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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Observing Microsoft

Microsoft doesn't hang quite as straight as it used to. What has happened to Microsoft? If the question is even being asked, things can't be going well.

The media are definitely asking the question. For instance, an interesting article in businessinsider asks whether Steve Ballmer's nightmare is coming true.

I don't know if it's poor execution or just the fact that Microsoft has been classically a software company (its name literally means microcomputer software) but I wonder at the missteps in their Surface strategy. We'll get to that in a moment.

I pointed to Microsoft's corporate culture in my blog post The Nail That Sticks Out. I am positive that they are fabulous about research in the ranks but at the top levels I believe their management is grimly despotic and unimaginative. In that case, what they need is a great leader. A few days ago, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said, "We see nothing but a sea of upside". But they need a leader that doesn't need to boil the ocean to come up with the gold. One that has a vision for what can work. And, more importantly, what people will buy.

They need two things: focus and simplicity.

It is sad that, today, there are more than a few trends that point to the beginnings of a death spiral for Microsoft. To name a few: tablets start to eat the PC market, mobile computing succeeds for others but not for them, gigantic software bloat like Excel and Word are being replaced in the industry by small, mobile apps that cost a only a few of bucks, and companies are starting to use a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy for their IT connectivity.

Individually, any of these trends would be quite bad for Microsoft. Taken together, these things are terrible.

Getting Into the Hardware Game

Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer laughed at, then roundly criticized the iPhone in September 2007 after it was introduced by Steve Jobs. It is clear that he simply didn't understand what was going to happen to the mobile space in a short five years.

Microsoft should have been working on Surface from that moment onwards. But clearly that didn't happen, since they only introduced Surface one month ago. To build mobile devices, Microsoft has to undergo a major transformation.

Microsoft claims that they are a hardware company. Mice and keyboards do not count. Comparing Microsoft to Apple, Dell, or HP in hardware prowess would be like comparing someone who dipped their toe into the pool with an olympic swimming champion. So that leaves the Xbox, which plugs into the wall. This doesn't exactly point to expertise miniaturizing hardware or really building any mobile computing technology. And their Xbox gaming platform is also under siege by mobile. They should never have let this happen. A whopping 61% of mobile phone owners use them for games. It is noted that iOS is the world's leading gaming platform.

So, why is Microsoft, a software company, also becoming a hardware company? Simple: both Apple and Google have the ability to craft their software and hardware together. In Apple's case, this core competence specifically led to the disruptive, record-breaking products such as the iPod, iPhone, and iPad that consumers just can't get enough of. In the process, these products and the ability to execute has led to a profit model that is unparalleled in the business and now the envy of Microsoft.

And this is exactly where Microsoft wants to be: back on top.

Which means they must build hardware so they can create the whole product. Microsoft knows from experience that their OEMs willfully do what they want. And lag behind Microsoft's wishes and suggestions. Furthermore, the developers will have a larger set of hardware configurations to support. This has always been a problem with Windows: its generality. And it is the current problem with Android. If Microsoft wants to take a page from Apple, it must control the hardware configuration as well.

Microsoft's act of angering the OEMs by creating its own home-grown hardware is dangerous and can backfire on its revenue stream. For one thing, this doesn't build on its core competence. In retrospect it might have been better to take the Google approach and simply buy one of the OEMs, perhaps Sony or HP. Still, Microsoft clearly knows that mergers are not an easy process so it foolishly started building hardware.

Windows 8

Microsoft says they sold some 40 million licenses (hologram stickers). So Windows 8 is going great, right? Well, no. Firstly, this only represents Windows 8 PCs that have been shipped to retailers or distribution points, not end-user licenses (I can't believe they don't report end-user licenses!). Secondly, StatCounter reports that the Windows 8 usage share is falling behind Windows 7 in a comparable period from the launch. At only about 33% of Windows 7 usage, Windows 8 usage is in a serious lag. The firm NetApplications is telling the same story. Perhaps this is the effect of hurricane Sandy, as they said. But it's already one full month since the October 26th launch (and the hurricane). Things should have equalized by now.

On Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, I would have expected the new, exciting Microsoft Surface RT to be a top seller, fulfilling several weeks of pent-up demand. Indications are just the opposite. When I have thrice visited the Microsoft and Apple stores in the Santa Clara Valley Fair mall since, I have consistently seen that customers in the Apple store outnumber those in the Microsoft store at least two-to-one. Though I did see my first Microsoft bag yesterday, being carried by a woman in Nordstrom.

Another force limiting Microsoft sales of Windows 8 has been the OEMs such as Toshiba, Sony, and Dell. The situation is this: both Windows 8 and appropriate OEM hardware must be in sync to produce the large numbers Microsoft is really expecting. My suspicion is that the enthusiasm of the OEMs has been dampened by Microsoft's entry into the hardware market. It has essentially become their competitor. I doubt that is going to help the relationship between Microsoft and the OEM. And they need to co-operate closely to get the numbers going. The OEMs, because there are several and they work to outdo each other in price, already operate on small margins and so it has become a dog-eat-dog world.

So PC sales are sluggish, and reportedly sales of Windows laptop and desktop devices have dropped 21% year-over-year since the Windows 8 launch, led by a 24% drop-off in laptop sales.

Nonetheless, it's must be fortunate that Microsoft's strategy is moving towards the mobile space, right? I would say that it's an absolute necessity. Let's look at that.

Windows 8 features a new modern user interface (UI) that features live tiles and supports touch. At first glance this new UI looks like the first real competitor to the elegance and clarity of iOS. Yet, I have two questions:

How Well Does It Work?

A friend brought in his Microsoft Surface RT this last week and I spent some more time playing with it and comparing it to my gen 3 iPad. Microsoft claims the text is sharper and better. The displaymate.com shootout shows that it really isn't. To me, the Surface is certainly not clearer. It seems designed to look good to PC users who have been using Microsoft fonts for years. Come on! In a side-by-side comparison there was no comparison: the iPad looked way better. Hell, even an iPad Mini text looked better. I compared the nytimes.com site directly.

I played around with it some more and found that browsing was an almost completely keyboard-centric experience. I had to have the keyboard attached. And type in the URLs (there was auto-complete). Which meant that I had to use it in the landscape format pretty much all the time because that's the way the keyboard works.

With that keyboard on it resembles a laptop in form factor. I found that, with its built-in kickstand, it really has to sit on a desk to be used. On your lap, it just doesn't work in this form factor. It's just not stable enough. So, it's a laptop that doesn't work on your lap. Hmm.

I am used to holding my iPad on my lap while I am at the couch, with the magnetic cover folded into its triangular shape and the screen therefore at an ergonomic angle to type on. Or using the iPad to read to my son at night with the lights off when he goes to bed. I use landscape for browsing, portrait for reading.

There were some interesting features that I was able to find and use, since I had read a few articles on Surface usability (that mostly came to the conclusion that it was very bad indeed). But it would have been difficult to figure them out if I had to discover them. I actually wondered is there was a user's manual available.

On Surface, swiping from the side and back brings up a task manager of sorts. Then you have to swipe down to change the app you are reading. On the iPad I can double-click the home button for that purpose or, even easier, use a four fingered swipe from side-to-side to get to the next app.

In fairness, on both devices, the gestures and actions need to be discovered. So it is really about how easy these actions are to accomplish.

Won't It Be Confusing For Desktop Users?

Windows 8 becomes the default mode for the desktop systems as well. But doesn't that mean there are two UIs being used and that the users have to switch their brains between them?

Yes, and yes.

In a recent article, venerable PCWorld talked to some usability experts on Windows 8 (before Surface had come out) and so it only deals with the bipolar design of the desktop version.

The overall tone is grim. Users are confused as to what to do. Commands aren't where they used to be. Mouse actions (replacing touch and swipe actions) are unobvious and hard to discover.

In InfoWorld, they call it bad. "Guaranteed to disappoint nearly everyone".

Jakob Nielsen reports that it the disparity between the two UIs is bad for many classes of users, both power and novice.

Live Tiles

This seems like a pretty good feature. And my experiences with Surface indicated that they are useful. Yet Microsoft doesn't really exercise enough control in their usability guidelines. Or they exercise the wrong control, which would be worse.

In an excellent summary article, Jakob Nielsen reports that unfortunately live tiles' implicit call to action creates "an incessantly blinking, unruly environment that feels like dozens of carnival barkers yelling at you simultaneously". That's not a good thing.

So let's just say that understated is not a term I would use with the Windows 8 user interface.

Perhaps this is one good reason why Apple curates the apps that can be run on their devices.

What's Going On With Surface Pro?

You can't use current Intel-based Windows apps on Surface RT because it uses an ARM processor, like the iPhone, iPad, and nearly all other mobile devices. This is generally because of the economical power consumption of the ARM. So you have to wait for the Surface Pro, which supports Intel-based applications, arriving in 2013.

The latest on the Surface Pro is, since Microsoft states it will use an Intel "Ivy Bridge" Core i5 processor, it will get about half the battery life of an iPad. Microsoft could have used an Atom "Clover Trail" processor or even one of the newer-generation Core "Haswell" processors. Either one would have required significantly less power.

It is becoming increasingly clear that power management becomes the main issue with designing a new gadget. After all, you can't just keep adding cores.

Hey, it hasn't shipped yet. They could still change it, right?

I think they really need their first full-featured Intel tablet to be a winner. But that battery life issue could be a real deal killer. Brian X. Chen from the New York Times, tweeted RIP in advance.

Surface Pro comes out at $899 for the 64GB model and $999 for the 128 MB model. And I believe you will need a keyboard for it. My experience trying out the two keyboards is that you will want to $120 Type Cover.

So, why not buy a MacBook Air, which actually costs less than the Surface Pro/Type Cover combination?

You can certainly use a MacBook Air in your lap.

Going Mobile

The claim is that by 2014, mobile internet usage will overtake desktop internet usage. So Microsoft needs a mobile solution as soon as possible. Like yesterday. Some argue that Microsoft may simply be too late.

Star power testimonials, like that of Oprah, were rendered famously laughable because they were tweeted on an iPad. Maybe they should have gotten Ashton Kutcher, or somebody like him with much more social media cred. And knowledge.

And BTW Oprah, you can tweet from the browser in Surface. Be careful how you (or your flotilla of social media minions) make testimonials. Sometimes it's the little things that matter!

What's Keeping It Propped Up?

Microsoft is being kept afloat because its revenue stream, with Windows, Office, Xbox, Server, and support, is not going to fall through the floor any time soon. There are plenty of loyal users. Who have iPhones and iPads and use them day in and day out. Even at work now that they started this BYOD stuff. Hmm.

Microsoft makes about 30% of their revenue from Office products and 55% of their revenue from Windows, Windows Server and Tools. The other odd 15% comes from their Entertainment division (Xbox) and their online services (support).

So if Windows begins to tail off, they can still exist merely by keeping Office relevant in the mobile environment. I hear an iOS version of Office is in the works.

19 comments:

  1. ...generality. And it is the current problem with Android...

    That is essentially the same Apple mantra from the early 1990s about the openness of the IBM PC compatibles and Windows. Apple ended up with single-digit PC marketshare. And it is happening again with Android currently at 70% global marketshare for smart phones.

    iPhone is currently a more refined product, just as the Mac was back then. Okay Sculley chased Jobs out, and this time Jobs made sure he left a legacy of people with his vision. But I don't see how that changes the economics. Superior integrated design wins when it does something that can't be done by the open system. Incremental advantages don't trump the advantage openness brings to diversity, cost, and ubiquity.

    Microsoft is behind Android and Android is more open. The only thing Microsoft has is the legacy markets, which are still quite large and would be significant perhaps if they can get them to run on the gadget usably.

    ...power management becomes the main issue with designing a new gadget...

    I plugin my Android while in the car, at my desk, and in my living room. With inductive wireless charging technology (a la Tesla), this could become even more convenient.

    ----------------

    Regarding closed systems from the developer perspective, I could not imagine native app programming for the iOS and being forced to use Objective-C, C, C++. I am experimenting with Java, Scala, and my own pure functional language Copute. I believe the future may be more declarative languages. So I don't want to invest in a huge body of code that only runs on the system with 21% global market share.

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    1. Hi Shelby,

      Microsoft got left behind in the consumer market because they didn't know what they were doing. As computers became less the developers tools (that's you and I, BTW) and more a place where the consumers spent their time, the value of Apple's design methodology and deep human interface savvy became obvious. This is history. Their mass prevented them from moving fast enough because they weren't designed from within to do that.

      Microsoft has no halo effect. It is finding it impossible to convert their billion PC users into gadget users in a post-PC world. People enjoy the BYOD culture and that alone could kill them.

      The problems with Android are manifold. But the main thing is that nobody can really craft software and hardware to suit each other. Choose a vendor: for the moment let's choose Samsung since they seem to have a lead. Actually, it doesn't matter which vendor you choose because they all have the same problem: come up with something that differentiates their models over their competitors' gadgets. Android doesn't do that for them; actually it's quite the opposite.

      To do better than their competitors, they will have to toss it out. Software is where you must differentiate.

      Open source is also more eminently vulnerable for obvious reasons. Now you can have people attack it using whitebox means. And you can bet Unit 61398 is totally on top of that! Secure code requires more control not less.

      Power management a huge problem. Just look at the Surface Pro. I don't know about you, but I haven't seen sales figures for that thick tabtop. This is likely because they don't want to release them, of course. I think they're going to be abysmal. This is because one of the biggest selling points the enterprise looks at is whether or not the battery is going to last in a warehouse, at a sales meeting, in coach on a commuter jet, or especially at lunch with the client.

      Ever try to use that 22-degree tilt Surface Pro form factor on a plane?

      So it must be built into the hardware as deep as possible. Chip-aware.

      BTW, if Android is so useful to the users out there, then how come its internet usage statistics for, say, tablets is so tiny? Like 5%? This can only be two things: the consumer doesn't prefer them in a typical internet usage situation. Or the device is not being used.

      There are supposedly many more of the latest Galaxy phones out there than iPhones. Yet their internet statistics still lag behind the iPhone statistics.

      The developer knows that it's easier to pry money out of iPhone users, by some huge factor. This is why the developers that make money target iOS first.

      And good luck making your Android app's design be anything better than a dumb list.

      Just admit it Shelby, you are a PC guy and now an Android user because you don't like Apple.

      Apple's diversity comes from the zillions of Apps people build for it, by the way. It's all there.

      --Mark

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    2. Thanks for replying, because knowing your perspective on these issues is very useful both for testing my thought process and also to know one perspective inside Apple.

      (I know you don't speak for the company in your personal blog and I know your role is technology and you aren't responsible for business strategy).

      Before I dig in, when it was first released, I was using the Mac back in 1984 or 85 at the Rockwell International Science Center (research lab) in Thousand Oaks, CA. Before that staring in 1983, I was programming TRS-80, Apple II, and the Commodore 64 in my spare time. After that, I programmed the Atari ST in 68000 assembly and C. So when I made the shift to Windows and Altura's emulation of the Mac API, I had an open mind and the applicable knowledge. So it would not be fair to say I ever hated Apple. Even now, I am bothered by the poor quality of programming in the standard Android 4 SMS Messaging app. It apparently has a big O algorithmic deficiency, because it has slowed to a molasses due to the 1000s of messages I keep around.

      Lately, I have become turned off by Apple's walled garden for programming languages and apps. I understand the justification is quality of user experience and security.

      I attempt to rationally weigh this concern along with the actual performance in the marketplace, in order to make a decision about which platforms I want to spend my time on. Obviously any company with a popular applications is going to write an iOS version, because it is a very important market and in terms of profits, iOS users spend more on apps. However, my personal priorities are more long-range, about where my efforts to influence the world will have the longest life and most useful impact.

      Agreed, Microsoft has only one dim chance, and that is if they can get a Halo effect where existing Windows app users are willing to tolerate an inferior mobile experience in order to be able to run those legacy apps. I am not confident that Microsoft can extend their death spiral much with this strategy, but nevertheless it is probably the only prayer they have. Microsoft will never design a better consumer experience than Apple, and they won't compete for with Android's ubiquity, because they are not an open source company culture. Microsoft is being squeezed and disrupted on both ends of the software business model spectrum (closed and open source models).

      When we look back at the success of the PC compatible, we can't even remember the names of the clone makers. It is not important if Samsung can differentiate its product line, other than being a quality clone maker (e.g. a Dell, Gateway, Sony).

      A significant problem in the near-term for Android is that the quality of the software and the integration is not yet up to the refinement of Apple's mobile offerings. However, over time the pace of innovation on mobile devices will slow and Android will catch up enough to be good enough for most people. This is what happened with the PC compatibles. By Windows 95 or 98 (which I still use), it was good enough for most people, and Apple's market was the specialists and artists who demanded the last ounces of incremental refinement. It is just the Paretto principle and law of diminishing returns in action.

      The other problem for Android is that the users don't pay for apps much. But this is a problem for the entire internet, where free cloud apps replace paid for downloaded software. Apple's user demographics are superior in terms of software sales. I think we also saw that at Fractal in the 1990s if I remember correctly, that the Mac version had a higher sales per OS market share. Well for another reason being that most serious artists were using a Mac, i.e. the specialists.

      (continued in the next comment)

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    3. (continued from the prior comment)

      Correction: I still use Windows XP Pro SP2 or 3


      Arguing against open source based on security is a red-herring if we are concerned most about global market share, because most users in the world don't care that much right now. If their gadget gets a virus, so they save their data and reformat their phone. Here in Philippines, the shops in the mall offer this service for free. The dumb users hand over their Samsung and get it back after going to eat.

      For the enterprise, security is a more significant priority. However, security through obfuscation of the source code, is a way to slow down the discovery of attacks, but it also means there are serious attacks waiting to be discovered. The Linus rule of open source is, "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow". So the false sense of security is dubious. On the one hand, attacks may be less frequent, yet they may be more devastating when they happen, because the code hasn't been beaten on and as thoroughly vetted.

      Open source is not an effective model for tight coupling of design to user needs, perhaps the "open core" mixed model is most ideal:

      http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=4802&cpage=1#comment-395415

      Closed-source suffers from inability to scale, as is evident now in iOS's global market share. This is due the network effects of opening the source and is perhaps best elucidated in the famous essays by Eric Raymond (owner of the above blog).

      Android users are apparently more pragmatic about their time. For one thing, the Android is a less refined device and is more irritating to use. I rarely use mine to access the internet, because I need a keyboard for my usage to be efficient. This reminds me of the Apple guy vs. PC guy commercials. The PC guy wants the most efficient pragmatic cost effective tradeoff. The Mac guy wants elegance at any cost and wants to push the envelope of pinching and flicking and even perhaps to activities that are probably not worth doing at this time on a mobile.

      If I need to read e-books, I am going to buy a Kindle with a proper e-ink display. So whats the point of the tablet for me? If I need to read interactively, I need to be at my PC with a keyboard. I use my mobile for things that I can only do while mobile. I do see a few bringing their tablets into McDonalds and they are doing social networking activities or some sales work. I recognize the tablet is useful for simpler forms of interactive computing while being mobile and more efficient than the tiny display of the smartphone. But that market does not include the way I work (yet).

      I wasn't trying to say power management isn't important. My point is that we can find ways to live with imperfection-- it is part of life. I have noticed that as my life accelerates at times, it becomes more difficult to be sure I always have enough battery, because I did not charge at every opportunity. As I said, wireless charging will help a lot. What I am saying is that it is not the overriding concern of most users in the global market share equation.

      (continued in the next comment)

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    4. (continued again from the prior comment)

      Afaics, the most important concern of most users is does the device do all their social networking functions, including facebook, telephony, messaging, and photography. It is viewed as a dedicated device. I would love it if voice control was working for me. I don't think my dual simm HTC Desire V has a fast enough processor (single-core, 1Ghz) any way.

      I need dual-simm more than any other feature because there are 3 major networks in Philippines and the cost to communicate between them is not ideal (for the people replying to me), so I have no choice on iOS any way. This is an example of how the open business model wins by providing more choice sooner.

      I am deeply appreciative of Jobs and Apple and you. Circa 2006, I was looking at the Nokia N800 or what ever it was that had the big screen and a real browser, and I was thinking why couldn't someone also make this a cell phone. Then Apple did. They started a revolution, just as they did with the GUI and the Mac in the 1980s.

      I wish Apple would decide to maintain tight control over system software and hardware integration, but open up the walled garden on apps. Also license their system to some clone markers to make some cheaper models and other variants that Apple does not want to pursue. Apple could refuse to support these clones and otherwise disincentivize the cannibalization of the deep pocketed customers. I tried emailing Jobs about that a couple of years ago. Because I would like to see Apple not lose to Android in terms of global market share.

      I did not proof reading this rambling comment.

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    5. P.S. the reason I want Apple to be more competitive on global market share, is a) Apple must open up to do so and b) more competitive will force Android to improve faster.

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    6. Apologies for so many comments, but I would like to be more blunt. I can't understand why Apple is handing the global market to Android. Future profits come from current market share. See Microsoft's legacy revenue.

      If Apple would allow two-tiers:

      1. The official Apple-only system and app store.
      2. The unsupported clones and unvetted app stores.

      It could go after the market share that is going to Android globally. These lower-end customers don't care about open-source. They only care that they can get a cheaper phone which does the key simple features they want, and the apps are free. Of course they all would prefer to have an iPhone or iPad, but they can't afford them. Incredibly expensive here in the Philippines.

      And I am not going to program for any system that requires me to go through a centralized vetting process in order to publish (updates to) my apps.

      When I was searching for an Android app that could hide all my contacts (when someone borrows my phone momentarily which is quite often here), I found a developer (of the closest approximation to the feature set I wanted) who didn't even have his own website, didn't have any documentation, didn't even process his own sales via Paypal or credit card, and the apps did not even allow me keep my contacts on the storage card for quick removal, yet he is earning $300 per day. Thus, I see lucrative enough market in the Android app space to keep me busy, if i decide to go that route next. And market share will be building over the years for when those users become more sophisticated (and wealthy) and are ready to buy the paid version of the app. And my code won't be tied to some archaic language (C, C++) or one controlled by a single vendor (Objective-C).

      I am not trying to argue, I hoping you share my feedback with the higher ups, if you think my points carry any merit.

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    7. Motivated by the HTML5 vs. native issue, here is one possible threat scenario enabled by giving up 4/5ths market share. Someone (me?) could develop an Android plugin that offered a more complete GUI API for apps than the DOM. Initially this could be a platform for developing native apps on Android. Thus there probably wouldn't be any resistance to adoption if the apps are popular.

      As this gained scale, this plugin would become a defacto API for web apps. Apple could be forced to adopt it, else lose more market share.

      Thus, giving up 4/5ths market share means Apple is potentially losing control over native apps in the near future. So Apple might as well do it now with a two-tiered approach and retain market share.

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    8. Shelby,

      Curation is important nowadays. Particularly for an app ecosystem that has hundreds of thousands of apps. Hey, if it only had a hundred then the odds are low that malware would be nonexistent. But when you reach this many, curation is the only way to proceed, I feel.

      There are simply no consumers who care whether the apps are resident on an open-sourced system or a curated system. Actually I think the consumer prefers safety, quality, etc. The only people who care about open source vs. curation are hackers and nerd programmers (like myself) who seem to be in the vast minority. Like one in ten thousand or smaller.

      Oh, but they're vocal, like the EFF. Fine. But realistically the consumers have already spoken and it turns out that app developers and consumers simply don't care.

      If you want to program a complete new UI for Android just take the same route that Amazon did. They stripped away the upper layers and replaced them with their own ecosystem. Google doesn't even get a nibble of that and it serves them right for doing it that way.

      Remember, we as consumers are Google's product. They sell us to their clients. They want everything to be open so they can have it all and then sell it to big enterprise. And BTW Facebook also wants to own their users. But at least they are monetizing in a slightly different way. A way that really sells to them rather than selling data about them.

      We should be afraid of what's happening to privacy.

      Microsoft: You still use XP? Good for you. I think anything past that is compromised in a big way. They are failing in their struggle to move towards the consumer space. They only have cachet with the enterprise. And BYOD is seriously hurting them. It's the main reason they are trying so hard to get into the phone and tablet space. But other platforms are already preferred. And most of those platforms can read and edit word and excel files well enough to get the job done.

      Power management is the main reason Intel is failing in the mobile space. And so they took a wrong turn at the mobile revolution. You know, the one that's disrupting everything. A smartphone has a music player, a video player, a GSP, a texting and video conferencing environment (I use that - it's cool), and of course a phone. And apps for days. And when you write an app, you have to worry about power management, unlike all the desktop apps out there.

      This is the primary reason Surface Pro will fail. All those Windows apps don't really care how much power they use because they were primarily written to be plugged into the wall. And in the mobile space if all you can do is work when you are plugged into the wall, then you have failed big time.

      Consumers aren't developers. If a gadget and the app ecosystem is merely "good enough" then consumers will always look for something better. If the experience isn't good, they are going to toss the gadget in the drawer and never look back. Why do you think there is so little internet traffic on Android tablets?

      You stated that, essentially, PC makers are a dime a dozen. Also, when you don't remember the name of the PC clone maker, then where is the brand equity? My point is this: the competition they face with each other is like zombies trying to eat each others' brains. The hardware soon becomes lowest-common denominator crap. It's only a matter of price to the one-software many-hardware world. That makes for the worst experience. And only IT departments can customize their machines to get one that functions in a decent way. Consumers don't work that way. They want a great experience and they don't want to talk to an IT department to do it. This is the main reason that Microsoft's model works in the enterprise but not in the consumer world.

      --Mark

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    9. By the way, web apps are a lousy experience. That's the lesson of the iPhone and the iPad. And the Chromebook Pixel won't sell. It's widely panned by the gadget blogs. They can smell it when a product is not what people are going to buy.

      I wouldn't waste my time programming web apps. At least until the entire cloud ecosystem matures. And that could take some time!

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    10. Hi Mark,

      Consumers don't care how they get their apps, as long as they get them and they function well. A new browser plugin that enables richer web apps and which warns the user on apps that could be malware fulfills this requirement.

      If an app functions seamlessly in a web page, the user won't even know or care that they are using an app as distinct from web page.

      Such a model can disrupt Apple's control over curation. Such a plugin could be more lenient, e.g. allow the user to proceed at their own risk, democratic user reviews, and/or list which capabilities the uncurated app is receiving.

      Perhaps many native apps only need the existing browser sandbox, e.g. if they only write to the cloud or to an isolated local store.

      Then developers only have to maintain and test one code base to run on all platforms, including desktops. And hopefully eliminate the need to test on each brand.

      A cross-platform toolkit, e.g. sivy, can deliver a native app. Accessing an app via a url is simpler and removes the distinction of native apps. A link from a referrer that runs the app directly is much simpler than a link to a download store. Consumers like simplicity.

      Far too much diversity and real-time programming exists on web pages to curate from a central authority.

      Web app ecosystem appears to be mired in politics for HTML5, on improving on JavaScript, etc.. A rich app browser plugin that respects the existing browser sandbox (to avoid malware classification) could build adoption before enabling sandbox variants that are leniently curated.

      The demand for adding richness to web pages is insatiable, e.g. Flash. Flash was underadopted on web sites due to a high learning and tools curve. Adding the ability to script such a rich web plugin from HTML + JavaScript could speed adoption.

      Flash was easy to kill on mobile, because it wasn't well designed for power management.

      Such a rich web app platform might erode the identity of an iPhone compared to a clone, forcing Apple to compete more on price, or forsake market share.

      I assume that major elements of experience for gadget computing will become standardized and hardware commoditized save for brands that differentiate on refined hardware design, e.g. Apple, Sony, etc..

      Consumers want standardization, so that they can easily use a new device without a new learning curve.

      I don't see why you think a standardized platform can't provide a great consumer experience? XP was good enough. Android is good enough for 70% of consumers, but not yet for 21%. Android's global market share jumped from around 50% to 70% in the last year. The Android phones are not laying around unused here in Philippines, in spite of some glitches.

      Apple has to choose now between losing global market share or accelerating standardization. It can either happen inside or outside the Apple ecosystem, but it is obviously happening as we speak.

      Google created Android as leverage against any company such as Apple or Microsoft that might try to move activity off the internet (e.g. to fragment the web back to multiple native platforms) where Google sells ads. Thus I expect Google would be very enthusiast about my idea above.

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    11. I remember reading about a browser plugin that will defeat Google's invasion of privacy.

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    12. Google has control over Chrome, and so I don't expect browser plugins that erase Google's advantages (invasion of privacy?) to last long at all. When you buy an open source Android phone or tablet, you are buying into their ecosystem where *you* are the product and your privacy is no longer valid in any way. It's the classic Faustian Bargain. And consumers care about this a LOT. It's all over the news.

      Also all over the news is the increasing problem of hackers that intrude into the infrastructure. Soon, smartphones as well. And then they will know all. They want the power that Google has. It will give, for instance, China a huge advantage.

      You know they care about it. After all, there is no Google in China.

      If we think it's not going to happen, then perhaps we should look at their capabilities and how far ahead they are in their hacking crews. They deny it but you can't trust what they say any more than you can believe they won't raise the prices of rare-earth metals.

      --Mark

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    13. Web apps are a crappy experience because they are bad at managing hardware. Users can totally tell the difference. Why else would app stores be expanding at an exponential rate while web apps are not?

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    14. Correction: apparently other programming languages are allowed in Apple’s app store if the app bundles all of the language’s runtimes. From a practical standpoint, this may rule out Java and all the JVM languages.

      I think Google can tolerate the Google-cookie-erasing plugin for as long as most users don't use it. I assume there are not other browsers available on Android. I assume it is possible to create an alternative browser for Android if consumers demand it.

      I assume hackers can rewrite portions of Android that open holes to crackers (often confused with hackers which you and I both are). This is what in theory open source can do better than closed source, because more programmer eyeballs will be focused on the attacks when they start becoming troublesome to users. What open source (the groupwise effort) can't do well is design experimentation that requires exceptional individual focus. This is why I propose a mixed open and closed source model.

      Agreed the browser does not currently have the necessary APIs to manage the hardware well. And I don't think a Cathedral (top-down) model for designing a solution (e.g. HTML 5) will work well. I think we need talented individuals to create competing APIs and let the marketplace anneal the competition. So we can get there faster and with better fitness.

      I would love to see Apple offering its APIs and ecosystem in this race to standardize web apps. Apple has a lot of talent that can be unleashed, and Apple is clever at finding revenue streams from its innovation.

      I would also love to see Apple allowing for its APIs to run on lesser controlled experiences (i.e. third party hardware), because perfection does not have to exist every where. I don't know if this would unduly dilute Apple's resources/focus, or if there are other considerations I am not aware of. Apple could at least get the market share and hopefully structure it to not cannabalize but add to its revenue streams via the inertia and upsell of more market share.

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    15. I assume hackers can rewrite portions of Android that open holes to crackers

      Clarify: I assume hackers can rewrite portions of Android to close holes to that are open to crackers.

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    16. One of the 3 killer features of HTML is write-once, run everywhere.

      I am positing that separating the running of an app from the hyperlink, is a violation the 3 necessary features for the knowledge age.

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  3. "I assume there are not other browsers available on Android."

    Firefox, Opera and a bunch of other non-Google browsers are available in the Play store.

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