Archive for the ‘OS’ Category

Change the conversation – don’t play the numbers game.

July 12, 2013

For new entrants to the phone or tablet market the conversation always turns to how many apps there are. At launch, a year later, how fast the numbers are growing. The conversation is driven by the incumbents and echoed by the press and makes it very hard for a newcomer to be taken seriously.

What would happen though if a new entrant to the space, such as Mozilla with the Firefox Phone, decides not to obsess about the numbers game, but own the narrative and re-write the rules…

If you play the numbers game means you are spread thin, chasing a huge catalog and will constantly be behind the ball playing “me too” and catch up at the mercy of the big fish who probably don’t see you worth the effort until you have an established presence.

Defining your rules allows you to identify a small selection, maybe a dozen, of apps that users want, need or actually use as a base line and expend significant effort working with those partners to create the best version of their experience on your platform.

You help with engineering, dollars and resources, providing money, talent and demonstrating true partnership. Engage deeply with your partners and share the risk – you both need to comfortable enough to experiment with new features on your new platform, to iterate and fail fast but within that small group drive their success while establishing your new platform and demonstrating what is possible.

For most of the incumbents this isn’t the way they play the game. Apple dictate to partners secure in their position, Google, with Android, rely on OEMs and the scale of their store to drive developers. Microsoft have a huge field Evangelism organization who can wield marketing dollars but are chasing numbers and have quarterly goals to meet and don’t seem to have the patience for long term engagements any more. BlackBerry are desperately copying any playbook that seems to make work but are finding resurrecting their brand hard going.

For a new player it’s a losing proposition to try and get into their race. Even if you launch with 50 thousand apps there will be the issue of quality and questions around the presence of the “must haves” who won’t have taken the risk, and every omission will hurt. If you make the headlines read “Twitter launches their next generation client on Firefox OS“, “Evernote delivers game changing update first for Firefox OS” you can control the conversation.

By controlling the conversation you become a platform that is aspirational and seen as innovative.

That is where technology evangelism has to return too, not being driven by the same old marketing and PR story that is seen as safe conventional widsom

CR-48: Unstable isotope or something more lasting

December 23, 2010

Hot on the heels of the very successful Android mobile phone operating system from Google comes ChromeOS. The bastard off-spring of an operating system and a browser it’s certainly something different, and given that it’s less than a year old and the hardware it’s running on really is bare bones it’s still quite hard to pin down if it’s going to be just a failed experiment like Wave or something more compelling that makes Apple and Microsoft push their primary operating systems even further.

ChromeOS is essentially the Chromium browser (the fully Open Source version of Google’s Chrome browser) running on a heavily customized and optimized Linux shell – Google hope that very few people will ever see what’s behind the browser windows.

The first most of the world has seen is ChromeOS running on the Pilot program laptop – the CR-48 (an unstable isotope of Chromium, and possible a joke at Apple’s expense – the iPad internal codename was K48). It’s an interesting mix of hardware in a shell that’s reminiscent of a contemporary MacBook. The bad are the VGA connector (rather than DVI or HDMI) and a truly horrible trackpad. The good are the built-in 3G wireless (the pilot program comes with 2 years of free Verizon data, only 100MB/mo but not to be sneezed at)., great battery life and the keyboard.

It’s tough to asses ChromeOS independently of the hardware it’s running on, but the performance of this strange piece of hardware is very good. Startup to usable (eg being able to send an email) is about 10 seconds. Shutdown to sleep is virtually instant. The keyboard is a little strange, with the Caps Lock key replaced with a “search” button, and where you expect to find the function keys some dedicated, browser centric buttons – back, forward, refresh, full screen, next window; and then brightness and volume controls. With the unusual layout the only thing I noticed was no quick key combinations to get to start/end of a line or top/bottom of a document (or page up/down) but I’m sure that could be a simple tweak.

With only a single USB connection it’s a little disappointing that the built in Bluetooth capabilities are not exposed in the OS – no way to pair a headset or a mouse. I was able to use a USB mouse with the laptop, but my USB headset wasn’t recognized. The video camera is what you’d expect on a fairly low-end laptop.

But… we don’t really care about the hardware. Is ChromeOS going to be a game changer, or just an interesting but ultimately doomed experiment?

After a few days with it, I still can’t tell for sure. There are some things it does really well. And there are some things that drive me insane and have me reaching for my Windows 7 powered MacBook Pro.

The good is, quite simply, the web. It’s a great browsing experience, with nothing to distract you. Multiple tabs, and multiple windows and quick and easy to find your way around.

The bad is… well, ironically, the web. Because ChromeOS is essentially an OS with a Browser for the GUI and no native apps as such you are limited to what you can do in a browser.

Normally while writing this I would have had

  • a couple of tabs running. Well, that worked fine.
  • music – usually VLC tuned to a DI.fm station. That’s a problem. No VLC (or any standalone music player). I found the Chrome Radio Player extension which does stream DI.fm… but only on Windows, Mac or Linux and only if you have installed VLC or Windows Media Player. Luckily I found a Pandora extension
  • something to manipulate images. Well, kinda. No MS Paint here. You have to find the image you want on the web, and manipulate it in the cloud. There’s no local storage for you to save your artwork away to upload to the blog later.
  • An IM client. Digsby by choice. It lets me chat on MSN, GTalk, Facebook Chat, as well as keep up with Twitter and Facebook. So far I’ve not found a good IM equivalent (eBuddy has promise but not a patch on Digsby). Chromed Bird is a nice extension for Twitter though.
  • Email notifications to interrupt me. Luckily there are lots of Gmail notifiers, and I found one that talks to Exchange, but doesn’t seem to like staying logged in. Close but not quite perfect.
  • An app to write this post in. Windows Live Writer or even Outlook. At least Posterous has a web interface so I could write this.

At the end of the day the frustration comes from the lack of real utility apps – no IM, no music player; the lack of local storage and the reliance on the cloud for everything – you can’t even log in without a web connection, and what happens if you want to draft an email on a plane or at a retreat with no Wifi or Verizon coverage?

I think that ChromeOS certain will move the bar in terms of battery life and performance, and for many people it will be a useful web-centric environment for checking Facebook and webmail, but in order for it to make a real dent there needs to be a lot of work solving the problems that “real” OSes have made appear simple… an app framework that goes beyond bookmarks to web pages and some extensions that, so far, are a little rough round the edges. Oh, and fixing the app store so it’s clear if apps work on ChromeOS or only really work in Chrome running on a real operating system.