Coolest Brand: iPhone. And soon on Orange and Voda.

Hot on the tail of Orange announcing they have secured the iPhone onto their network, Vodafone have also announced they’ll be joining the Apple tsunami.

Vittorio Colao, Vodafone’s chief executive, has said that not having the iPhone was a key reason why the operator lost 159,000 customers in its latest quarter.

O2 dropped the ball by keeping the iPhone pricing high and seems to have hinged it’s hopes on the Palm Pre which it unleashes on the network on October 16th. The Pre has awareness in probably 1% of the UK and their App Catalog policy seems to be as bad, if not worse, than Apple’s.

It’s going to be a tough battle for the Pre in the UK, of course, with Apple holding 3 of the top 5 brands (according to CoolBrands) and iPhone being currently the #1 brand in the UK. Certainly the iPhone has penetrated suburbia – at a house party at the weekend, nearly half the attendees had iPhones and the rest were a mix of Nokia and Blackberry devices (and a smattering of lesser manufacturer fashionphones). And this was not a geek party – it was a party of bankers, firemen, teachers, HR personnel and homemakers (and I was the only geek there).

The investment that people put into their apps is an anchor to a platform. This worked well for Windows back in the day as people couldn’t do without certain apps and it was hard to convince them to re-buy their apps on the Mac (or just do without on Linux or BSD). The same goes for the iPhone. Some people have hundreds (or even thousands) of pounds worth of apps on their iPod touch and iPhone devices – it’s going to be hard to convince them to move to another platform and their loyalty to iPhone will now start to convince hold-outs who resisted the iPhone due to the networks it was available on. After that – once they’ve bought one Apple device, it won’t be long until they buy another. That’s the halo effect in operation.

There’s no need for VC in the UK. Apparently.

Richard Tyler of The Telegraph writes how “Public venture funds make very little difference”. This is based upon a report by the British Venture Capital Association and NESTA and it states the following points:

Britain has no untapped reservoir of high-growth companies starved of venture capital

This is a contentious point at best. Does this mean that either there is overfunding or, as is my opinion, there is no supply chain of deal flow to provide venture funds with suitable startups?

…when companies receive investment from one of various publicly backed venture funds, the change in their performance is only “modest” compared with the step change seen when a private fund invests.

This speaks volumes about the sort of folk who are hired to manage public venture funds. Either they’re not very good investment managers or they don’t treat public-backed venture funds with the same attention or respect as private money. So – examine what the problem is there.

The report says: “Companies that are recipients of funding under one or more of the government hybrid funding schemes examined do not yet exhibit significantly better performance. This suggests that the UK does not posses an untapped resource of high potential firms whose (greater) performance will be unleashed by simply making available more equity finance within the ‘equity gap’.

Or alternatively, the way that government funds are managed is not suitable for young startups. The equity gap exists for the average startup at several positions in their life – initial seed, business growth, market share expansion. It is my opinion that the earliest stage equity gap means that many companies are unable to take advantage of venture funding due to poor engagement from the VC market and, frankly, red tape barriers for access to public funds. Understanding that we, the people, are responsible for this red tape is important but a small percentage of wasted funds if placed in the hands of a blame-averse (as opposed to a risk-averse) seed capital, would reap significant rewards.

The report also confirms the anecdotal impression that venture funding is a poor way for Government and the regional development agencies to create jobs.

Is this really all about jobs? I would have hoped that this would seriously be about generating wealth – not just making sure that people are sitting in offices. Northern Ireland has had a disastrous history of selling itself short as a cheap place for a call centre. We don’t need to inspire people to take low level internships – we need people to think bigger.

Paul Graham at TechCrunch50

Paul Graham at TechCrunch50:

“How does it all work, what’s the insides like. And so you have to ask a lot of questions.

People never seem to answer all the questions pre-emptivey in the presentation so you gotta ask a lot of questions.”

TC50 and Paul Graham from sarah lacy on Vimeo.

I’ve been following Paul and Y-Combinator for a while. There’s parts of their business model that I really admire – something I’d like to steal for businesses in Northern Ireland.

One of the things I admire about Y-Combinator is that they haven’t had any major successes but they still plug on. Paul reckons justin.tv or Loopt might have that global potential but the point is, they’re willing to take a chance even on projects which might not immediately have world-conquering potential. That said – a heap of their companies have been heavily funded or acquired which, by any stretch of the imagination would be a success for indigenous companies. Companies like reddit, Scribd, Dropbox, Posterous or others from their portfolio show they’re simply willing to give startups a chance.

iPhoneAppsIreland Dublin training course

From Vinny Coyne, loyal member of XCake, an announcement of his new iPhone Course:

Just a quick announcement that I will be teaching a beginners course in iPhone Development in Newlands Cross, Dublin from 21st to 25th September inclusive. We are also running a competition for two places in the course.

The course will be a healthy mix of theory and lab coding exercises. I’ll be going into the fundamentals of Objective-C and the iPhone SDK, as well as a peek at some of the more complex aspects of iPhone apps.

By the end of the course, candidates will be able to create their own iPhone apps which make the most of the platform’s features (such as location-based services, Google Maps integration, accelerometer functions, web-connectivity, etc) and sell them on the Apple App Store to millions of iPhone & iPod touch users.

Candidates should have experience with at least one object-oriented programming language before attending. Also, an Intel-based MacBook with the iPhone SDK installed will be required. MacBooks can also be rented for the week for an additional fee.

For more information, see iPhone Apps Ireland or download the PDF brochure here.

We’re also running a competition to give away two places at the course for two people currently unemployed.

Register ASAP before you miss your opportunity.

I’ve also been speaking to Vinny about the need for an iPhone course in Belfast. Who’s up for attending that?

SonySpeak about PSPMinis

Sony on Games Development for the PSP Mini

One of the first things we tried to do with our new approach is lower the barrier to entry by bringing down the kit prices to about 80 per cent.

The second thing we’ve done is take an approach on how people applied to be part of the PSP development program – it’s a very open approach, definitely, but there’s still a [selection] process because you do need a dev kit.

On that website, all developers really have to do is explain their game and their company and very quickly we give them accessibility to the platform. That includes access to technology sites before they even commit to buying a development kit, so they can spec what they want to do.
So, incentive-wise, this is more a case of Sony reducing the barriers to entry more than anything else.

Right now, we’re looking for a good portfolio of games. Unlike with the App Store, we’re looking to support everyone that develops for us, instead of leaving developers out in the wilderness. We’re not immediately interested in giving developers free access and no help.

There are dangers in having total open access; having six thousand applications where probably only thirty are discovered by the consumer. Some of the developers working on the App Store and PSP Minis tell us that they prefer our approach because they get more visibility.

So, this is about reducing the barriers. If you’re one of the chosen few. So you get increased visibility. Among others of the chosen few. Who get barriers reduced. And because of this we’re better than the AppStore.

I think you’ve been very clear, Mister Sony Man.

Where’s the innovative work in AR?

ProgrammerJoe (Joe Ludwig) writes:

My discouragement has less to do with Layar specifically than it does with the entire category of tricorder augmented reality. The view through the mobile phone and its camera is less useful than a top-down map would be for every piece of data I have seen so far. For my layer in particular, the rider is very likely to know where the stop is. In situations like that where location is unimportant, both the Reality View and Map View actually get in the way.

This experience has led me to two conclusions. First, augmented vision is pointless until head-mounted displays are available. I already felt that way, so now I am just more firm in my belief. Second, filtering data to a useful subset for display is actually the hard problem. Job listing sites, travel sites, Ecommerce sites, and review sites already knew this, which is why they spend so much effort on search. Turns out the problem is the same for mobile location-aware services.

The problem here is that we’re looking at a entire toybox and trying to figure out which game to play?

Some people are looking at markers, interpreting a video display and displaying mini-Darth Vaders or animated coloured cubes. Other people are drawing information from GPS, compass, accelerometer, comparing to built-in databases and overlaying graphics on them. There’s minimal consideration for user interface, for the appropriateness of content – there’s just the hype and the fear of being left behind. There’s too much focus on graphics on screen and, as a result, the use case is people being led around the streets by their phones without consideration of the arm strain, eye strain and the possibility of not noticing the quickly-approaching hatchback car as you cross a road.

At the moment, I’m disappointed that every AR press release is mee-too-ism. There’s a hype storm and the winds are buffering us even as we sleep. We’ve even seen the backlash from folk who are starting to realise that it’s not the panacea. AR is not a useful technology in itself – it becomes useful when you include context – whether that is time, location, heading or any of the data that input into the device.

There’s more to AR than cramming icons onto a tiny screen. Who wants to view the world through a 3.5″ screen anyway? It’s not even about icons on screen! Where’s the innovation in haptic and audio AR?

What market is next for ‘i’ treatment?

Does anyone remember what the mobile market was like before the iPhone?

Kontra, author of the counternotions blog does.

Remembrance of Things Past
So for a more reasoned perspective, let us take a breath and remember what the world was like before Apple introduced the iPhone:

  1. Carriers ruled the industry with an iron fist
  2. To access carriers’ networks handset makers capitulated everything
  3. Carriers dictated phone designs, features, apps, prices, marketing, advertising and branding
  4. Phones were reduced to cheap, disposable lures for carriers’ service contracts
  5. There was no revenue sharing between carriers and manufacturers
  6. There was no notion of phone networks becoming dumb pipes anytime soon
  7. Affordable, unlimited data plans as standard were unheard of
  8. A phone that would entice people to switch networks by the millions was a pipe dream
  9. Mobile devices were phones first and last, not usable handheld computers
  10. Even the smartest phones didn’t have seamless WiFi integration
  11. Without Visual Voice Mail, messages couldn’t be managed non-linearly
  12. There were no manufacturer owned and operated on-the-phone application stores as the sole source
  13. An on-the-phone store having 65,000 apps downloaded nearly 2 billion times was not on anyone’s radar screen
  14. Low-cost, high-volume app pricing strategy with a 70/30 split didn’t exist
  15. Robust one-click in-app transactions were unknown
  16. There was no efficient, large scale, consistent and lucrative mobile app market for developers large and small
  17. Buttons, keys, joysticks, sliders…anything but the screen was the focus of phones
  18. Phones didn’t come with huge 3.5″ touch screens
  19. Pervasive multitouch, gesture-based UI was science fiction
  20. Actually usable, multi-language, multitouch virtual keyboards on phones didn’t exist
  21. Integrated sensors like accelerometers and proximity detectors had no place in phones
  22. Phones could never compete in 3D/gaming with dedicated portable consoles
  23. iPod-class audio/video players on mobiles didn’t exist
  24. No phone had ever offered a desktop-like web browser experience
  25. Sophisticated SDKs and phones were strangers to each other

If you remember what the MP3 music and player market was like before iPod?

  • Dozens of models with awful interfaces (I had a Thomson Lyra)
  • Half a dozen lame ways of loading your music (I had a Thomson Lyra)
  • Slow slow slow loading of music over serial (I had a Thomson Lyra)
  • Tiny amounts of storage in tiny devices (I had a Thomson Lyra)
  • Large amounts of storage in big clunky devices (I ‘m looking at you Archos)
  • Cross encoding into proprietary music formats (I had a Thomson Lyra)
  • Battery life counted in minutes (I had a Thomson Lyra)
  • Shoddy plastics, serial ports (I had a Thomson Lyra)
  • Expensive subscription models for proprietary tat.
  • One device eligible for use with bought music (I had a Thomson Lyra)
  • Zero music portability (I had a Thomson Lyra)
  • And the list goes on. (Did I mention I had a Thomson Lyra)

So Apple revolutionised this market with the iPod, just as they have recently done the same with the mobile market. What market should they change next?

The Tablet market, no?

Code4Pizza: Crowdsourcing Translink

Bob Borchers, who I met back in March of this year (known to most as Mind Mannered iPhone Guy) speaks to Colin Gibbs of GigaOM about Mobile.

iphoneguy

Bob is now a partner at Opus Capital, an early-stage technology venture firm. Bob will also be speaking at Mobilize.

But the place I’m particularly interested in is the white spaces — those places between (technologies and industries). That’s where mobile has the potential to take its transformative abilities and implement some changes in long-existing industries or markets. Take health care, for example — in my view, and I think a number of other people’s views, mobile has an interesting role to play in that. Everybody agrees that they want health care delivered more affordably, but at the same or higher quality, and I think mobile has an opportunity to help drive some of those changes.

Also, I think infrastructure is interesting: What are the things the network operators can do to extend coverage, to make backhaul faster, to enable location awareness on networks?

It’s the vertical markets that make Mobile interesting. It’s seeing the ‘humble’ mobile phone being co-opted into new roles. First as a camera, then an email device, then an internet browser, now a games machine and in the future – access to healthcare, public services, education, democracy.

The limited size of these devices means moving as much ‘brains’ as we can into the ‘cloud’. The network operators are able to monitor where you are (using cell towers) so there’s really no need to have an app and GPS burning battery power constantly. With Push messaging and context on your phone there’s reduced need for multitasking as long as the server side is somewhat intelligent.

Tomorrow night we’re putting some of this into practise with a project I dreamed up last year: Code4Pizza.

Code4Pizza is really about directed work. The concept being that you take some developers, you give them a few unsolveable problems and you feed them. By the end of a single evening you should have part of a plan of where to go.

The first unsolveable problem is improving the way we receive information about public transport. In theory, public transport is a more sustainable way to travel. The problem is always going to be communication. There are lots of bits and pieces here but having lists of bus stops, by their longitude and latitude, would seem to be most useful. We have a lot of this data already and we’ve started recruiting people to fill in the blanks. Moving it into the mobile arena where it can be viewed on iPhone, Android, Symbian and indeed any platform with a decent web browser is the main goal. Come along and join us.

(The second unsolveable problem will be in developing a sustainable funding-management application for some local charities. We’re going to be working with the Camphill Community, NICVA and the Open Source Solutions Centre for this. Work to begin soon.)

The long term plan is to have somewhere for the Code4Pizza workers to work. The only requirement is to have something to work on and allow that work to be reviewed by chosen peers and mentors. And in return you’ll get a desk, you’ll get Internet access, you’ll get business mentoring training and you’ll get pizza.

Thinking different about AR

Gene Becker starts tearing into the current crop of AR Hypeware with a litany of design faults such as

  • Inaccuracy of position, direction, elevation
  • Line of sight
  • Lat/long is not how we experience the world
  • Simplistic, non-standard data formats
  • Public gesture & social ambiguity
  • Ergonomics
  • Small screen visual clutter

These are going to plague AR apps though many of the issues are relevant to any mobile application. We have additional limits not mentioned such as in the difference between online storage (which is theoretically unlimited yet static) as opposed to online storage (which is even larger and even dynamic to the point of interactive but subject to signal drop out and bandwidth issues which limit the utility).

I’ve thought about some of these issues – Line of Sight being one specific issue and my resolution was using the OpenStreetMap vector data as an opaque underlay (as opposed to the AR overlay) on an AR camera view in an attempt to obscure some items which should not be seen in line of sight. It’s a hack, it’s a cludge, it’s yet another layer to manage but it might just work.

The Ergonomics and Gesture/Social Ambiguity arguments are going to depend where the AR use it but suffice to say that there’s a lot of work for Mobile apps to use AR ‘vision’ at the moment and not enough work in ‘AR audio’ and ‘AR haptics’. These are going to make it very possible for better AR experiences that do not require holding your phone at an awkward angle. These also, coincidentally, solve some of the issues with small screen clutter – something that has already been solved in both iPhone apps (where we can see examples of excellence as well as the polar opposite) and, ironically, in another Apple device which doesn’t have a screen.

The data formats issue will become moot at some point as we see standards arising not only from platforms gaining prominence not only in the AR space but also in all Location-Aware applications and the Open Data formats which are being pursued by forward-thinking governments.

The problem is that it’s an exciting time. It’s not dissimilar to the web but at least everyone was on a single protocol base there. We all used IP, we all used HTTP and HTML.

Where do we go from there with AR? Where are the published datasources which any AR browser can hook into? At the moment we will have a proliferation of different platforms, companies wanting to have plugins for their platform developed for every service. This is the wrong way to go.

global conversations

Graham Linehan writes:

We are sharing links to thought-provoking articles, we are making each other laugh, we are keeping each other up to speed on current events…we are communicating with each other on a platform that encourages good manners, that rewards us when we’re interesting and lightly smacks our hand when we’re not. For the first time in history, the human race is having a global conversation, and despite all our differences, we actually seem to be getting on quite well.

Public Twitter fights notwithstanding, this is the beauty of Twitter. I see Twitter beating the broadcast news by hours and the newspapers by days. I see people of all ages talking in a public manner and without much needing for policing – it’s the first time I’ve seen this kind of conversation without it seeming seedy and ‘chatroom-like’. Some people don’t get it and liken it to a chatroom but that just shows they’ve never engaged with it.

It’s not about reading how your favourite singer is “making a cup of tea” or how your favourite cycling athlete is “going out for a ride”. It’s more about finding who within your network – both geographical and social is doing something exciting, who’s holding an event, who’s baking cupcakes, who’s wanting to talk tech, or beauty or creativity or whatever.