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Life is Hard; Android is Harder

angry androidIt continues to amaze me what a mess the Android platform is. Take two articles from last month: Android, too complex for its own good and Is Android too hard for the average user to figure out? Both articles highlight points I’ve been making all along about the failings of the Android platform from a user experience perspective.

Take the Nexus 7, arguably the best tablet currently available for the price. When first introduced just a short while ago, Google made a big deal about how the Jelly Bean version of Android finally ran as smoothly as the competition.

What’s interesting about this statement is the fact that Google made a big deal of how this latest version of Android finally runs as smoothly as the competition, which almost certainly means as smoothly as Apple’s iOS. It would seem to me that “running smoothly” is a pretty big deal and should have been something that was done right in version 1.0, not version 4.1. But hey, “running smoothly” is just a little user interface detail. It’s just “polish”. What users really care about is gigahertz, how many ports a device has, and other arcane technical details, right? Wrong.

Regardless of what Android fans say about how technically superior their new favorite Android phone-of-the-month is, the bottom line is that user experience is *everything*. If it had taken Apple 4 versions to get the iPhone “running smoothly”, do we think we would still be talking about an iPhone today? There is a reason that the iPhone spread like wildfire. It was because the average, everyday person finally had a technical device that they could use without the help of a geek. The iPhone just worked and it empowered the user as no device ever had before. It wasn’t because of technical specifications or heavy advertising. It was entirely because of user experience, of which the user interface is the largest part of.

The other large part of user experience is reliability. Unfortunately, the Android platform is no where near as reliable as Apple’s iOS platform. The following is just one example:

That only lasted a few months as Google pushed an update to the Nexus 7 that broke the smooth operation affecting all aspects of the tablet’s performance. Scrolling is herky-jerky in all apps and for general system operation. The biggest improvement in Android since its inception has been broken by Google.

If Google can’t even keep Android reliable on their own Google-branded device, what chance do any of their OEM partners have? Evidence shows they aren’t doing so hot. Again, if Apple had issues with reliability on the scale that Android has had, do we really think there would still be an iPhone to be talking about?

If Android is dominant with respect to market share, why did Apple’s iOS-powered devices wipe the floor with Android when it came to Thanksgiving and Black Friday online shopping?

For all the boasting by Google and Android fans that Android has a larger smartphone marketshare than the iOS, they can’t answer the question as to why the iOS beats Android when it comes to usage metrics, such as web browsing share, app developer profitability, and most recently, holiday shopping figures. Why the discrepancies? For all the claimed marketshare numbers, why does it seem that iOS is the only platform that people actually use? There really is no great mystery to me why Android is a lame-duck platform, and it now finally seems others are catching on.

I think it comes down to one rather simple but key difference between the two platforms. iOS is easier to use than Android. Or, flipping that around, Android is too hard for the average user to figure out.

Can it really be that simple? Does it really boil down to the fact that iPhones and iPads are just so much easier to use than the plethora of Android devices out there? Of course, most technology “experts” would never believe that user experience could play such a factor, but then most of those experts still think they are in the Old World of Technology. In the New World of Technology, ease-of-use absolutely plays a critical factor in technology usage. Now that average people are heavy technology users, it is not shocking they gravitate to easy-to-use technologies, while still ignoring difficult ones. The trouble with most technology pundits (and technology companies) is that they don’t realize just how fine a line technology walks between being easy or being difficult for the average user. The fact that Android is a lame-duck platform should open their eyes to this fact, but don’t hold your breath.

Apple has spent a lot of time and money creating commercials that show its products being used to solve real-world problems. As short and as simple as these ads may be, they give owners — and potential owners — an idea of what the iPhone or iPad can do. That might seem extremely basic, but it gets people to explore the potential of their iDevice.

Compare this to ads I’ve seen for Android hardware, which seem to focus on the device itself rather that what it can do for the owner.

Well, duh. The Android market is dominated by hardware manufacturers trying to differentiate their products from the multitude of other Android copycats. What else can they differentiate on if not hardware specs? Of course, as I’ve said many times, most people don’t care about hardware specs. They care about user experience. As long as Apple is the only company that is truly committed to complete user experience – in hardware, software, and ecosystem – Android will continue to be too hard for the average user.

The Android Reality

This is how Android phones make many people feel

This is how Android phones make many people feel

I just read a great article from Jason Perlow, the senior technology editor at ZDNet. A former Android evangelist, Jason has decided to leave the Android platform and buy an iPhone. He claims he is switching to the iPhone because the promise of what Android is intended to deliver is perverted by the hardware manufacturers and wireless carriers. The Android that is being sold – as compared to the Android that is talked about by Google and Android supporters – are two very different things. To quote Jason:

What I’m trying to get at is there is a perfect image of what Android is supposed to be, what Google and Android’s staunchest adherents purport it to be, and then there is Android as it is practiced in reality.

Android as it is being sold to you by OEMs and wireless carriers is a lie. It is Android interpreted and regurgitated as perverted scripture from false prophets.

Specifically, Jason’s biggest beefs with Android phones are the fact that promised updates often come very late (if at all), the general unreliability of the devices as he has experienced, the complexity that hardware manufacturers and wireless carriers introduce into their particular Android-based phones, and the resulting inconsistent user experience. When compared to Apple’s iOS devices, which have uniform updates, unmatched ease-of-use and reliability, and a universal user experience, Android just isn’t in the same league.

I’ve written about Android’s problems before on this blog as well as my one of my other blogs, State of the Tech. Most of my writings echo exactly Jason’s dissatisfactions with the Android platform. So I won’t rehash them here. However I will discuss the many surprising comments people wrote about his article. A main theme among many of those comments were the idea that the problems with the Android platform aren’t Google’s fault. They are the fault of the hardware vendors and carriers. Which makes the author’s point exactly!

Who cares whose fault it is that Android phones have these problems? The problems EXIST. That is what matters. It really doesn’t matter one bit what Android is supposed to be. It doesn’t matter in the least what Google’s intentions are. The only thing that matters AT ALL is reality. The only thing consumers care about is the user experience. Whining that it’s the hardware vendors’ or carriers’ fault doesn’t change the fact that the Android user experience doesn’t hold a candle to Apple’s iOS devices.

What this whole experience shows is a fundamental flaw in Google’s approach to Android. For all the complaining that people do about Apple’s “closed ecosystem”, the very reason Apple controls everything it can is so that they can ensure the end user experience is as good as possible. Most other hardware manufacturers are motivated by differentiating their devices from all the others that run the same operating system. To think that the hardware vendors are going to conform to a unified Android experience is fanciful. If all Android phones had nearly the same user experience, hardware vendors would have an almost impossible time differentiating themselves. The problem is that they already have a very hard time with differentiation! The root problem is that Android encourages a commodity smartphone market, just like Windows encouraged a commodity PC market. A commodity market encourages competition almost completely on price. Profits suffer in a commodity market. PC makers had higher margins to start with but they all still eventually consolidated on the same low-margin business model – not coincidentally except for Apple. The problem with smartphone manufacturers (again, other than Apple) is that they were already in a low margin business to start with. If companies aren’t making any money, all the good intentions in the world doesn’t matter. Companies won’t stay in the Android business if they aren’t profiting.

Apple’s priority is user experience. Google’s priority for Android is “openness” or whatever other technical nonsense is du jour. Hardware manufacturers and wireless carriers priority is differentiation. Given how well Apple’s iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch continue to sell, I think the answer is pretty clear which priority users have in mind.

Apple, Samsung, the Evolution of Smartphones, and Real Innovation

Apple-Samsung-logoNow that the iPhone 6 models have been released, the buzz among consumers and competitors alike is in full swing. Both Apple fans and detractors are lighting up the Internet with their opinions on larger screen sizes and claims of which companies are the most innovative. For me, it has been interesting to observe the evolution of the smartphone and the corresponding market. I feel that we are now at the launch point for the next stage of advancement in mobile technology so it is a good time to reflect and look forward.

Let’s be clear that Apple created the smartphone market as we know it today. Sure there were “smartphones” before the iPhone, but that is like comparing DOS-based computers to the Macintosh and all graphical computers after. They simply weren’t in the same league. For all the talk about Apple not innovating lately, I think a lot of people are missing the big picture. The iPhone was a huge leap forward from the “primordial” smartphones, just as the Macintosh was a huge leap from early text-based personal computers. Once a market segment is created, competition begins to fill in. But competing in an established category is quite different from creating a market and continually moving it forward.

Considering how so many people felt themselves “technology illiterate” in the PC era, the fact that millions upon millions of people now own smartphones is quite a feat. But obviously this didn’t happen overnight. It’s been seven years since Apple introduced the original iPhone and 6 years since they rolled out the App Store. Every year Apple brings out some new advances, but while other companies want to ride the bleeding edge, Apple has been very different in their approach. It’s almost as if Apple knows that too much, too quickly has the potential to turn off consumers. They seem to understand that mainstream society needs to get used to technology advancements before building further upon them. Steve Jobs once used the analogy of people and technology being on a “first date” in the 80’s and I think the analogy somewhat extends out now. Move too fast and someone will get dumped. Had Apple gone too quickly and made the iPhone too complex or less reliable, it may have stymied the adoption of the iPhone and smartphones in general. However, as Apple was slowly bringing us along, being careful not to move too fast or introduce bleeding-edge technology that could have negatively impacted user experience, a certain set of users wanted to move faster.

In the early days of Android, phone manufacturers tried just about everything and anything they could to compete with the iPhone and differentiate themselves from other Android phones. I likened it to throwing everything against the wall to see what would stick. For all the gimmicky things that Android phone manufacturers tried, the one thing that actually seemed to stick was bigger screen size. Ironically, bigger screen sizes may not have been an intentional development, but rather done out of necessity, as the phones that initially supported LTE needed bigger batteries to handle the increased drain that the early LTE chipsets required. Bigger batteries required bigger phones and correspondingly bigger screen sizes. Samsung then took the larger screen size concept to the next level with the Galaxy Note in 2012. It isn’t hard to understand why certain people like a bigger screen. Techie-types seem to like anything with bigger specs, and those with bad eyesight think that bigger screens means they are easier to read. Others simply like to have more screen room to work with. Regardless, Samsung’s bigger screens ended up being virtually the only thing that average users could identify with on non-Apple phones. Somewhat paradoxically, while competitors claimed bigger screens on phones were better, they simultaneously pushed smaller screens on tablets! But that is a discussion for another time.

Where Apple was being careful in not pushing technology too fast, they may have been just a little too cautious. The mainstream that was “technology illiterate” became savvy quicker than Apple expected. Ironically, it appears that the ease-of-use Apple was so careful to protect empowered users to not be so fearful of technology, emboldening them to explore products from other companies. Samsung’s bigger screens was a simple draw to those who were wanting to push the technology envelope. The simple fact that Apple has now introduced larger screen sizes shows that there must have been significant customer demand for them. From my own personal experience as a technology consultant, I can say that I was asked many questions about larger screen sizes in the last couple of years. Several people indicated that they were contemplating leaving the iPhone to get a bigger screen. Congratulations, Samsung! Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes!

Now don’t get me wrong. I think competition is a great thing. It keeps all on their toes, constantly working to improve their products or services. Ultimately consumers win from varied choices and lower costs. But I think one can tell a lot about the company behind the products from their advertisements. Why does it seem that the large majority of Samsung’s ads are trying to poke fun at the iPhone? Samsung perhaps doesn’t realize (or perhaps they do) that they are also making fun of people who use iPhones. This isn’t a good way to win friends and influence people. If your products are so great, Samsung, why do you need to build them up by trying to tear down others? And what does it say about the people who are influenced by this type of conceited, self-congratulatory commercials? It’s a throwback to the Old World of Technology where many technology professionals gave off an aura of smug superiority. I think most people have no desire to deal with egotistical technology professionals any longer.

Unfortunately for Samsung, the jig may be up. For all those people who claim that having a bigger screen was innovative, it was something that was very simple to copy. Now that Apple has introduced bigger screen sizes, Samsung no longer has an easy claim to fame. The fact that sales of the iPhone 6 have been record-setting seems to indicate that while people did in fact want smartphones with big screens, what they truly wanted was an iPhone with a big screen. For all of Samsung’s hype, their “Next Big Thing” usually was simply their next “big” thing. Now that everyone’s big, what will Samsung do? When the “we had big screens first!” marketing campaign fizzles out, what gimmicky tech features will they resort to next?

Hopefully Samsung enjoyed their time in the sun because it seems that Apple is back with a vengeance. Their current path of innovation, save the Apple Watch, may seem subtle at this point, but it all stands to fundamentally reshape not only the mobile device market, but the entire technology landscape as well. Besides making incredible technology products, what Apple does at its core is bring technologies into the mainstream. By making technology easy to use and accessible, Apple makes technology more powerful than any hardware specification alone can. Let’s look forward a little bit:

  • HomeKit will become the standard for unified home automation across disparate devices. The “Jetsons” home will finally come closer to reality.
  • HealthKit will become the standard for organizing personal health information from various sensors and data input. Soon we will hear stories about how Apple technology is literally saving people’s lives.
  • Apple Pay will move forward the payment transaction industry that has been quagmired. Where other tech companies have tried to bring mobile payments to the mainstream, only Apple has the customer base and industry influence to actually pull it off.
  • All these technologies will be also tied into Apple Watch, which already seems like it will be one of the hottest tech items of the coming years. I will write more about Apple Watch in a future article.

The problem for Samsung, or any other competing manufacturer, is that unlike a simple large screen, none of these technologies that Apple is bringing forward are easy to copy. This is because Apple isn’t just bringing raw technology advances to the table. Apple is doing the very hard work of making the technology easy to use and accessible. This requires a lot of development work as well as significant investments in creating industry relationships. Companies that are primarily manufacturers do not have the nearly 40 years of R&D and ingrained culture of innovation that Apple has. It’s quite a different thing to bring genesis to an entire ecosystem of amazing user experience than it is to throw some tech specs at a board and slap together cheap electronic devices. To Samsung, smartphones are just another TV or microwave that they churn out en masse. But to Apple, it’s personal. They aren’t just a manufacturing company. They really do care about making “insanely great” devices. This is the legacy of Steve Jobs. The payoff for Apple is that they are clearly the most valuable company in the technology industry, even if we don’t look at the numbers. Apple’s clout among companies and consumers in the economy at large is priceless and the fact that the entire world waits with baited breath to see what Apple does next is proof enough.

For those that think they can compete with Apple when they have established mainstream success with technology ecosystems, they should learn from recent history. Many tried to knock Apple off the iPod/iTunes pedestal. All failed miserably. Corporate juggernauts like Microsoft and Sony seemed feeble when attempting to replicate the success that Apple had. Again, this was because Apple wan’t simply making digital music players. Anyone could and did make those. Apple knew that they had to focus on the entire user experience and make it brain-dead simple for users to not only play songs on their devices, but also purchase and organize their music as well. Getting music on early MP3 players was a chore for all but the most techie among us. It seems obvious now, but if you couldn’t get music on your device, the device itself was pretty useless, no matter how great its tech specs were. The same will hold true for HomeKit, HealthKit, and Apple Pay. While its competitors were all busy trying to make phones with the biggest, baddest, tech specs, Apple was quietly leapfrogging them in technology that consumers will truly care about. By the time other companies figure this out, assuming they ever will, they will likely be too late. If Apple is successful in creating new technology ecosystems around their new innovations, it will be extraordinary hard for anyone to compete. This will be especially true for a simple manufacturing company like Samsung who doesn’t even make the operating system that runs on their phones.

Apple’s marketing slogan for the iPhone 6 is “Bigger than Bigger”. Subtle, but absolutely on point. While it seems that size may in fact matter, at the same time it really doesn’t matter. There are bigger things than big screens and we are about to see this come to fruition. It will certainly be interesting to see what Apple’s competition does next.

The Facebook Messenger App is NOT the Devil!

The Facebook Messenger App - Could it be SATAN!? No, just some sensationalist claims gone viral.

The Facebook Messenger App – Could it be SATAN!? No, just some sensationalist claims gone viral.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are well aware of all the dire warnings about Facebook’s “new” Messenger app floating around the Internet. At first I wasn’t going to write anything about it, but it seems that the story continues to get bigger. So I feel it necessary to discuss the warnings and how it all got started.

An article written by Nick Russo for a Houston radio station claimed that the Facebook Messenger app would have permissions to do all sorts of privacy-invading things if you installed it. For some reason, the article went viral. Well, it probably went viral for the same reason people send chain letters about virus hoaxes. It had just enough sensationalism mixed in with an authoritative tone to seem credible. The name of Nick’s radio station is “The Bull,” and perhaps that should have been an indication to people reading it that his article was for the most part, BS.

I’m not sure why this radio personality felt it necessary to pretend to be a technology expert. The very first time I read the article I knew there was something just not right. I tried to research his claims for some friends who were asking and for the life of me I couldn’t find anything about this guy stating that he had any professional experience besides working in radio. There’s nothing wrong with working in radio, but if you’re going to use your platform to disseminate information, please be sure you know what you’re talking about! As far as I’ve seen, Nick has not yet written an apology for his fear-mongering article, but rather has shifted into portraying himself as some sort of privacy advocate. Once again, I’m all for privacy advocates, but if you’re going to advocate – know of what you speak beyond just a cursory scratching of the surface.

Nick Russo made a lot of outlandish claims regarding what the Facebook Messenger app could do. The first problem with his claims were that he didn’t make a distinction between smartphones. I knew right away when reading his article was that there was no way Apple would allow an app like that to get into their App Store. Certainly it might be possible with an Android-based phone, however unlikely it would be, but Apple puts every single app submitted to their store through an approval process. Every. Single. App. Yeah, there’s no chance that Apple would allow Facebook Messenger, or any other app, to do the following as claimed by Nick Russo:

  • change or alter your connection to the Internet or cell service … for its own reasons without telling you.
  • send text messages to your contacts on your behalf … when they want
  • see through your lens on your phone whenever they want .. listen to what you’re saying via your microphone if they choose to
  • read your phone’s call log, including info about incoming and outgoing calls … Facebook will know all of this
  • read e-mails you’ve sent and take information from them to use for their own gain.
  • read personal profile information stored on your device … addresses, personal info, pictures or anything else
  • Facebook will now have a tally of all the apps you use, how often you use them and what information you keep or exchange on those apps.

It’s not like Apple iPhones are some off-the-wall brand that can be safely overlooked when discussing smartphones. They are just a *little* popular, to put it lightly. So to write an article like this with such extreme claims and not know about Apple’s approval process is simply irresponsible. But even if we were to ignore iPhones for the moment, does anyone really think that Facebook would want to do most of what is claimed above to their users? Perhaps Mr. Russo should have put in a call to someone at Facebook to ask a few questions first? Or at least do a tiny little bit of research on this thing called the Internet before publishing an article like this? I bet even the resident PC guy at “The Bull” probably could have warned Nick that his claims were pretty far out and to be careful before publishing his article. But alas, Mr. Russo took a little sliver of knowledge and believed he knew more than he did – running off like “The Bull” in a china shop and starting a viral tidal wave in the process.

To be fair, in theory – extreme theory, what Nick Russo claims above could possibly be accomplished by highly malicious apps running on some smartphone platforms. But Facebook Messenger isn’t a malicious app. And Nick must have found that out because in his next article he states, “I’ve now learned that both the New Facebook Messenger App and the original Facebook app have many of the SAME permissions.” Yes, I’m sure he did learn a few things once his article went viral! But perhaps those things should have been learned BEFORE publishing! As it turns out, the Facebook Messenger app (which isn’t new, but has been out for years), does virtually nothing different than any other similar app, including the normal Facebook app that billions of people already use. Oops!

Apparently once he found that out, Nick choose to portray himself as a privacy advocate, championing the idea that he made people more aware of the privacy choices on their phones. Fair enough, but let’s call a spade a spade. If he really cared about people’s privacy choices, he would have done some research and consulted with technology experts so that he could have written a balanced article. Any good that he has done has been completely obscured by the hysteria he created. Advocacy by accident at best. Fear-mongering at worst.

Bottom line, there are many articles that debunk Nick’s claims. Here is another article discussing some of Nick’s claims as “myths”. Facebook even posted an article discussing the privacy concerns. So the moral of the story is that we can’t believe everything we read – especially when it comes to technology topics. While we may not like the fact that Facebook is making everyone use a separate app for Messenger, spreading misinformation isn’t helping anybody.

Can We Now Please Get Serious About Viruses?

system-failureMany news reports last month warned of a new type of ransomware called CryptoLocker. In a nutshell, CryptoLocker uses sophisticated encryption techniques to scramble an infected user’s data and then holds the data for ransom. Only if the user pays $300 will the data be decrypted and become usable again. If the user does not pay $300 within about 3 or 4 days of getting infected, CryptoLocker automatically destroys the decryption key required to unlock the data and the user will never be able to recover the data in any other way. If this sounds nasty, you’re damn right it is.

Of course, as with nearly all malicious software, this malware can only infect Windows-based systems. At this time, CryptoLocker can not infect Macintosh computers, iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch), or Android-based devices. While it is within the realm of reality that criminals could create a Mac version, the underlying secure UNIX-based design of the Mac makes this very unlikely (the virtual non-existence of malware for the Mac OS X platform after 12 years should be proof enough). I’ll keep it simple and say there’s zero chance of this happening on iOS platforms. And while this particular incarnation of CryptoLocker probably wouldn’t be effective on an Android device, there are already examples of ransomware popping up on Android devices.

In other news, another malware called Dexter has resurfaced in South Africa after infecting systems in the US, UK and dozens of other countries towards the end of last year. This particular malware attacks Windows-based point-of-sale systems and skims credit card information from customers shopping at infected stores. But what’s tens of millions dollars between friends, eh?

While scams can happen on any platform, and some cross-platform development environments (Java, Adobe Flash) can create malware on any platform that supports them, the bottom line is that Windows is the center of the malware universe. Windows is so full of holes it makes Swiss Cheese jealous. For all the anti-virus software out there, their effectiveness has steadily declined over the years, detecting only 70 to 90 percent of malware according to a report from a few years ago. The situation hasn’t improved over the years, as malware is increasingly prevalent and more sophisticated in its methods of attack and evasion.

Windows is a war zone. If you choose to participate in this environment, you must take increasingly intricate actions to stay protected. And that protection is dubious in nature. Where simple anti-virus software and firewalls used to be enough for most people, it is becoming increasingly clear that additional layers of protection are necessary to actually be “protected”. Most of these steps are far beyond the average computer user’s comprehension or feasibility of implementation and even then it is a constant battle to stay updated and aware.

When will enough be enough? Untold numbers of individuals and businesses lose millions upon millions of dollars a year combating a problem that Microsoft’s operating system fosters. Sure it isn’t Microsoft’s fault that malware authors feast on their operating system, but the reality is that Microsoft created the environment for malware to flourish. Something MUST change in the technology industry because this simply can NOT continue. Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, not harder.

It is time to face the stark reality that Windows is no longer (not that it has ever truly been) a platform that we can consider a viable foundation to run our lives or businesses. For all the hype about Windows 8 (not that anyone is listening) the reality is that Windows users are one infection away from losing their valuable data. That data could be irreplaceable photos of their children. Or it could be information that their livelihood depends on. Or it could be other people’s confidential information that they have been entrusted with. I for one am sick of dealing with this problem. It does not need to be this way.

Other operating systems, namely the Mac and iOS, are virtually immune to malware. Nothing is perfect, but Mac OS X is a paradise compared to the Windows war zone. And iOS is virtually impregnable with Apple strictly controlling that environment and how software can be installed on it.

Technology professionals, it is time for a “come to Jesus” moment. If you continue to advocate the deployment of technologies founded on Windows – and if you advocate for the deployment of other malware-susceptible platforms such as Android – you are doing your customers, clients, or employers a disservice. More than that I suggest you are now sabotaging those who pay your salaries. Take a look in the mirror and ask yourselves if you can live with the potential disaster that lurks around the corner. The next CryptoLocker or Dexter attack may hit your systems and you’ll have no one to blame but yourselves. It is time to take a stand and start informing those who look to you for technology expertise that the only real solution to malware is to move away from the platforms that are their breeding grounds. Yes, it will be tough to swim against the current, but the tide is already changing. Will you help lead the charge or simply follow along?

Apple’s Shot Across Microsoft’s Bow

Apple Has Their Sights Directly on Microsoft

Apple Has Their Sights Directly on Microsoft

During Apple’s media event on September 10th in which they introduced the new iPhone 5C and iPhone 5S, Apple CEO Tim Cook also announced something that has not received a whole lot of media attention. However, this announcement while seemingly small, may actually have the biggest impact on the near-term future of the technology industry.

I’ve written before how Microsoft is in a tough situation in the mobile device market. They are a distant third-place to Apple’s iOS-based devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) and the variety of Google Android-based devices. However, unlike the now fourth-place BlackBerry, Microsoft has a strong cashflow due to their existing PC Windows operating system and PC Microsoft Office sales. They have time to try to mount a respectable mobile platform, while BlackBerry is for all intents and purposes dead. The problem for Microsoft is that these cash cows won’t last forever. The PC era is over and Microsoft needs to develop a strong position in the mobile device market sooner than later if they want to remain a significant player in the technology industry.

In an attempt to leverage their strength in the PC market to give them a springboard into the mobile device market, Microsoft has withheld Office from the iOS and Android platforms (even though a rumored iOS version of Office was ready in early 2012). Microsoft is betting that by only offering Microsoft-branded Office on Microsoft-based mobile devices this will lure droves of users away from the other platforms into the Microsoft fold. As I’ve written, this is basically betting the farm for Microsoft because they longer they withhold Office from other mobile platforms (specifically the iPad), the more likely users will realize life without Microsoft Office is just fine. Once users no longer have an attachment to Microsoft Office, the most viable cashflow stream for Microsoft dries up and the company itself will be in big trouble.

The announcement on September 10th that was mostly ignored is that Apple will give away their iWork suite of office productivity apps to all new iOS devices. If it isn’t already obvious to you, this is a significant challenge to Microsoft. First, Apple is basically saying to Microsoft, “screw you, we don’t need your Office on our platform”. Second, Apple is basically daring Microsoft to bring Office to iOS ASAP. Apple knows that if Microsoft brings Office to iOS at any point soon, it will basically kill Microsoft’s best chance of gaining a foothold with Windows in the mobile device market. But now that Apple is giving away the iWork suite on all new iOS devices, it puts the squeeze on Microsoft to have an offering on iOS devices before Apple’s office productivity software becomes the de-facto standard on the leading mobile platform.

Apple has just put Microsoft in-between a rock and a hard place. Apple is basically forcing Microsoft to make a tough decision: save Microsoft Office and possibly the entire company but sacrifice Windows – or continue to bet the entire company and possibly lose everything. But by giving away iWork for free, Apple may have already sealed Microsoft’s fate. It will be extremely difficult for Microsoft to compete with free when it comes to Office, even if they do bring it to iOS quickly. But that may be their only option and Apple seems to know it.

Geeks and Their Advice

Not all geeks are like Chuck.

Not all geeks are like Chuck. However, I actually do know Kung-Fu.*

I recently read an article, The Geek shall inherit the Earth, which basically states that non-technical people would be wise to follow the advice of those with technology knowledge. As a technology consultant, I obviously agree that people should seek the counsel of those who have more experience or a better knowledge of something they are not as proficient in. But the reality is that in today’s technology market, people need to be careful whom they are getting their advice from. There is a big difference between a technology “geek” and a trustworthy technology consultant.

In the past, yes, “geeks” were largely responsible for the technical education of the “rest of us”. And I say this as a fellow geek, that time has passed. That was the Old World of Technology, where technology knowledge and decisions flowed from the top-down. That was the era of trickle-down technology, where usually big business and organizations set the direction of technology. The big IT departments were the ones who standardized the technology for their organizations, decided what the employees would use, and ultimately most people in the home would use what they had at work. And honestly, this was not optimal for individuals and small business.

We have now entered the New World of Technology. Consumers and small business owners by and large are no longer waiting for technology to trickle-down to them (and those that do are writing their own epitaphs). Empowered by user-friendly devices and cloud computing, they are making their own technology decisions. Top-down has been replaced with bottom-up. IT departments are no longer dictating end-user technology; they are in fact now being told by their users what they are expected to support (to the great consternation of many in IT). Users are no longer sheep and the geek is no longer the shepherd. This is a good thing, if not a truly great thing.

The danger with geeks offering advice is that too often they only view technology from their perspective, which is a perspective quite unlike that which most people have. As we geeks know, life is a lot different when you have a deep understanding of technology. Tech seems a lot less scary and we are able to do things with technology that most people wouldn’t have the first clue of. However, that viewpoint changes our priority on what features and benefits are important when it comes to technology.

Where we geeks often put a premium on technological specifications such as gigahertz or the number and type of ports a device has, the average mainstream technology user out there could care less about those things. They just want things that work and empower them. We as geeks care to a great degree about the tool itself. Most people don’t care about the tool. They care about what the tool can do for them. We geeks don’t mind some technical glitches or awkward user interfaces. We are comfortable enough with technology where we can just work around little problems. Average users don’t want the tool getting in the way of getting things done. They feel defeated when glitches pop up or are stymied with awkward user interfaces.

For these reasons, it is no wonder many who consider themselves technology savvy are truly shocked and surprised at Apple’s success. Geeks just don’t get the allure of the easy-to-use Apple products and services. And that is exactly why geeks shouldn’t be offering their advice and recommendations to average, non-technical users. Until they finally do get why Apple products have captured the mainstream of society, what they value in technology – and what they would personally use and recommend – in most cases just isn’t relevant to the rest of the world.

It frustrates me to no end when my clients inform me they purchased some Android phone because that is what the sales person at the cell phone store or Best Buy recommended for them. Or because their nephew has one and told them it was “the best”. That’s a geek making a geek recommendation and you are not a geek! Sure, I’ll make more money from them because evidence has shown they’re going to have more technical issues with their Android phone than if they had purchased an iPhone. But I really would rather have clients who are happy with their technology and are looking to do more with it instead of clients who call me because they are frustrated with their technology and need it fixed.

The key difference between a “geek” and a trustworthy technology professional is that trustworthy professional can take their knowledge and give good advice to technology “laypeople”, who almost certainly use technology in a totally different way than they do personally. It takes quite a bit of acumen, for example, to recommend an iPhone to someone who is getting their first smartphone, when you personally prefer an Android phone. You must first come to grips with how the other person uses technology and their comfort level with it, and then match what will give them (not you) the best user experience.

So please, if you are a geek and are asked by a non-geek for a technology recommendation, don’t give them the same advice that you would give a fellow geek. As the old saying goes, if you can’t say something nice, then say nothing at all. When it comes to the New World of Technology, offering Old World advice simply isn’t nice and saying nothing at all would be much appreciated.

* Technically I am a 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, which is a Korean martial art. Kung Fu is a traditional Chinese martial art, which I’ve never actually trained in, but I have done my own studying on. Either way, Chuck’s famous phrase was “I know Kung-Fu”, which was the same thing that Neo from The Matrix said. So it just wouldn’t have been the same to say “I know Tae Kwon Do”. And it’s my blog and I can do what I want to so there.

Samsung, Puh-leeze!

One Does Not Simply Bump Phones To Send A Playlist

Boromir is not pleased with Samsung

Samsung has been saturating the airwaves with their commercials making fun of iPhone owners and touting their “S Beam” feature where data can be transferred between phones by touching them. Plenty has been said about how Samsung’s commercials may be offending their potential customers who currently own or want iPhones, so I won’t rehash that. Instead I’d like to point out how Samsung is touting certain features as new and exciting when they are actually worn-out relics from the past.

The commercial that is getting the most airplay shows two people transferring a “playlist” by touching their phones together. Seems simple enough and sort of a neat thing to do. Of course, the fine print shows that the S Beam feature must be configured ahead of time before the touching feature will work. Suddenly touching phones isn’t so easy anymore. Plus, the S Beam feature only works with other Samsung Galaxy S III phones. So it’s not likely that people will even get the opportunity to use it all that much. And let’s not get started on the unanswered security questions regarding NFC technology.

But even ignoring those deficiencies, the whole touching of phones idea just seems backwards to me. We live in the New World of Technology. These devices are phones, for crying out loud! We have virtually ubiquitous Internet access and a plethora of cloud services. The days of needing to physically transfer data went out with the floppy disk! We have far more need to transfer data when we’re apart than while in physical proximity of each other. It’s perfectly fine to have the S Beam option, but to tout it as some amazing new feature – “The Next Big Thing” – is ridiculous!

Similarly, Samsung is also running commercials for their Galaxy Note 10.1 showing off the use of a stylus as “The New Way”. Stylus use is a throwback to early tablets, PDAs, and smartphones. It’s hardly “The New Way”. In fact, consumers have pretty much eschewed the stylus as an unnecessary accessory, something that has to be kept track of and prone to loss. If Samsung is hinging the success of their product on the fact that it uses a stylus, they’d better find a “new way” themselves.

Now let’s talk about something that is actually important to mobile device owners. The Galaxy S III was released in late May and Google released Android operating system 4.1, Jelly Bean, on July 9th. Samsung must have (or should have) known that Google was preparing an OS release that would be available near the introduction of their new flagship phone. They should have been preparing to support Jelly Bean on the Galaxy S III the whole time. However, it wasn’t until October 17th that Samsung announced the Galaxy S III phones would receive the upgrade to Jelly Bean. It took over 3 months for Samsung to officially acknowledge that it would even offer an upgrade for its flagship phone – an upgrade that was made available by Google just 6 weeks after the phone was released. Even then, it was only an acknowledgement that the update would be available “in the coming months” and “the specific timing and update method will be announced by each carrier partner.” Whether this was due to some sort of technical complexity surrounding the Android upgrade process, or that Samsung simply didn’t prioritize this upgrade, it doesn’t speak well of Samsung. Either they are incompetent or lackadaisical … or both.

The bottom line is that Samsung Galaxy S III owners are still waiting for “The Next Big Thing” to arrive on their phones, possibly waiting a total of 6 months or more until Samsung and the carriers get around to releasing an Android OS upgrade.

I tend to think that the ability to bump phones is much less important than say:

  • owning a phone that isn’t virtually obsolete the day it is purchased
  • waiting over 3 months to know if it will stay obsolete
  • waiting about 6 months after an upgrade is available to finally receive it

All this because it takes 3 different companies to coordinate the “specific timing and upgrade method” before an OS upgrade can be released. This is a major problem with the Android platform, but of course you never hear it mentioned in the slick Samsung ads. Compare this situation to Apple, where in just a little over a month of release, iOS 6 was installed on 200 million devices. Regardless of carrier, iOS device owners knew if their device was supported for an upgrade well ahead of time and those who could upgrade were able to do so on the first day of its release. It also appears not many customers care that none of those 200 millions devices came with a stylus, by the way.

So for all the chest-beating Samsung is doing on the airwaves about the little whiz-bang technical tricks their devices can do, they still don’t get the big picture. Phone bumping and styli are relics of the Old World of Technology and most people just don’t care, no matter how many commercials you run.

Why is Microsoft Being So Shy About Windows Phone 8?

Nokia Lumia 920 with Microsoft's Windows 8What if Microsoft threw a party and no one attended?

The answer to that question is probably, “who cares?” Because that’s almost exactly what happened Wednesday, when Nokia, Microsoft’s closest strategic Windows Phone partner, held a “big event” unveiling their two new phones that will run Windows Phone 8.

Most of the event was spent describing the hardware features of the yet-to-be-released Lumia 920 and its lesser cousin the 820. Microsoft’s manager of their Windows Phone program was there and gave a presentation on some of the features of the phone, but had relatively few details about the real meat of the new mobile operating system.

Reaction to the “big event” has been pretty much low-key. The phones don’t have a ship date (rumors are November for Europe). The technical press is wondering why Microsoft had so little to say about their soon-to-be flagship operating system – the very operating system on which Microsoft’s future hinges. And the average technology consumer has no clue there was even an event.

Contrast this to Apple’s situation. iOS 6 and its new features were unveiled in great detail back in June. Apple’s September 12th event, which will almost certainly unveil the rumored iPhone 5, is big news not only in tech circles but in the mainstream media as well. Average consumers are well aware of the event and will likely know what was announced by the end of that day.

So why is Microsoft being so shy about offering up more details about Windows Phone 8? We can’t know for sure, but I can speculate. And I can’t think of a feasible scenario that is good for Microsoft. There are three main possibilities.

The first scenario is that Microsoft could be behind schedule getting all the features of Windows Phone 8 implemented. So they can’t show off the features because they can’t get them running reliably enough to demo them. Obviously, that’s bad. If Windows 8 Phone is delayed, it only allows Apple to gain a bigger lead. A shipping delay would also make Microsoft look bad and possibly give Windows 8 a bad reputation. This really puts Microsoft in-between a rock and a hard place, because their alternative would be to rush Windows 8 Phone to market before it is fully ready. By doing this, they take the risk of shipping buggy, unreliable devices which would also put a black-eye on Microsoft’s already shaky reputation and potentially sink their entire marketing strategy for Windows 8.

Second, Microsoft may not want to cut into sales of Windows 7 Phones. Or more correctly, they may not want to alienate their hardware partners who have large inventories of Windows 7 phones gathering dust. Which is really a bad thing for consumers, since any phone that runs Windows 7 will not run Windows 8. Anybody that gets suckered mistakenly buys a Windows 7 phone will be very unhappy when they find out their brand-new phone is already obsolete, which again, only hurts Microsoft’s already weak reputation among consumers.

Third, Microsoft may realize that Windows 8 phone doesn’t really compare favorably to the iPhone or even Android phones. So they are letting their hardware vendors tout their hardware features for the time being. If true, that is a losing proposition as marketing on hardware features isn’t working with consumers. The iPhone sells because of the entire package of hardware, software, and ecosystem. Obviously Windows 8 Phone is nowhere near that yet. So perhaps Microsoft wants to quietly introduce Windows 8 Phone to market while focusing most of the attention on Windows 8 for PCs and Windows 8/Windows RT for tablets. They may hope that Windows 8 will have a halo effect and that if people are impressed enough with the other versions of Windows 8 that they’ll chomp at the bit to go buy a Windows 8 phone. Of course, if Windows 8 on PCs or tablets isn’t all that impressive, then there will be no halo effect and Windows 8 phones will continue to sell at the lackluster rate Windows 7 phones are. Obviously, that’s bad for Microsoft.

Again, it can not be understated that Microsoft’s future hinges on Windows 8. If Windows 8 isn’t a big hit, Microsoft may slowly fade into irrelevance. The fact that they seem to be so shy about marketing the supposedly great features of Windows 8 puts that future into question.

Old World Wishy-Washy

Mrs Wishy-WashyAs The New World of Technology, led on the device side by Apple products, continues to replace the Old World of Technology, it has become harder for established technology experts to downplay the iPhone and iPad. In fact, while it was nearly “standard operating procedure” for technology experts to try to dismiss Apple’s products over the last few years, it now is starting to make them look like they have their heads buried in the sand. How else would you describe someone who continues to deny what seems so obvious to the rest of the world? Therefore it is not surprising to see more articles being written by Old World experts starting to begrudgingly accept Apple’s iOS platform (iPhone and iPad) as a major player in the marketplace. Still, it seems old habits are hard to break, as this article from Paul Thurrott shows.

The article starts off showing that the author actually seems to get what the iPad has done to the technology industry. He understands that the new iPad is going to present a tricky problem for the upcoming Windows 8 and associated hardware manufacturers. And then he does something almost unheard of – he actually acknowledges that he was wrong about downplaying the iPad 2 years ago. He makes a point about how the iPad is all the computer most people need and better than any PC for them. However, even when doing this, he claims that NO ONE saw this coming. “No one credible anyway,” in his own words. Seriously? So instead of simply acknowledging that he was wrong, he has to pretend that it was impossible to foresee the success of the iPad and so dismisses anyone who did predict this.

At this point, let me stray off-topic for just moment – hey Paul, from me to you personally, you can suck it and your definition of credibility – OK, I’m better now.

The majority of the rest of the article goes in depth about technical details of high resolution display technology, how Microsoft and PC hardware vendors have bungled this technology, and how the new iPad’s Retina Display is a huge win for Apple at this time. I won’t bore you with those details, other than to say that the content of this article is for the most part dealing with how superior the iPad is at this time. Which then makes his finish to the article all the more surprising.

He starts to give some arguments about how devices that will run the upcoming Windows 8 operating system will be more versatile than the iPad, and lists off several technical features that potentially could be possible, such as docking stations and ports. In effect he lists features that are commonly associated with laptops. Additionally he states, “all of these machines can run powerful desktop applications, not just the Playskool stuff we see on iPads …” He then quickly asserts that businesses will prefer Windows 8 by a wide margin, just like they prefer Windows over Macs today for the claimed reasons of versatility, manageability, and IT administrator familiarity. To quote him, “Windows 8 will destroy the iPad in the enterprise. There won’t be any contest at all.” He then finishes his article by stating that Windows 8 will earn its spot at the table with iPads, reiterating an earlier comment that he believes the future of computing will be a split between Windows, Android, and Apple.

It’s pretty easy to see what he’s doing here. He can no longer keep his head in the sand about the New World of Technology, but he also doesn’t want to admit that the Old World is ending and alienate himself from his audience of Old World professionals. He flip-flops between the superiority of the iPad, his claim that Windows 8 will be better – at least for business, and then weakly predicts that the future will be a mix of various technologies. That’s understandable as he has made his living writing about Old World technology. But is he really doing anyone any favors? Mr. Thurrot is making the same mistake many Old World thinkers do when looking at the near future of technology. They still think that the market is going to be driven by the “techies” who care about such things as number of ports, gigahertz, and other esoteric technology features. They also still think business technology is going to be driven by a top-down mentality where the IT departments make the standards and forces them down to the end-users.

No, one of the hallmarks of the New World of Technology is that of simplification and ease-of-use. iPhones and iPads are not hugely successful because they have a multitude of ports or are marketed on things like gigahertz and how much they “kick ass”. In fact, many will argue it is the lack of such complexities as one of the driving factors behind their success. Apple’s devices are world-changing because they simply empower their users, not confound them with technology mumbo-jumbo. That is the secret to Apple’s success and everyone else is just trying to superficially copy Apple’s hardware and software look-and-feel. To quote Yoda, “that is why you fail”.

Because Apple has successfully conquered the consumer market, the other concept that most Old Worlders miss is that of bottom-up or grassroots technology in the business world. No longer are the words of the IT department being taken as gospel. On the contrary, employees are demanding their companies support their technology of choice, which is most often Apple devices such as the iPhone and iPad. It was one thing when it was a single user here or there with a Macintosh computer as was the case in the past. IT departments could largely ignore Mac users. But the mass of people who own iPhones and iPads (and increasingly Macs!) are overwhelming IT departments. Especially when many of those users are high-level executives! To highlight this fact, a term has been coined, Bring Your Own Device, to describe this growing trend.

Plus, I must wonder how well the author has explored the multitude of business applications available for the iOS platform. In making his “Playskool” comment, he clearly shows that he doesn’t understand how many businesses have leveraged Apple’s devices to massively increase their productivity. When one of the largest companies in the world, General Electric, is making extensive us of the iOS platform, I think that gives some credibility to its usefulness in a business environment. Wouldn’t you agree, Mr. Thurrot, great guru of all that is credible? Business technology is about a lot more than Microsoft Office and it might help to realize that.

Many Old World thinkers like to put the business and the consumer markets into their own little bubbles, pretending that they are completely separate and there is little relation to the two. Perhaps in the Old World this was true in practice, but the New World of Technology is changing the industry across the board. It is a simple as this: in the New World of Technology, consumers feel empowered to make their own technology decisions and they are taking this empowerment to the workplace. If IT professionals don’t train themselves in New World technologies, they will be replaced by those that do.

Maybe the future of technology won’t be dominated by Apple, but I know what it certainly will be dominated by – New World thinking. As long as Apple is the only personal computer company that is creating products grounded in the rules of the New World of Technology, it will be the only personal computer company to flourish. No, Apple’s technology won’t kill all other technologies, just like Microsoft (as much as it tried) didn’t kill all their competitors, but only Apple is setting the expectation for the way future technologies should work. Any technologies that do not conform to the ease of use, reliability, and empowerment that Apple has set the standard for will quickly be dismissed as the Old World technologies they are.

Old Worlders, let me put you on notice: the time of being wishy-washy is over. Man up and acknowledge that there is a bigger world than ports and gigahertz or fade away with the Old World technologies that you so dearly cling to.