Tuesday, May 31, 2011
By Harsha Bagur
The hottest news item doing the rounds for the past couple of weeks has been the acquisition of Skype by Microsoft. There have been quite a few suitors and after a lot of speculations, Skype has finally a new home in Microsoft.
Most of the concerns raised by the users about this acquisition have been about what Microsoft is going to do with Skype in future. Skype has, for long, embodied the ethos of the free communication by allowing free voice and video calls, which has benefitted quite a few small-medium sized business setups as well. The future of Skype at the hands of Microsoft is indeed a story worth following over the next few months to come. Another concern has been the multi-platform support of Skype in the coming days to come. Skype has for long been providing regular updates for the Windows, MAC and the Linux platforms. Windows has been the preferred platform to receive the latest updates which would then be provide to the MAC and the Linux platforms. It would be interesting to see whether we would see as active a support as we were used to for the MAC and Linux platforms in the days to come.
Google has been one of the suitors vying for Skype even though it already had Google voice. Facebook was also one of the suitors but was not considered as a serious buyer. Facebook would have indeed benefitted with an integrated Voice and Video service to its more than 600 million users. A conventional approach to provide such an integrated service to such an overwhelming number of users would have incurred a huge cost and an overhead of operating infrastructure.
Microsoft has its own reasons in aggressively pursuing Skype. Starting from the Gingerbread versions of Android, Google has been supporting SIP enabled Voice and Video telephony and moreover, Google has Google Voice at its disposal which can be brought over to the Mobile OS space as well. Apple has Facetime. Microsoft desperately wanted Skype to bridge this gap in its Mobile OS Windows Phone 7. We could also see Microsoft going the Android way and announcing a minimum set of hardware specifications for the Windows Phone 7 devices. We could see the front facing cameras becoming a norm in the coming future for the Smart phones. Windows Phone 7 does definitely seem to hold the potential of pole vaulting the MS mobile OS towards the top of the heap and this deal will definitely give a firm push towards that direction.
Skype deal will also give Microsoft a more direct tie-in to the operator for both the Packet switched voice and video calls. There were early indications already last year with the operators approaching Skype for the Voice calls and we could see more of such deals with the widespread adoption of LTE in the coming future. This would definitely be a revenue generator as well as value add services for both the company as well as the operator. There can also be a flip side with Microsoft beginning to eliminate support for the other mobile platforms and target the future features and value-add services exclusively only for the Windows Phone platform.
Nevertheless, the future of Skype with Microsoft is worth following!
Thursday, May 26, 2011
By Krishna Kumar
Eight of the world’s top 10 most innovative companies of 2011 are in the ICT domain, reports a US based magazine Fast Company. Not surprisingly, all of these are product companies. While India is the largest exporter of ICT services, generating revenue of $76 billion from the IT sector, but products contribute to less than 2%. India’s contribution to technology innovation is negligible.The product companies witness non-linear growth (not proportionate to the head count)—the revenue per employee or profit per employee of Google or Microsoft is over 20 times that of India’s top services companies. Also, these technology giants serve as a beacon and are the undisputed trendsetters on the world technology road map.
Chinese companies such as Huawei and ZTE are the world’s leading telecom equipment providers. A report states that 45 of the world’s top 50 telecom companies use Huawei products. What more recognition is needed? These companies have full backing from the Chinese government and the government also supports R&D initiatives—for example, the TD-SCDMA technology that competes with the global wireless 3G standards. Is there an Indian company that can compete with Huawei/ZTE? India has lagged behind China and Taiwan in the capital-intensive electronics hardware manufacturing industry also. But the recent policy push from the department of IT to encourage semiconductor wafer fabrication, electronics and telecom product manufacturing is a welcome move. Also, Trai recently made a recommendation for promoting domestic manufacturing of telecom products.
The loss-making PSU Indian Telephone Industries, once the flagship telecom switch and telephone maker in the country, failed miserably during the telecom boom due to lack of vision from the government. But the case is different with ISRO, whose success could be attributed to the autonomy it enjoys. Another example of a tech-savvy initiative is the UID programme Aadhar, which, though far from fully implemented, has proved that India can implement large-scale technological projects.
Although the domestic demand for IT products is increasing, most Indian product companies are yet to penetrate the market. The only exception is the banking software industry where India has emerged as a leader in core banking solutions offered by Infosys and Oracle-India. Yet Infosys’s products business generates only about 5% of the overall revenue. In general, Indian companies are risk averse and prefer to enjoy the safety of services business, hence have not been able to succeed in creating product offerings.
But some Indian IT companies are successful in the outsourced product development (OPD) model, a pseudo ownership model, wherein the independent software vendors (ISVs) are involved in end-to-end product development for the customer but the ISV does not ‘own’ the product. Cloud computing can be a cost-effective and disruptive technology for further growth in OPD and pure-play product development companies. Nasscom indicates that delivery model innovations such as SaaS and innovative revenue models could fuel IT product adoption in future.
BERD (business expenditure on R&D) and patents/IP management are key indicators of a country’s technology innovation capability. An EU commission report on ICT 2011 indicates that India lags behind China and other emerging economies in terms of BERD/GDP. While China has seen a 10-fold increase in the number of patent applications over the past decade, India’s contribution is insignificant. Generating IPs and protecting them is just one part of the story. Realising value from the IP is a different ball game. Appropriateness of the solution is the key.
It must be said that Indian education system lacks an environment that fosters active partnerships between industry and universities. In the advanced countries, research in universities is given high priority and is supported by industry in the form of grants. As per the recent Anil Kakodkar Committee report, India lags way behind China in terms of university research in engineering and technology. The report also emphasises the need for improvement needed in research infrastructure. An OECD report indicates that India has less than one researcher per thousand employed, much below the global average.
Availability of risk capital is a key constraint for product companies to flourish but Nasscom sees an improving trend. Venture capital/angel investor ecosystem has improved significantly. There are 38 incubation centres across the country aimed at encouraging product development initiatives. India has seen 30% CAGR in start-ups over the past 10 years. The product market in India is expected to touch over $15 billion by 2015. The government’s plan to invest R25,000 crore for setting up semiconductor fabs will provide an impetus for hardware-oriented product development.
The government can play a key role in helping start-ups and other companies engaged in software or hardware product development. There are many examples of how government intervention has yielded good results. Tax benefits for software export revolutionised IT industry in India. Israel supported companies working on networking technologies that helped Israel take a leading position in security. Taiwan supported electronic hardware that resulted in the emergence of the original design manufacturer market.
India has been a ‘follower’ in the ICT space and its product development capability has been patchy. It needs to move towards full-fledged product development in order to be a dominant player in the ICT arena. India’s domestic market by itself will offer sizeable opportunities. However, for made-in-India to be a reality, it is imperative that the government aggressively drives a clear road map for technology innovation, encourages product initiatives, supports hardware and semiconductor industry and, most importantly, inculcates ‘product culture’ right at the universities.
Contributed by G Krishna Kumar, Director – Engineering, Teleca Software Solutions India. These are his personal views and published in Financial Express Thursday 26th.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
By Scott Muske
Yesterday's Mobile Northwest UI panel
At yesterday's Mobile Northwest conference I had the priviledge of presenting on a panel on UI/UX with experts from Frog Design, AT&T, UI Evolution, Blink Interactive and Zaaz. Combined, we touch most of the major brands and media companies deploying, building and researching mobile applictions today. Unlike many panels which meet on-stage or moments before the panel starts, we also had the opportunity to have dinner together the night before and really discuss our differing perspectives. Blink Interactive is purely research and Frog design does research and industrial as well as UI design so there was some additional information represented.
As expected, the press had an article up that afternoon quoting Frog Design and AT&T's conclusions that HTML5 "ain't all that". (Duh!!!) They seized on it because it had a big buzzword (HTML5) and it was uttered by two big names. Anyone who's worked with HTML5 knows this, yet the debate on HTML5 replacing applications rages on. I also find it humorous when customers ask me if we have "HTML5 experts." Um, did you ask web designers before if they had HTML3 "experts" or HTML4 "experts?". I think that Ted Woodburry of AT&T said it best when he said that "We'll look back and realize that HTML5 was a step and not a panacea."
There was a divided and healthy debate over whether tablets are "mobile devices". There was no consensus and my summary is that it depends on how you define a "mobile device". What I paid attention to but that most missed was that every company had its own reasons for saying a device was or was not "mobile". One of the more persistent, cross-panel ideas was that after Starbucks said that people will forget their wallet at home and not return to get it but will always return to get their mobile phone, others extrapolated that theme and said that one would not "lend" their phone to a family member or friend for several days but they would a tablet, which says that it's not a mobile device. Hmmmm... I'm not a big fan of trying to define everything into specific "buckets" unless you have a business or technical reason to do so. All of the panel's comments on the topic can be found Here:
I found Hans Gerwitz from Frog Design to be an exceptionally intelligent and insightful expert. When we were asked about "predictions," he made an interesting prediction that some major provider will fork Android (I had to replay that in my mind several times to make sure I heard him right and it made sense once he finished his thought) much in the way that IBM wrested control of Java from Sun and became the leading proponent and developer of Java. I made a more far reaching prediction. I am always perplexed at how technology companies shove technology down users' throats, when all they want is cool, easy and useful. I asked, "why do I, as a user have to know that I'm in an application, on the web or on my desktop? Why do I have to see windows spawn all over the place and "launch" applications?" I predicted that the OS will be a hybrid of "launchers". Users will, some day, be able to choose content, an address or a function or tool and the best experience will be presented to them for their device. No longer will a user have to "launch a browser" or "launch an application" and then go from there.
Some of the questions seemed non-UI related but definitely were. Should designers still consider feature phones, was one? Heck yeah!!!! Once we get out of our bubble and stop drinking our own Kool-Aide we have to realize that most of the world still uses feature phones and even here in the US, most people use feature phones. However, it depends on your target audience. Gilt Group and Blue Nile don't need to worry about feature phones. We also discussed the role that the "Cloud" will play in mobile. There were many insightful and technical analysis provided of the role cloud plays and Hans pointed out the "Cloud-Network". I pointed out that the "Cloud" has always existed and it's another example of marketing people trying to turn technical jargon or slang into a marketing term and it's yet another example of the perennial "Year's Most Over-Used, Over-Hyped Terms" that we'll be sick of next year. At the end of the day, what people care about with regards to the "Cloud" is the ability to get THEIR content and services anywhere, anytiime on any device.
As a panel, we were all in agreement that 3D, Augmented Reality and other new user experiences were coming and that there would be a market for them. However, the hardware is still not quite there and (more importantly) the system as a whole must be improved to make sure that all of the back-end components (the data, the feeds, the quantity of information) are up to speed with the device and application as it is the entire user experience and not just the device or application that determine success or irritation. More importantly, we (as designers) must take care not to shock our users and to "nudge" them into new experiences.
Unfortunately, we did not have time to reall dig deep into User Interface and so some that may have attended the panel looking for design ideas came away disappointed. Heck, initally I was hoping we'd dig into my recent design philosophy of using the "Z" axis and active screens to provide more information to users without sacraficing readability. However, in hindsight I think that this was a good thing. We in technology have a tendancy to focus on the small components. Designers will always come up with cool looking designs....but NEVER is that what makes an application successful. One must always consider the entire experience and that's what the panel focused on. Steve Jobs has a single rule, "If it requires an instruction manual, it's too complicated". Jobs and his disciples (like Guy Kawasaki) always preach simplicity and usefulness. They adhere to user paradigms and performance standards that make up an advanced, yet familiar and useful product. Analyze all of their business and complex, moving parts and you can boil Apple's success to that. Above all, successful UI and UX achieves those same goals.
Friday, May 13, 2011
Today is the second day of the 4th annual Google I/O developer event which opened with another fact filled keynote focusing on the progress of Chrome and HTML5.
With more than 100% YoY growth, new releases every 6 weeks, a user base exceeding 160M worldwide, 70M+ installed apps, Chrome Web store availability globally and in 41 languages the traction for Chrome is continuously increasing bringing the possibilities of HTML5 to a fastly growing community.
At Google I/O we experienced some impressive examples of the Chrome capabilities showcasing speech support, hardware acceleration support, high performance 2D Canvas rendering for sprites as well as high performance WebGL rendering and 3D CAD modeling capabilities using HTML5 based web applications.
It was nice to hear that application purchases are now a simple one click solution, but much more important for developers was the announcement that Google will only take a flat fee of 5% transaction cost for application purchases on the web. This was a key talking point outside the keynote and certainly seems be a move that resonates well with developers and lays down a marker to industry that Google is serious about Chrome.
However, there were more important things to announce – at least for the Angry Birds fans amongst us: Angry Birds is now available as a Web App!
Though it is not the game with the richest and most demanding graphical experience it shows nonetheless the new possibilities enabled with HTML5. The experience showcased was very smooth and I’m looking forward to trying out the Chrome specific levels soon…
That’s it about the Chrome browser and HTML5, but wasn’t there something else planned beyond the browser? Yes, there was and in fact the Chrome OS was the next big topic of the keynote. Finally the first commercial Chromebooks a ready to launch offering an web centric, instant on, automatically updated and all day battery life experience. It was nice to see what improvements were made in terms of file browser support, media player and web services but the big wow effect was missing. With the first Chromebooks from Acer and Samsung being priced in the range of $350-$450 there was not a real unique selling point presented that would motivate people to go with Chromebooks instead of a standard Netbook that are equally priced. Moreover the ability of Android to support Notebooks as depicted in the day one keynote leaves a big question mark on the Chrome OS future. Having said that I’m very keen to try them out and I hope that the actual hands-on experience will provide that spark of excitement.
Talking about Chrome OS I was surprised to see that Google will enter a new business area by offering an enterprise and educational use managed service for $28 and $20 per month and user respectively which covers hardware, software support and device replacement services. Google stated that their research indicated that up to 75% of existing enterprise users could be switched to Chromebooks without reducing their productivity. Given that more and more of the enterprise applications are cloud based and knowing about the still horrendous IT cost for enterprises this might turn into a successful business moving forward. In announcing this Google stated that the average PC support cost is $3,000-5,000 per year so this is clearly a very aggressive move and one that could for many companies provide significant cost savings.
Some interesting technical sessions also took place after the keynote covering the comparison of HTML5 and native applications, game development, Android for enterprise use, updates on Android market, … But as one might expect, no further groundbreaking news were presented in these – though I’m still a bit disappointed that I did not know about the game development session after which every participant got a Xperia Play for free. Better luck next time ;-)
Overall Google I/O was again a great conference to be at and when I’m looking back it is incredible to see what happened in the last 2 years – the evolution of HTML5, the global success of Android and its shiny future, new Google services like movie and music and many more make this an very exciting journey to be part of. Will be back in 2012….
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
By Andrew Till
Yesterday was the first day of the 4th annual Google I/O developer event and what a day it was. Google opened the event with a fact filled keynote showing the progress of Android such as:
· 36 OEMs
· 312 device models
· 100M devices activated
· 200,000 apps now available
· 4.5 b apps downloads
· 500m apps downloaded per month
· 112 countries shipping Android devices
And when they had let us pause for breath they hit us with news of the new upcoming releases. The first was the announcement of Honeycomb 3.1 which will be shipping in a few weeks time and includes a number of much sought after features such as a more advanced task switcher, USB Host support so that you will be able to connect standard USB peripherals to you Android device, Scalable widgets and support for GoogleTV (2.0) with a free upgrade for existing Google TV subscribers. And just to be clear Google also confirmed that Honeycomb will not be open sourced but this is not standard policy for future releases.
Following this was the formal announcement of IceCream Sandwich (ICS) which included, to loud applause, the unveiling of a new logo and confirmation of key features such as new apps framework APIs, significant improvements to the video and camera functionality including face tracking and speaker recognition for video conferencing. But perhaps the most significant announcement was that ICS will be used as the single OS and UI platform for all Android device form factors moving forwards.
This was followed up by two key service announcements the availability of Google Movies for Movie Rentals and Music Beta. Both are full cloud based solutions and underline the importance of the GMS services as a platform differentiator for Android. With a similar announcement expected from Apple on cloud based Music services in June Google was clearly laying down a marker that it fully intends to take on Apple and iOS head to head (which was also clear from much of the artwork used in the keynote).
While much of the above had been expected the next announcement was much more of a surprise. This was the news that ICS will support a new set of APIs for supporting HW accessories what can be controlled by your Android device or can interact intelligently with your Android device. Thus this brings in to the Android community a whole new development community that is much more familiar with building HW than SW. Google is also providing an open source reference HW design for developers and for those of us who went to the breakout sessions we were able to get our hands on the first version. Full Android source and firmware for the reference HW will be made available from Android.accessories.com from today.
Google demonstrated a couple of interesting use cases the first being intelligent control of the home lighting system while playing a game to really enhance the mood and the second being a smart exercise bike that when you connect your Android phone was able to control a game on the phone (the speed of the rider controlled the higher of a character in the game). This is certainly an exciting development especially when combined with the USB Host support and will open up a lot of new use cases and vertical markets to the benefit of Android. It also has the potential to position Google strong in the home and work environments in a much broader way with your device able to fully interact with its surroundings.
Of course there were then many more updates and announcements in the break out groups but for the ask of brevity I will focus on just one here NFC. NFC was pushed as a key enabling technology that further builds on theme of interacting with your surrounds (via NFC tags) as well as enabling new consumer use cases around content sharing. Of particular focus was using NFC to set up Bluetooth connectivity between devices by just touching them together and thus removing the need for complex BT pairing sessions. Google also disclosed that ICS will focus strongly on leveraging NFC to deliver Zero Click sharing of contact information, URLs and Youtube/web videos with some very nice features such as call back support (so when you share a web video you can also share the play point) and ground dispatch to enable an application to capture all incoming NFC tags.
And perhaps the most important question that was answered during the day was “will Google still provide us with great giveaways” which was the source of much debate before the show opened. The simple answer is YES and I think Samsung for my pre-release Galaxy Tab 10.1 and am eagerly looking forward to the 3.1 upgrade due in a couple of weeks.
That’s all for day one. Come back tomorrow for another update.