Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Fun Topic: What happened to Surface RT? (Is this PlayBook OS all over again?)

$299 Surface Tablet @ Dell

Well if you haven't heard yet, the price of Windows RT tablets are dropping. About a month ago it happened first @ Dell, dropping their XPS 10 to $299. Really they weren't the first, just the most dramatic. 

Ironically, this all reminds of me PlayBook firesale or even the HP TouchPad firesale. When RIM (now Blackberry) did their firesale over a year ago everyone knew it was the end of the line for RIM Tablets. However there were people still clinging to their devices until Blackberry announced finally that BB10 OS would not be coming to Playbook. For this was final nail in the coffin for Playbooks. Blackberry will say it needed to do Playbook to learn to do BB10 properly. Now CEO Thorsten Heins saying that Tablets are dead:

“In five years, I don’t think there’ll be a reason to have a tablet anymore. Maybe a big screen in your workspace, but not a tablet as such.” - Thorsten Heins
I'm not entirely sure this isn't at some level sour-grapes as BB clearly failed and has abandoned the Tablet/Phablet market. Even Tim Cook and post Steve Jobs Apple finally gave in and built the iPad Mini. Also don't tell that to Amazon's Kindle department, which sales are on fire (vs. a fire sale).  

I love some of the tongue & cheek articles that joked that Star Trek invented tablets years ago. 4Oh5 clearly shows that even before Picard had on TNG, 2001: Space Odyssey had it too. I wonder if Heins is saying all those sci-fi movies were just plain wrong. Either way, after what Heins said, it's very very unlikely that Blackberry is ever going to make another Tablet anytime soon.

WebOS also went through a file-sale. Originally of Palm origins it was sold to HP. HP built a tablet, the TouchPad using WebOS and eventually had to liquiddate it's stock through a fire sale two years ago that ironically brought down eBay. HP was to offer the WebOS as open-source, but LG seems to have licensed WebOS for TVs, but not phones. 

If you read my post on Tizen, you'll notice that LG is not on the list of vendors, however likely is a company that is paying Microsoft the 'Android' patent. This is the response from CTO Dr. Skott Ahn as why LG didn't just go ahead and put Android in their TVs:

 Asked why it made more sense to invest in webOS than to repurpose Android, Ahn said that LG would use Android "together" with webOS, but that he thinks "webOS is better in some of the user experience, like card UI."
Part of me is wondering if webOS license from HP was cheaper than the Android virtual license to Microsoft.

In the end HP, (unlike Blackberry) is returning back into the Tablet market again, two years after TouchPad fire sale. They are now aiming to sell the Slate, which runs Android even though they own WebOS. Unlike Thorsten, CEO Meg Whitman isn't making any claims that Tablets are passe.

So what's the bottom line? The fire sale could be the end-of-the-line for Surface RT. I'm not entirely sure I would shed a tear. I wasn't very fond of the 'legacy' windows interface that had icons so small I could only use with a touchpad in the keyboard. I thought the UX was a little 'too-flat' and didn't offer users any affordances on which were buttons, etc. I also agreed that there was utter confusion on which apps were running on Surface RT (formerly metro) and which couldn't.

I guess we'll have to wait to see. However I imagine we won't have to wait for long.

Hope that helps...

Wayne Pau.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Fun Topic: Heard of Tizen? (Intel and Samsung give you $4 million reasons to care?)

Wanna win $200,000? You can with a Tinzen app! Intel and Samsung are ponying up $4 million+ to make it happen.

As we saw in the previous post about Samsung's OS platform offerings, Tinzen phones are coming to Samsung in Q3 2013. If you've never heard of it, it's Open Source, Linux-based OS that supports SmartPhones, Tablets, TVs and Netbooks. It's the latest competitor to Android and Netbooks, etc. It's part of the Linux Foundation and both Samsung and Intel are main members (read: champions) of the steering group, which also include: 
  • Huawei
  • Intel
  • Orange
  • Panasonic
  • Samsung
  • SK Telecom
  • Sprint
  • Vodafone
  • KT
  • Fujitsu
At first I didn't understand why Samsung (and Intel) would do this, but after reflecting I came up with some 'guesses':

#1 - Intels needs more leverage (over Qualcomm)
The Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset is the hands-down winner for Mobile. If you are familiar with the Intel vs. ARM wars, almost every new Android device today runs ARM. HTC ONE and Samsung S4 run Snapdragon 600 and even Sony Experia ZL run S4 Pro chip. Intel has really has success with the Clover Trail Atom chipset in Android Tablets like Nexus 7 and Nexus 10, not really in phones.
(I think back when I was looking into this because I had ARM-only code in an Android app, I only really saw the ZTE Grand X2 and Orange San Deigo. Later I learned that Motorola Razr i also ran Intel Atom. Bottom line was that I wasn't too worried with only supporting ARM-only Android devices.)
 *IF* Intel can help make Tizen more popular than Android, it may have a better chance at a bigger share of mobile processor market. Current Intel is 12% compared to Qualcomm's 59% for Q1 2013. Intel wants to start to dominate this market because that where they believe the future growth is.
 #2 - Samsung wants ownership/control
At the end of the day, Google owns Android. That means Google will attempt to make friends with all vendors (ie. Nexus One - HTC, Nexus S/Galaxy/10 - Samsung, Nexus 4 - LG, Nexus 7 - Asus). Google owns the Google Play Store and isn't about to give that up (Samsung even went and built their own Samsung Apps). Samsung continues to 'tweak' Android with things like AES and KNOX without actually giving that back to Android community. 
Samsung already has Bada and Linux OS (aka SmartTV) that failed to dominate. If they can merge in Bada investment into Tizen, this seems like good avenue to able to have more influence and control over device OS.
 #3 - Samsung can re-use some Android & Bada Assets/Investments
Tizen can run both Bada and Android apps. Basically it's leveraging something similar to Android Player that BB10 had, but likely more up-to-date out of the box.
This means it's not starting from ground zero for Samsung and it can possibly leverage a large number of it's Java and internal Android assets. 

#4 - Samsung doesn't want to pay royalties (Microsoft)
You might think I'm crazy because Android is free (or most versions), right? Well it turns out that Microsoft is claiming $220 million just this quarter from 'mobile', but cleverly did not break that into Windows Phone vs. Android royalties. If you didn't know, Windows has agreements with everyone but Google Nexus/Motorola for patent royalties in exchange for not suing them. (Ironically the cost for this protection is more than the price for Windows 7 Phone itself. Likely a scheme to drive Windows Phone sales.)
(Note: Some quick math. If IDC says in Q4 2012, Android was 70% of the market, while Windows Phone was only 2.6%. It would be easy to see how you could carve out a good part of the $220 million in royalties quickly from 160 million units of Android phones being sold vs. 6 million Windows Phone sold, *if* assuming numbers in the last quarter were similar.)
So if Samsung and other vendors like Huawei can make an alternative, there may be a way they can get out of this round-about Microsoft royalty. I have no confirmation of this, it's just a theory or suspicion

Ultimately this looks like a no-lose situation. If Tizen works, Samsung and Intel are on the steering group and will likely reap many of the rewards. If not Samsung and Intel both have other avenues to still make money with.

Personally, what I think Tinzen lacks is a good eco-system. The hardest part of monetizing mobile apps is the 'app store'. Apple has a great iTunes AppStore and Google has done an admirable job with Google Play Store (formerly Android Market). 

Right now, there aren't a lot of options once you built your Tizen app to monetize it, however Tizen group claims a Tizen Store will be available sometime in 2013. Apple, Google and BlackBerry are all independent commercial entities. Not sure how Linux Working Group would run a App Store, but maybe that is where the Tizen Association comes in. I guess in a worst case scenario Samsung does have it's own App Store, but long term I don't think they are going to be *only* makers of Tizen devices. 

To contrast Tizen platform to another platform I know well, which is BB10 OS, Blackberry focused heavily on developers. They poured a lot of money into things like BlackBerry World and still claim that BB developers make more than iOS, Android and WinMo:

Did you know that BlackBerry World™ is the most profitable mobile application store for developers? According to Evans Data Corporation, 13% of vendors using BlackBerry World are making over $100,000 which is more than Apple®, Android™ and Windows Mobile.
They ran several BB10 developer conferences, gave away thousands of Dev Alpha A & Bs. Currently on the Dev Alpha Cs. They tried to make it easy to port apps (like Android APKs to BARs and HTML5 via WebWorks) and offered a range of development options. Ran Port-a-thons and lots of BBJAM conferences and even had an ingenious limited edition 12,000 'Red' Z10s reward program, much like KickStarter swag.

So a single contest I think is not enough. Backing from Intel and Samsung and good devices might not be enough. In my mind BB did all that and are still struggling. Time will tell what happens to BB and Tizen.

Hope you found that interesting.

Wayne Pau.

p.s. if you don't think Tizen is real, well you can already get a Cordova (aka PhoneGap) framework ported. Probably one of the quickest ways to get a Tizen app going. 

However if I *had* to build an app today I assume emulator may be the way to do. No Dev Alpha Tizens being given away that I've heard of. There have been a few YouTube vids of BETA devices, one of which you can see here:


(If you have found this post helpful, please consider either following this blog directly, following my twitter account @Wayne_Pau or request to add me on LinkedIn. If you've found this topic or another useful, I'd also greatly appreciate if you would be willing to spread the word on this blog by sharing it with your friends...Thanks!)

Monday, 15 July 2013

Fun Topic: Heard of Samsung Wave or Cronus phones? (aka Samsung != Android)

Did you think that Samsung only made Android devices? Turns out Samsung is planning to offer at least the following lines:

  • Galaxy - Very popular Android O/S series (includes S3, S4 and Note 2)
  • ATIV/Cronus - Windows Phone O/S series (Cronus not yet released)
  • Wave - Bada O/S series, Samsung's home-brew O/S
  • ??? - Tizen O/S series (aiming for Q3 2013

(Look for a future blog posting on Tizen OS coming soon!)

This is over and on-top of Linux distribution that is already currently in Samsung SmartTVs that also runs apps. I do think there are plans to migrate that over to Bada platform at some point in the future (and LG is already committed to using WebOS in their TVs), but you can see how this is quickly this approach is filling up the Samsung Developer portal:


At some point you have to wonder how is Samsung going to even handle the roadmap and competition of resources for all these platforms. Logically I believe that Bada will eventually be rolled into Tizen and SmartTV linux platform phased out. Still, while Samsung appeared to be the champion for Android OS devices, it seems somewhere along the way they got diluted and likely that means they aren't 100% committed to the Google platform long term as everyone once thought.

Contrast this to Apple who has a single unified iOS platform with no fragmentation. They control both the direction of the OS and the production of hardware and therefore can optimize the development of both. The only other vendor with the same strategy is Blackberry (with BB10). 

Let's review the current IDC's current Mobile OS breakdown from Q42012:

By effectively offering multiple OSs, we can add Android's 70.1%, Windows Phone's 2.6% and Linux/Other 3% to give Samsung access to 75.7+% of the market. (I put "+" because both Android and Windows Phone had huge growth between 2011 to 2012, so we expect that trend to at least continue.) Besides BB10 and iOS, they are trying to 'cover all the bases'. Those are some staggering numbers that few other vendors can claim.

If you have the time, a very interesting read is an article by Chris Velazco of Tech Crunch here (however, be warned it's very very long):
How Samsung Got Bighttp://techcrunch.com/2013/06/01/how-samsung-got-big/
Basically it tells of how Samsung came into power and shows how Samsung is really the GE of Asia. Tales of corruption and family politics reminds me a lot of Korean Drama 'Live in Paris'. A family run-empire in which chairman Lee Kun-Hee had to be pardoned by a Korean President twice to avoid jail time! The very same chairman that radically changed Samsung from a low-cost, poor quality alternative to industry leader did so with drastic moves, including being quoted as saying:
 "Change everything but your wife and kids..." - Lee Kun-Hee 
and having a bonfire the consumed $50 million of shoddy equipment in one day in 1995 in front of 2000 employees! (I don't even want to *think* of the environmental consequences of something like that...)

Ultimately Samsung's foray into High-end Mobile Handsets is a lot like how they overtook many Chinese and Japanese rivals. Turns out that doing business in Korea is not that different from anywhere Asia. 

Bottom Line: A part of me is still worried that the biggest, baddest champion for Android is really just a 'part-time' champion. So while Samsung is investing and making innovations that help shore-up Google's inherent limitations/weakness in things like security with AES and KNOX, ultimately it seems that Samsung doesn't view Android as "their" own OS (like Bada for instance). Given a couple of years, would Samsung be pushing Windows Phone or Tizen over Android if the market seemed to be swaying that direction? Letting HTC, Huawei, ZTE, LG and others fend for their own (excluding Motorola who is owned by Google)?

Comments? Thoughts? Concerns?

Hope that helps...

Wayne Pau.

p.s. if you're looking for more Korean Movies/Dramas, might I suggest My Sassy Girl and it's prequel Windstruck. It's one of my wife and I favorite movies. 

(If you have found this post helpful, please consider either following this blog directly, following my twitter account @Wayne_Pau or request to add me on LinkedIn. If you've found this topic or another useful, I'd also greatly appreciate if you would be willing to spread the word on this blog by sharing it with your friends...Thanks!)

Monday, 8 July 2013

Fun Topic: Focus on 'other' Androids? (aka HTC and Samsung results dissapoint)

I usually steer clear of topics that are on relevant for a short period of time or based on near-term predictions or forecasts. They have this 'nasty' habit of making people look silly. However the latest reports of earning for HTC and Samsung have sent shock-waves through their respective stocks and at least for 'me', made me re-think a few things...

See Mashable's article here:


Basically the 'softening' that happened earlier for Apple stock seems to have trickled down to Samsung and HTC. For the record, Samsung is still 'growing' as it's profits jumped 47-50%, but that still wasn't as much as analyst wanted. HTC on the other-hand had a 83% drop in profit when compared to last year. (For Samsung, I find it rather incredible that 47% growth wasn't enough for "analysts". Maybe we need to pair JAY-Z with someone else... j/k)

*IF* I had to guess what happened here are 3 possibly 'theories' I have:

#1 - HTC First and it's joint venture with Facebook has gone south. It's HTC ONE was delayed a very critical few months earlier this year. This basically forced possible consumers to other platforms, most likely the Samsung Galaxy S4.  (Also shows you pure specs isn't enough. HTC J Butterfly had FullHD 1080P first, basically a 5" HTC ONE, but it's didn't dominate either...)
The HTC ONE "mini" or however they will name it is coming soon. If it comes up before the S4 Mini, maybe they can re-gain some traction. Ironically I actually like the HTC ONE. For example, a recent Twitter @Wayne_Pau convo of mine:
@Sarah_Sugoi @ericylai Have a HTC ONE tester. FullHD + cam = stunning. Beats is great. 32GB + SD = lots of space. Bigger though.
 #2 - Samsung S4 was 'OK'. If I *had* to choose, I would say HTC ONE was nicer than S4. I also felt that the S3 was only marginally different in many ways from S3. Note 2 is a much more radical device with Stylus/S-Pen, etc. I'm not entirely sure I'd be motivated as a user to upgrade from the S3 to S4 if I already had it.
  #3 - I believe we are seeing for Android devices what Apple saw a few months ago. I agree with Mashable article theory that everyone who wants a $600-800 Android Superphone may already (or nearly everyone) have one. 

The last point I believe is the most important. According to a few articles which cite IDC sources that HTC is actually *behind* Chinese Android Makers ZTE and Huawei in recent Android sales:

"The fact that Huawei and ZTE now find themselves among the Top 5 smartphone vendors marks a significant shift for the global market," said IDC research manager Ramon Llamas. "Both companies have grown volumes by focusing on the mass market, but in recent quarters they have turned their attention toward higher-end devices. In addition, both companies have pushed the envelope in terms of industrial design with larger displays and smaller form factors, as well as innovative applications and experiences."
Smaller form factor and mass market (aka cheaper phones). I've had huge issues trying to get <4.7" Android phones locally in Canada for test devices.

More simliar info here:
In the spirit of full disclosure, Samsung is of course Korean (South) but HTC is technically Chinese, but not People's Republic China, rather the Republic of China aka Taiwan

For a while it seemed like it was going to be just Apple and Samsung and using the Apple model that meant focusing on faster and better devices as users obsolete devices quickly. Now I'm not so sure. *Maybe* the growth will soon be at the lower-end of the spectrum. I took out a iPhone 3Gs the other to test with. I was *shocked* show poor and small the display looked (next to HTC ONE, iPhone5 etc). 

Longer term, I think we may be seeing a trend towards growth in Android, but at the Feature-Phone (aka "Dummy Phone") end of the spectrum. This would be the $200-$300 handsets. The 'free with contract' type of devices with smaller screens and less frills. That means designing for less DPI, smaller screen and slower processors (opposite of the current trend bigger, faster, better looking devices being the 'norm' like Note2, S4 and ONE..)

Thoughts? In the market for a new Android? Is it a HTC or Samsung? Or Other?

Hope that helps...

Wayne Pau.

p.s. More links on the HTC/Samsung fall:

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

UX Terminlogy: Rams' 10 Commandments of Good Design

(From https://www.vitsoe.com/us/about/good-design)

Have you heard of Dieter Rams? If you haven't, just remember that Apple's main design guy, Apple's Jonathan Ive is often quoted as saying Rams was one of his major influences.

The man behind that is Briton Jonathan Ive, officially the senior vice president of industrial design at Apple, and he has long acknowledged Dieter Rams as his inspiration.
Dieter Rams was an incredible designer that left a large design legacy through his work at Braun (many of his works are on permanent display @ MoMA). What is amazing is that looking back at his life's work the wide range of products he designed for, anything from record players (ie. his famous Snow White's Coffin) to hair dryers to juicers to watches/clocks. You can get a glimpse of the list of products he's produced here at the Less and More exhibit YouTube Clip.

In his interview here he credits one of his influences his grandfather, a master carpenter who was a specialist with surfaces.  Even Jonathan Ive mentions how big surfaces were in regards to Rams' designs:

“surfaces that were without apology, bold, pure, perfectly-proportioned, coherent and effortless”
This made me realize that as a designer, we're actually a amalgamation of our history, upbringing and skills. Much like Steve Job's Calligraphy class, this reminds of the quote from Lord Alfred Tennyson's Ulysses:
"I am part of all that I have met;"
Designers are not simply a trade that is learnt and applied in a vacuum. Good designers are multi-disciplined people. (@SAP, our own CTO Vishal Sikka loves reminding us that we need to be "T"-shaped to excel.)

Yet aside from all his designs, what will likely live on even longer than Ram's designs are his "10 commandments" of design. Ultimately 'great ideas' outlast 'great products'.

1. Good Design Is Innovative— The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.

2. Good Design Makes a Product Useful—A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product while disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.

3. Good Design Is Aesthetic—The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful.

4. Good Design Makes A Product Understandable—It clarifies the product's structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user's intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.

5. Good Design Is Unobtrusive— Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user's self-expression.

6. Good Design Is Honest— It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept

7. Good Design Is Long-lasting— It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today's throwaway society.

8. Good Design Is Thorough Down to the Last Detail—Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.

9. Good Design Is Environmentally Friendly— Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimises physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.

10. Good Design Is as Little Design as Possible—Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

The VitsÅ“ company which Rams joined after Braun states that he came up with the list after growing concerned about the designs around him. 

Back in the early 1980s, Dieter Rams was becoming increasingly concerned by the state of the world around him – “an impenetrable confusion of forms, colors and noises.” Aware that he was a significant contributor to that world, he asked himself an important question: is my design good design?
As good design cannot be measured in a finite way he set about expressing the ten most important principles for what he considered was good design. (Sometimes they are referred as the ‘Ten commandments’.)

His list was created 30 years ago and they are as true today as they were then. One could argue that companies like Apple are using his very principles to dominant in their respective markets. I'm sure all of our own products could be greatly improved if we adhere to his 10x principles.

All the ideas are great. However the following points really strike a cord with me:
#4 - Understandable is what I believe is driving a resurgence in UX. The best products that just 'make-sense' and don't require me reading a long manual.
#8 - Thorough is something I believe in strongly. I like being detailed orientated when possible. I agree with Rams that even the smallest detail is well designed, I know I'm in for a special product.
#10 - Simplicity is something that also really resounds with me. As a designer simplicity is definitely one of the toughest tasks of any good design.

A good visual version of this list also exists here.

Hope that helps...

Wayne Pau.