Separated at Birth: Matt Marshall and Brains from Thunderbirds

The sixth in an intermittent series of dopplegangers. Friends, the famous and more.

With the Venture Beat Mobile Beat conference kicking off in San Francisco today, this is a timely day to announce that Matt Marshall (Founder of Venture Beat) is very obviously directly related to Brains from Thunderbirds.

Separated at Birth:  Matt Marshall (Left) and Brains, Chief Scientists at Thunderbirds (Right)

For those who don’t know either of these people, Matt Marshall  is a scientific genius, employed by International Rescue as their engineer. He also constructed a chess-playing robot called Braman.

“Brains” founded Venture Beat in 2006 and has been described by the New York Times as one of the “top technology blogs” . In March 2009, VentureBeat signed a partnership agreement with IDG to produce DEMO” a conference for launching emerging technology products.

More silly separated at birth posts here>

Separated at Birth: Robert Di Nero and Eric Van Der Kleij

The fifth in a very intermittent series of dopplegangers. Friends, the famous and more.  This episode features the somewhat beleaguered Tech City CEO Eric Van Der Kleij and his estranged brother, Robert Di Nero.

While Eric’s brother Robert has taken Hollywood by storm, Eric has been helping build Silicon Valley 2 in the heart to London’s East End.

Not everyone has been a supporter of his strategy as the head of the government’s Tech City program, but Eric knows a thing or two about a thing or two, so perhaps he should take a leaf out of his brothers -characters- book and tell people to “..just shut your goddamn pie-hole.”

Eric Di Nero and Robert Van Di Kliej

Separated at Birth:  Eric Van Der Kleij (left) and Rober Di Nero (right)

Would certainly make interviews and start-up meetings a little more intense.

Eric was recently quoted as saying “There is a certain combination of anarchy and discipline in the way I work.”  Oh wait, or was that Robert?

More silly separated at birth posts here>

Apple and iOS will not become a smartphone monopoly

I just read this article on Techcrunch about why -allegedly- iOS will dominate the burgeoning smartphone O/S market.

It won’t.

As I said in the comments, I can’t agree with this analysis of the market.

Even from an instinctive point of view, without referring to the market numbers, it is highly unlikely that a high end desirable brand like Apple will become the dominant player in the mobile space. I’m unconvinced they even want to.

Apple will continue to have a disproportionate impact on the direction of the market and likely remain the fanboy and girl object of desire and admiration for the foreseeable future, but do not mix this up with the realities of the wider market.

In addition, Apple remains a more desirable piece of kit for laptops and desktop use with PC’s, but has never been dominant – the arguably inferior Windows O/S has.

Once you do look at the numbers, the likelihood of Apple and it’s iPhone O/S taking an equivalent position to Windows monopoly on desktop, seems even less realistic. Firstly most of the growth in mobile subscribers over the next 3 years will be in developing countries. Second, the bulk of the upgrades from feature to smartphone of western users, will now come from the un-tech savvy. They will believe what the shop sales person says, or just pick the brand of phone they are used to and had before. iPhones will even be out of the reach cost-wise of many Western users, on lower incomes.

Apple is vastly profitable, it does not need to own the entire market and were it to try to it would likely not be the most profitable of operations that it is.

In addition, open ecosystems are more likely to dominate and the Android O/S is free to install. This is without even discussing RIM’s new O/S, or Samsungs Bada (Samsung is the worlds biggest manufacturer of phones).

With only 30-40% of the US and UK population having a smartphone, there is a huge amount of growth to come – but with 3-4 times the number of phone subscribers due to have smartphones, than there are current internet users globally, it is extremely improbable that the phone O/S war will even be just a two horse race, in the next 3 years, or even 5, IMHO.

More reading? I wrote about Android versus Apple some time ago here:

Nokia: “Yuk, my grandma has one” or why chasing pure profit is bad for your brand

When a 6 year old reacts to your brand by saying “old Nokia, that’s bad [as a choice of phone]” you should know you’re in a lot of trouble.

I believe in Capitalism

I believe in Capitalism mainly because at a simple level, it prevents a lot of wars (you can’t fight people you want to sell to and make money from).  That’s a good a good thing of course; but many parts of entirely unrestrained capitalism are bad.

By un-restrained I mean profit generation devoid of other considerations: social impact, ecological, moral (etc) and the obsessive chasing of that profit.

What’s this have to do with a mobile phone brand which is perceived as irrelevant by children?

Slavery to the stock market (or your shareholders) via quarterly reports builds companies which do not perform as well as they could. This short termism, is actually the opposite trait needed by a business which wants to become a dominant global player or a brand loved – ultimately irrationally – by it’s customers. A lovemark.

Failure to see inevitable changes on the horizon (even by previously innovative brands) seems to be rife in the corporate world. The mobile and technology industry is no exception.

Blinkered In The Boardroom

I believe much of this stems from the board room, where quarterly figures – and bonuses for those C-level staff – usually get top priority. Why else would once innovating start-ups become rigid behemoths?

Protecting the share price is the remit of a traditional corporate CEO, no responding instead to the market changes and customer’s demands (and I mean the customer who is your market, not the stock market). Arguably, Nokia’s brand is failing for lack of responding to customer’s wants and needs.

Long before the iPhone was released, the Nokia N95 promised a revolution; but was too slow, too hard to use and without interesting applications. It was an evolution of every previous model, not a revolution.

Revolutions are not popular with shareholders, because revolutions create uncertainty. We all know you can’t have innovation without risk taking, an element of uncertainty and a healthy dose of revolution to create the next big thing.

Yet even today, Nokia still remains with it’s head in the sand – delusional even – about the realities in the market place. The new CEO preaches to the stock market, desperately trying to halt a further share price fall, instead of taking the drastic steps required to revolutionise the business.

When a child of 6 is saying:

“Quite old, 90 or something” or “My grandma has one”

and when 20-somethings are saying:

“It was cool when I was 14” or “it used to be good”

..that is who you should be listening to, not the stock market.

Children on the BBC's "Secrets of Superbrands" being asked what phones (thus brands) they think are good. Click to find this on BBC's iPlayer.

In fact, screw the stock market. An obvious and understandable course of action is the last thing you need to be doing. Unless shareholders are panicking about your change of course, you’re probably not doing enough to have any hope of getting your company back in the game, let alone leading it.

Other brands also struggle to escape their corporate stagnation.

Asked on the BBC’s recent Secrets of Superbrands documentary “if Microsoft were a person who would they be?” a 20-something replied:

“They would be old”

Another said

“Microsoft is like someone who has been divorced recently; settled down and is dull; but then is thrust out into the world after their divorce and has to pretend to be young again”

As the program suggests, they’ve even had to hide their brand from some, asked “Who makes Xbox”? the response from Xbox owners was “errr, dunno”. Presumably this is also why Microsoft created “Bing” and not “Microsoft Search”.

A fallorn looking Bill Gates during the 90's monopoly hearings. He's now long gone as CEO, instead doing great things for the world with his Foundation; but has Microsoft got the right stuff to be relevant in 20 years? Shareholders today probably don't care.

You Can Run But You Can’t Hide

I believe that running away from the inevitable will simply persist an enevitable decline. You need to fight it head-on . Microsoft should have called it “Microsoft Search” and then focused efforts on changing the entire core brand perception – instead of diluting efforts into a new brand Bing which won’t feed into the street-cred of other parts of the same company.

Sony was described as a “Middle class” person … “like all the other bank workers” or  “a reliable elder statesman”. Probably not the vision of a cutting-edge technology brand they’d prefer.

The reasons for these brand perceptions are complex and multiple; but business is driven from the top – by the CEO. The leader. The board.

They are the ones responsible for authorising and enabling radical change or at least, aggressive evolution.

Perhaps that is why Apple, was described as

“the type of person who invites you to their birthday party, but they you have to do exactly what they want to do all evening”.

Personality is important for leadership and for the brand. In Apple’s case, that’s Steve Jobs.

Steve Jobs's Apple was compared to a religion. It does, however, seem to be led by someone who believes in giving customers what they want, not what the stock market expects or demands

Listening to the stock market on a monthly – if not daily – basis might mean the CEO get’s his yearly bonus and makes the company look wonderfully successful short term …but only right up until it falls over a cliff into free-fall decline.

Groupon (allegedly “the fastest growing company in history”) is a great example of the fallacy of the markets, ropey reported earnings and the smoke and mirrors of financial reporting.

SME’s are not allowed to get away with such accounting hijinx, it seems so wrong that the corporates are – and everyone goes along with it (the Morgan Stanleys, the Goldman Sachs’s) because they have a vested interest. It’s all a big game for the major stakeholders and those taking these giants to IPO.

I wrote a post recently on where Groupon might be headed in the future; but if @DHH’s Groupon post is accurate then they may have to get there quicker than one assumes.

The stellar share price of Google and Apple are at least, on the whole, based on genuine risk taking, a real business model and a radical approach to solving problems and creating innovation.

In order to maintain their position, they’ll need to continue to look to their customers, not to the stock market or their short term share price, in order to maintain that success.

Perhaps Larry and Sergey recognised that, which is why Eric is no longer CEO.

How To Avoid: Yuk My Grandma Has One

Whatever your company size, don’t try and please your angel investors, your shareholders, your board members or your VC backers.

Please your customers alone and do what you think your customers will want. They are your real shareholders.

Apples Latest Patent Proves the US Patent Law Is Farcical

Apples most recent patent revolves around a new Fitnessapplication. That’s fair enough, were it to contain anything remotely new, innovative or unique.

Looking at it the patent includes: (courteous of econsultancy)

  • Introduces a potential customer to a local fitness center via a “free pass.”
  • Incentivises a potential customer to sign up for the fitness center using “membership promotion[s] and an affiliate offer[s].”
  • Transmits “news, updates, daily promotions, and daily activities” to members and prospective members.
  • Recommends workout buddies based on social network profiles and user-supplied criteria.
  • Upsells personal training sessions.
  • Tracks workout goals and accomplishments.
  • Provides notifications, content and commercial promotions designed to encourage members to “re-energize” and return to the fitness center

Wikipedia describes a patent as:

“a patent application must include one or more claims defining the invention which must be new, non-obvious, and useful or industrially applicable”.

European patent law in contrast neither condones nor executes most business process related “patents”. This on the whole is a good thing, for all the reasons the US patent system is proving a bad one by allowing them.

Wikipedia again: “In many countries, certain subject areas are excluded from patents, such as business methods, treatment of the human body and mental acts”

I in my time of course, have joined the fray of patent applicants. As Founder of Rummble in 2006/7 I applied for a patent around the implementation of a personalisation algorithm based on trust network technology. This is at least partially a “process” but it does contain a unique mechanic and way of executing the processing in the way the mechanism has been coded.

Another Language

Anyone who has read a patent document application after a Patent Lawyer has got their hands on it, will know that it’s a language far removed from the English you and I speak, or indeed write. In anycase, my expertise at describing patents in the appropriate legal manner, is virtually zero.

The patent system in the USA seems to favour those, as so often in legal situations, with all the money and resources to both file and subsequently defend the patents – all the time keeping the well greased wheels of the lawyer industry turning. It’s the biggest weeze out.

Courteous of CartoonStock.com -click to visit the site

Patents are after all, only worth whatever you can afford to defend them with. You might have a legitimate patent, but unless you can afford to defend it (and actively do so) then it will lapse and you will lose protection – neither will the company or person infringing your patent be liable.

As a start-up then, or an SME, to patent or not to patent? Well in my experience at the very minimum it will cost you £20,000 ($35,000) by the time you’re done with amends, resubmissions and the like; although getting the ball rolling of course, costs perhaps only 20% of that.

Some US patent lawyers might even be persuaded to take equity in your company, or delayed remuneration if you can convince them of the sanctity and quality of your product or service – but in my experience these lawyers are few and far between.

The point is, Apples patent is ludicrous – if it’s granted I shall eat my hat. I guess I might aswell start hat shopping today…

P.S. ..and if you don’t believe me, a renowned US Patent Lawyer who would rather remain nameless, read this post and said “I can’t disagree with a word of it…”. Bowler or Trilby?

STOP PRESS

19th of Setpember 2011

So since I wrote this article, new laws have come into force in the USA, or rather a change to existing patent law. The details of the changes to the US Patent system are outlined here and a good case is put by Chris Dixon -a founder of a start-up working on topics close to my heart- on his blog as to why the US patent law changes are worse for start-ups.

Separated at Birth: Jony Ive and Jason Statham

The fourth in a very intermittent series of dopplegangers. Friends, the famous and more..

With murmours of the beginning of a slow implosion at Apple, I can now reveal the hidden past of Jony Ive, Apples senior vice president of industrial design. Those in the know say the real reason the Brit is considering a move back to the UK is not any disagreement with the Apple board, but to escape the ongoing rampages of his blood twin Jason Statham.

Mr Statham is still furious that, thanks to a mix up in the antenatal ward all those years ago, Jony ended up with the name destined for Hollywood-lights, leaving the kick boxing film star as half leader half landing stage.

Separated at Birth: Jason Stratham, Film Star (left) and Jony Ive, SVP design Apple (right)

 

More silly separated at birth posts here>

MacBook Pro: First 3 Days After Windows 7

So I finally switched. Having had my Thinkpad x300 stolen on my 13th trip to Barcelona (at Mobile World Congress) then slumming it with a Netbook after the replacement Asus 3810T which I bought had a hard disk crash, I’ve defected to a shiny new Apple Mac Book Pro 2.66ghz 13inch dual core.

I’ve dabbled with Apple before, as early as a G4 desktop; but it as never been “quite right”. The upside never seemed up enough. I like the fact I can get into Microsoft Windows and configure everything and the glossy shininess of Apple has never been a primary reason for me to switch.

I want power, practicability and need everything to plug into to everything else. I use a Blackberry, but also an Android phone. I want my email and contacts synced, I use a plethora of apps and dont want to be “forced” to do things Apple’s way.

So in short, if you’re trying to decide, how has it gone for me? Well, thank god for Parallels Desktop (or you can use VMWare Fusion) which allows me to run XP or Windows 7). There are still things I need (eg. Quickbooks Accounts) which I cant run on Mac. It is not perfect doing this, but it is about as close as you can expect, with Windows programs running alongside the Mac native programs.

The Keyboard

I LOVE IBM Thinkpad keyboards, and Lenovo have kept them the same since they bought the brand from IBM. The MacBook keyboard, despite resembling Scrabble pieces, is not as bad as I expected, although it is not perfect. The keys ARE too raised and far apart…but I guess I will have to get used to it.

Browsing

It is quick. There is no question. Browsing is faster. Even using Firefox in OSX.

Quirks and Erks

The other software I’m still getting in to. The docking bar and its strange combination of minimisation when you click X on a window but it still keeps the program running; the inconsistent loading/install routine for programs (with Thunderbird being completely weird) is still bugging me. (Thunderbird btw is COMPLETELY unstable and I’m having to defect to Apple Mac Mail which is annoying me, despite it being a fast and clean program.

Screen

The screen is great.

Battery Life

The battery is NOT as advertised; I’ll be lucky to get 5 hours. 11 hours is a myth.

In Summary

Once I tuck into some design work or video editing I’m sure I’ll like it more, but thus far, thanks to Apple Macs, frankly becoming more like Windows machines, in terms of running non-Apple specific hardware (like mice) and supporting more diverse software (Blackberry has finally released a sync program) it has not SO FAR been painful.

However, that is as much because most of my apps are now in the cloud, as much as anything else.

If you’re thinking of switching, ask yourself why. And depending on the answer then make the decision. I’m not yet an Apple-ite and unlikely to be; but the general stability and speed, thus far, is giving me relief. Now I just need to get my remaining software etc setup… wish me luck.

Quick reference stuff to know:

  • The Good
  • My Dropbox works great
  • Parallel Windows works as advertised for XP or W7
  • Firefox plugins work great in OSX
  • Fast
  • Great looking interface
  • Much greater support for software and plugins over last 2 years
  • Inbuilt DVD player with no drawer to break
  • Super smooth DVD/HD playback
  • MACs now work with most PC peripherals (I said most, not all)
  • The Bad
  • Thunderbird is unstable (for me anyway)
  • Skype notification sounds you have to click down through the menu options to turn each one off
  • Growl is a notifications tool loaded into the system which provides popups for Tweetdeck and others
  • Battery does not last 11 hours or even 8
  • No delete key (you have to use Function + backspace)
  • No hash key (you have to use ALT + 3)  ..i mean, wtf?
  • The keyboard – AGAIN; really it is quite annoying
  • Expensive compared to PCs of similar spec
  • MAC mail needs a plugin (!) to show three column view, not two column view (google for it)
  • No hibernate support by default (again you need a plugin, i mean seriously? the Sleep mode uses battery)
  • Edge of the MacBook Pro case slices against my lazy wrists
  • Most control keys are via CMD command key not control, which is uncomfortably close to the space bar and too central
  • Return / enter key is a tad too small

Paranoid iPhone

Let’s face it. Most panel debates at conferences are boring. So whenever I’m invited to sit on one, I try and speak more as if I’m down the pub to ensure I say what I really think.

Heroes of the Mobile Screen in London last week was no different and resulted with my confident declaration that “the West Coast is drunk on the iphone” seconds later being pinged around the Twittersphere.

In Hong Kong the mobile commentator (and pen of Communities Dominate Brands) Tom A Hinonen  wrote a hugely detailed blog post, agreeing. Closer to home atleast one well known tweeter declared “He’s right”. Always nice to get positive feedback!


Valley investors are equally intoxicated and certainly for the next 6-12 months, if you’re running a mobile internet start-up you’ll be judged on your iphone app even if that is not strategically your final destination.

Since early 2008 I’ve been making bets that Android will over take iPhone in handset numbers by end of 2010 and go on to become the dominate mobile platform of the wider Western world.

This multinational lime green invasion force is home grown from California’s Google, but even now Silicon Valley is very much still iPhone Valley. This particular manifestation of the bubble effect of the Bay area has been compounded by some historical baggage. Europe had (until the second coming) been leading the way in advances in mobile, from inter-country spectrum standards such as GSM, to SMS. So we have a more pragmatic view when it comes to smart phones and the fragmented graveyard of mobile operating systems.

iPhone might seem perfectly placed to maintain it’s early blitzkrieg advances on the mobile battlefield, but it’s missing some heavy artillery in functionality (multi-tasking) and as a lone backer of the unified iPhone army, gambles the mixed blessing of control, closed ecosystem and superior design against the disorganised firepower of open-source and an impressive array of allies from the ecosystem, including a 400 strong Motorola Engineer Android army.

Apple can always improve the functionality of course (and will) but choice and competition has rather a good track record against early innovators – even if those leading the charge had superior technology.

The Apple Mac was and still is very much second place in market share to the inconsistencies of PC hardware & Microsoft Windows. Those who remember DIP switches or Windows 3.0 drivers will remember just how painful “compatibility” used to be, yet Windows has still dominated since.

Phil Libin of the excellent Evernote sighted the iPod as proof Apple could dominate a market. No question, the iPod is the Walkman of its time, often copied rarely equalled, it has achieved ubiquity; but a music player is not a phone. It has one job: to play one music format. Furthermore, you can buy that music from any store. How successful would the iPod be if you could only play Apple AppStore music on it?

The very fact Google has managed to get the assorted faculty of Mobile Operators and Handset Manufacturers to work with them at such speed gives you an idea of just how seriously they take the iPhone threat. Giants have been awakened.

Furthermore the wildcard of Microsoft, which has thus far entirely failed to respond appropriately to the inevitable future of mobile, replacing desktops and laptops within a handful of years, may yet awaken and surprise us all … or as it did with the Internet, the web and search, it may do too little, too late once again. I’d argue in fact, it is already too late, at least for any chance of dominating the first decade of real, usable, mobile internet device.

iPhone no question provided the first unasaleable proof that if you give users a mobile internet device which is easy to use with flat rate data, they will embrace it like a their lost child.

But the ubiquitous platform in years to come will not be minimalist white and black and named after a fruit, it will be a Picasso Michelin-man with gangrene. You read it here first :-)

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