Microsoft Surface Retail strategy in Australia is broken.

If you walk into a retail store such as Harvey Norman, Dick Smith or JB HIFI in Australia with the sole intent on buying a Microsoft Surface then you will be probably shocked to learn that it is likely to be buried amongst the “laptop meets tablet” mutations.

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The Surface Tablet is hidden amongst an array of competing brands that are usually higher in price whilst being presented as a “laptop” in its initial resting “display” setting. Is there an attempt to highlight its form factor? No and more to the point there is absolutely no attempt to profile the branding of “Microsoft Surface” other than a strange font, which is 10%, compared to the price tag that is clearly the most important focal point.

To me the entire Microsoft Surface marketing campaign in Australia seems to be a broken situation whereby it appears Microsoft Australia are clearly metric / goaled around “impressions” and less about “conversions”. I say that as if the two metrics were linked then getting people into the “stores” would be 30% of the battle as once they are in, soliciting the potential consumers into a purchase would be where the real energy needed to be spent.

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Today, in these same stores if you were to walk in and buy an Apple product you would immediately notice that they are separated from the horde of random brands but all accessories that are officially owned by Apple’s brand machine are also within reach. That is to say they are clearly spending a small sum of their retail channel delivery budget(s) on ensuring that resellers such as these brands are retaining the brand(s) needs (Meyer’s in Australia also acts as a conduit to Apple’s branding).

However, why should Microsoft spend on securing the Microsoft Surface segregation?

Microsoft should and needs to put pressure on retail chains like this to have Microsoft Surface separated from the horde for the following reasons.

  • Price pressure. Clearly, the other brands are opting for the Microsoft Surface Pro approach to tablet & Windows 8 bundling with a high “laptop-centric” price tag attached. That’s fine but in reality if Microsoft wants to invoke change in the OEM channels around price and industrial design then having the beacon of example (Surface) separated ensures that these guys have to compete harder to win hearts/minds more. If Microsoft can put pressure on price models with a “lead by example” model, they can in turn regain some much lost control over this entire cluster f***k of tablet/laptop sales pipeline.
  • Differentiation. Right now, the whole Surface RT in Australia is all you can buy so there is minimal confusion around what the brand “Microsoft Surface” represents. It is only after you introduce Microsoft Surface Pro into the mix that the confusion will start to fester, especially when retail chains like the one mentioned seemed to be preoccupied with price. Having a clear definitive marquee / in-store controlled visualizations of the matrix would help clear up potential buyer’s remorse going forward.Furthermore it would again encourage put pressure on other OEM providers to consider the RT route but I highly doubt that will occur given the current failings of RT today (perception and execution wise).

In Summary, the question in the room still remains unanswered, why did Microsoft enter the tablet space as a hardware provider & not just software. I have read and heard multiple accounts as to why, to which me distills down into simply the “lead by example” formula.

If Microsoft wishes to lead by example then they need to in my opinion work harder to continue to put pressure on hardware brands like Dell, HP, ASUS, and Samsung etc. in a way that forces the consumer to start to consider an actual comparison between the brands and Microsoft’s “best of breed”.

In doing this they would also start to build some muscle & discipline in helping hardware companies focus more on the industrial design of the said device(s) as opposed to just re-using patterns they have formed whilst making Laptops (i.e. look at Android’s screen resolution issues to date and avoid that from spilling over into Windows).

Simply put, I think the overall marketing / delivery service that’s in play today puts strong indicators around the fact that not only is Microsoft lacking hardware leadership they are really living and likely to die by their previous Zune strategies (Good idea, just badly executed).

 

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Apple gets complaints about consistent incremental growth in their product(s).

Just like in the lion king, out come the Apple execs holding their new king high in the air as if the “circle of life” sound track is about to be played – yet again – hail the new Mac Book Pro and its retina display for it is the answer to a question nobody asked!

Apple Kool-Aid aside, something struck me today about the staying power of a Apple as a brand and it had little to do with the a-typical Steve Jobs circle jerk “he’s the technical second coming of jesus” rants.

Today, we cast our eyes to the big fruit in the RSS filled sky and we have two choices before us. We can either praise and high five Apple for all its brilliance and might – or – we can boo, hiss and denounce it as the new entity within the technology axis of evil for yet another lack luster development in product planning.

To me though something struck me as a stand out thought amongst many in my coffee overdosed bipolar mind. Today we are afforded the luxury of complaining about Apple and how dare they keep a consistent product roadmap that appears to be growing incrementally over the years. There’s no sudden abandonment or about face turn on product roadmaps, there is no product sitting in the portfolio suddenly gone really really quiet from a marketing standpoint to the point you almost would swear it never existed.

They have this nerve about staying fairly committed to their product vision and future and what really gets under my skin is how they keep improving on their designs.

An example comes to mind, the new Macbook Pro. All it has really is a tighter retina display that they borrowed from the R&D they clearly have put into the iPhone/iPad(s). What a cheap attempt at fooling me into buying their product – I’m outraged.

As you all know, I’m a Microsoft .NET developer & designer these days and to be openly frank about this, I don’t like it when a brand sticks to a commitment around their product line(s). I’m not used to it and I expect after 1-2 years the product has to be parked in the “old ideas” parking bay and I await now the new vision of what’s new coming up next.

The idea that you’re R&D can be re-used across all your platform(s) in a consistent and carefully designed manner that isn’t highly reactive to your competitor(s) is quite arrogant and clearly a dumb idea.

Microsoft will show Apple who’s boss, they’ll take the Windows 8 Tablet and ram it down the vegan fruit eating zen smoking hipsters throats. They’ll give them a lesson in how to confuse and alienate their customer(s) with inconsistent visions and platform resets that are a massive answer to a question that nobody asked.

Watch this space Apple as you’re about to be skooled on Windows 8 and yes there is no start button because that’s 25+ years of habitual usage that need not apply anymore – yeah they did it, they meant it and Sinofsky is here to represent it – Windows 8, no start, no finish just existence.

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Is AppStore bad for gaming business?

Today I was in the iPhone AppStore browsing the noise in hope of finding some signal, I found a game that caught my interest and then immediately went to the reviews to see if the author of the game can back up what they are selling.

I read the reviews and a few of them were pushing the notion that “save your 0.99c” agenda, and I for one was relieved – thankfully I did not waste that 99c I was saving.

That sobered me up, I thought to myself “I’m about to spend 99c on some bad coffee that I’ll unlikely finish while I wait for a meeting that I’ll no doubt move to a different spot for and buy yet another coffee”

The question I have is whether or not the concept of an AppStore is doing the market a positive or a negative in terms of how its conditioning us In making the purchase decisions.

How far have we come where went from spending $20-100 on games to now agonising over a $0.99c purchase and it appears the trending is pushing closer and closer to the $0.00 value.

Is this why we now are seeing games which are free-ware, you know the ones that haunt AppStore and Facebook. These are the games that get you addicted to their crack and slowly encourage you to spend $50 on diamonds to help increase your gameplay? ..give a little but not the entire farm and let the desperate/gullible micro pay their way to the abyss of content gratification.

Millions are being made on this, in fact the assumption we are often making now due to the various amounts of rumours around overnight millionaires occurring due to $2 micro purchases worldwide occurring. Its fair to say that when you do justify the $2 purchase you are silently telling yourself “Well, I’m only paying $2 but these guys are going to get millions because everyone else is paying and it all adds up”

We’ve switched from being a consumer and now have become their collective profit controller making assumptions and assertions round how much they should be allowed to make in total vs. letting the previous way of life which consisted of “Oh, they made money? Good for them” thinking.

I can’t but help wanting to ask more questions around this space, for instance – is this slowly killing the industry, or is it making it better? If word gets out that the gold rush in game development for devices is probably a false economy given its saturation levels are now encouraging mediocrity to dominate the way in which we gain enjoyment from games?

Is it me or is anyone else bored of Angry birds? Yet each season they continue to be the most prominent “this is how you’re supposed to make money and games” posturing.

I look at Minecraft itself and seeing how it was such a low price point to now being one of the biggest earners in the game industry and continue to grow, is that a good thing or a bad thing? Notch made a game that is now worth hundreds of millions of dollars and he didn’t have to pay Apple a cent or abide by the rinse/repeat formula of game development on devices.

Is there stillroom for another Minecraft? Fortresscraft on XBOX pretty much cut & pasted Minecrafts engine but whacked in a XBOX Avatar, charged a small amount and is now making millions.

Nothing creative happened, just lots of rinse and repeat formulas but the upside is these games are no longer expensive wastes of money; they are instead small micro payments – less of a sting in your buyer’s remorse.

Downside, as more and more of these games abuse the new market channels they in turn drive prices further and further down. Low prices mean that in order for truly exceptional games to stand out they first must meet the $2 or above threshold of quality bands. If they then succeed in that, they are then given a huge assumption of “well they earn $2 from millions of us so I’m not willing to pay $5 for it” thinking.

In 5 years, do you think a guy like Notch can get away with charging $15 for a game like Minecraft? Alternatively, do you think indie game developers are about to get a cold reality shock given the bubble may pop?

Will game studios like Valve have to keep lowering prices to the point where they just can’t justify the expensive pushing gaming envelopes further given the yield doesn’t’ add up to the costs it takes to create. If that were the case then they’d need to create 3-5 games that are money makers in order to build a war chest that funds the next killer gaming engine of choice.

Are game engine developers retreating to charging hefty prices for leasing their codebase thus reducing the mod / expansion on innovation from occurring? Why fight the war when you can build the bullets J

Now comes the next question, is Application development about to get worse or better given these market conditions today?

How I feel about buying apps

How I feel about buying apps

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Metro: Typography trumps chrome–debunked.

Metro, is fast becoming this unclear, messy craptuclar retardation of modern interface design. In that, the current execution out there is getting out of control resulting in what originally started out as a Microsofts plagiarized edition of Dieter Rams “Ten Principles of Good Design” into what we have before us today.

I am actually ok with that, as if I ever looked back on the first year of my designs in the 90s I’d cringe at the sight of lots of Alienskin Bevels, Glows and Fire plugin driven pixel vomit.

The part though I’m a little nervous about is how fast the microsoftees of the world have somehow collectively agreed that Text is in Chrome is out – like somehow science is wrong, that what we really need to do is get back to basics of ASCII inspired typography design(s) of yesteryear.

Typography is ok, in short bursts.

Spatial Visualization is the key description you need to Google a bit more around. Let me save you a little google confusion and explain what I mean.

Humans are not normal, to assume that inside HCI we are all equal in our IQ levels is dangerous, it is quite the opposite and to be fair the human mental conditions that we often suffer from are still quite an the infancy of medicine – we have so much more to learn about genetic deformation/mutations that are ongoing.

The reality is that most humans hail from a different approach to the way in which we decipher patterns within our day-to-day lives as we aren’t getting smarter we’re just getting faster at developing habitual comprehension of patterns that we often create.

Let us for example assume I snapped someone from the 1960’s, and I sat him or her in a room and handed them a mobile device. I then asked them “turn it on” and measured the reaction time to navigating the device itself to switching it on.

You would most likely find a lot of accidental learning, trial and error but eventually they’d figure it out and now that information is recorded into their brain for two reasons. Firstly, pressure does that to humans we record data when under duress that is surprisingly accurate (thus bank robbers often figure out that their disguises aren’t as affective as once thought) and secondly we discovered fire for the first time – an event gave it meaning “this futuristic device!!”

What is my point, firstly, the brain capacity has not increased our ability to think and react visually is what I’d argue is the primary driver for our ability to decode what’s in front of us.  (point in case the usage of H1 tag breaks up the indexation of comprehending of what I’ve written).

How so?

Research in the early 80’s found that we are more likely to detect misspelled words than we are correctly spelled words. The research goes on to suggest that the reason for this is that we obtain shape information about a word via peripheral vision initially (we later narrow in on the said word and make a decision on true/false after we’ve slowed the reading down to a fixated position).

It doesn’t stop there, by now you the reader have probably fixated on a few mistakes in my paragraph structure or word usage as you’ve read this, but yet you’ve still persisted in comprehending the information – despite the flaws.

What’s important about this packet of information is that it hints at what I’m stating, that a reliance on typography is great but for initial bursts of information only. Should the density of data in front of you increase, your ability to decode and decipherer (scan / proof read) becomes more of a case of balancing peripheral vision and fixated selection(s).

Your CPU is maxed out is my point.

AS I AM INFERRING, THE HUMAN BEING IS NOW JUGGLING THE BASICS IN AND AROUND GETTING SPATIAL QUEUES FROM BOTH TEXT, IMAGERY AND TASK MATCHING – ALL CRAMMED INSIDE A SMALL DEVICE. THE PROBLEM HOWEVER WONT STOP THERE, IT GOES ON INTO A MORE DEEPER CYCLE OF STUPIDITY.
INSIDE METRO THE BALANCE BETWEEN UPPER AND LOWER CASE FLUCTUATES THAT IS TO SEE AT TIMES IT WILL BE PURE UPPERCASE, MIXED OR LOWERCASE.

Did you also notice what I just did? I put all that text in Uppercase, and what research has also gone onto suggest is that when we go full-upper in our usage our reading speed decreases as more and more words are added. That is to say, now inside metro we use a mixed edition of both and somehow this is a good thing or bad thing?

Apple has over-influenced Microsoft.

I’m all for new design patterns in pixel balancing, I’m definitely still hanging in there on Metro but what really annoys me the most is that the entire concept isn’t really about breaking way based on scientific data centered in around the an average humans ability to react to computer interfaces.

It simply is a competitive reaction to Apple primarily, had Apple not existed I highly doubt we would not be having this kind of discussion and it would probably be full glyph/charms/icon visual thinking friendly environment(s).

Instead what we are probably doing is grabbing what appears to be a great interruption in design status quo and declaring it “more easier” but the reality kicks in fast when you go beyond the initial short burst of information or screen composition into denser territory – even Microsoft are hard pressed to come up with a Metro inspired edition of Office.

Metro Reality Check – Typography style.

The reality is the current execution of Metro on Windows Phone 7 isn’t built or ready for dense information and I would argue that the rationale that typography replaces chrome is merely a case of being the opposite of a typical iPhone like experience – users are more in love with the unique anti-pattern then they are with the reality of what is actually happening.

Using typography as your spatial visualization go to pattern of choice simply flies in the face of what we actually do know in the small packets of research we have on HCI.

Furthermore, if you think about it, the iPhone itself when It first came out was more of a mainstream interruption to the way in which we interpret UI via mobile device, icons for example took on more of candy experience and the chrome itself become themed.

It became almost as if Disney had designed the user interface as being their digital mobile theme park, yet here is the thing – it works (notice when Metro UI adds pictures to the background it seems to fit?…there’s a reason for that).

Chrome isn’t a bad thing, it taps into what we are hard wired to do in our ability to process information, we think visually (with the minority being the exclusion).

Egyptians, Asian(s) and Aboriginals wrote their history on walls/paper using visual glyphs/symbols not typography. That is an important principle to grapple onto the most; historically speaking we have always shown evidence to gravitate towards a pictorial view of the world and less around complexity in glyphs around pattern(s) (text) (that’s why Data Visualization works better than text based reports).

We ignore this basic principle because our technology environment has gotten more advanced but we do not have extra brainpower as human race, our genome has not mutate or evolved! We have just gotten better at collectively deciphering the patterns in and in turn have built up better habitual usage of these patterns.

Software today has a lot of bad UI out there, I mean terrible experiences, yet we are still able to use and navigate them.

Metro is mostly marketing / anti-compete than it is about being the righteous path to HCI design, never forget that part. Metros tagline as being “digitally authentic” is probably one of Deiter Rams principles being mutated and broken at the same time.

Good design is honest.
It does not make a product more innovative, powerful, or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.

Should point out, these ten principles are what have inspired Apple and other brands in the industrial design space. Food for thought.

Lastly one more thing, what if your audience was 40% Autistic/Dyslexic how would your UI react differently to the current designs you have before you.

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Just an old observation about Apple.

Over the past week I’ve been quite busy writing a Product Strategy for a mining consultancy who today has a very specific niche offering here in Australia. The company is for me personally a fun place to be in, despite the weirdness of working for the mining industry (if you’re going to innovative UX, trust me, mining companies have the investment and vision to allow it).

The reason I like this gig and the work that we do is we are essentially focused on a market or idea around what the mining industry should look like from a geological standpoint over the next x-years. Loads of data that need user experience driven solutions to help unravel it.

I won’t go into details about what specifically the above means (as with this company, I actually have an NDA this time 🙂 ), suffice to say we are focused and in the course of writing this strategy combined with the constant RSS feeds over the last 72hrs about Steve Jobs that it hit me what makes Apple such a powerful force today.

They are focused.

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Looking at Apple’s website, you see they are in a number of products but the more you look at each individual product and how they relate to one another it’s clear there is a coherent strategy in place. There is still a case of multiple threads flowing at once yet they are still interconnected at some point.

I look at the iPhone and then look at the Macbook’s on offer and one can sit back and easily assume that the iPhone is an extension of the Macbook that the idea is to get you into the iPhone ownership whilst then bait you into the desktop solution there after – it just works right?

Everything in Apple orbits the iPhone, its realistically today the center of all products that Apple produce’s gravity, it’s clear to me personally they are focused on a strategy – how well the retain custody of this vision or strategy with the passing of Steve Jobs is yet to be written, suffice to say they have one of the best foundations to build from.

I observe often just how focused Apple.com has become as a website, every line of text, every picture right down to the consistency in design seems to say “we have an idea, wouldn’t it be cool…”

To put it in perspective on the influence, I watched a colleague of mine – better to not name him – design Microsoft.com/web (which imho kills on all Microsoft.com sites). I watched him sit down and do everything in his power to avoid opening Apple.com and it’s not because he hates Apple or drinks the Microsoft kool aid, quite the opposite he’s at heart a pure designer – one of the best I know – he avoided opening it because he wanted to beat it because he appeared to want to put Microsoft’s best foot forward and not have a site like Apple overshadow it.

He had a lot of fools in his way, but he navigated the mess with class and kept a strategic focus on a simple principle – user experience first around the products he managed.

My point is this, Apple and Microsoft are opposite from one another, we all get that but if one thing about writing my 8th Product Strategy and living by the a sense of “focus on the user experience and work your way back” has taught me, that at times you just need the Bill Gates, Steve Jobs etc of this corporate focused discipline we call the software industry to just do what they do best and stop crowding them with bullshit and have a point or focus.

Microsoft, Adobe and even Google just seem to have this scatter shot approached to product strategy & marketing.

Personally, it’s quite frustrating to just watch given their huge amount of potential they have? We should have 10 Steve Jobs personas in our industry with the same level of UX focus for a brand? That’s what people are probably the most down about in his passing – who’s going to lead us now?

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Steve got the Job done.

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I’m not one to subscribe to celebs etc., but today Steve Jobs dying did leave me a pondering the power of how one person made such a huge impact.

I have heaps of positive / negative stories about Apple etc., but the one that stands out the most is the day the iPhone 3Gs was released in the US.

On that day, I was on Microsoft campus after working through the night on a project – cannot remember what the project was – and it was around 7am I decided to call it a day. I shut down my computer and remembered that this was the day Apple was going to release their new phone, I wanted one because I still had my Australian iPhone but figured I can wait until next month when all the madness dies down.

I got in my red 2010 mustang (loved that car), pulled out of Building 17 and drove towards my house in Sammamish only I figured I’d swing past the local Redmond AT&T store to see if there were any Apple nutters lining up as maybe because the store is so close to Microsoft campus there won’t be as many people queuing up (Microsoft internally was very weird around Apple hardware ownership as you can imagine).

I slowly drove down the main street towards the railway line and there it was a queue that ran all the way around the block and then some. Looking more closely I noticed a few familiar Microsoft faces and could see heaps of blue tagged swipe cards attached to peoples belts like some weird Texas ranger police badge.

I smiled, we compete daily with Apple but here inside the heartland of Microsoft there were staffers queued up like the rest of the stores around the US all keen to get their hands on the iPhone 3Gs.

I later heard a rumor that over 30,000 Microsoft staffers per day used iPhones to connect to their emails.

This phone came from the creation of many at Apple, Steve Jobs was their leader and maybe he was the ideas man but in the end it took teams of people to execute on those ideas. The man not only made an impact on my career and continues to do so, but I watched an entire company take deep collective breathes at nearly every WDDC, I watched internal mailing lists fire up and lots of internal debates around how “Apple are copying us” and “Steve Jobs is <insert negative/positive comments here>” and even today as I watch my wife struggle to force herself into an optimism bias fueled acceptance of the Windows Phone 7 she holds in her hands whilst staring at my iPhone4 with envy – you just can’t but help this was a moment in my lifetime that I probably won’t see in a hurry – the man died, can you believe that? Isn’t he some kind of immortal tech geek god personality?

Today, I own 3xMacbook Pros, 4x Apple TVs, 3x iPods, 4x iPhones, 2xiPad, 1x iMac and next week I’ll also own the iPhone 4S (aka iPhone 4 Steve). I buy these products because they inspire me creatively not through their unique designs but how others add to the design(s). I care less about the Mac culture and I spend a fortune on Apple daily to the point where it annoys the hell out of me at how expensive it is to be a customer of the brand.

Simply put, I find little to complain about and I agree with most of what Steve Jobs has done in the past and the way he’s set us up for the future.

I look at the iPhone Siri and just think to myself – that is really cool? Like if it can do as the ads say it can, this is going to be a game changer for business women/men worldwide. The camera looks amazing and that’s enough for me to drop $799 AUD next week.

Everyone else’s reaction was “meh”.

How far have we come today where there is a phone that has the potential to take on the role of Ironman JARVIS like intelligence that we turn and just throw down and have a technology tantrum?

Steve Jobs not only influenced me on an industrial design & interface level but I look at my 3D portfolio and often catch myself daydreaming about what it would be like to work at PIXAR – a company I’d often joke about “leaving my wife and kids to work for” with a friend of mine who used to play sport with my family every Saturday in Seattle who used to work for PIXAR.

I don’t subscribe to celebrity nonsense, but with this guy, I was hooked like a school girl watching a Justin Beiber concert.

Today, the myth of the man got bigger whilst the enemy of mediocrity got one leader shorter.

I hold Microsoft to high standard and will beat them up often over it and have a mixed result around success but I do so because of guys like Steve Jobs. The dude’s a fucking legend – enuf said.

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Windows 8, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and how Genius is non-transferable.

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I stumbled upon a blog post that I think should be titled – Genius is non-transferable. Nice up beat post about the influence of one Mr Steve Jobs and how his departure is affecting the future of Apple via a thought inspiring post.

This got me thinking about the day Bill Gates officially retired from Microsoft. I was on campus at the time and I remember everyone that I was near talked about this moment and there was a weird vibe around confidence levels. Most brushed his departure as the old guy has left the building, he didn’t do much anyway these days? Others who were more senior and seasoned didn’t follow this thread of thinking. Instead, they were more conservative and gave lofty responses like “we’ll see..” hinting that we as a company have only just began a journey of success vs. failure ahead.

Today, Amazon has setup shop right near Microsoft and recently the company lost or was expected to lose over 3,000+ staff to the ….online bookseller? storage in the cloud? company?. …Google, Facebook etc. have also setup shop just outside the borders of Redmond as well with I’m sure equal numbers of the 3,000 likely to occur as well.

How does the Amazon staff hiring blitz have anything to do with the topic at hand? Its simple for the first time in the history of Microsoft not only does the company have just as rich competitors today, but they also have their medium level competitors parked outside their village. This is a small but equally important issue as now not only is Microsoft HR departments on notice that they need to improve their metrics around success and fail but it also has a significant impact on the quality bands of their products (ie key staff leaving? Good or bad? Depends…)

Pre-Bill Gates.

Pre-Bill Gates departure, Microsoft was still a chaotic organization filled with typical large enterprise issues but it in turn was kept in check by a guy who remember outsmarted the beloved Steve Jobs on a number of business related tactics over the years. You worked hard to outsmart Bill in the organization and he did have a cultural impact on staff – prime example, ThinkWeek Papers.

Post-Bill Gates

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Post Bill Gates, well products aren’t doing that great other than Windows 7 but in reality Windows7’s success is really a false positive given if you remove Windows XP from the market and force business/consumers down a path – it’s what I’d call a duress driven success.

You have a staff exodus problem occurring and furthermore you have no cohesive strategy around marketing products that at the end of the day are technically well built – Microsoft’s always had a marketing issue never really a technical one.

Windows 8 Predictions

Next month, Mini-Steve (Sinofsky) is keen to jump on stage and release the momentum he’s spent months ratcheting around the future of Windows8. The prediction here is simple, he’s going to unload a device-operating system, and he’s going to outline Jupiter but paying close attention to promoting it as an animation framework only while throwing most of his weight around HTML5/JavaScript/Internet Explorer as being the Web Application of tomorrow.

This is going to give people their Microsoft high for the year, then in the following September 2012, he’s going to come back and officially release this to the world thus removing MIX Online from our memories for ever more.

While this is happening he’s then going to spend energy & time building out the desktop concept of Windows as we know it today whilst factoring in the disruption of Windows8 Device / ARM Operating system and its effects on the market.

Apple in turn are going to spend a lot more budget / cycles now to rebuild confidence now that Mr Jobs has stepped down for what we all know now sadly, health reasons. Inside Microsoft they will see this as a moment of weakness, the beloved General has fallen – storm the gates, hard and fast.

This is a software storm of under qualified sugar overloaded officers at best who are going to promise us the world, the future of a brilliant tomorrow when it comes to vNext Software.

The underlying impact here for all of you to consider and the moment in which I personally just shake my head and sigh.

There’s no Steve Jobs and Bill Gates anymore, just punks who think they have the capabilities that these old warhorses once had.

These two didn’t accidently impact our lives worldwide in a once off streak of luck, they had consistent measure of success over the years in everything they did and we in turn backed their abilities in one way or another.

We had confidence.

Today, you look at the landscape of software companies and what they are all busy right now pushing and pulling the industry into what it should be and you have to ask yourself a simple question?

Are you confident we are on the right path now? If that answers no, kind of or not stacking into the majority of “Yes” column. Then we have a problem and future CEO’s like mini-Steve may think he’s got the winning formula but in truth, he’s been too busy copying Steve Jobs/Bill Gates homework he’s not taken time to learn from what they’ve failed and succeeded at.

Inside Microsoft, watch guys like Scott Guthrie as whilst everyone is running towards Windows 8 / Windows Phone 7 gravy train(s), he’s walking towards Azure, a spot where you can easily hide for a while and let the mob fall on top of each other over Windows 8 / Windows 7 device rush.

Mark my words, he’s the one you should all keep an eye on as he has potential to one day become the next Bill Gates / Steve Jobs for Microsoft or maybe a competitor should he jump ship to?(minus the creative part of course).

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WP7 Developers! Developers! Devel…wtf is the designers?

I just noticed something about the overall Windows Phone 7 community outreach story. Well I’ve noticed a few things, but the main thing I noticed was the designer haven is non-existent. Looking at the Create.MSDN site which for me appears to be the front-door to “getting-started” with Windows Phone 7, there appears to be no upsell or solicitation in anyway for the “design” community to pay attention to Windows Phone 7.

Huge mistake firstly.

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The reason this is not a bright start to the phone, is if you look at all the successful apps on the iPhone and even Android market-places, there actual apps clearly have someone with design muscle flexing their wares proactively. Inside the Windows Phone 7 ethos, it’s admittedly paint by numbers style design (Metro) but still there is potential vein of richness here should you but show some bread-crumbs.

The major selling point for Windows Phone 7 is metro, folks inside the WP7 marketing team can flog “apps” all they like, but in my opinion I’d declare the phone having apps as hygiene (i.e. Well? I expected you to have them so what? you want a high five?..what else you got?). Metro is the differentiator, despite my grievances with User Interface experience(s) I do recognize that pushing these bitter points aside, the phone needs to focus on this and this alone when it comes to the consumers?

Sitting down and having designed a UI for this phone for an upcoming (reveled later) I’m a little frustrated at the amount of Googling (Yes, I said Google, not Bing. Bing is an ass backwards Search engine imho) I’ve had to spend in finding vector icons, inspiration (design stealing) and lastly techniques / resources others have framed when it comes to handling design related issues.

For instance, I’m not a fan of accent colors inside the phone – in that I like certain amount of colors but Red, Green and Orange are imho off-limits. The reason being is most situations that call for “state” often rely on a stop-light palette. If you have your entire UI Green and you have “You’re now connected” green highlight somewhere, well..it gets lost in the accent theme.

On top of that the dark/light auto-inversing is a funny beast to tackle. I get that it inverses the color palette’s in a fairly smart way at the same time it catches you a little off guard when you sit down to design. As now you have to keep that in the forefront of your mind whilst designing and at the same time accommodating for foreground and accent color adjustments as they occur.

To a developer this is simply state flipping in and out but for an average designer that’s a lot of conscious palette planning / thinking going on there and not a lot of resources around hinting at that either (Try googling that now, tell me what you find!).

These are the typical scenarios you’re likely to face as a designer, the techniques that go beyond “Look mah, I used the default color palette and I managed to ship! gimme my $1million app store sales now mkay!” moments.  It goes deeper and you can’t rely on external blogging threads to carry this workload. As they also have a habit of becoming out dated mixed with spam sites re-gurgitating your blog feeds as their own in order to sucker punch you with Google ads.

My point is simple, the designers are clearly not part of the conversation here and whilst developers, developers  and developers is the normal mantra of Microsoft it’s also the major reason you’re failing at the products. If you want proof, go check out he MSDN metrics around Expression sales and uptake of Silverlight solutions that go beyond the default theme(s) created by either Microsoft or Telerik, ComponentOne, Infragistics etc.

Paint by numbers gets you the default positioning of your product and nothing is wrong with prescribed UI. That is until you scope out the iPhone AppStore reviews long enough to see that your application now needs to do something beyond Tip Calculators / FlashLights and Twitter feeds. If you come up short on Function then you better at least deliver on Form.

Microsoft’s AppStore is filled with overloaded function it now needs personality and it needs more design focused bloodlines to underpin the Metro differentiation. If Microsoft can’t factor this into the outbound marketing today, then at least make a start as this will also set Microsoft up for a stronger position for when Windows 8 arrives (given Metro seems to be full steam ahead).

Point and case. Try for giggles, re-create the Office UI inside Wp7 today without leaving Create.MSDN.com and using the default Icons out of the directory found buried inside Program Files (which somehow we’re supposed to inherently know)?

How about Brandon  (Marketing Director for Wp7) take the $1k ransom for Scott Adams (Dilbert) and put that towards the funding for hiring a designer minded person to run the wp7 community outbound initiatives. There’s a lot of people who could lift that burden and if anyone in Microsoft want some recommendations, ping me, I’ve got a list of candidates.

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Lifting the Apple vs. Adobe compete veil

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In October 2009 I warned the Adobe community via InsideRIA that Adobe should tread very carefully with Apple and how that if they kept poking the sleeping giant sooner or later they’d react.

It’s now April, and Apple have reacted – and like a great game of chess, it’s not check mate just yet either.

Apple decided this week to update their licensing and block the ability for 3rd party software vendors like Adobe for example, from allowing their tooling and customers to produce iPhone/iPad based solutions that do not make full use of the way Apple intended to enable such vendors in the first place – “It’s my house if you don’t like it leave” is the summary.

A lot of people are asking questions around “why” and a lot of the blame is being pointed at Apple as being unfair and so on. Allow me to interject given I was one of the main Adobe compete leads at Microsoft and secondly my prediction rate on Adobe has been approx 90% correct so far (I guess you’ll have to trust I know a thing or two about the brand).

The lesser of two evils.

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Adobe or Apple who is to blame? who is innocent and who is trying to do the right thing? these are all immediate questions that come to mind when you start seeing the battle lines being drawn between these two “A” brands.

The answer is – it depends.

The knee jerk assumption is Apple isn’t playing fair here that they are the ones holding innovation back on the beloved iPhone/iPad platform(s). It depends, as in Apple’s defense why would you allow a company like Adobe who’s made no secret about this:- the ability and power to lock down the user experience for all devices into a democratic format like Flash.

That plan is effectively the same playbook as Microsoft has used for Windows, own the platform own the industry its that simple.

If Flash was to gain entry to the iPhone/iPad then it effectively puts app vendors and such on the same playing field as other devices and in many ways the unique form factor of that which is the iPhone today starts to lose its initial appeal as it then becomes yet another device. Apple is a company that prides itself on “thinking differently” in that it appears to approach consumer based products in a very unique and at times stubborn – but profitable – way. The brand likes to ensure its products are different from what people expect and that their experiences are unique and a must-sort after thing.

Adobe is desperately trying to change that, they see their future as being the UX platform to the masses – “use my tools and you can produce on all devices and platforms” is essentially their mantra.

Apple, Microsoft and in parts Google aren’t even slightly interested in agreeing on this as they are all acutely aware of the potential hazard products like Flash can become if left to grow organically.

If your going to have democracy, let it be HTML5 then.

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User Experience in technology is now fast becoming a consumer focus as well as an enterprise focus. 99% of my workload is visiting Microsoft customers every week helping them figure out their UX story on disparate technology. I’ve never seen this before  and I’ve been a UX plug-in focused designer and developer for the past 15 years and as my bio states, a Product Manager of one of these technologies. It’s inspiring but at the same time fragile and the reason being is HTML5.

HTML5 for me represents an industry slow-down, in that if we all move to abandon plug-ins and support HTML5 in the way it’s being instructed to, we in turn sacrifice the agility of that which is user experience on the web as we know it today.

Apple and Google are ok with this though, for both of them having HTML5 on the horizon is a good thing. It enables them to still control the way in which they run their unique business models but at the same time it still gives them the ability to block competitors from over-taking their said business models.

An example is today, I can log into my bank ANZ.com.au and handle my financial affairs all through a unique iPhone specific experience. One of the largest banks in Australia reacted to the iPhone and produced a solution that befits a device which today still has minority share.

The point of that example is simple, companies will react to where they perceive the value is and enabling their various application domains to have multiple user interface channels is extremely important and one that is visible on all of their roadmaps for the future. They are all acutely aware that the industry is changing and the lines between Desktop and Mobile are blurring and in a manner that  is going to be a lot harder to separate.

HTML5 however represents a unique value proposition to this technology hazard that’s coming up fast. It effectively puts us all on an even playing field and it also strikes at the heart of everything Adobe represents as it effectively deprecates Flash.

If Apple is able to keep large brands reacting to their business models without having to take a technical dependency on products like Flash, then this in turn solidifies their position in the future in a more healthy way. It’s much more profitable today to starve the Adobe ecosystem out  Apple based devices than it is to allow the said technology to co-exist on the devices – as once that technology gets on the phone all bets are off as sure it will become popular.

It’s not about being ethically right, as this isn’t a Disney movie it’s reality. All software vendors are doing everything they possibly can to dominate a niche in the industry without taking a technical dependency on a foreign software company

Where is Microsoft in all this?

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If i know my old team well, they’d be chuckling at the demise of Adobe and how all their best efforts in marketing CS5 + iPhone just came unstuck overnight. That being said, this is why Silverlight and WPF was built to play by the same rules but differently. Microsoft aren’t interested in holding down a unique experience on their own proprietary devices as well they don’t make hardware. Its in their best interest to keep things on an even playing field provided you buy their operating system first and secondly you develop using their tools for it. If either of those tick boxes are ticked, life is good for Redmond.

If you screw around with those two boxes they will compete against you and hard. Silverlight is a result of this, as it was well known Adobe’s intent was to own the UX platform across it all which in turn interrupts Microsoft’s story in a way that isn’t healthy for the company. Silverlight was born out of that competitive necessity and you’ll soon start to hear random stories on how Windows 8 will solidify their position on counter-acting concepts like Adobe but whilst still embracing the existence of concepts like HTML5.

HTML5 is the brakes for this giant chess game, its the technology safety haven which enables us all to slow the engines down a little and start making stronger bets instead of this ad-hoc technology evolution we seem to be on.

Apple can leverage its concept to propel them forward in a much more controlled fashion. Google will enjoy its splendor as their content business model can remain intact without having content and experiences online forking. Adobe will do what it can to keep their fingers in the HTML5 via their tooling story (and in parts server products) but in reality if HTML5 were to gain dominance it would impact their entire business model in a way that they aren’t yet equipped to deal with.

Apple blocked the Adobe market potential simply out of necessity and future proofing their brand, all you’re seeing this week is one move out of many in this game of industry chess.

Adobe are being attacked on all fronts, they simply MUST stop their immaturity and aggressive behavior in order to survive – otherwise their developer share will continue to drop and Flash will continue to be ignored in lieu of other more appealing approaches to the same thing.

Adobe will win this, public demand will turn in their favor.

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It’s something I hear often a cry of desperation if you will. Adobe don’t have a groundswell of developers to storm the Apple gates and press outlets like New York Times etc may post an article or two around how unfair it is but it won’t be a sustained momentum as they are more inclined to talk in depth about the engaging devices such as the iPhone and iPad bring than what powers them.

What about consumers by large? Consumers are indifferent to technology choice as Google, Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, Amazon etc are all bombarding them daily with “try my new shiny toy” so it’s hard enough for the tech savvy minded to separate signal from code.

I predict Adobe will lose this bout and despite Adobe’s CTO post today about how they will produce CS5 to do the same as what they had intended and leave it up to Apple to make the next move is a silly move on their part as it effectively devalues CS5’s potential – again. Not to mention his wording just is passive aggressive for example:

First of all, the ability to package an application for the iPhone or iPad is one feature in one product in Creative Suite. CS5 consists of 15 industry-leading applications, which contain hundreds of new capabilities and a ton of innovation. We intend to still deliver this capability in CS5 and it is up to Apple whether they choose to allow or disallow applications as their rules shift over time

The last line in bold was a smart ass response and I took that as being “We will still move forward and we are calling you on your bluff Apple”. As that is a feeble attempt to ignite a public tech riot once the first app gets blocked. Watch how fast it starts and dies down as well.

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iPad is still missing iPlugin due to Compete wars

image I am currently sitting in a hotel in Perth, working on a presentation about Silverlight and at the same time like most people around the world, listening or reading as much information as I can find regarding the new Apple iPad.

Firstly, I like the device and it fits my needs well given I travel a lot and often want to read, watch movies and play stupid games like “Dig It” in Airports or Planes etc. It’s a great device fit for purpose with me, others may find it useless.

How you feel about the device aside, the part that left me uneasy is simply that this will be yet another device to ignore outside technology like Silverlight or Flash. My first instinct is wave my fist at Apple and plead with them to please allow a more open after-market add-on access much like Apple OSX does today.

It however isn’t really just Apple, its pretty much the entire industry today. There is such a competitive marketplace now in around folks trying to dominate the web for profit, that it’s in turn kind of stifled a lot of potential experiences that we as consumers could have.

iPad for example has a nice comfortable looking “surf the web on your couch” feel to it, but you’d probably spend about 20mins on the device before you start seeing a lot of whitespace with this little box in the middle, which represents “oops, this site uses Flash..oh well..” mentality attached to it.

Already your experience is reduced and is this the website it self’s fault or is it Apples?

I’d argue its both these two entities and also Adobe’s – and Microsoft’s etc.

I think what needs to happen going forward is a turnkey functionality approach to the plug-ins, in that unless something like this happens Apple will continue to protect their backyard from invasion of 3rd party plug-ins; it invites a lot of competitive threat to their vision. Microsoft will do the same with devices like XBOX 360 etc and Adobe will push Flash’s agenda well beyond the “it’s just a plug-in, honest” agenda as its no secret they want to own the UX Platform for the web – albeit SWF is the vNext HTML in allot of their eyes ( A vision which concerns Google, Apple and Microsoft).

Google just want you all to stay out of the plug-in space and stick to HTML as it’s more palatable to their business goals. HTML Zealots will cheer but I can’t but help think that HTML is so 1990’s and lacks depth around engaging experiences.

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This is all grand and its interesting to once be in the thick of this competitive nonsense, but in reality we are suffering from a technology stand-off. A lot of great concepts are being presented to the world today, but they are being narrowed down to an obvious competitive stink – disallowing the consumers to gain a richer experience with their chosen purchase.

I think the only way that this can work going forward, is that the plug-in providers such as Microsoft and Adobe probably need that turn-key approach to the products. In that instead of getting the whole hog Flash or Silverlight, you in turn get partial bits instead.

Why?

This enables companies like Google/Apple for example to show face and sacrifice a little to gain more, while at the same time it underpins Microsoft and Adobe’s vision further than what they have to play with today.

It also still allows websites like MSN, CNN etc to still have plug-in experiences and should have little or no impact to what they use the plug-ins for today. As lets face it, most of the broken experiences that you are blocked on in mainstream sites like this are either Video, Informative Slide like experiences or Ads. Are they using webcam? pixelshaders etc? no, not really.

It won’t happen though, as companies like Apple will continue to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It just is a shame that an opportunity like the iPad gets fumbled due to the current competitive landscape. As personally, I really don’t care if Flash, QuickTime or Silverlight wins out in the end. I just want to enjoy the experiences.

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