Archive for August, 2011

Tablets are to laptops as TV is to computers…

Friday, August 19th, 2011

I got a tablet a while back, and I’ve been thinking about what it means for the IT business. This has taken on more significance in light of HP’s announcement that they will exit the tablet and phone businesses.

What I notice with the tablet is that while it’s a convenient device for consuming media – watching movies and TV shows, listening to music, browsing a few web pages, playing simple games, etc. — the user experience is brutal when I try to input text.

I think I’ve gotten pretty good at using the capacitive touch screen for text input on both the tablet and my (very large screen) phone. Still, I doubt I could sustain more than about 3 words per minute of text input into these things. By comparison, once upon a time, probably 20 years ago, I clocked myself at 120 words per minute of text input using a keyboard.

So for me, a keyboard is about 40 times more effective than a touch screen. If I have more than a few words to enter, I’ll reach for the PC or laptop, thank you very much. My pain threshold for glacial user input just isn’t that high.

So the tablet is basically a media consuming device. A step up from a portable DVD player, if you will. Doesn’t that make it more or less equivalent to a television, where we all sit on the couch, numbly consuming dumbed-down content? I think the analogy is pretty compelling.

To imagine where tablets will go in the future, look no further than the evolution of TVs. They sold (and continue to sell) like hotcakes. Millions of units shipped every year. Fancy technology (think huge LCD flat screens, 3D TV, etc.) all dedicated to pushing visually stunning but largely dumbed down content to numb consumers.

Whereas a PC is an interactive device where people actually contribute something — you know, write documents, send e-mails, heck – even play interactive games with their friends — TVs are just numbing. I think the portable version of a PC is a laptop, and the portable version of a TV is a tablet.

This means that tablets will continue to be a huge commerical success for their manufacturers, but their social impact will resemble that of the TV…

As for the “business use” of tablets … what business use? Reading e-mails on the go? Watching movies while flying to a sales meeting? I think business users want tablets-as-toys, and the “business use” of tablets is just a made up justification to get the company to buy the toy. Maybe I’m just cynical.

I think this even impacts the “Web 2.0” movement. Remember that? It was supposed to mean that users contribute content to the web – rather than just reading static web pages. I think tablets are not “Web 2.0 compatible” — they are really “Web 1.0” devices.

Funny, that.

Google buys Motorola Mobility – So What?

Monday, August 15th, 2011

Interesting news today about Google buying Motorola’s mobile products division:

So what does this mean and who should care?

First, why would Google buy Motorola Mobility? I tend to agree with other opinions out there, that this was basically a purchase of a patent portfolio and a mobile products company was attached to the deal but wasn’t the real target. I don’t think Google is particularly interested in the company they just bought — they wanted a war chest of patents.

There is a patent war brewing in the mobile phone market and Google needed the ammunition to threaten Apple and Microsoft with counter-suits as they became increasingly litigous.

Of course, Google will try to keep Motorola Mobility profitable, to help pay for their acquisition of a bunch of patents.

This just highlights the foolishness of software / business method patents. They are incredibly wasteful of capital and add nothing to the economy. Google had to spend $12B to add no shareholder or customer value, just to defend themselves against a bunch of pointless lawsuits.

So what happens next?

First, it seems reasonable to assume that Google will want to continue to nurture its Android partner ecosystem. These partners will be understandably worried now that their OS supplier will compete with them in the hardware space. That’s quite the unfair advantage.

Google doesn’t want to scare off the Android ecosystem, so they will presumably run the acquired company independently of the main Google corporation. It will probably have no special advantages (such as early access to new OS versions) as compared to other Android partners. Google can then transfer the patents from this new subsidiary or organizational unit to its Android business unit, to be used as a defensive asset.

I would expect Google to use the patents to help defend its existing Android partners against suits by Apple, Microsoft and others. Google partners actually benefit from today’s transaction in that sense.

Does this mean that the formerly-Motorola business unit will continue with business as usual? Probably not quite. I would think that Google will make phones that are less full of crappy third party add-ons and “enhancements.” I would expect to see a clean OS and a clean UI on new Motorola phones, probably starting to show up in 6-12 months.

I don’t think Google is interested in the relatively small revenue streams generated by pre-installing junk and teaser software on phones. They are much more interested in a healthy Android ecosystem, which will drive future revenue growth on their ad platform, as more people search for more content from their phones. Google strikes me as a company with a long-term strategy, willing to sacrifice short-term revenue to win the long-term game.

This can only be good for users, especially as the other phone manufacturers are forced to clean up their OS distributions and stop filling their phones with junk, in order to compete with new Google/Motorola phones that have a cleaned up UI.

Presumably this is bad for Apple on at least two fronts:

  • Google and other Android partners can counter-sue Apple for patent infringement, effectively neutering their Apple’s strategy.
  • Google will force the entire Android ecosystem to make more user friendly phones, with fewer annoying add-ons, making any UI advantage Apple might enjoy today, at least as compared to non-rooted Android phones, disappear.

Apple may continue with a litigation-heavy strategy to compete with Android, in which case they will likely get shot down, or they may change strategies and focus on innovation instead. That would be better for everyone, including Apple.

Now that Google has bought Motorola, will Microsoft follow suit and buy RIM or Nokia? There is certainly buzz about that and both of those stocks bounced today.

Microsoft hasn’t traditionally been (a) acquisitive or (b) interested in the hardware business. They already have an extensive patent portfolio, so they can’t be too interested in RIM or Nokia’s patent portfolios. My bet is that they don’t make any acquisitions in response to today’s news, especially not RIM, whose platform is not really compatible with Microsoft’s future direction.

Interesting times we live in, but at least today the consumer came out as the big winner.


Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

The big trend these days seems to be the use of consumer computing devices (smart phones, tablets, etc.) in the enterprise. Bring Your Own Device or BYOD for short.

On the one hand, I get it. Users want a particular device and as more and more apps move to a web UI, they actually can use their device as the web browser. Really – a typical corporate user needs MS Office or equivalent, a web browser, an IM client maybe, access to filesystems and e-mail. Even my phone can do that stuff. Why shouldn’t I be able to use my phone anyways? Users don’t want multiple devices for multiple applications either. If they already have an iPhone, or their own laptop they don’t want to lug that *and* a corporate device on their trips.

The problem with this is risk management. Sure, the user’s own device is compatible, but how does the corporation know that there isn’t a keylogger installed on it, leaking corporate passwords and other data? How can the corporation be assured that the device’s filesystem is encrypted, so that if it’s lost or stolen, there isn’t data loss? How do they know that the user’s PC doesn’t have a virus installed on it, which will propagate as soon as it’s plugged into the corporate network. These are pretty serious risks, that users don’t seem to really understand.

It seems to me that BYOD should, to comply with audit and regulatory requirements, go hand in hand with some basic requirements:

* Make the device stateless, or at least keep all the corporate data in a VM, whose configuration (including filesystem crypto) is managed.
* Require users to run some sort of anti-malware code on their device, to prevent basic attacks like keyloggers.
* Require users and IT to collaborate in ensuring that consumer devices meet these requirements.
* Absolve IT from supporting the device, beyond this vetting process.

Are users willing to live with these constraints? I honestly don’t know, but they seem pretty foundational to me.

Economic growth and energy

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

OK, so this is nothing to do with IAM, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

In this post, Tom Murphy points out, quite rightly, that continuing economic growth implies continuing growth in the energy use of society. Continuing energy use means (a) we run into physical limits in the amount of energy we can harvest and (b) we heat the earth to unliveable temperatures.

He’s right of course – nothing is forever – so the real question is: “how much longer can we continue to grow the world economy?”

I wish I knew. 🙂