Category: Technology

The Windows 8 Tsunami

An eerie silence is present just before Windows 8 launch. The big stories of the day are the battle between Apple and Samsung, iPhone versus Android, and Google versus Apple. The trending topics on Mashable are in order: Twitter, Google, Apple, iPhone, Social Networking, Google+, Social Media, YouTube, Business, Android, iPad, Google Chrome, and… down the ladder somewhere is lurching Microsoft. No trace of Windows 8.

GigaOm, proudly promoting its own brand of research has almost no trace of Microsoft or Windows 8. Today on its navigation bar there is a prominent Apple menu item and a long list of articles on the home page, only one of which mentions Microsoft related story, although even that is about Xbox music service to launch on Android and iOS. Top articles menu bar has iPhone 5 on a prominent position.

Others are more preoccupied with the imminent invasion. ZDnet and C/Net have tons of articles on Windows 8, but they also have articles criticising the new operating system and predict failure (see below prediction for Win 8 RT certain failure). However, if you browse these two sites, it strikes you how many announcements of new Win 8 products are rushed by a large number of vendors even before the official launch of the platform software. The latest one is from Samsung, the Korean electronics powerhouse who unveils an ultrabook and tablets.

None of the media outlets dares to look into the significance of the new operating system. Sure, it’s risky and judging by the success of Windows Phone 7.5, Microsoft has had an aura of outdated technology. I may be wrong, but I don’t understand why they fail to see the magnitude of Microsoft’s transformation. I can see how they would want to avoid publishing risky prediction, but at least they should take a look at what is going on deep under the surface and forget for a moment the buzzwords of the day. The online journals have columnist who cultivate a loyal relationship with its biased readers. This is always a gold mine for ratings. Whenever and article is published about Apple or Google, an army of loyal fans work hard to make their presence felt. The ratings go up and everyone is happy. Postings about Windows phone 7 have a far smaller ‘stir’ factor.

I don’t have that kind of problem, so I am at an advantage. I can write what I want. To me, Microsoft has achieved an incredible turn around and it has become the innovator, while the others have acquired the status of the conservative incumbents. The tiles introduce a very novel and powerful concept. Because they are designed to be dynamic displaying real-time information pushed by various digital services, the combinations across the massive array of technical services starting from cloud computing platforms, to music, emails, weather, and anything in between, Microsoft is building a super-ecosystem using a quasi-seamless operating system . An example of what kind of services is possible in this super-ecosystem is Xbox Music. This is very difficult to replicate. Google has an excellent search and social network platform, but its operating system is fragmented to say the least. Apple is mono-cultural and built around one service: the AppStore/iTunes.

The signs of adoption of innovation are there: first, all vendors have announced a myriad of products, many of them quite innovative. Secondly, the new products are creating new categories which promise to fill the gap between tablets and laptops. Microsoft Surface is leading this trend. For Microsoft the innovation cycle starts anew.

Thirdly, the IT managers show a great deal of interest in Windows 8. It is interesting that in a survey published on InfoWorld Google Android is loosing share, while iOS is gaining. This is pointing to a problem that Android has in the enterprise space: fragmentation. This makes it difficult to support. Windows 8 will not have that problem and because of its strong compatibility with the legacy Windows platform it will have a faster adoption than the other two. And finally, Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 RT have a strong support from all vendors. This is where Apples win against Samsung might prove to be a very costly mistake, a Pyrrhic victory. I should also mention Nokia, which released Nokia Lumia 920. For the first time, Nokia looks better on paper than its main competitors, Samsung and Apple.

Windows 8 may have an impact on the education market. iPads are great looking devices, but they are difficult to integrate and use as effective learning tools. The new detachable and convertible ultrabooks may prove to be more practical and for the same reasons IT managers are ready to adopt Windows 8, education systems may have a strong interest in the new devices.

Innovation is Local and Adoption is Global

Successful innovation is difficult because it is not enough to have a bright idea. Everybody has one, including me. What separates the boys from men is the implementation. The road to heaven is paved with hard work from the initial blueprint until the finalised product, and its successful adoption which requires team work, focus sustained over a long period and ability to execute and deliver.

The core team that innovates successfully is the equivalent of a queen bee starting a new colony: it produces ideas continuously while surrounding itself with a growing team that takes on tasks derived from those ideas, all of them orchestrated into a collective effort to build a long-lasting product enterprise.

At the beginning, there is no light around innovation, but just a faint white star shining in the distance. There is little information, no training classes and no user manuals. Could your normal team or business units do it? Not likely. They are not suitable for this kind of undertaking because there is no documented process or job description. You need a special team: a small community of practice whose members are innovators.

A community of practice is made of people who have frequent face-to-face meetings; they meet around the water cooler and talk and pick-up clues from little things to spark a creative chain of thoughts. The members of such community are highly skilled, they have knowledge far beyond what is required by the standard job description and they thrive on uncertainty.

Creative enterprises know this very well. Valve’s HR (blasphemy!) induction manual is an interesting case of encouraging teams to work as small communities of practice. It is all about having strong relationships that work, are creative, productive and fun.

Adoption however, although it still depends on communities of practice to figure out how to use the innovation, relies on large social networks to fire-up the spread of the idea.

In fact, the adoption works best if the network is a huge collection of groups linked through weak connections. This is because the networks of strong ties are usually small due to impossibility of individuals to maintain strong relationships beyond say 20 people. Great networkers may go up to 150, but for the average person, even maintaining 10 strong relationships is a struggle. This means that if a community of practice adopts your innovation, you shouldn’t rush to pop that bottle of Don Perignon yet. Settle for a Stella Artois and a barbecued shrimp for the time being.

Mark Granovetter coined the term ‘weak ties’ to describe lose connections in a social group. His research led him to the conclusion that these types of connections are actually the ones that make a personal network very effective. Christakis and Fowler demonstrate in Connected that weak-ties are great for finding fresh information, aka code for new habits.

So, if your Facebook is limited to close friends that think like you, you are missing on a great opportunity to learn something new and useful you and your close friends never thought of before. Better ‘like’ someone different soon!

Globalisation is the other side of localisation. They are like yin and yang, embracing each other.

Two consequences derive out of this:

  1. The local innovators need to have access to great networks to spread their ideas. If the innovators are not great communicators and if they don’t have network bridges, their innovation will be lost in anonymity and dry
  2. Innovators and adopters need to think alike as they need each other, but both need to influence a lot more people to get the network going. If the growth in adoption doesn’t keep growing to reach about 16%, they are doomed. They fall into the chasm, Moore’s chasm.

In a recently published book, The New Geography of Jobs, Enrico Moretti says that despite the popularity of the global social networks, the vast majority of the phone calls and web traffic is local. The most innovative cities and regions are based on small, tightly knight, and local communities. With other words, the secret of global success of Silicon Valley is local, very local.

This is also why the local economies’ prosperity depends so much on innovation and free trade.

The New Bing Adds Social Component

Microsoft is about to releas a ‘new’ Bing which promises “Transforming Search from Finding to Doing”. It will be rollout in US in early June over the course of few weeks. There is no word if these features will be made available to the rest of the world. Microsoft calls this the most significant upgrade since the Bing launch three years ago. It may be one of the most significant changes in the online search industry.

What is so different with the new Bing this time?

The page layout is changed. The left bar where you have Related Searches, Search History and Narrow by Region is gone. Instead the page has now three columns: the search results, the snapshot and the social. Microsoft says that the search engine will return more quality results which will be less cluttered by irrelevant data. That remains to be seen, but while it is not clear how much of the engine was changed, the two new columns are interesting.

The snapshot is meant to display right there in the middle essential information, the most pertinent response to your query, packaged in a way that describe the findings from multiple angles. I don’t know how they do this because it could be that they re-packaged the old Bing with a different appearance or it may be they went deeper and changed the rational side of the Bing’s brain by adding a brand new semantic map builder. The example given by Microsoft is a classic case of a user who wants to find a hotel. Bing tries to build in the snapshot a story around this subject, so it displays a map, room rate, some links to related services, and traveller recommendations collected from various web sites. This sounds like the old Bing. However, if beneath the hood the software ‘thinks’ about the meaning of the hotel and uses a semantic graph to pull in related information, the prospects are completely different. This is how I read into what Derrick Connell, the Bing Corporate Vice President, said when he referred to a new scalable technology. Connell says that Microsoft will expand the snapshot to include more and more attributes around searched subjects. I guess that when a search command is issued, parallel searches are run automatically based on the semantic graph, even if the user doesn’t mention any of the inferred attributes. It will be interesting to see how this evolves.

The most interesting bit though is the social bar. I am very pleased to see this. My research on knowledge behaviour around adoption of innovation indicates that people rely a lot on social networks, even when they don’t call on friends for help explicitly for help or advice. When information is not searched but stumbled upon, that is a case of serendipity. This type of accidental finding has been ignored most of the time in the past, but it is increasingly obvious that it has a key role in knowledge behaviour.

Where is Microsoft going with this is not clear yet. I am not sure if this is a Facebook only feature or if it is a social aggregator. But the fact that you could ask your friends about what you are looking for combined with serendipity (the lower part of the social screen has that role) is a very interesting development.

Certainly this looks very good for Facebook. It is very good for Microsoft because it suddenly it creates a social opportunity in response to Google’s ambitions in social networks.

Microsoft did something clever here: it removes the social content from the search results going in an opposite direction from Google. I think this is a smart move for two reasons. Firstly, the relevance could be a problem if the results include your social status updates, and secondly, people are a bit off about the idea of mixing social activities with search. The reaction to Google’s decision to mix Google with Google Plus and Gmail was not enthusiastic to say the least. But if you have two separate areas that work side by side and you are the one that decides when to use the social features, it looks more appealing.

The snapshot and the social bar have the potential to change the face of online search. One hint is the appearance of ‘Like’ in the social bar. The synergy between search and social activities could take many forms here with profound consequences, because each of these two represent aspects of our persona that until now have been separated. Facebook does not have a search engine and Bing does not have a social network. On the new page they are still separated, but you can make the connection. The ‘Like’ is about your friends and their preferences. In the future other social signals could be used: location, recommendations, photos, music, etc. The possibilities are barely visible at this stage.

B&N shares leap on Microsoft digital-tech plan

B&N shares leap on Microsoft digital-tech plan – MarketWatch.

Microsoft still has something reminiscent of its old magic touch. Its like a wand gently tapped on Barnes & Nobles business field to cause an explosion of vividly coloured flowers. It remains to be seen if this field will keep blooming in the years to come.

Microsoft is building strategic partnerships to prepare the launch of its massive Windows 8 ecosystem. Compare this approach with Samsung’s business style. While the South Korean is obsessed by operational excellence and hardware design brilliance, Microsoft is investing in non-IT business partnerships which are the life-blood of the ecosystem.

I suspect we will hear more of this kind of deals from Microsoft, many of them aimed at mobile computing platform.

We haven’t heard or seen anything yet about Windows 8 tablets other than some vague prototypes. I have a hard time to believe that Nokia will not play a major role here. It is going to be interesting, even fascinating to see how the competition between Apple, Microsoft, Nokia and Samsung will unfold.

Lumia 900: “launched” by AT&T, it shines on Amazon

AT&T hyped the launched of Lumia 900 so much that almost everyone expected to see fireworks in each capital city dedicated to the new Windows phone. Instead stories of sedated customer representatives who would happily talk about iPhone and its apps rather than Lumia keep coming up in many reports that came out today. So why all those noisy promises of a mammoth campaign, bigger than ever, promoting Lumia? It’s a mystery that left anyone scratching their heads. AT&T should care about this if they spend $150m on this campaign.

But the Amazon’s online business never sleeps and it did a much better sales job than the bricks-and-mortar AT&T shops. This is another example why Amazon is eating the lunch of traditional business. It all started on Easter Sunday. The sales started to push Nokia up the sales charts reaching the number five spot. I am not sure how the tally is determined, but there is one detail that tells me how the product fares: the customer reviews. If the number is high is usually a good sign that the product is hot. On Sunday, the number was about ten for the black Lumia 900. That is not impressive at all.

However, in the next day, Lumia 900 reached the top. The black model was top and the cyan was third initially, but then it reached the number two spot. So Nokia got the 1-2 pole position. But to me the most remarkable thing was the number of customer reviews. In one day it climbed up to go past 60 reviews for the black model and 20 reviews for the cyan model. What is going on?

It is impossible to figure out if Nokia will be successful in its attempt to revive its fortunes, but there are a couple of interesting things here that could predict a positive start for the Finish phone maker and for Microsoft through extension. The first one is the rapid increase of the number of the customer review. By comparison, the Droid which used to be on the top of bestseller list and Samsung Galaxy, the second on the list had 54 and 16 reviews, respectively. Nokia did reach those numbers in one day, while the other two phones had at least three months to get those reviews. Secondly, the reviews have almost perfect five stars. This is quite something.

There is something else. Reading randomly those reviews, one could notice some reviewers are encouraging of Nokia and Microsoft. This is interesting, because it shows emotional attachment to the new device and its user interface. Windows Phone is new; it has an unusual design, certainly distinct from the other two operating systems and in combination with an exceptional hardware design, it offers something to the new owners making them proud of their acquisition.

Nokia is currently running a cute ad showing how a guy with a new cyan Lumia 900 gets the attention of a girl to the dismay of his other mates who obviously own iPhones or Androids. I have a sense that the ad cleverly taps into that emotion that comes with ownership of something new and beautiful. It is the only way Nokia can fight the negative of having fewer applications. It is a smart approach, because otherwise, by just comparing technical specs and numbers people will not feel motivated to go for a change.

And by the way, how good is Amazon? Who needs to go through the experience of dealing with sales people that are unprepared to help, when you have great information and all you need to do is to just press a button to get what you want?

The world scene is a playground for mobile players

Big moves are made by Apple and Nokia in trying to set the path for long-term domination in the Chinese market. The way Tim Cook’s visit in China, was presented by the media you would think he is actually a head of a large state than the CEO of Apple. But if you think about it, Apple IS like a country as it has a market cap that makes it larger than many countries and the European Union’s officials would kill to have its cash reserves. During his tour, He visited Foxconn’s iPhone production line, which employs 120,000 people, just after it was revealed that Foxconn bought a 10% stake in Sharp, he met with Beijing’s mayor, and he had long discussion with the Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang who may be the next China leader.

Meanwhile, Nokia worked out an exceptional arrangement with AT&T. The carrier will start selling Lumia 900 at a price that defies gravity, $99, and its device head Jeff Bradley promised the biggest smartphone launch ever.

But this is nothing. Nokia has a very stronghold in China. To protect that advantage, while attacking Apple’s strong base in US, Nokia has accelerated its work in China as well. China Telecom will launch Lumia 800C and Lumia 610 with other carriers lined-up to do the same. Let’s not forget, in China Nokia is the largest smartphone maker. Stephen Elop, the CEO of Nokia has been pressing flesh in China recently working hard to support and grow Nokia’s relationship with the local partners.

Nokia also recruited Adam Guli to help Nokia in its race against Google’s Android and Apple’s iPhone. The US market is big and key to success, but as China will become the largest smartphone market in the world at the end of this year with over 140 million handsets estimated to be sold this year, conquering the Chinese market is vital in the quest for the world domination. The exciting part is that China is far from being done yet.

This is almost like a diplomatic battle with scenes cut from historic movies. And then, somewhere, barely noticed, Mark Zuckerberg, casually dressed, walks through Chinese cities claiming he is on holidays. Yeah, right! There are 460 million reasons why he shouldn’t be just a tourist. Besides, in these smartphone wars, Mark is not really a 100% neutral observer. He needs to pick a winner and have Facebook show up on as many smartphone screens as possible. I would not be surprised he will do something with Nokia, since Facebook has a slight affinity with Microsoft and tensed relationships with the other two.

Who else is missing in China? Steve Balmer? He is too quiet. Something is going on there.

This year will be a huge year in mobile computing. And Windows 8 hasn’t been launched yet! The stakes are high. A lot of commentators have already concluded who the winners are in the mobile phones market. However, I am not so sure. The Asian market has not matured yet, and the Android platform is too fragmented. Nokia new Lumia handset line based on Windows Phone operating system looks superb. Nokia is one of the finest operators in this market and it is perfectly capable to challenge both iPhone and Android systems.  Almost everyone has written off Microsoft. Does Apple or Google think the same? That would be a serious mistake. These action packed visits in China are a strong indicator that the fight in this market hasn’t revealed the long-term winners yet.

How Relevant Is Gartner’s Magic Quadrant?

One of the bloggers at Microsoft TechNet happily reported in 2010 that SharePoint is the leader of the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Horizontal Portals. Competing against IBM, Oracle and SAP, Microsoft was the clear winner in that race. At the time 70% of Gartner portal inquiries were directed at SharePoint.

As I explained in my previous post I believe SharePoint is representing a technology that it is slipping past its peak and into sustainable innovation mode; solid, useful, effective, but increasingly leaving some of its current customers and its non-customers with unanswered questions. It lacks emotional features which are so vital for social engagement.

Source: Gartner, September 2010

I recognise that it is a long shot and that I don’t have the data to back it up, other than observations of one single product and a theory of social adoption of innovation, but I have a hunch that Gartner’s Magic Quadrant is old news. A leader in the quadrant is something that has already picked. The product or service must have gone already past the late majority in the adoption of innovation cycle on Roger’s diagram. From that point on a long sunset follows with a string of sustainable innovations which are very much about “perfecting” the product.

In the case of SharePoint, it is too difficult now to embed social networking features. It is much easier to start something new and maybe have that platform SharePoint-friendly. Maybe something that could come out from Microsoft’s so.cl?