Tagged: mobile

Designers do What an Entire Industry Can’t

The Fox is a big fan of Mike Monteiro and the work of Mule Design. More specifically, I recall the excitement during the launch of Evening Editions. I was sad to hear they shut it down in December 2013, but still think it’s a powerful lesson in how small teams can run faster (and in completely different directions) than large legacy organizations. Original post from July 2012.

Jon Mitchell on how a small team from Mule Design conceived, developed and released Evening Edition, a simpler way to consume the news.

It began with a tweet. On July 9, friend of Mule and former NYTimes.com design director Khoi Vinh tweeted a link to statistics that showed the iPad is driving healthy evening news-reading habits.

“A return to evening editions?” Mule developer Jim Ray replied, by way of observation.
That simple exchange put a bug in the ear of Mule design director Mike Monteiro. He mocked up a daily news site called Evening Edition, and his team built and launched it in a week.

People on news sites are overwhelmed by stories in process,” says Mule lead researcher Katie Gillum. The front of your typical news site is throbbing with up-to-the-second headlines, boxes jammed full of shifting links, and a never-ending conveyor belt of posts tumbling into an abyss of “next page” links. How can advertisers and sponsors reach an audience that’s stressed out by the presentation itself?

The gap between traditional news sites and more robust news reading applications are currently being bridged by mobile apps such as Instapaper, Pocket and Flipboard. But these tools still don’t remove the burden from the reader to sift through mountains of stories to find those that are really important or valuable to them.

Evening Edition aims to solve this by providing a concise curated list of stories from the day. But the ease of use doesn’t end there. Evening Edition is published each day at 5 p.m. Pacific time directly on the web where it is available on any device with a web browser. For those used to the world of mobile apps and constant push notifications, Mule’s Mike Monteiro sums up the simplicity in a tweet.

You want push notifications for @eveningedition? Is it 5pm pacific? We’ve pushed. Is it before 5pm pacific? We have not pushed. Got it?

Fox Tip: The entire news industry struggles to produce simple. A small design team can get there faster.

Learning from Nokia’s Mistakes

Microsoft owned Nokia has been changing quite a bit in the last few months, but the Fox can’t help remember this original post from July 23, 2012 when I think about how far they have to go to make Microsoft a strong player in the mobile space. The Fox truly wishes them the best.

Nokia – the former largest cell phone maker on the planet – spent $40 billion on research and development in the last decade, nearly 4 times what Apple spent in the same period. Seven years before Apple released the iPhone, Nokia had designs of color touch-screen phones with the internet and e-mail. But consumers never saw any of these devices. Nokia’s market share has dropped from 40.4% in 2007 (when the iPhone was released) to 21% in the first quarter of 2012.

The Wall Street Journal just released an article looking at the internal culture and fumbled processes that have kept Nokia from maintaining their lead in mobile technology. Let’s take a gander shall we?

In late 2004, U.S. manufacturer Motorola scored a world-wide hit with its thin Razr flip-phones. Nokia weathered criticism from investors that it was expending too much effort on high-end smartphones while its rival ate into its lucrative business selling expensive “dumb” phones to upwardly mobile people around the world.

After Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, Nokia’s former chief financial officer, took the helm from Mr. Ollila in 2006, he merged Nokia’s smartphone and basic-phone operations. The result, said several former executives, was that the more profitable basic phone business started calling the shots.

I believe this strategy is called “selling the future to cling to the past.” Surely this recipe will work for someone, someday.

Nokia engineers’ “tear-down” reports, according to people who saw them, emphasized that the iPhone was expensive to manufacture and only worked on second-generation networks—primitive compared with Nokia’s 3G technology. One report noted that the iPhone didn’t come close to passing Nokia’s rigorous “drop test,” in which a phone is dropped five feet onto concrete from a variety of angles.

The mobile world had just changed 180 degrees, but Nokia was still using its same old measuring stick. Sounds eerily similar to RIM’s insistence that a physical keyboard would always be the most important feature on a phone.

One team tried to revamp Symbian, the aging operating system that ran most Nokia smartphones. Another effort, eventually dubbed MeeGo, tried to build a new system from the ground up.
People involved with both efforts say the two teams competed with each other for support within the company and the attention of top executives—a problem that plagued Nokia’s R&D operations.

Attacking the problem from two fronts? Good idea. Making the teams fight for executive support and funding? Well, that idea falls somewhere short of good now doesn’t it.

In 2010, for instance, Nokia was hashing out some details of software that would make it easier for outside programmers to write applications that could work on any Nokia smartphone.

At some companies, such decisions might be made around a conference table. In Nokia’s case, the meeting involved gathering about 100 engineers and product managers from offices as far-flung as Massachusetts and China in a hotel ballroom in Mainz, Germany, two people who attended the meeting recall.

“What struck me when we started working with Nokia back in 2008 was how Nokia spent much more time than other device makers just strategizing,” Qualcomm Chief Executive Paul Jacobs said. “We would present Nokia with a new technology that to us would seem as a big opportunity. Instead of just diving into this opportunity, Nokia would spend a long time, maybe six to nine months, just assessing the opportunity. And by that time the opportunity often just went away.”

Cornering the market on bureaucracy never seems to be a good idea.

Fox Tip: Great ideas, exceptional talent, and more money than you can count won’t overcome an unhealthy organizational culture.

Does First to Market Matter?


It seems there’s quite a stir around being the first to market with a new innovation.

And while there’s no doubt the technology landscape is changing at a faster pace than even a decade ago, there seems to be some underlying belief that being first to market greatly increases sustained market domination.

While, I’m sure there are cases where this has proven true, my own perception is quite the opposite. There are several case studies we could look at to see his isn’t always true, but today I want to focus on a recent case: Hipstamatic.

Many of you may not remember Hipstamatic. (It’s still around…barely.) Some may have never even heard of it. This should all be very surprising because Hipstamatic was the first app to break open the barn doors of mobile photography apps and go mainstream…or at least mainstream by 2010 mobile standards.

So why don’t you or your kids or any of your family members use Hipstamatic? Let’s go to the timeline.

Spring 2010 – Hipstamatic released for iPhone for 99 cents. User can buy in-app digital lenses to apply a retro look to the pictures they take with their phone. Very hip!

October 2010 – Hipstamatic produces millions of dollars in revenue selling their in-app digital lenses.

October 6, 2010 – Ex-Googler Kevin Systrom launches Instagram, an iPhone app that allows user to apply retro filters to their pictures. Key difference: Instagram is free and has a built in social network to share images.

2010 – Hipstamatic named App of the Year by Apple.

2010 – The New York Times photo journalist Damon Winter wins 3rd place in an international photo contest for pictures of American soldiers in Afghanistan all taken on his iPhone with Hipstamatic.

March 2011 – 5 months after launch Instagram has 2.2 million users – growing by 130k users a week.

Summer 2011 – Hipstamatic enters the social pool with a feature called Family Album allowing users to co-curate photo albums. The tool is a confusing mess and an immediate flop.

December 2011 – Hipstamatic launches D Series – a separate iPhone app where users can buy digital versions of classic disposable cameras for 99 cents and share 24 photos before having to buy another digital camera pack. Users are outraged at the pay model compared to free Instagram.

2011 – Apple’s app of the year? Instagram.

January 2012 – Hipstamatic has 4 million users. Instagram has 15 million user sharing an average of 60 photos per second. Without any built in sharing tools Hipstamatic users are manually loading their photos to Instagram’s network.

January 2012 – Private mobile social network Path and very public network Twitter reach out to Hipstamatic for partnering opportunities. Hipstamatic CEO declines.

March 2012 – Instagram balloons to 27 million active users. Hipstamatic partners with Instagram to allow Hipstamatic users to seamlessly share their photos on Instagram’s social network.

19 Days Later – Facebook buys Instagram for $1 billion.

Hipstamatic CEO goes in search of VC funding and receives this overwhelming message from VC firms:

“The real problem is that Hipstamatic is perceived as a copycat that desires to be Instagram, and VCs don’t want to be in a me-too deal.”

Hipstamatic was the first retro photo app to market, but is now seen as a copycat to the company that came later but released a better product.

Fox Tip: If we sacrifice quality to be first, we also sacrifice the value of being first.

photo credit: emrank via photopin cc

Apple’s Siri is the Future…and Google Knows It

But finding 147,000 web pages in less than a second isn’t as useful as it used to be.

Original post from November 20, 2012.

The fox stumbled upon this beauty from Kontra, a self described veteran design and management surgeon perennially in search of complex problems to operate on. In it, he drills down into the possible future of Siri, Apple’s instantly eager virtual assistant, but first has to break down the value of such an assistant versus the Google powered Internet that we’ve all grown to admire and crave.

The Google comparison, while expected and fun, is misplaced. It’d be very hard for Siri (or Bing or Facebook, for that matter) to beat Google at conventional Command Line Interface search given its intense and admirable algorithmic tuning and enormous infrastructure buildup for a decade. Fortunately for competitors, though, Google Search has an Achilles heel: you have to tell Google your intent and essentially instruct the CLI to construct and carry out the search. If you wanted to find a vegetarian restaurant in Quincy, Massachusetts within a price range of $25-$85 and you were a Google Search ninja, you could manually enter a very specific keyword sequence: “restaurant vegetarian quincy ma $25…$85″ and still get “about 147,000 results (0.44 seconds)” to parse from.

Linear Search

Linear Search

This is a directed navigation system around The Universal Set — the entirety of the Internet. The user has to essentially tell Google his intent one. word. at. a. time and the search engine progressively filters the universal set with each keyword from billions of “pages” to a much smaller set of documents that are left for the user to select the final answer from.

Let’s be clear. Google has invested billions of dollars and more brain power than the whole of some countries into solving Internet search. And it’s worked brilliantly for all of us for more than a decade. (It’s amazing how quickly we’ve taken for granted that “.44 seconds” part of the Google search interaction.) But finding 147,000 web pages in less than a second isn’t as useful as it used to be. Enter Siri.

Siri’s opportunity here to win the hearts and minds of users is to change the rules of the game from relatively rigid, linear and largely decontextualized CLI search towards a much more humane approach where the user declares his intent but doesn’t have to tell Siri how to do it every step of the way. The user starts a spoken conversation with Siri, and Siri puts an impressive array of services together in the background: · precise location, time and task awareness derived from the (mobile) device, · speech-to-text, text-to-speech, text-to-intent and dialog flow processing, · semantic data, services APIs, task and domain models, and · personal and social network data integration. Let’s look at the contrast more closely. Suppose you tell Siri: “Remind me when I get to the office to make reservations at a restaurant for mom’s birthday and email me the best way to get to her house.” Siri already knows enough to integrate Contacts, Calendar, GPS, geo-fencing, Maps, traffic, Mail, Yelp and Open Table apps and services to complete the overall task. A CLI search engine like Google’s could complete only some of these and only with a lot of keyword and coordination help from the user.

And that’s just the beginning. Suppose Siri gets even deeper integration with 3rd party apps?

Further, being an integral part of iOS and having programmatic access to third party applications on demand, Siri is fully capable of executing a fictional request like: Transfer money to purchase two tickets, move receipt to Passbook, alert in own calendar, email wife, and update shared calendar, then text baby sitter to book her, and remind me later. by translating it into a transactional chain, with bundled and 3rd party apps and services acting upon verbs and nouns:

App Chain

App Chain

By parsing a “natural language” request lexically into structural subject-predicate-object parts semantically, Siri can not only find documents and facts (like Google) but also execute stated or implied actions with granted authority. The ability to form deep semantic lookups, integrate information from multiple sources, devices and 3rd party apps, perform rules arbitration and execute transactions on behalf of the user elevates Siri from a schoolmarmish librarian (à la Google Search) into an indispensable butler, with privileges.

Now this hypothetical future butler doesn’t only belong to Apple’s Siri. Google sees the writing on the wall and has planted their flag with Google Now (not to be confused with Google Voice Search, though this fox has seen them easily confuse more than a few tech savvy canines) which has started building semantic libraries based on user’s voice searches and integrating them with Google services on their mobile devices.

At this point it’s not a matter of if, but when the future of the Internet will arrive. And, of course, who do we trust most to deliver it.

Fox Tip: Our kids and grandkids will laugh at the Google Search we’ve been using when they see it in the digital museums of the future. Start rehearsing your ‘back in my day’ stories now.