as well. The latest quarterly results were breathtaking, but since people expected even more (what the hell were they thinking?), the Apple stock dropped and Apple lost their leading position as the most valuable company in the world. I don’t want to discuss the ludicrous market reaction to Apple’s latest fantastic quarterly results here, but instead focus on how Apple could innovate next within the existing product portfolio (on the same topic, also read this fantastic post by Huffington Post’s CTO: Apple, RIM, Google, Microsoft: Where Is the Big Bang?).

Google innovates by throwing tons of service ideas out there and seeing which ones survive – or actually work great. They risk lots of failures while doing that (Wave, now Apache Wave, and Buzz have probably been among the more prominent ones). One of the most promising recent contributions is Google Now, a personal assistant that is proactive, rather than simply reactive. Siri, the equivalent in the Appleverse, is nothing like Google Now. Furthermore, Siri has severe shortcomings to Google Voice, the voice search feature. It is Google’s immense knowledge database and their Knowledge Graph feature that allows them more and more to actually answer questions vs just showing search results.

I believe that in order to truly innovate again, Apple needs to dramatically increase their efforts around their software ecosystem. Instead of waiting for startups to come up with cool ideas for apps that make our lives easier, Apple should lead here: take things into their own hands, as they have done with the decision to control both hardware and the OS. I, personally, use apps like GroupMe for communication, Instapaper and Flipboard for reading, GoodReader for PDFs, Clear for notes, the Google app for QR code scanning (why the heck does Apple’s camera app not do that?), etc. Instead of leaving the field (of actually making the iPhone useful) to the developer community ALONE, Apple could create huge innovation by taking each of these fantastic app ideas and doing what Apple is best at: adding their usability magic to make all of them truly beautiful, fast, and convenient. Or even better: come up with their own imaginative ideas for new apps. Software makes the world go round!

Shame on you Apple for releasing crap like Camera, Reminders, Notes, or Weather, and leaving these pretty much untouched for generations of your iOS! Bring the WOW factor back to your next releases and surprise us again! It’s about time.

Spoiled by Apple

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I am spoiled by Apple. Steve Jobs, with his tight regiment and focus on product usability, has made Apple one of the highest valued companies in the world (recently overtaken by Exxon again, after a totally inexplicable drop of stock quote). My employer equipped me with my first two Apple products about four years ago: a MacBook Pro, and an iPhone. While it took me some time to adjust, having been a Windows user all my life, I have quickly adapted and do not want to go back. The iPhone, a revolution in the smartphone market 6 years ago, has not ceased to set the standard for usability and product design until today.

I am spoiled by Apple, as it made me expect no less now than functioning, fast, intuitive electronics from ANY vendor now. When I bought Samsung’s Smart TV, I was disappointed by its voice control feature. Even though I do use it, it could be so much more than what it currently is. And I use almost none of the other features (the “apps”), as they work much better and faster on my iPad, which I can mirror to the TV screen via my Apple TV.

When I bought the Nexus 7 from Asus, I had somewhat high expectations based on the reviews. Again, I was disappointed. Compared to the iPad it is slow, i.e. the UI not as responsive, relatively unstable, the screen is not as accurate, and quite a few of the common apps I use seem less well thought through in terms of their implementation. It does have some nice GUI features, such as the cross-app back button, the predictive keyboard, or the notifications. But overall, it has nothing that would make me go “wow”, or miss something on the iPad, with its rich multi-touch gestures and attention to detail overall. I do like its form factor, but I can get that with the iPad mini, too, which I’ll probably own once it has the resolution called “Retina” that the iPad 3 introduced.

Apple has set the standards, and they continue to impress me with that. However, they do make mistakes (see my post here), and they do have competition. But if they stick to what made them great, which is taking an existing product and making it usable, they will continue to lead.

HTML5 or Native? HTML5 *and* Native! A comparison of desktop and mobile software

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In the mobile application space, the question of whether HTML5-based or native apps will prevail is a rather open one, the resolution of which will either “never” come (note that never hardly ever means never, though, right?), or at least accompany us for years. I believe it will not come in the foreseeable future, and I’d like to argue by comparing the “mobile” to the “desktop” world, or the “small screen” to the “big screen”. I will also list several factors I see as critical for deciding for one over the other approach.

 

Desktop Software

Consider the “big” screen first. We today have 3 major OS competing: Windows, Mac OS, and Linux distributions. I’d say these systems base their success on the ecosystem of software built for them – the very same criterion for the success of a mobile OS, if you think about it. Windows, e.g., has been drawing its success from the Office suite for a long time – and still does in the enterprise. On the Mac, a lot of software commonly used under Windows did not exist for quite some time, which made Mac more of a special-purpose environment, something from which Apple has emancipated by now. Users today can achieve pretty much the same on a Mac as they can on a PC, with less and less compatibility issues. Linux is not relevant in the consumer space. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usage_share_of_operating_systems).

Developers choose which OS they implement their software based on the Reach (marketshare) of the OS, which constitutes my first decisive factor.

Detour: While we have been happily using the terms “software”,”programs”, or “applications” in the past, for some reason the term “app” has been established for software running on “mobile” devices (smartphones and tablets; laptops are also “mobile” to a lesser extent, but you wouldn’t call software running on them “apps”). The term “app” also involves a convenient distribution system, which is completely Web-based: the idea of “app stores”. These didn’t exist before with “traditional” software. You didn’t have one place to go to download software for your OS from, instead you either downloaded software from the vendor’s website with their own payment system, or you bought it physically as a CD or DVD. (Apple started to establish the online App Store idea with their “big screen” OS two years ago this month, with some success but also some skepticism attached to it, as described here:  http://www.macstories.net/stories/mac-app-store-year-two/).

On the “big screen”, software has to be released for each OS individually, in order to function. Only if software is offered “as a Service” (“SaaS”) does it usually get “consumed” via a Web browser (acting as a dumb terminal, as in the old days). It then has to be built only once: as an implementation involving HTML and complex Javascript (at least as far as the front-end is concerned; the backend and control logic live on the application server in whatever language and for whichever OS you program that).

There is a difference in the type of software that you use through a browser and that has been built specifically for an OS. Typically, the Web-based software is used for “simpler” tasks. It usually lacks features, functionality and speed (in terms of execution) as compared to desktop software. I will call these the factors Complexity and Speed (usability).

Why is the Web-based version of software usually a little restricted in comparison to native? Mainly because it requires an intermediate interpreter, the browser, which is native software that has to be developed and maintained for the OS of choice. New features and functionality of a device/computer is first made available to the developer of the browser, only then for the developer of browser-based software that runs in the browser. Native software, however, is written directly for the OS. By skipping this intermediate software layer, native software is, by definition, always one step ahead and quicker to provide enhancements, which (should) result in usability improvements for the user.

You don’t have to “install” Web-based software on your OS – you only download its front-end, which happens automatically in your browser. It therefore has less of a Footprint on your machine. (However, on a desktop or laptop computer with big hard drives, this is less of an issue).

As an example, consider Office. If your job is to write whitepapers, you will have no issue to install proper software for doing so. Whitepapers often embed complex graphics, page layout, tables, etc.; you will not be able to do that properly in a Web-based system such as Google Docs (now available via Google Drive). This version of a text processing software simply is too restricted in terms of functionality for your job. However, if all you want to do is maintain a simple spreadsheet for travel expenses with your buddy you went on vacation with (where the collaboration feature of online systems comes into play, too), or write an essay like this blog post, then you’ll be fine with a Web-based version.

The factor of how often you will use the software (and thus how “relevant” it is to you), I like to call Relevance:

Consider software for managing your insurance policies and claims. This is something you don’t need to do that often, and it usually only involves looking at some numbers and text and changing a few values here and there. Would you want to buy software for that, install it, have it sit on your system permanently? Probably not. It is just not that relevant to your daily life. If you need to file a claim, you would probably prefer going to your insurer’s website once, provide your input in your browser, and be done with it, not leaving anything behind on your machine.

If you look at all this together, I believe it is obvious why on the “big screen” both approaches have been living happily together for quite a while, and probably will be for quite some time more. Google’s Chrome OS, one that is based entirely on running the front-end of software as “HTML+Javascript” in a browser, has not really taken off yet, and I believe it only can once bandwidth and reach of wireless Internet technology is truly ubiquitous.

Depending on the factors Reach, Speed, Relevance, Footprint, and Complexity. one approach or the other will make sense for you as a developer, or a business. The mobile world introduces one more factor: Maintenance, or release requirements, which I will describe in the next section.

 

Mobile Software

Native mobile apps are nothing but software programmed for a specific OS and installed via a centralized app store (as opposed to independent downloads/installs predominant with desktop software). With mobile, we today also have 3 major competing OS: iOS (Apple), Android (Google), and Blackberry OS (RIM), with Windows Phone/8 lurking around the corner, and Symbian being on the decline. Samsung, Firefox, and Ubuntu have also announced proprietary OS. With mobile, software also has to be released for each OS individually, in order to function. But in the mobile world you can also program the front-end of your software as “HTML+Javascript”, with the backend and control logic living on your servers. So, developers will have to consider the Reach they like to accomplish – same as with desktop software.

The factor of Footprint is a much more important one in mobile: you have rather limited capacity on your mobile devices, compared to hard-drives of your desktop or laptop computer. Footprint therefore is, in my opinion, quite a decisive factor for Web vs native. It is closely coupled to Relevance: if you want to check your car insurance policy or review health claims, do you really want to download an app for that, which uses space on both your device’s memory and on your home screen? I, personally, do not. I’d prefer a Web app that I can browse to when I need it. (I have, however, noticed that I like to have a “proper app” for services that are important to me, even if I don’t use them often. Loyalty apps for retailers I use often fall under this. But do not forget that even those could technically be a Web app, while still living on your home screen: as a simple bookmark, as opposed to software stored locally on the device. The online/offline argument does not apply here, as I always need an update anyway; I would not know what to do with my Starbucks app, e.g., while being offline. I can neither search for stores, nor see my current balance…)

Mark Zuckerberg made this infamous statement in September 2012 that choosing HTML5 over native for the Facebook mobile app was the biggest mistake they have made to date. Concluding that therefore native apps will prevail is, while tempting, very wrong though. Facebook is for many the app most frequently used on their smartphones. UI speed or usability is, above anything else, therefore the most decisive factor. Nothing is more annoying than having to wait for the app to respond if you quickly want to check for an update or look at a picture someone has posted. Even fractions of seconds matter here. And which approach do you take if speed is so important? Native. Does that mean that HTML5 is the worse choice for all mobile apps? Definitely not. Again, it depends on Reach, Speed, Relevance, Footprint, and Complexity.

One final factor exists only in the mobile world today: that of Maintenance. Native mobile apps can today only be released through the app stores of the respective OS’s. Desktop software does not have that restriction today, even though Apple introduced the same mechanism 2 years ago with their Mac App Store – maybe we will see this to be the predominant, if not only, way to install new software on any OS in a few years time.

Web apps, whether they run on desktop computers or mobile devices, do not have this restriction either. You can update a Web app/site live, without having to involve the maker of the end device’s OS. If frequent and timely deployment of changes to your apps is important for your business, native might not be the best choice. The following post describes the drawbacks of native deployment well, with the most annoying being delays: http://blog.mightbuy.it/2012/12/26/table-applications-for-businesses/.

 

Conclusion

So, to come to a conclusion here: I have tried to argue that mobile software pretty much follows the same rules as desktop software, albeit with a few obvious differences. The desktop world has seen the battle of Web vs native for much longer than the mobile world (the latter only really having come into being since the 2nd generation iPhone in 2008, which introduced the App Store). With the desktop, the battle is not over yet; or you could maybe even say: there is no battle. Both approaches coexist peacefully. Much like fish and human beings do. I believe the same is true for mobile apps. There will always be use cases for Web apps vs native apps. It totally depends on the six factors: Maintenance, Reach, Speed, Relevance, FootprintComplexity. If anything, the number of OS and their marketshare will determine which approach is used more often. If we end up having 5 or more OS and ecosystems competing, companies will have to think twice whether they want to (or can) afford developing the same application that many times.

To finish up, here’s a decision graph helping to determine which approach is best for you, depending on the following factor hierarchy:

  1. Maintenance
  2. Reach
  3. Speed
  4. Relevance
  5. Footprint
  6. Complexity

(The last factor, complexity, stands out a little, as you might have cases where a Web app simply cannot implement a feature you need. You will then have no choice but to go native.)

How the Factor “Time” is Often Ignored in Management

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We all have experienced this. Overzealous managers introduce new processes and put new structure in place in order to improve the results of their department. I’m not opposed to processes and structure; well-defined processes that are properly explained, justified, and put in place such that the team is onboard with them can only improve the outcome of any team. You have to find the right balance, though. Too many or too rigid processes prohibit creativity and can reduce motivation. That can only have negative impact on your productivity.

One mistake easily made is missing ownership and accountability. If a task or process is owned by everyone, it is owned by no one and eventually will not get done or applied. Define a clear owner (which might be the manager themselves), and have that person follow up on the progress.
As an example, consider a document or spreadsheet that lists a company’s partner landscape with team members, strengths, capabilities, etc. Once that’s produced, you get celebrated for putting it in place and everybody is happy right then as it is a useful source if information across departments; until it literally expires and shows old information. It has now become useless. Factor time has not been accounted for, an owner had not been declared, it doesn’t get maintained, your manager does not demand an update. *Even though* people would need an up-to-date document, nobody demands it.

Too often do I see managers put a new process in place, or demand a new “habit” from their team, without taking time into consideration. It is not enough to announce something once and expect everyone to follow along and apply. If you want change, you have to repeat. It’s a human trait. People get sluggish over time. To modify a well-known Chinese proverb:

Tell me (once), and I will (most likely) forget. Show me (once or twice), and I may remember. Involve me (over time), and I will understand.

Set yourself a reminder for 1/3/6/12 months from now, or whatever makes sense in your case, to repeat the idea, process, structure you came up with, or to update the document you came up with, or, if you’re the manager, demand an update from your team members. It’s easy to do with today’s digital calendars. Ask Siri to help you, if that’s what it takes. Re-train the team. Re-mind them of what the purpose of a process was. Remind yourself. And evaluate the results of the new process, as time has passed. Only then will your work have an impact, and your employees will respect you for seeing progress after the process.

It’s easy, but often forgotten. It’s not enough to kick something off. Take it to the finish line, only then is your job done and you can move on to something else.

Samsung’s Smart TV Voice Control Sucks. As Expected.

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I bought myself one of Samsung’s new Smart TVs the other day. I’ve been using the voice feature for a while and must say, I’m pretty disappointed. Or not so much disappointed, as I was somehow expecting the voice implementation to be way subpar. And boy it is.

I’ve been using Siri for a while now, so I know how a well-implemented voice interface can look like. (Even though I’m not 100% happy with Siri either, which I will write about later). Samsung’s promise is to control your TV simply with your voice. The obvious functions would be volume&channel control, and powering the device on and off.

Let’s start with the volume. The TV can go up to volume 100, but the voice interface only allows you to control volume levels up to 20. That’s just silly and makes it pretty much useless. Furthermore, the recognition of the numbers is pretty inaccurate. When wanting to control the volume relatively, you can say “volume up” and “volume down”, but that will change the level in increments of 1, which again is pretty silly, as that will hardly make any difference. Jumps of 5 or 10 (or configurable increments) would’ve made way more sense.

Let’s move on to channel switching. In a typical set up with a digital DVR or some other external device feeding in the TV content, the channel function obviously doesn’t work at all. You’re not using the channels of the TV, rather the channel lineup of your DVR. The channel switching function therefore is rendered completely obsolete. Even if you use the TV channel lineup, you can only say numeric channel numbers, not the channel names. Again, that is very silly.

Turning the TV on and off works reasonably well. No complaints there. (On the other hand, as you usually have to turn on your DVR as well, you have to reach out to a remote control either way, in which case you might as well hit the button on your TV control as well).

What else can you do? You can control the source for the signal (to switch between the different HDMI inputs). That’s a good idea, however, the implementation again is suboptimal. You first have to say “Hi TV” to turn on voice control. Then “source”, then wait it to be recognized, then “source 2″ or “source 3″ etc., instead of simply saying “source 2″ or “source 3″ right away. So it makes you go through two commands instead of one (or rather: 3, instead of 2). Needless to say how silly that is.

I could go on like that, but I think you get the idea. The voice feature in the end is pretty useless. And I do understand the challenges with a room microphone versus one that is close to your face, but still, don’t advertise a functioning smart TV if it is not functioning, and not very smart. (And I’m not even talking about the gesture control, which is another pretty useless feature).

I can’t wait for Apple to come out with a really smart TV. That will be the next device category that they could revolutionize completely (and will, if they try, no doubt about that). Go on, Apple, it’s your turn.

PS: I almost completely dictated this post using Siri on my iPad, sometimes whole paragraphs at once, with only a few edits necessary.
PPS: I’m not an Apple fanatic. But I am impressed with a company that turns around 3 industries in a timeframe of a few years (MP3 players, cell phones & mobile carriers, and tablet PCs). And I appreciate a company that “gets” how important usability is these days.
PPPS: I love the picture quality of the TV; overall, I would probably give this device 4/5 on Amazon. I didn’t buy it for voice&gesture control, but for bright HD, good 3D, and picture quality, which is where it excels.
PPPPS: If anyone from the Samsung product team reads this and wants to rectify any false observations, I’d be happy to adjust my post and retweet.

How much does it take to make the mobile Apple user go somewhere else?

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My company is Apple’s largest business customer in central Florida. Each new hire receives a brand new iPhone and a MacBook Pro. That’s quite impressive. Having been a Windows user all my life, it took me a while to fall in love with the idea of a new OS, but it didn’t take too long in the end. The Apple OS and the entire ecosystem is truly attractive and impressive for the frequent user. Believe it or not, I’m not much of a hacker when it comes to using my computer. I want it to work and focus on what I create or process with it; I don’t like to focus on it itself too much. So the Apple system appeals to me.

I’ve become a fan of its simplicity, of its love for the detail, and of its quality. I have tolerated Apple’s closed nature so far, but the recent moves frustrated me. Introducing their own maps is fine. Being Apple, I expected a high quality product that by itself would convince me to move away from Google. That’s how a free market works. But they didn’t give me that choice. They deprived me of the most used app on my iPhone, Google Maps. And they replaced it with a product that is sub-par. What’s more, they deprived me of the second-most used app on my iPhone (and iPad), YouTube. And they replaced it with… nothing. YouTube’s strength is its content. Like Facebook’s strength is its user base. By definition, Apple CANNOT come up with a similar product. It would’ve taken years to grow similar content. So, without asking me or any other of their users, they have taken the app away. Here I am, searching the AppStore for something that comes close…

What the heck Apple? Don’t do that to your users! You created a whole new market with your two latest products, and that’s a phenomenal achievement. But the competition is getting stronger and stronger. Don’t risk your reputation (of creating quality products) with moves like this. To be honest, you’ve always had a bad reputation for your closedness, so removing YouTube might almost be considered “in character”… Bad enough!

The non-threat of 3rd-party apps to Twitter Inc.

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It seems widely understood that Twitter’s latest announcement of their new REST API version 1.1 is a first real step towards a more locked communications universe. As their Director of Consumer Products states: “Nearly eighteen months ago, we gave developers guidance that they should not build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience. And to reiterate what I wrote in my last post, that guidance continues to apply today.” Developers of client apps that display tweets and allow authoring of tweets will gradually be shut down by restricting the API that way.

My question is: why?

Twitter has become a business, backed with VC money. I understand the need to generate revenue, and at the moment we all have to believe that this will happen through advertisement. Today, ads are primarily added to the tweet stream as promoted tweets. As a daily user of Twitter myself, I have to say that I find this form of advertisement… acceptable. Other than Facebook, where the ads are taking up a lot of space on my wall (esp. on a mobile device), are annoying, and misuse my friends for promotion (something I find completely unacceptable and really bad business practice), the Twitter ad experience is unobtrusive, and often helpful. I can accept this form of revenue generation. I can quickly swipe over a promoted tweet if I’m not interested.

The fear of 3rd party client apps seems to be based on the assumption that they will find a way to block ads, or filter them out. My question, though: why doesn’t Twitter change the way those promoted tweets are inserted into the stream and exposed through their API? Why doesn’t Twitter make these tweets indistinguishable from regular tweets that show up in my stream? E.g., if they aren’t tagged any special way, and if Twitter changes the fact that only tweets of people I follow show up in my stream… or if they change their T&Cs for external clients such that they have to display promoted tweets, or else Twitter reserves the right to block requests from these clients… or, even better: why doesn’t Twitter come up themselves with the best client for Twitter, so that people naturally choose theirs and stay with it… Today, I use a 3rd party client myself, as Twitter’s own doesn’t do all I need it to do.

Twitter is entirely built upon ideas from people outside of Twitter Inc. Hashtags, mentions, retweets, and everything else that make up Twitter today have evolved out of its user base. (See the above links for some history, or this one for an overview). Threatening those who helped Twitter become what it is today seems like a bad idea to me. And I don’t see why they should feel forced to be doing that.