Saturday, July 19, 2008

Is the iPhone the new Wii?

When Android and later Apple announced they are going to allow developers to build software for their devices the tech world was touting how location based tracking apps, and social networking on mobile were going to be all the rage. The first couple of days the AppStore launch that notion held true as apps such as Facebook, mySpace, and Google Mobile were in the top 10 downloads. However, if you look at the top 10 free apps on the appStore now the store is completely different. You have apps such as: Tap Tap Revenge, Phone Saber, Break, Apple Remote, and Break within the top 5.

In my opinion, there may be a few reasons for this phenomenon:
a) The browser on the iPhone is so good that the difference between native apps built by Facebook and the browser based app is minimal so people are sticking with the approach they are used to for accessing sites such as Facebook.

b) People are creeped out by services that track their location and publish it on sites even if it is secured only to their friends. I think this is perfectly legitimate as users are more and more concerned about their privacy. There needs to be significant value add for end users to give up their final bits of private information.

c) We have taken things a bit too far with social networking and forgot a phone call can still be made with a cell phone. This may be the reality a year or two down the line, for example I barely use my work phone anymore since Chat can be used for realtime communication. However, people still use their cell phone to set up get togethers, find out about restaurants, etc.

d) Individuals aren't all about being online. Sometimes they want to just chill and have a bit of alone time. People use their phone enough to call people, or check e-mail and now the games/music apps give people a chance to break away from being connected. The games are so simple that anyone can play them (a la the Wii) and they give people a good respite.

So what's next. Either I am completely off base and as more and more people grab iPhones the pendulum shifts back in the direction of social networking becoming the dominant apps on the platform or we see a shift in understanding on what people want from their phones going forward.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Why is Apple hiding app download and iPhone availability numbers?

Apple's customer service is pretty incredible in my opinion. When I stood out in line for the first iPhone launch, Apple employees would come provide individuals with water bottles, sunscreen, and most importantly assure customers there were enough units in stock as soon as they got in line. 

On the opposite side of the spectrum, you have folks like BestBuy, Target, etc that have people camp out for long periods of time and only notify customers units of a hot product such as the Wii or PS3 are not available once the last purchase is made. It is a real pain in the ass, but customers still deal with it since they have nowhere else to go. 

Apple's kept a website up and running which let's people know availability of iPhones for the following day. However, why don't they just update the site with the number of units available and update it hourly rather than 9 pm everyday. This would help customers make decisions during the day rather than calling the Apple Store and being on hold all the time. Of course, Apple may not want to disclose how many phones they are truly selling but there are a bunch of bean counters on Wall Street doing pretty rigorous analysis anyways. 

The second thing that is interesting was on Thursday you were able to see how many times each app was downloaded when you clicked on the details of the apps. However, on Friday all apps show 0 downloads. Again Apple may be hiding this information to hide how much revenue they are generating off of the applications that are not free, but at least show the information for the free apps. This is just interesting information and provides a level of transparency on Appe's popular app ratings. Most of the major platforms in the market today (i.e. facebook) provide information on how often an app is used. There does not seem a good reason for Apple to hide that information for the free apps. 

Anyhow, these are minor things in the grand scheme of things but everyone always expects more from Apple and I am one of those people. 

Saturday, July 12, 2008

It's all about speed

The iPhone 3G launched yesterday (breaking news from me as usual) and everyone is talking about the appstore and how it is not necessary to upgrade if you have the original iPhone since everyone gets access to the appstore. In the short term that may be true, but how often people use native mobile apps is still up for debate. Some of the websites that have optimized their sites for the iPhone (i.e. facebook, google apps, etc) have done a really good job. Of course, there are capabilities you can take advantage of with local apps such as use of the accelorometer, precise location with GPS but there can only be a few friend tracking apps or restaurant review apps that win the battle in the end. Everyone is going to focus their attention on a small percentage of apps that really make their lives better. Maybe I am wrong, but that seems to be how things go nowadays with everyone buying into the hype of a new platform downloading everything available and then a month later focusing on a small subset of what they used initially. I am already slowing down my rate of downloads on the appstore, but maybe I am just too old school!

The biggest feature of the iPhone is going to be 3G. People say it is only important for power users, but in the end the iPhone makes everyone a "power user" in the traditional sense because it makes browsing the web, and accessing online content so easy. Safari on the iPhone has made it easy to access almost all content (except Flash of course), but the biggest problem has been speed. It has been painful trying to get sports scores from espn, or check e-mail over the Edge Network. If 3G is truly 2 - 3 times faster on average than Edge it is going to be a huge win in the long run provided they sort out the battery life issues people are having. 

More importantly, most people discount the importance of speed to end users. If you look at Marissa's Google I/O presentation she talks about different experiments with search that yielded more information than the default 10 results, but took a bit longer to render and in the end users stopped searching as much. End users are impatient and as the infrastructure has gotten better (i.e. broadband, WiMax, etc) their speed expectations have increased. I was talking to some startups recently, and some of them released a buttload of new features over the past month that users were expecting but their traffic ended up dipping. The reason was their latency went up anywhere from 2 - 5x what it was in the past. Speed has always been important, but in an era where competition is intense, and users are just a url away from going to another site it must be one of the main features put into consideration within the design process. 

Saturday, May 31, 2008

What does the general public think about facebook, twitter, friendfeed, etc.

I am one of those guys that starts my mornings off by catching up on my twitter and friendfeed "feed". It is great to start off your day and see if anyone found a cool youtube video, or interesting blog article that I may never have discovered.

However, over the past few weeks friendfeed and twitter became a bit less useful for me since all the conversations seemed to revolve around the two tools and which one is better. Of course, I could have tried to find a few other folks on each of those tools that discussed other topics but I was too lazy to try and find new buddies.

Then I got to thinking. If I just read my friendfeed newsfeed, I would think twitter was at the end of its life, and facebook was playing second fiddle to friendfeed. I think decided to check out google trends and see the relative search volume for the terms "facebook,myspace,friendfeed,twitter". The results bring things back into perspective. Check out the screenshots below:

You could argue the valley is at the cutting edge and folks such as Scoble are way ahead of what the general public is going to do. However, you could also argue the population of the tech geeks does not represent the general public. It is interesting when the voice of a just a few folks can you influence your viewpoint so quickly, but as always the best way to make your predictions is based on data and a lot of detailed analysis.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

We need the "Daily Show" for the Web

I read John Stewart's America (The Book) a while ago and it was a pretty good laugh. One of the best pages of the book was the gameplan employed by the 24 hours news networks:
" 7 minutes actual news, 3 minutes breaking news, 25 minutes breaking newsgraphics, 22 minutes temperatures highs and lows in places you don't live....6 hours commercials....4 hours re-run crap from earlier in the day."

It seems like the same principles can be applied to the webosphere as well. When there is no breaking news, the big name bloggers try to hold on to news from the past and reshape it. Remember after Facebook released their platform, and then the other social networks tried to catch up. It seemed like that dominated techmeme for 2 - 3 months. Over the past two weeks, I have been reviewing friendfeed and twitter and it is amazing that most of my connections have been discussing the value of one service over the other. I think it is great for Friendfeed and Twitter that they get this free marketing service, but that is the type of discussion most people in a meeting would say "let's take it offline" (another name for let's never bring it up again). I know I have the ability to ignore those messages, and move on to the next interesting thing and I am doing just that. However, it's just a bit concerning when it becomes harder and harder to find great content. The long tail of blogs is accessible if you know what you are looking for and leverage the power of search but hard to discover via a tool like techmeme or digg nowadays.

It almost seems like any post put on techcrunch is going to show up on techmeme nowadays and it is almost guaranteed that other big name bloggers will put a minor spin on techcrunch's post on their own sites. This is perfectly legal and the beauty of giving everyone the ability to express themselves in a way to share their thoughts with the world but the content is becoming more vanilla. It is going to be interesting in the blogosphere as the popular bloggers get more popular, and the bloggers just trying to make a name for themselves get lost out on the cloud. As fewer sources contribute to material accessible on aggregation services such as techmeme and provide their viewpoint, we need someone with John Stewart's talent to bring a sense of humor and realness to everything.

Disclaimer: This is just my opinion that content seems to be becoming homogeneous across all the blogs that I used to visit on a frequent basis. I used to derive a great deal of satisfaction checking out my google reader blogroll and analyzing information that was dissected in so many different ways, and that just seems to be lacking currently. Maybe, I am just not looking at the best set of blogs or following the right people on tools such as twitter or friendfeed.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Downtime Exaggerations Yet Again

I heard twitter and friendfeed went down recently, and there seems to have been some issues with seesmic as well. I think it is too bad that the services went down, but I am able to survive for a few hours without accessing the latest tweets or friendfeed updates (maybe I should get some more friends on those services). I am sure all these companies are striving for uptime but they are going through their growing pains (i.e. hitting bottlenecks in their design, or running into issues out of their control)

The thing that frustrates me is when someone says never touch these services since they are unreliable or beware future downtimes. There was a newsflash on cnet recently about the downtime and unreliability of web 2.0 companies.

When people are complaining about downtime from these services they should think about how reliable their other services are:
a) how often do you face the dreaded blue screen of death on your pc? i am sure the amount of time people spend trying to replace a hard drive and recover files just once is greater than the amount of time they lose because of a web 2.0 app's downtime in a year.
b) do all of your desktop apps run smoothly 24x7?
c) forget about computers, how often do people deal with car trouble or airline delays and waste hours or days trying to get from point a to point b?

Again, I think downtime is disturbing but calling out Web 2.0 explicitly as unreliable is just not right. These companies in many cases are offering free services to consumers (a few of them make a good amount of money), and trying to make people's life better by enabling people to do things they never could have done otherwise. Rather than trying to tear them down, the critiques should try to understand the major challenges they are taking on.

One of the cooler features on Google Spreadsheets

One of the features on Google spreadsheets that has saved me a lot of time recently has been the ability to create a quick web form based on a spreadsheet template to collect information from end users. The use cases are endless for this type of tool are endless. For example, how often do you send an e-mail out to people asking for feedback or trying to determine a convenient time for people to get togethers, or ask people to provide comment to your blog post. The problem with e-mail replies or blog posts is the data is unstructured and the owner of the post needs to structure the information manually and make sense of it. With the web form capability in spreadsheets, the analyzer of the data creates a quick webform and can review the data whenever he/she wants.

If you want to play with it login to google docs, and create a spreadsheet with a few columns. Click on the share tab and you'll notice a new option to "Invite people to fill out a form". I have attached a few screenshots on how things look: