Monday, August 30, 2010

Gossip and whining

My ex-business Partner Eli once said something that really struck me. We were discussing 'back-channel' gossip that was swirling around a company we invested in and he observed 'if you find that people are approaching you with gossip, be careful, as it probably means you enjoy hearing it and passing it on'.

This was a wonderful observation and led me to an insight around whinning. We've all experienced the 'I wanna' garden whining best illustrated by 5 year old children, they really have little effective means to communicate what they want/need so on some level it's ok. However, I must confess that I've been guilty of the adult variety too. This is when you are stuck on something (for me, usually business oriented) and find yourself complaining to most comers. It's not that the hapless folk you lay your burden on are really interested in the topic, but it just feels good to 'express' yourself.

My college freshman nephew recently lectured me on this topic and his implicit advice was that the bothersome situation is my own gosh darn fault. You see, 'stuff happens', so he explained, and it's not the 'stuff' that's really significant, but what is important is what you do about it and how you react to it. If you are going to sit back and whine, then you deserve the outcome as you sat back complaining, rather than solving the issue. Whining, so he explained, is a sad excuse for inaction.

"Solve it and tell me about how you did it" is far more interesting and rewarding than sad complaining.

He's right.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A losing fight

My buddy Elad once told me something that's so true and obvious, that it's surprising to see his point played out time and again. He said that it's foolish to fight against fundamental technology trends. Yea, it's as obvious as predicting 7 quarters ago that Android would be heading to the #1 market share in smart phones, Intel would buy McAfee, and Gilt would be valued at more than $1B

The latest RIM product, the Torch, is a hybrid touch screen and keypad device which compromised the keyboard to the point of making it meaningless and has a screen that's at least one generation behind the competition. It's not competitive, but it's totally understandable what drove their product decisions. They are a company defined by its keyboard, it's their reason for being. Every reviewer for the past decade lauded the company for its sleek design and competitors strained to equal it. The problem is that RIM is now fighting against a fundamental technology shift.

Screens are getting much better (the Samsung Galaxy series is amazing...a blow away). But there's more afoot here. A relatively new program, Swype, fundamentally changes the metaphor for text entry. It's not perfect, but it is a step above pecking, has much better predictive words than previous generations and highlights another innovation sphere.

If you look at the innovation sphere's around the smart phone (or what's really a little computer that dials), you see processors, screens, communications and software. You do not see any meaningful innovation around physical keypads. If anything, they are getting worse as vendors strive to incorporate the above. The hybrid devices we see today, with full qwerty keyboard,s are an interim generation, akin to 8 track tapes in automobiles...and destined to last as long.

Jim Balsillie, RIM's CEO is an incredibly resilient and driven executive. Many folk know that you don't pull on Superman's cape, and you don't mess with Jim. For RIM's shareholders, I hope this still holds true.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Tom Kelly of IDEO on Innovation and design

A counter intuitive approach to solving problems from the CEO of Ideo

Monday, August 9, 2010

Aliens approaching

My RIM is dying. The trackball is shot, the battery holds a fraction of its charge, the tiny screen scratched and, well, Froyo is here (on Nexus now). Froyo, also known as Android 2.2, is the seventh update to Google's Android OS since its launch in October 2008. That's better than an update per quarter. Performance, the UI, SDK's, adoption and just about any measure you use to gauge success are there in spades.

Of greatest import is that I now understand my use patterns for smartphones. I purchased the Bberry as it was best in class for texting, BBM and mail. Inputting information easily was paramount. Now, however, I desire a phone that's a great output device as I consume far more information than I input today....and the gap is growing as it's fueled by video, social applications and real-time news/event postings. Therefore, my next device needs an up to date browser, superior connectivity (goodbye ATT) that's fast and secure and a killer screen. RIM's Torch is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, they needed to take a fundamental leap from the input to the output age.

When it was first introduced, I must confess to being more than a bit skeptical about Android. I was concerned that it was outside GOOG's core competence and a testing toy (like Wave turned out to be), that the mobile carriers would bastardize (fork) the OS, and the developer community would test and test, without committing. I was wrong. It is a real alternative to Apple and the Android devices are now outselling iPhones

The beauty of the iPhone and the curation by Apple are important points too. Unlike many of my peers, I sorta like Apple approving software as it adds a level of security that I'm not adding code that will mess with a device which is really important to me. Moreover, as we are moving towards being a Mac household, universality of devices is a big plus. Also, the App store is great; so easy to navigate and install a myriad of applications.

With that said, however, I am looking a couple of Android phones. It seems as if the ecosystem is similar to the old GM adage 'there's a phone for every pocketbook, or primal function required'. The pace of innovation is just so much faster on Android devices. Apple's schedule for yearly hardware upgrades and semi-annual major software updates fits them, and many consumers quite well. However, it does not match the speed to which the mobile market is morphing. Heck, Google is already talking about their roadmap for Android 3.0. I like the pace of innovation; I love the transparency/road map. They are talking my language.