Mobiles Design

BBC News writes:

The mobile phone industry is in danger of confusing people in its quest to pack everything into handsets, thinks Scott Jenson, a leading mobile industry design consultant.

Converging all these functions that are now possible into one device opens up major design problems.

What the industry should be coming up with are more innovative ways to get at these functions, thinks Mr Jenson, in ways that understand the kinds of experiences people want. It is about simplicity through design.

The mobile industry has watched iPod’s success carefully in its quest to find the “next big thing”, says Mr Jenson.

It knows it has to make use of ever-increasing processing power and other innovations, such as high-speed net access, to make money.

No longer are simple voice calls – the mobile’s original function – the main cash generator.

But cramming multiple functions into a mobile is still problematic. Mr Jenson is currently working on a product with a company that is a “mobile phone-iTunes type thing”, he says.

PayPal’s Plans

Business Week writes about eBay’s PayPal, the web payment service: “The goal, says PayPal President Jeff Jordan: ‘We want to be the standard for online payments.’…Could PayPal become a full-fledged credit brand on par with Visa — perhaps even beyond the Web?

Challenges for China’s Internet Companies

The Street writes:

As the leading Chinese Internet companies report earnings for the first three months of 2005, a frustratingly familiar pattern is emerging: Ad-supported content and wireless services, areas where many believe the greatest long-term potential lies, continue to suffer from regulatory setbacks and relatively slow growth. Other areas, like games and online travel, are performing much better, but the stocks are trading at dizzying valuations.

And hints from companies indicate the second quarter will bring more of the same. As a result, many of these names are down for the year. Among Chinese portals, Sina (SINA:Nasdaq) is down 12% and Sohu.com (SOHU:Nasdaq) is off 5%. Shanda Interactive Entertainment (SNDA:Nasdaq) and NetEase.com (NTES:Nasdaq) , two leaders in Chinese Internet games, are down 22% and 5%, respectively. Travel site Ctrip (CTRP:Nasdaq) has fallen 8%. Wireless company Tom Online (TOMO:Nasdaq) has lost 23%, while jobs site 51Job (JOBS:Nasdaq) is the worst performer of them all, dropping 74%.

A series of obstacles kept revenue and profit from rising at most of these companies, ranging from government hobbling of emerging wireless services, slower-than-expected growth in new Internet users, and a bottleneck of Internet access points in cafes and elsewhere (commonplace as many Internet users can’t afford PCs).

The Future of Databases

ACM Queue has an article co-authored by Jim Gray of Microsoft:

We live in a time of extreme change, much of it precipitated by an avalanche of information that otherwise threatens to swallow us whole. Under the mounting onslaught, our traditional relational database constructsalways cumbersome at bestare now clearly at risk of collapsing altogether.

In fact, rarely do you find a DBMS anymore that doesnt make provisions for online analytic processing. Decision trees, Bayes nets, clustering, and time-series analysis have also become part of the standard package, with allowances for additional algorithms yet to come. Also, text, temporal, and spatial data access methods have been addedalong with associated probabilistic logic, since a growing number of applications call for approximated results. Column stores, which store data column-wise rather than record-wise, have enjoyed a rebirth, mostly to accommodate sparse tables, as well as to optimize bandwidth.

Is it any wonder classic relational database architectures are slowly sagging to their knees?

But wait theres more! A growing number of application developers believe XML and XQuery should be treated as our primary data structure and access pattern, respectively. At minimum, database systems will need to accommodate that perspective. Also, as external data increasingly arrives as streams to be compared with historical data, stream-processing operators are of necessity being added. Publish/subscribe systems contribute further to the challenge by inverting the traditional data/query ratios, requiring that incoming data be compared against millions of queries instead of queries being used to search through millions of records. Meanwhile, disk and memory capacities are growing significantly faster than corresponding capabilities for reducing latency and ensuring ample bandwidth. Accordingly, the modern database system increasingly depends on massive main memory and sequential disk access.

This all will require a new, much more dynamic query optimization strategy as we move forward. It will have to be a strategy thats readily adaptable to changing conditions and preferences. The option of cleaving to some static plan has simply become untenable. Also note that well need to account for intelligence increasingly migrating to the network periphery. Each disk and sensor will effectively be able to function as a competent database machine. As with all other database systems, each of these devices will also need to be self-managing, self-healing, and always-up.

Enterprise Social Software

News.com writes:

Today, most corporations still do little, if anything, with blogs, wikis and social networks, but that will change quickly over the next few years as more companies integrate these technologies into their daily routines. And if early signs are any indication, the evolution will lead to blogs replacing blast e-mails, wikis strengthening collaboration software and social networks taking conversations around the water cooler to a meta-level never envisioned by the most enthusiastic evangelist of the Internet boom.

Those buyers and sellers of technology that embrace the power of social media services early in the life cycle of this new tech sector will no doubt gain a key competitive edge over rivals, provided they figure out how best to use the newfangled Web tools. Those decisions could well be the most important ones that the storied C-suite makes in the coming years.

So far, there are few obvious signs of the best corporate strategic use of social media services. The two high-tech powerhouses most out in front of the public curve with blogs are Sun and Microsoft, both of which have established blogging Web sites for customers, partners and employees to see and use. Sun President Jonathan Schwartz and Microsoft evangelist Robert Scoble are two of the best in the corporate blogging business today.

TECH TALK: The Coming Age of ASPs: The Buyers View

So far, we have seen that buying software as a service makes great sense from a customer perspective in our case, the SMEEMs (small- and medium-sized enterprises in emerging markets). The key benefits are: there is no need to invest in any IT infrastructure, payments are made monthly and can be tied to business outcomes, and it is possible to get an integrated solution which automates key business processes. David Coursey has more:

1. The app provides functionality many businesses need, but isnt terribly different from one company to the next.
2. The service allows customization, but the Software as a Service (SaaS) model prevents clients from doing too much reinvention. This saves money and grief. It also encourages best practices.
3. The service brings together information from several sources and presents it to the user in a friendly, web-based interface.
4. Hosted services are easier to get running, partially because of the limited customization potential but also because theres no hardware to buy and no software to install.
5. Theres also no software to manage, fix, upgrade, etc. All that is the responsibility of the vendor. Customers get a semi-custom application without having to hire developers and people to keep it running.
6. SaaS costs are predictable and typically usage-based.
7. If the vendor doesnt meet your needs, there usually is no long-term commitment and its easy to switch. This keeps SaaS vendors responsive.

Ed Sim adds: While every piece of software should not and will not be delivered as a service, it is also quite clear that customers are tired of buying expensive software products with large upfront licenses, expensive hardware to purchase, manage, and maintain, followed by expensive professional services to get the product up and running. From this backdrop, it is easy to see why reducing complexity and simplifying technology for customers is a big driver to more rapid adoption of products. It is also easy to see why reducing complexity for the customer also helps reduce complexity for the vendor, lowering the friction to sell and deliver its product. This means a more capital efficient business model, one which would hopefully scale much quicker and cost less to build product, sell, and support customers.

From an emerging market perspective, buyers have few choices once they decide they want to automate their business and invest in IT. Most current packaged software solutions continue to be priced in the dollar-equivalent in local currency making it far too expensive for most enterprises. The home-grown solutions packaged software solutions may not be good enough. This leaves them with three unpalatable options: non-consumption (which does not help them do what they started out to do), piracy (which tends to happen quite a lot in the emerging markets but is limited to some of the more basic applications), or customised development (which can leave them dependent on a mon-and-pop software company, take time and over the long run, prove quite expensive). Thus, buyers in emerging markets will look favourably at ASPs. Given their lack of legacy in terms of business applications, it may actually help them leapfrog with state-of-the-art software applications delivered over the Internet, and integrated with their mobile phones.

Tomorrow: The Sellers View

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Cellphone as the Next Computer

[via The Pondering Primate] Newsweek writes:

As our phones get smarter, smaller and faster and enable users to connect at high speeds to the Internet, an obvious question arises: is the mobile handset turning into the next computer? In one sense, it already has. Today’s most sophisticated phones have the processing power of a mid-1990s PC while consuming 100 times less electricity. And more and more of today’s phones have computerlike features, allowing their owners to send e-mail, browse the Web and even take photos; 84 million phones with digital cameras were shipped last year. Tweak the question, though, to ask whether mobile phones will ever eclipse, or replace, the PC, and the issue suddenly becomes controversial. PC proponents say phones are too small and connect too sluggishly to the Internet to become effective at tasks now performed on the luxuriously large screens and keyboards of today’s computers. Fans of the phone respond: just wait. Coming innovations will solve the limitations of the phone. “One day, 2 or 3 billion people will have cell phones, and they are all not going to have PCs,” says Jeff Hawkins, inventor of the Palm Pilot and the chief technology officer of PalmOne. “The mobile phone will become their digital life.”

Could your phone one day actually perform many of the functions of the PC, like word processing and Web browsing? PalmOne’s Hawkins thinks so. The inventor of the Palm Pilot and the Treo keeps a desktop PC and a thin Sony Vaio laptop in his office. Yet he waves at both dismissively, as if they were heading for the dustbin of history. Within the next few decades, he predicts, all phones will become mobile phones, all networks will be capable of receiving voice and Internet signals at broadband speeds, and all mobile bills will shrink to only a few dollars as the phone companies pay off their investments in the new networks. “You are going to have the equivalent of a persistent [fast] T1 line in your pocket. That’s it. It’s going to happen,” Hawkins predicts. The computer won’t go away, he says, but it might fade to the background, since people prefer portability and devices that turn on instantly instead of having to boot up.

Intel’s Platformisation

The Economist writes about the change of guard at Intel as Paul Otellini’ takes over:

Rather than just selling processing chips to PC-makers, Intel intends to offer them entire platformsbundles consisting of a processor, its ancillary chips and networking components, and the software needed to tie them all together. By doing this, Intel hopes to sell more components, thereby taking a larger cut of the selling price of each PC. It also hopes to boost demand by devising specific platforms for several promising new markets, such as home entertainment, mobile devices and health care.

This strategy, it hopes, will also enable Intel to outflank its rivals, which specialise in particular kinds of chips, such as processors (as in the case of AMD) or networking (Broadcom). PC-makers, goes the theory, would rather buy a single integrated package from Intel than assemble components from several other suppliers.

While Intel has a good chance of getting the platform model to work in desktop PCs, breaking into new markets may prove much harder. Intel has yet to make any headway in the mobile-phone market; indeed, merging its laptop and mobile businesses into a single mobility division means that continuing losses in communications chips are helpfully obscured by the bumper profits from Centrino. Its prowess in processors is unquestioned, but Intel is still to prove itself when it comes to radio chips. It must do so if it is to realise its high hopes for new markets such as smartphones and wireless broadband (Intel is the main cheerleader for WiMax, a new wireless broadband technology). They don’t have a significant technological advantage over the incumbents in the cell-phone business, says Kevin Krewell of Microprocessor Report, an industry journal. Until they come up with something truly unique, they’re just going to be a me-too player.

IPTV in Oklahoma

Om Malik writes: “Pioneer Long Distance, a subsidiary of Pioneer Telephone Cooperative of Oklahoma is all set to launch an IPTV service over its network, and will soon offer triple play packages to 33,000 homes. They will be using technology from Entone, which makes personal video content hardware and software. PTC, the third largest telephone cooperative, is currently upgrading its entire eight-region network with high-speed ADSL2+ and IPTV services. When complete, it will deliver up to 166 channels of streaming broadcast video and use ADSL2+ to support the viewing of as many as three different TV channels simultaneously per home.”

Sometimes, I wish that the broadband providers in India would wake up and realise the opportunities they are missing. We need to be leapfrogging to the new era. But alas, we are still stuck in the past where we define broadband as 256 Kbps and the real speeds on these connections are closer to 30-40 Kbps during the day. And now some of the operators want to charge us based on downloads! Let’s learn from Korea and get to work building a state-of-the-art infra in India and then see the services bloom.

Mark Pesce’s LiveRecord

The Feature has an interview with Mark Pesce, author of “The Playful World” (a good book published a couple years ago), by Douglas Rushkoff:

Based on his observation of what held social networks such as Orkut or even Amazon.com together, LiveRecord is basically a way for people to share their “quality tips,” as they happen. Having a good meal, good view or a good time? Share the restaurant, vantage point, or method with your network. Sounds simple enough, but Pesce is convinced this sharing of tips will become the “new mobile crack.”

Mark Pesce: I realized that this mobile phone was, at least potentially, always connected to the Internet at a fairly reasonable speed. That means I am carrying around a constant connection to the Net, and because I can program the phone, I can make of that connectivity whatever I will.

That’s a huge amount of power in my hand, and I have complete control over it. What could possibly be more seductive than that?

TheFeature: You almost seem to be saying that the LiveRecord messages themselves are less important than the network they create.

Pesce: Human beings naturally create social networks; it’s what we do. Electronic networks accelerate communication speed to light and remove the boundaries of proximity. These two phenomena, now intersecting, are leading to the emergence of some entirely new things — for example, Wikipedia — which couldn’t have been predicted from either tendency alone.

TheFeature: Is LiveRecord an application for the data itself, or the social experience?

Pesce: LiveRecord was an experiment in mobile connectivity; it starts with the basic understanding that modern mobiles on modern (2.5G and up) networks are more-or-less constantly connected to the Internet.
They’re with you all the time, and they’re always connected. So what can you do? You can get information. Fine. But, more significantly, you can record information. All the time. Anywhere, for any reason.

So what kind of information to record? Information of value only to you is fine, so far as it goes. But far better — given that it’s a network we’re talking about — is to provide a shared pool of data, of experience, in this case, which everyone adds to and reaps the benefit of.

So LiveRecord allows you make note of your “moments of quality”: that is, a great movie, album, book, TV show, or whatever you like. It’s recorded to a database, and everyone can record their quality moments to this database.

Web-based Aggregators

Richard MacManus asks: “Is there a Web-based RSS Aggregator out there that will be a Bloglines Killer?”

I use Bloglines – now have 300+ feeds subscribed in there. I find it more than useful. I think the Bloglines-killer would need to be incredibly mobile friendly – that is one area where Bloglines can do much better.

TECH TALK: The Coming Age of ASPs: Technology Building Blocks (Part 4)

7. Mobility Integration

PCs and Thin Clients are not going to be the only access devices. In emerging markets, mobile phones are starting to become complementary devices to the desktop computers. For many, they are the PC of the East. Yet, mobile phones have not been integrated into business processes. While devices like Research In Motions Blackberry have popularised push email and calendar synchronisation, much more needs to be done to architect mobile phones into the SMEs in Emerging Markets (SMEEMs) workflow.

Mobile Enterprise Weblog points to a white paper by Cingular Wireless and Accenture and comments:

At issue here is the fact that mobility is not a set of technologies in search of a “killer app.” Instead, Cingular posits that there are business processes that need to be mobilized. We can put the consulting-speak aside and investigate these basic categories:

* Workflow Enhancers
* Knowledge Enhancers
* Transaction Enhancers
* Reporting Enhancers

Essentially, the mobile phone must become an equal partner to the desktop computer as Application Service Providers (ASPs) focus on SMEEMs. Users in these enterprises will already have mobile phones. The mobile phone can be used for alerts and notifications, and also making queries to databases via SMS. On higher-end phones equipped with GPRS and CDMA connectivity, much more can be done. For example, field support engineers can fill out forms on the phone itself and data can be sent to the central servers via the wireless network.

8. Information Dashboards and RSS

The automation created with IT will also create a flood of information. What SMEs in Emerging Markets (SMEEMs) will need are information dashboards on their computers and mobile phones to let them focus on the flow of information, products and money. This will be enabled by RSS. Employees and top management can set up subscriptions to the information and event streams that are of interest to them, along with appropriate filters to ensure that exceptional events are reported immediately. Information dashboards thus become the interface to the real-time enterprise that ASPs and the concomitant IT infrastructure will enable.

A related idea which can help in the process of creating information dashboards is datablogging. Here is how John Robb describes it: Data is usually locked up in monolithic applications (CRM, ERP, etc.). Application seats are expensive. Training is expensive. Etc. People that need the data often can’t get to it. What if human readable data flows (via RSS) could be generated by these applications? It would allow the development of easy to read weblogs (that republished these RSS flows) that almost everyone in the company would find valuable. The combinations are almost limitless and the flow is completely automated. The flip side is also extremely valuable. Using a weblog model of data entry, it would become much easier to train people to enter data in a timely fashion. Further, they get immediate feedback on their efforts since the data they post is transformed into an entry on the blog.

Tomorrow: The Buyers View

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Never Eat Alone

Paul Allen has some useful advice:

I’m reading a book that Tim Sanders recommended, Never Eat Alone. The author claims that no one succeeds alone and that the key to success in business is generosity. He says the most important thing we do in business and in life is form relationships. Which is why I can’t understand how so many people meet so many other people and don’t exchange business cards or contact information. The author has a Palm with 5,000 people who will all return his calls. Life is about who you know. The richness of life comes from relationships. I didn’t figure this out until a couple years ago when I read Love is the Killer App and started thinking more about people than about how many hours of computer time I could fit in each day. After Never Eat Alone I’m going to read the Likeability Factor by Tim Sanders. And a friend of mine has written a book on relationships as well.

Big question: how do you teach that relationships matter most? When you interview someone for a job, do you ever ask how many solid relationships they have, or what experts they know, or how they build their social network?

Paul Graham on Hiring

Paul Graham writes that hiring is obsolete.

The three big powers on the Internet now are Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft. Average age of their founders: 24. So it is pretty well established now that grad students can start successful companies. And if grad students can do it, why not undergrads?

Like everything else in technology, the cost of starting a startup has decreased dramatically. Now it’s so low that it has disappeared into the noise. The main cost of starting a Web-based startup is food and rent. Which means it doesn’t cost much more to start a company than to be a total slacker. You can probably start a startup on ten thousand dollars of seed funding, if you’re prepared to live on ramen.

The less it costs to start a company, the less you need the permission of investors to do it. So a lot of people will be able to start companies now who never could have before.

The most interesting subset may be those in their early twenties. I’m not so excited about founders who have everything investors want except intelligence, or everything except energy. The most promising group to be liberated by the new, lower threshold are those who have everything investors want except experience.

Microsoft and Mobiles

The Mobile Technology Weblog writes what Bill Gates should have said about mobile technology:

The key trends that we’ve had so far have been the computer itself, the desktop PC, which is where we came into the market. The internet, which we nearly missed, but managed to catch in time. And now mobile. Yes, mobile really is as important as that.

The most important digital device anyone will have will be their mobile (and let’s forget this artificial “consumer and business user” stuff for the moment). The phone will go everywhere with the user and this already happens today. But what’ll change is that it’ll become the primary means of accessing the net.

This net access is a very important point as it means that the user will be able to access all their personal data over their phone at high speed. That will mean that all data will be stored on the web – NOT on the phone or the PC, so the point about synching PC’s and phones is no longer relevant in the future.

By data, I mean everything from personal holidays snaps, your sms’s, address book and everything else, including the Word and Excel documents you need for work.

The other key driver for this is the developing nations, like India, China and Africa. People there have leapfrogged over the PC in the development cycle and started using phones as their primary digital device. This will lead to approximately a billion mobile phones sold in the next 5 years, which is bound to impact on the West in ways that we simply can’t anticipate right now.

But it’ll mean that mobile moves from the periphery to the very centre of the digital world.

The Only Exciting Thing In Tech?

Forbes writes:

Still using your cell phone just to make phone calls? How pass.

If the seers are correct, within a year your cell phone will be capable of live television, music downloads and playback, videogames, storing movie clips and viewing everything from photo albums to digital home movies. In short, more than you may have ever thought possible.

Of course, there are high hurdles to clear before all this great stuff happens–complex rights agreements, conflicting technology standards and the sometimes fractious relationship between carriers and content providers–but everyone involved has a stake in making it work. How big a stake? It’s almost too big to put a number on.

Pacific Crest Securities, which hosted a mobile entertainment conference in New York on May 6, believes the sector will be the next driver for growth in the technology industry, and the dominant investment opportunity for the next decade.

Utility Computing

InfoWorld has a special report: “HP, IBM, Sun, and others promise a glowing future in which enterprises tap into computing resources where and when they’re needed.”

There are three basic definitions.

Utility as an on-demand computing resource: Also called adaptive computing, depending on which analyst or vendor you talk to, on-demand computing allows companies to outsource significant portions of their datacenters, and even ratchet resource requirements up and down quickly and easily depending on need. For those of us with gray whiskers in our beards, its easiest to think of it as very smart, flexible hosting.

Utility as the organic datacenter: This is the pinnacle of utility computing and refers to a new architecture that employs a variety of technologies to enable datacenters to respond immediately to business needs, market changes, or customer requirements.

Utility as grid computing, virtualization, or smart clusters: This is just one example of a specific technology designed to enable the above definitions. Other technologies that will play here include utility storage, private high-speed WAN connections, local CPU interconnect technologies (such as InfiniBand), blade servers, and more.

These three descriptions are different enough to seem unrelated, but in fact theyre dependent on each other for survival. Should utility computing ever live up to its name — a resource you plug in to, as you would the electric power grid — then that resource needs to be distributed, self-managing, and virtualized. Whether that grand vision will ever be realized is an open question, but at leaast some of the enabling technologies are already here or on the horizon.

China’s Technology Strategy

San Jose Mercury News compares China and the US:

They graduate four times as many engineers as we do.

They lavish generous tax breaks on tech firms.

They support local manufacturers.

They don’t respect intellectual property.

They, of course, refers to China. And the gripes from Silicon Valley business leaders capture in stark and accurate terms the key underpinnings of the growing tech rivalry between the United States and China.

None of these things happened by accident. They happened because China has something that the United States lacks and badly needs: a national technology policy.

he country long ago made a strategic decision that technology was paramount to its development and put in place a systematic policy to create a world-class technology sector. It sometimes runs roughshod over trade agreements or international law, which is wrong. But on the whole, the policy is simply smart.

And it’s just plain dumb for the United States to think it can compete in the tech race against China and other nations without a technology policy of its own.

In China, the importance of tech is articulated at the highest levels of government. “Science and technology are the decisive factors in the competition of comprehensive national strength,” Premier Wen Jiabao said just last month.

When will we wake up in India?