Wednesday, May 28, 2008

First day @ I/O comes to an end

Here's to the Google folks for throwing a top notch event!!

The 1st day of Google I/O comes to a happy end with no other than... "Flight of the Conchords".

Thank's Google I/O team!

The Android Value Prop – live from Google I/O

This is a short excerpt of the value proposition of Android, as presented by Jason Chen at the "Introduction to Android" break-out session at Google I/O.

For the User:

The user “controls” the experience. Users will chose what applications to use, versus what is shoved down their throats by OEM’s and operators

For Developers:

1) Developers will be able to ship applications at will

2) All API’s are exposed

3) Integration/extension and even replacement into and of existing components:
- Integration across various applications
- Extending = customization of default applications
- Replacement = end-users could wind up replacing default applications for new cool apps developed by the community

My personal dilemmas with Android:

1) According to the presenter, discovery and distribution is left up to the community. This is nothing new to the mobile space. The problem is that operators not only want to, but NEED to control the distribution of applications. After all, it is they who issue the phone bill at the end of the month; it is they who have to answer customer calls and issue refunds to disgruntled end-users.

2) There doesn't seem to be much of a strategy around discovery of applications that are downloaded to device. After downloading an application it will reside in a subfolder that is accessible through the home UI. This is not different from today's semi-open platforms. Perhaps the Android marketing team has something in the works.

3) Hardware won’t be available to developers until 1st devices are shipped (1st handsets will ship during the 2nd half of 2008) – It seems that unless an application wins the Developer Challenge, there's little likelihood it would ship at the same time the device does. After all, applications should really be tested and re-tested on the physical device before being shipped.

4) Security questions were not thoroughly addressed during the session. I have confidence that Android is really paying attention to this, however.

Another question that did not come up but that keeps bugging me:

5) Who will address customer care once the applications ship? Operators? If so, does Google really expect operators to allow exposure of all APIs and for applications to simply ship without going through thorough certification operator-controlled processes?


Android will be a very sexy platform with great toolkits for developers. Graphics will be superior, guaranteeing applications to be equally sexy. Enticing API’s will be exposed (keep in mind that other mobile platforms already expose many of these API's). However, Android needs a solution to what I see as the key problem with existing platforms: discovery before and after download of applications. Also, at least in the short term, Android does aggravate the problem of fragmentation that developers face in mobile today.

I am hopeful that as these discussions with the community continue to take place Android will uncover more execution issues and work to resolve them.

Monday, May 26, 2008

More Movement towards Openness: Facebook & Open Social

Two days until Google’s I/O. While my primary reason for attending is to geek out on Android up close and personal, I may decide to spend some time attending OpenSocial discussions.

As it turns out Facebook just announced that it is making the Facebook platform open source. I have been reading up on OpenSocial only to come to the conclusion that it doesn’t have a mobile API. Now I’m wondering if Google may perhaps unveil some fancy mobile API’s for mobile.

Maximizing User Adoption during Phone Validation Process

Sometimes the most effective end-user experience can be counterintuitive.

Here is one example of how this can be true for even the simplest of processes. With the Internet crossing over into mobile more and more sites will require to authenticate the mobile number to ensure it truly belongs to the end-user providing it.

The right way:

A number of mobile content sites that have been in the space for years have perfected device authentication:

When adding the mobile device through the Web, the most effective way to validate the handset is to send the PIN to the phone and have the end users enter it on the PC.

Also, keep the PIN simple. This example "SHKCQWENLS" won’t do. Four digits is the ideal way to go, as long as security measures for generating the PIN are kept in mind. Avoid letters and numbers that resemble eachother, such as '1' and 'l', and '0' and 'o'.

The wrong way:

Getting this process wrong could mean up to a higher than 50% opportunity cost in terms of end-user adoption. Examples of this are:

1) Some sites send a text to the mobile phone and then require the end user to reply with a key word. While this seems might seem quite intuitive, studies have revealed that this will deter adoption by up to 80%

2) Others display a PIN on the PC and require end user to send the pin from their phone to a short code.

The worst way:

Some sites do not validate the device in the first place. This is not kosher at so many levels. A user could easily enter the wrong number accidentaly. This could result in spamming other end-users with text messages they will be charged for. Even worse, this could result in sensitive information being sent to the wrong person!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Can Drive for Twitter

I was thinking about organizing a Twitter boycott boycott. But at the advice of a certain blog whose name will go unmentioned, I decided we all need to get together and help Twitter out.

I give all you Twitter true loyals who think twit-out is simply not going to cut it the opportunity to do your part. So get in there!

On a serious note to all folks out there crazy enough to suggest Twitter needs our money (or our tough love) remember who they're backed by and who its founders are.

As for me, tomorrow I will be twittering like it is going out of style.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Free Long Distance Calls from your Phone

While I’ve got you folks on the voice bandwagon I just have to rave about yet another up-and-comer in the VoIP space: iSkoot.

I had a most pleasant conversation with Mark Jacobstein, CEO of iSkoot, a little while ago (you may recall Mark in relationship to Digital Chocolate. Yes?).

iSkoot’s value prop for the moment is Skype for the mobile phone. Through a downloadable client you can access all of your Skype contacts on your phone, and call or IM with other Skype users whether they’re on a PC or another mobile Skype phone. This is particularly enticing when it comes to making long distance calls.

iSkoot is not really worried about operator hostility out of concern for cannibalization of their Long Distance business. According to Mark the value prop for the operators is that, unlike some of its popular competitors such as JAJAH, iSkoot uses the circuit-switched data network. From the operator’s perspective it also eliminates long distance termination fees due to other operators. At the same time it is a very good way to drive data minutes of use; the argument being that people would rather wait to get home and make a free call on their PC using Skype than pay for a call right when they want to make one.

But the real problem is not with how sensible the arguments are, but with how rational the operators will be about this. For example, I’m currently lobbying operators to open their WAP environment to off-portal content and services. The reality, and operators know this well, is that the same off-portal content and services are already available through SMS. Yet they still refuse to open WAP out of fear of cannibalization. Hmm...

Execution: Despite of any potential roadblocks, iSkoot is already doing extremely well. It has successfully launched its client on a number of devices. Most include Blackberries and other smartphones; some feature phones, such as the extremely popular RAZR, are also supported.

Also iSkoot is has already received tons of good press and awards. Plus one thing I am certain of is that iSkoot has many other things cooking. An open platform to allow anyone to integrate iSkoot into various use of mobile VoIP would definitely get our attention :-).

Friday, May 16, 2008

Short follow up on Ribbit

I just thought I would do a quick post on what "Randy" from Ribbit shared in his comment to my post: to get more info on Ribbit, check out their blog or their RSS feed.

Good nite!

Android ditched for LiMo by Verizon… for Now

The Google versus evil carrier saga continues. Verizon Wireless announced today that it has joined the LiMo Foundation.

LiMo is an alliance that aims to create an open handset operating system based on Linux for Mobile. To date they not only have attracted 40 big industry names, but they have also launched a number of handsets:

• MOTO U9, MOTO Z6w, MOTOROKR Z6, RAZR2 V8, RAZR2 V8 Luxury Edition and MOTOROKR E8 from Motorola;

• NTT DoCoMo FOMA N905i, FOMA N905iμ, FOMA N705i and FOMA N705iμ from NEC;

• NTT DoCoMo FOMA P905i, FOMA P905iTV, FOMA P705i and FOMA P705iμ from Panasonic Mobile Communications, and

• SGH-i800 from Samsung.

While Verizon may not necessarily limit its support to LiMo, today’s move represents a blow for Android. It will be much more difficult to secure a significant footprint on mobile devices.

One thing that Google still has going for itself is the traction it has gained among developers (almost 1,800 Android Developer Challenge submissions). The only problem with this is that in the short term developers will gravitate to the fad of the moment. In the long term, however, it is those platforms that make the most economic sense that will result the winners.

All in all the jury is still out. The truth is there is plenty of room for all players. But as an important reminder… with fragmentation (and this seems to be getting worse instead of better), it is the developers who suffer in the process… and the ultimately loser is the consumer…

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Voice is still the killer app – only this time it has gone beyond the phone

I bailed on SF New Tech last night, and this was very much to my own dismay. I really wanted to check out the demo by hot-shot start-up Ribbit . Why? They are pretty cool… Why?

Everyone wants to go with the new cool technologies. Especially in mobile…

But sometimes it takes extraordinary vision to make the seemingly oldest of technologies into something extremely innovative and compelling.

Ribbit offers an open platform that allows anyone to integrate voice into any service or applications. Any use case that requires making or receiving calls through Web or other applications such as desktop widgets (or mobile applications). I found many an example of applications of Ribbit on Ribbit’s “Idea Wall”. Here are some of my favorites:

Voice powered singing audition for music website

Online Dating Web site. What else can you (or your suitors) display besides your interests and a photo-shopped picture of yourself? Your voice, of course!

More impressive magic occurs when Ribbit is combined with really sophisticated technologies such as voice-to-text. This is what has done by integrating Ribbit into an application that transcribes test to email, SMS, or simply displays it on the SAAS Web site.

So I conclude with a big thumbs up for Ribbit!

Monday, May 12, 2008

The iPhone in Context

To us Silicon Valley geeks who worship Apple (along with other few Silicon Valley icons) it might seem as if the iPhone has taken over the world. After all, in the Bay Area this superlative gadget of all time has indeed taken over.

So as a reminder to myself that sometimes I need to take off my Silicon Valley goggles, I looked up some interesting facts:

Number of phones shipped in Q1 2008

Apple iPhone: 1.7 Million

Motorola: 27.4 Million (a 40% marketshare loss)

Nokia: 22 Million

Sony/Ericsson: 22.3 million

So for a developer, does it still make sense to target the iPhone?

One mobile enthusiast I know well and respect insists that it’s not the current footprint of the iPhone that matters as much. It is a good investment because the footprint will increase eventually (some experts speculate the iPhone will reach 100M shipped units by the end of 2008 – I’m not sure if they live in the Silicon Valley or not, but my guess would be yes ;-)).

And its footprint has certainly already passed the footprint of any other device+OS+application platform combination out there. Not sure, however, how the late news of the iPhone being out of stock will affect this in the few months to come. Nevertheless, this is if anything an indicator that the demand for it is evergrowing.

So from a developer’s perspective the porting issues are null as long Apple continues to be consistent in its implementation of future versions.

In the end, howver, only time will tell if the iPhone will catch up with the incumbents in terms of market share in this hyper saturated space; or if the incumbents will catch up with the iPhone it terms of understanding of good user interface and real consumer needs.

Post Blogger’s Block

I’m recovering from serious blogger’s block. After being stuck in the rut for about one month the ideas are suddenly flowing.

I blame it on a vacation I recently took to visit my family in Mexico City, after which I was incredibly homesick for a while. I’ll post some pictures so that you can see for yourselves how this is fully justified.

Anyway, back in the groove…