And so it goes…

•24Jul09 • Comments Off on And so it goes…

Long time no blog, but here I am again. First post since last January, but that was because Palm disapproved of my blogging and I didn’t want the internal controversy. But as it happens I’m no longer a Palm employee as of last Tuesday, thanks to a new Senior Vice President who wanted to hire her own people to own the App Catalog. I could vent a great deal about the management mistakes that have been made at Palm over the last few months, but I prefer to look forward. Besides, I still believe in the potential of the platform and have a lot of good feelings for the folks I worked with there.

But that also means that I’m looking for my next job. Could be permanent or contract, as long as it is full time and allows me to work on user-centric software that solves real problems for real people. If you know of something, DM me on twitter. A mini resumé is also available on LinkedIn.

Another change is the URL of this blog. Somehow my domain expired at dotster on July 4 and I didn’t notice. Probably because dotster sends me so much spammy marketing email that I just auto-deleted it without reading. And some tool has hijacked the domain, so I’m going back to the wordpress default url, Sorry for the inconvenience, but you’ll need to update any feed URLs you may have subscribed to.

That’s it for now. I promise to actually write more about tech subjects now that I don’t have to worry about Palm’s PR folks coming down on me – although Lynn and Jon were very nice to me, they still ruled over all public discourse with an iron fist!

Conversation Relocated (Was: Post Removed)

•14Jan09 • 11 Comments

Hey, everyone – we’ve relocated the conversation about application distribution over to Palm’s official developer blog. Please click here for more information.

Convergence: Smartphones vs. Netbooks, or Consumption vs. Creation?

•31Dec08 • 1 Comment

Lately, there has been a lot of discussion about the future of the computer. There are people discussing how popular netbooks were during the holiday season. The CEO of RIM says the BlackBerry Storm is a netbook, “just smaller”. There are tons of people speculating about apple’s plans for netbooks, tablets, and/or iPhones with slide out keyboards. And many say the market in general is ready for tablets as a new form factor.

What all these things have in common is that people are starting to see the inevitable convergence between laptops and smartphones. The Wall Street Journal published a great story about this trend a couple of months ago. State of the art smartphones are more powerful than some laptops that were sold only ten years ago, and at the same time more and more of the heavy lifting in computing is happening in the cloud. So why would anyone want to carry around a laptop when you could fit a sufficient amount of computing power and data storage in your pocket?

But all of these discussions of which form factor will win are really missing the point: the real questions are:

  • What kinds of work are people doing on smartphones today that they used to do on laptops?
  • What kinds of work do people still rely on laptops for?
  • Could a tablet or a smartphone replace a laptop for such work?

Let’s look at the first question. Here’s a handy chart of the things many people do using smartphones or tablets today, most of which were formerly done only on laptops/netbooks. I give smartphones an edge in Communications and Maps and Directions because of the built in voice and GPS capabilities that aren’t nearly as ubiquitous on other devices.

Smartphone tasks

As you can see, smartphones do a lot of things really well. But for me, the most striking aspect of all these tasks is that they are primarily oriented to looking up and consuming existing information. The only exceptions are geared towards short-form communication: typing in SMS messages, tweets, and short emails.

So now let’s look at the things that people still use laptops and netbooks for, and how well the smartphone and tablet do on those tasks today:

creation tasks

Clearly, this is a different kettle of fish. All of these tasks involve the creation of content, and these smaller form factor devices aren’t very good at any of these tasks.

And that brings us to the third and most important question, which I’ll now rephrase slightly: could a tablet or smartphone ever be a viable device for the creation of content and not just its consumption?

The answer, of course, is a big fat maybe. The biggest limits on the use of such devices for content creation are physical human limits:

  • Most people can’t enter text as quickly on touchscreens or on the mini-keyboard of a typical smartphone.
  • The screens on all smartphones are too small to show a lot of information onscreen simultaneously at a size that most people can read. Tablets are better, but even a 7 or 8 inch screen is too small for many content creation tasks.

So what can be done to make this better? We need better input and output devices for these small form-factor devices. You can already buy bluetooth keyboards, and mice wouldn’t be hard. Ironically, Palm’s much ridiculed Foleo was actually a step in the right direction, but it focused on emails instead of helping make your smartphone creation experience better. But wouldn’t it be cool if you could hook up your smartphone or tablet to a large display when you got to your office and when you got home? I’d buy two! Even better would be if it could be done wirelessly – imagine working with smartphone or tablet using your HDTV at home as the display. The possibilities are enormous, and inevitable. To my mind, making these small devices work for content creation is one of the key issues remaining to be solved in the mobile space.

Disclaimer: as always, these opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of my employer.

On Evangelism and other Isms

•29Dec08 • Comments Off on On Evangelism and other Isms

I discovered the other day that James Plamandon had started a blog discussing the art of Platform Evangelism. James has achieved a modicum of infamy when some of his work came to light during the Iowa antitrust case against Microsoft.

As it happens, I know James from our days together at Apple. He is an exceptionally smart guy and quite the character. I remember reading his presentation at the time of the trial and marveling at it’s sarcasm, its cynicism, its far-reaching vision, and, most importantly, its lack of ethics. Given that I’d just spent two years at Adobe battling with Microsoft on a variety of issues, it was amazing to see how many of those tactics Microsoft were still a key part of Microsoft’s arsenal.

One of the more interesting posts on James’ new blog explains why he is coming forward now to write a new blog. In it, he says:

First, the global financial melt-down forced an epiphany. We at Microsoft always felt that we were on the side of free markets and unfettered capitalism—you know, the Good Guys. But so did the guys at Lehman Brothers, AIG, Fannie Mae, and all of the other failed financial institutions. Even Alan Greenspan, the High Priest of free markets, has had to concede that there’s “a flaw” in free market economics—a flaw that led directly to the current financial collapse.

My belief that I was one of the Good Guys was similarly flawed. This is now inescapable. I was wrong. Many of the TE practices that I developed, taught, and espoused were wrong. Anyone who continues to practice them is wrong. As a first step towards making amends for my past wrongdoing, I must make this clear, and widely known.

Its great to see that James has recognized the error in his ways, at least in part. But I found it telling that the global financial melt-down is what forced James to have an epiphany. You see, when I knew him, James was a die-hard libertarian1. The kind who would always drive 90 MPH on the freeway on principle. His reference to Alan Greenspan here is not just a comment on the economy – Greenspan was a member of Ayn Rand’s inner circle and as such is one of the heroes of the libertarian movement. I suspect he is one of James’ personal heroes as well.

But what both Greenspan and James fail to have done is to connect the dots: the “flaw” in free market economics is actually the fatal flaw that occurs whenever someone tries to apply a pure philosophy to the real world: people and organizations do not act consistently with philosophies. In the case of libertarianism, the flaw is that self-interest is rarely enlightened, and people can rationalize anything.

James’ strategy at Microsoft was a case in point: they rationalized that what they were doing was justified because the markets reward the strong. The irony, of course, was that they were not acting in an enlightened way: monopolizing the market did wonders for Microsoft’s revenues and share price in the short term, but the damage done to the overall market for computer software was immense. In the longer term, this will hurt Microsoft more than it ever helped it, and in fact you could argue that Microsoft’s stock price malaise the last several years was a direct result of the market ossification that occurred.

1 I use the term loosely, encompassing both libertarianism and objectivism. Wikipedia has lots of information on the many variants of libertarianism, objectivism, and the arguments between the two camps.