Monthly Archives: September 2008

Why is Google building a Browser?

The clip from Google answers the question in its first part. “To take the Web to the next level”. Web browsers were designed for web pages much simpler than the web interactive applications we enjoy today, such as Gmail, Google Maps or Google Docs. JavaScript executes extremely fast in Chrome, taking web application to run at speeds comparable to native Windows applications.

“Chrome is focused on speed, stability and security.” After weeks of intensive use, Chrome has exceeded my expectations. It is really fast, and it has not crashed a single time yet.

Google is making a good investment of the billions its on-line ads business generates, to make sure the Internet keeps open and evolving to support more and more applications on-line. They already did a good job with the wireless auction months ago. Now Google is making sure not only it is not constrained by the limitations of Internet Explorer and other browsers, but it is pushing developers to bet on JavaScript rather than on Silverlight or AIR proprietary technologies for the web interactive applications.

The Internet of Things

Near Field Communication (NFC) is a wireless technology that enables communication between devices over very short distances (less than 10 cm). The technology has been available for a while in the form of contactless (or proximity) cards that are mainly used for public transportation and payment. One of the most successful implementations is the Suica card, widely used in Japan for railways and micropayments in convenience stores. Japanese usually store the card in their wallets and just pass the whole wallet over the card reader when they enter and exit railway extensions. Credit is automatically deducted depending on the itinerary.

The Suica card is so popular that Japanese handset vendors embedded NFC devices in wallet phones compatible with the system on which Suica is based (Sony’s Felica). This enables people to use their handsets as a Suica card for railways and micropayments, with the additional feature that the card balance is recharged from the phone account.

Now Tikitag, an Alcatel-Lucent Venture, is making NFC technology available to developers and users to link real world objects to the online world. See the clip below for Tikitag presentation at DEMO Fall 08.

As NFC-enabled phones become available in volumes (some analysts predict 250 million NFC phones by 2012), there is huge potential for applications around NFC.

The simplest application is to associate an URL to an NFC tag. These inexpensive tags can be attached to any object, like posters, business cards, a laptop, a car, etc. When a NFC phone touches the tag, the browser will open and it will be redirected to the URL associated witht the tag. This way you can associate your online profiles (Facebook, LinkedIn or any personal page) to you business card. Advertisers can attach a tag to posters or even to goods so that anyone can access to online information, ticketing or customer care just by a single touch. A museum can add a tag close to each art work, so that an online multimedia guide can pop up in your handset, when “touching” the tag with your phone.

Any online action can be associated to a tag, which open the door to more sophisticated applications, either standalone or integrated with existing ones.

Who is the new Smartphone King?

Gartner published a few days ago their assessment of the Smartphone market in Q2 2008. These are the highlights by handset maker:

  • Smartphone market grew 15.7% compared to last year.
  • Nokia remains the number one vendor, but it is losing market share from 50.8% in 2007 to 47.5% in 2008.
  • RIM is the fastest growing vendor , more than doubling their market share from 8.9% to 17.4%.
  • HTC also doubled its share from 2.2% to 4.1% (cosnidering only handsets sold on HTC brand, and moved to third position.

On the Operating System:

  • Symbian lost market share from 65.6% to 57.1%.
  • RIM increased its share by 126% in line with the share of its handsets.
  • Windows Mobile market share grew 21% to reach 12% of the smartphone OS.
  • Despite Q2 was not strong for iPhone -as they cleaned the channel before the 3G iPhone launch in July- it still surpassed Palm OS in market share.

In summary, Nokia is clearly losing ground to Blackberry and Windows Mobile. After the launch of the 3G iPhone in Q3, expect to see a bigger hit in Nokia’s share in Q3. Not only the iPhone will eat market share. Microsoft’s mobile OS is powering most of the nicest touch-screen models brought by LG, HTC and Samsung to compete with Apple’s phone. This will surely hurt Nokia’s share too.

But the main surprise is the growth of RIM in Q2, even before their new Bold was available. Mobile email is showing to be the killer app, and RIM’s usability for email is superb. And do not forget RIM makes money not just from the handsets but also for the email service they host and the server licenses they sell to enterprises. That is extra cash (and margin) to boost their R&D. Something Nokia might be lacking.

To make matters worse for Nokia, a newcomer will soon make appearance in the charts: Android. With so much competition, do not be surprise if we see Nokia lose their crown even earlier than forecasted by TechCrunch.

A Different Approach to Fund Raising

Guy Kawasaki -entrepreneur, venture capitalist and blogger- writes a funny article about how entrepreneurs usually approach venture funding, compared to a new way to start up your company, what Guy calls “Plan B for Fund Raising” and others call bootstrapping.

To summarize Guy’s article, he tells the typical story of a start-up getting a round of financing after another, only to end up being sold by the venture capitalists when customer projections delay (as usual) and the VC lose patient after a few millions were burnt. Guy’s suggest a Plan B: Do not leave your day job at Microsoft. Leave with your parents. Target a niche market (Rather than trying to boil the ocean […], you boil a tea kettle). Build a prototype and use Internet and the blogosphere to promote it. Then raise capital if needed to expand your business (rather than to create it). 

Read the full post from Guy. It is quite funny.

Indeed, Internet makes bootstrapping easier than ever by providing great tools:

1) Test the market. Even before you build your product, you can start advertising and selling it on-line. Build a site to sell your “product”, set your price, spend $1000 in AdWords and see if you get enough customer to place orders. If you see that demand exists in numbers to make your case fly, you go and build your product.

2) Outsourcing. Internet simplifies working as a virtual company. You should aim at orchestrating a zero-employees company (except you). With sites such as elance.com you can get manpower to build your prototype, and use manufacturing companies to produce it. You can also outsource customer care, order administration and your secretary or Virtual Assistant with YMII or Brickwork.

3) Cloud Computing. If your product/service is an on-line application, cloud computing is your solution to avoid investing capital in a server farm to cope with your traffic dreams. Instead you buy capacity as the demand grows from Google App Engine and Amazon Web Services.

When we say Internet is a true engine of innovation, it is not only for the new ways of sharing and accessing information, the new on-line applications or how it has changed the way we buy and sell things. Internet is also the best tool for innovators to start-up a business.

Telcos in a Clouds & Pipes World

The previous post might have look pessimistic about telcos when defining the future of telecom as “Clouds and Pipes (and Toys)”. In reality, it is just an analogy to describe what is already happening with “Over-The-Top” players delivering applications and services through Internet telco’s infrastructure with more and more intelligent devices.

How can Telcos find new opportunities in the new model? Telcos have some assets that could be valuable to Clouds and the end-users :

– Trusted billing relationship with users

– Customer profile: location, travel habits (roaming statistics), spending habits, response to promotions, home address

– Trusted brand to deliver a reliable service

All these assets can also be easily bypassed and ignored by over-the-top players. One example is Skype. Millions of users have a direct billing relationship with Skype for SpypeOut and SkypeIN. Skype has a customer profile no second to telco’s, including credit card information, billing address, Paypal behavior, country and contact list.

But a more profitable approach for the operator has been taken by Apple with iPhone. Apple is also an over-the-top player with a direct billing relationship with customers for iTunes, including its App Store, that sells more over-the-top applications. Still by partnering with telcos to sell the iPhone through them with mandatory flat fee plans for voice and data, Apple has help telcos to retain at least voice as a telco service and give users a reason to subscribe to unlimited data plans, that will support Apple apps.

Even if iPhone ever supports Skype, why would anybody use it if you already have voice as a flat fee?

The video clip is an interview from Om Malik to Josh Silverman of Skype

The Future of Telecom: Clouds and Pipes

Internet is the paradigm of next generation communications. One of the wonders of Internet is that it allows to de-couple Services/Applications from the access network. e.g. Anyone still uses the email or hosting services from your broadband access supplier? Most people prefer these Services independent from the broadband provider. One may need to move to a new house or a new city, and it is better to change only your ISP if needed, than migrating your web page and your email account.

Most communication applications in the Internet world are global and independent of the access network. Social networks such as Facebook, photo sharing as Flickr, video sharing as YouTube, blogging as WordPress, and VoIP, such as Skype are global services we use to communicate with others, regardless their network access. Most of these applications reside in clouds accessible by any Internet Service Provider. The ISP just provides the pipes.

And services such as Skype or Fling post a threat to the voice business that telcos have (so far) managed to bundle with the pipe access. As Wireless Broadband becomes more and more available with EVDO, HSDPA and WiMAX, Mobile telcos will need to keep being imaginative to bundle voice minutes, as well as SMS before it is cannibalized by Instant Messaging over their own pipes.

The broadband pipes are also used today by iTunes, Amazon Unbox or Hulu to distribute music, movies and TV shows. 

Tier 1 telcos, such as Telefonica, AT&T, Orange or SingTel have built an IPTV infrastructure allowing them to bundle Pay-TV, Voice and Broadband in a single offer. These telcos are capitalizing on current constraints such as content rights negotiated by country, high bandwidth required by TV and HDTV, and a complex Home Network environment, to provide a complete Service entirely managed by the telco.

As global players (such as iTunes or Google) start to negotiate contents for worldwide distribution, as pipes become more powerful, and as open devices get easier to manage by users, Telcos will need to re-think themselves to stop global players in clouds to relegate them to pure Pipes suppliers.

In a Telecom world of Clouds, Pipes and Toys (user devices), telcos will need to be smart and learn to play the Cloud game as well as allying with Toy makers to make their services more valuable than just Pipes.

Eee PC: Linux or XP?

Jim was decided to buy a netbook. One friend recommended him the Asus Eee PC. Jim does not know much about computers, but his brother-in-law Greg is one of these geeks that knows everything about the latest toys.

Jim: Which Eee should I buy? Linux or XP?

Greg: First, among the Eee models, I would recommend you go for the Eee PC 901, with a solid-state disk (SSD). You have less storage than with a hard-drive but the SSD is lighter, faster and has no mechanical parts, so it is shock-proven. The Linux version brings 20GB (split into 4GB+16GB) SSD and the Windows XP version 12GB (4GB+8GB) at the same price. In both cases the 4GB drive is faster and stores the OS. The second drive, although double the size in the Linux version, should not be a key deciding factor. If 8GB is not enough you can add a 16GB SD card today, and next year 32GB SD cards will be available. So in the long run the storage is not the key factor in the decision. The key is, what do you want to do with your Eee PC?

Jim: Well, I guess typical stuff: email, web browsing, deal with documents, communicate with Skype…

Greg: For that both Linux and XP will do. Both have a browser, both come with OpenOffice and access to Google Docs and Skype. Anything more sophisticated you want to do?

Jim: Let me think… well… yes, multimedia. I want to see pictures, music and video.

Greg: For video, download VLC player.  It plays any format in the world, including YouTube flash. You can download it free and install it easily in XP or in the Xandros Linux distribution that comes with the Eee. Just be aware that if you want to add a VLC icon to Xandros you will need to edit a few configuration files.

Jim: What about adding an USB TV Tuner? I think that would be cool to watch TV while on the go…

Greg: Most tuners come only with Windows drivers, but you can make Windows drivers run on Linux with ndiswrapper. You might need to recompile the Kernel, but it should work.

Jim: One more thing, I want to access my desktop PC from the netbook to watch all movies stored in its 500GB hard-drive. You know, I want to use the desktop PC as a server.

Greg: That is easy with XP. With Linux you just need a program called Samba. It is then straight forward, but just note that if your server/desktop is Vista, there are some flaws in Vista implementation of Samba protocol and you will need some workaround to connect from Linux.

Jim:  I almost forgot, but being so portable I want to connect to the 3G wireless network using my Nokia phone as a modem connected via bluetooth.

Greg: I do not think Nokia will provide you their phone suite in other than Windows, but if you investigate in Linux forums there might be a way to do it.

Jim: And what about the access to my company VPN. I currently access from XP, will that work in Linux?

Greg: With a little investigation you might find the way … hopefully.

Jim: Mm, Greg, all these things about editing config files, installing ndiswrapper, and all the investigations to connect to Vista, to a phone built-in 3G modem and to the VPN… are not a bit too much for someone like me who does not have a clue about Linux or any Unix?

Greg: Look Jim,  if you want to learn Linux, and you want to use your computer for Internet in Wifi hotspots, go for the Linux/Xandros version. If you must connect to your company VPN, use 3G through your phone, connect easily to Vista computers and add TV tuners and other USB toys, go for Windows XP. It is not so cool as Linux, but you are more likely to get sophisticated things working without spending hours in Linux forums getting deep into it.

Jim: But Greg… weren’t you a fanatic of Linux?

Greg: And I am Jim. Linux is great for servers, for embedded systems and soon for mobile handsets. But today we still live in a Windows world for the desktop. Pragmatics still choose Windows. If you want to be part of those changing the wold to make the desktop free from Windows, go and buy the Linux netbook and enjoy making it work and helping others get a free OS.

And by the way, if anybody has a hint on how to easily fix these issues for Xandros, please post a comment below and share your experience.