Time Machine

July 22, 2010

Who says it is not possible to go back in time. For the past couple of days I was playing with a fairly new BlackBerry device and oh boy, it is like going back in time. The experience, interface, using scroll wheel to navigate mouse, navigation, reboots to install/replace an app etc. I mean, look at this typography…


Impact of Touch on WebApps

February 21, 2010

For the past 20+ years, we are used to using intermediate devices like Mouse and Keyboard for input. Their replacements are Touch and Voice. While we are not there today for Voice, we are certainly are getting there on Touch replacing mouse (atleast in portable devices). Whenever we see such fundamental changes, there is always an opportunity. But these trends also mean changes have to be made in current products.

Consider the example on why iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad doesn’t support Flash. While there has been a lot of talk on this subject, the best technical explanation I have seen comes from a Flash developer on why Flash is not supported on iPhone/iPad.

Many (if not most) current Flash games, menus, and even video players require a visible mouse pointer. They are coded to rely on the difference between hovering over something (mouseover) vs. actually clicking. This distinction is not rare. It’s pervasive, fundamental to interactive design, and vital to the basic use of Flash content. New Flash content designed just for touchscreens can be done, but people want existing Flash sites to work. All of them—not just some here and there—and in a usable manner. That’s impossible no matter what.

I recommend reading the entire post.

Going beyond Flash, I actually think this explanation holds true for web apps too. This lack of mouseover functionality could make some web apps and even some websites unusable or less effective.

There are ton of webapps that use mouseover functions for many actions. Remember those drop-down menus on mouseover? Sites like Amazon, eBay, GoDaddy, BestBuy, Microsoft… they all use mouseover. Take eBay for example, the categories menu on the top left is a mouseover event. The action for mouseover event is different from onclick event.

All such mouseover functions have to be reconsidered while optimizing web applications for touch.

Does Touch kill mouseover function? I think it does.

It is not just mouseover function. But there are other things we are used to on the web like viewing Tooltips, viewing the URL in the status bar on mouseover without clicking the link…they will all be gone from the web if we are accessing it from touch-based devices. Is it a good thing? I think yes. Touch has its own advantages and I am sure we will find some innovative alternatives. These are small compromises in adopting the next major step.

Touch changes the way we use the web. We need to get used to it and vendors need to design their apps assuming this reality.

There has been some interesting discussion about Apple and iPad being closed. In many cases for Apple, I’d buy this argument, but regarding iPad being closed, I have to disagree. As I talked earlier, iPad is a gadget for non-techies. People who have been scared about the complexity of computers will be able to use it. So it is kind of like a toaster (a beautiful one, though) which is simple enough that every one understands. Do you care about what goes within a toaster or a microwave (unless you are in that feild)? They just work and that is all we care about. I put iPad under the same category. It just works, no crashes (thanks for not including Flash. It crashes my Safari EVERY day). It really doesn’t matter what goes within as long as it offers good value and is a pleasure to use.

Openness doesn’t always result in great end-user products. Look at many open source projects out there (I am talking about end-user products here, not server side marvels). How good is Linux? At the back-end, it is AWESOME. But for the end user, it is a pain in the rear. I’d put Android under the same category. It very much excites geeks, but is far from desirable, atleast to my taste (yes, I own an Android device but couldn’t use for more than a day).

This talk about not using a standard processor, not-replaceable battery etc…commmon. We are blaming Apple for creating a better product? Every single person who played with the iPad said it screams. Shouldn’t we blame other guys for not creating power efficient processors? We also blame them for closed AppStore etc. When Apple first said web apps will be the way to include third party apps on the iPhone, everyone panicked and asked Apple to open it up for developers. Two years and 140K apps later, we go back and scream that it is a closed platform and web apps are the way to go? That’s interesting.

For developers, I actually think iPhone/iPad platform is pretty open. Their APIs are pretty exhaustive and are improved constantly. I expect to see some innovative apps on the iPad. We have seen troubles with Android due to ‘openness’ (available in n devices, by m carriers with x number of screen sizes and y number of configurations). Android Market app sales talk for themselves. Contrast that with the iPhone App sales.

For end users, simplicity matters, a LOT. More than openness.

This is a post I wrote for CloudAve. I am including the entire post below.

Bill Gurly wrote up a great piece on Google’s disruption in the navigation market. It is a great read to understand the impact Google’s new navigation ‘feature’ will have in that market.

That’s right; Google will pay you to use their mobile OS. I like to call this the “less than free” business model. This is a remarkable card to play. Because of its dominance in search, Google has ad rates that blow away the competition. To compete at an equally “less than free” price point, Symbian or windows mobile would need to subsidize. Double ouch!!

When you have a hugely profitable business, it is relatively easy to disrupt adjacent businesses which will hugely impact other players focused in that market. Google’s model is not new. We have seen this before. Microsoft disrupted Netscape by simply offering the browser for free and even included it in their OS, essentially killing Netscape whose business model was to sell a browser. When the oxygen supply of a vendor is cut, their business has to change quickly or it eventually dies, as we have seen with Netscape. For Microsoft, Windows & Office is their cash cow. They can afford to give away a browser with no impact to their bottom line. But in the marketplace, it commoditizes the browser and kills other vendors whose sole business is selling the browser (like Netscape). This is petty much what Google is doing in the Maps/Navigation market. As Bill mentioned, it will have a significant impact on vendors like Garmin, Tom Tom.

When you have one profitable business, it is not uncommon to give away something to disrupt adjacent markets. Apple, for example, focuses on selling hardware with software as a value-add to sell more hardware. When software is the value add, it can be cheaper than the other guys up north who solely rely on selling software. This kind of explains why the cost of Windows 7 is so high compared to Snow Leopard.

Google cannot continue disrupting all markets it enters. It needs to find alternative money making markets apart from search. If the search market gets very competitive (Bing?), it could spell disaster for Google’s core, cutting its oxygen supply. According to Eric Schmidt, Google Apps is the next big thing for Google. How significant will Google Apps be to their bottom line is yet to be seen – especially considering how low the margins are for business vendors compared to vendors serving the consumer market.

This disruption game is interesting. Microsoft makes money from Office & Windows and is trying to disrupt(?) search. Google is doing the opposite to Microsoft trying to disrupt(?) Microsoft with Google Apps & Chrome OS. These are just two companies. When we look at the bigger picture, we see many companies disrupting each other to establish their presense with consumers and businesses.

No matter who disrupts whom, it is only good news for the end user.

Connected car

October 3, 2009

I have long been waiting for a connected car – one that is connected to internet all the time (3G or EVDO or Wifi). Ideally it should include a Solid State Drive (Hard drives fail frequently due to motion) to store content (music, primarily).

The idea is, my car should connect to my home WiFi network and Sync music from my iTunes (or whatever the music library is). I hate burning CDs and I am not a fan of sync on my iphone and then connecting it to the car as these things need cables.

I finally achieved the first part – being connected on the go. First, I ordered a Sprint Mifi. This is basically a WiFi access point at one end and on the other end, it is connected to the Sprint EVDO network. This way, I am always connected as long as there is a Sprint signal. Because it is a WiFi network within the car, all passengers in the car can now be connected to the same wireless network.

One of the drawbacks of this device is the battery life which can only last for 4 hours. To have it permanently connected, I purchased a PowerLine Power Inverter. This basically connects to the car charger on one end and on the other end, you can connect any device with the standard power outlet or even USB.

A combination of connected power and connected internet makes my life better and the passengers happy.

Now, I am looking for ways to connect a hard drive to my car and sync it with my library.

There has been some good discussion around Android recently and Daring Fireball blog has some very good points on the opportunity Android has in the market.

I 100% agree with him that iPhone needs competition. Unfortunately, the competition doesn’t look very good so far. While John Gruber makes a case where competition could exist if executed right, I don’t see some one gaining significant share in the market, atleast in the short term.  iPhone seem to be couple of years ahead of competition in the market and so far, I still don’t see good competition for iPhone.

When hardware becomes a commodity, the value moves to the software. So the game suddenly shifts to the software vendor’s turf. Now, to provide better end user experience on an end user device like a phone, a vendor with expertise in both hardware and software has significant advantages in this market and there are not many vendors who do software and hardware and definitely not at the scale as Apple. This puts Apple much ahead of competition not just in the short term, but also in the long term. When they have a lead, it is tough to beat them, unless we see some blunders from them.

I love linux. As I geek, I spend lot of time with it and I don’t see how tens of thousands of companies (like Google) can survive without open source software like linux. That said, it is already known that Linux has not penetrated the desktop market as much as it penetrated the server market. Infact, I’ll go a step further and say that it is tough to find enough open source software with great UI/usability. On the other hand, more often than not, the server side stuff is pretty good for most of the popular open source software. I think this is true with Android. I played with it a bit and found similarities between Android and Linux (yes, it is the same core). Similar to Linux, Android has the same powerful stuff, but where it fails is the usability and the final touches it needs. I can never call any Linux software ‘pleasure to use’ (yes, including Ubuntu), but I can say that after using a Mac, for example. As long as someone takes the user experience and user interface seriously, I think Android will face the same fate as Linux.

If a new phone has to compete with iPhone, it is not good enough if it is 10% better than iPhone. It has to be significantly better than the iPhone. If it comes with a smaller vendor, it going to get much tougher.

If there is one thing I’d like to see in Android (or linux), it is the improvements to the usabiltiy and UI of the entire OS. It looks crappy, atleast to my taste. Attention to the detail is very important and it has to be a please to use. Unless someone comes up with an OS that is good for end users, they’ll keep loosing against Apple. Phone is the device that stays with us longer than any other device. It is not good enough if it is functional. It has to be ‘please to use’.

Here is another reason to use Online Apps..

For those who are heading to the US, here is a word of caution – the border agents can now search your laptop even without a cause.

This follows a US Federal Appeals Court ruling, earlier this week, that agents at the border do not need any “reasonable suspicion” to search through travellers’ laptops.

In other words, computers are like any other luggage going through the border, and hence, subject to searches at US national borders and airports.

More info here