Why I have really joined the smartphone crowd

iphone4A few years ago I wrote about my experience of changing to a Nokia (now Microsoft) Windows Phone. I was a fan of the Nokia hardware design, and was working at an ERP software company that had a partnership with Microsoft, and I didn’t want to be like the crowd (i.e. iPhone or Android), so it seemed a reasonable decision to go the Windows Phone route. I also referred to reports about smartphone market share that I thought were biased – see here.

The truth is that now I have joined the crowd, the iPhone crowd. Continue reading

Device death and human-centred technology

DevicesWhy do we sometimes occasionally see articles on “the death of”, referring to tablets or PCs? If you look at the data from the KPCB Internet Trends slides about sales of devices, sales of laptops and PCs aren’t doing well, and tablet ownership is still low compared to smartphones. But why do some people think such articles should be written?

A story in TechCentral about PCs noted that modern users:

switch seamlessly between work mode on a laptop, to social mode on a smartphone, without ever slowing to adapt to a different device or operating system between tasks.
Life has more than one mode and technology should, too.

What we are now starting to do is use different devices for different purposes and in different contexts. That is what the “death of” writers seem to miss; just because a device isn’t growing significantly does not mean it is dying.

Unless all you do is read documents, no one would suggest it is easier to write and edit a document, or code a program, on a tablet compared to a PC. PCs are just better suited to some activities, especially for work.

It seems we are in a period of changing form factors and usage models. No one wants an old-fashioned PC in their home, or think that it should control and monitor their home. But people are quite prepared to have a specialized device to do that – as long as it’s connected to their smartphone, of course.

In 1999 a book forecasted that computers would move from being technology-centred to human-centred. One reason that tablets and smartphones have become popular is that they are usable by the average person – you are not expected to be tech savvy to use them. In the old PC days, it was a sign of proficiency that you could use a PC.

The book points out that tech companies tried to make the PC generic, and thus it became not specific for anything. When Microsoft wanted to to turn the PC into the home entertainment controller, the Windows Media Centre, it failed because it was trying to make the ‘reluctant masses’ adopt the attitudes of engineers and early adopters.

What Steve Jobs realized, and the engineering brains at Microsoft didn’t, was that for a technology device to be adopted by the majority of society, you have to understand two things, as a review of the book discusses:

  1. The user needs to educate or inform the design process from the beginning.
  2. The designers must ensure that the technology is not part of the difficulty.

Essentially, a technology device needs to become an appliance before general society will use it. That means the task, and learning to use it, have to be the same. As an appliance is designed for one thing, expect to see more devices as specialization increases.

Currently, Google, and recently Microsoft, are investing in different technologies for different applications, not trying to shoehorn one technology into a variety of roles.

I wonder what next device will have it’s death written about?

Smartphone apps change the daily commute

For years the commuting trip to work was a gamble I took every morning.

The route I take is never covered by the radio traffic reports, so I was never sure what the traffic would be like, and how long it would take to get to work. There were mornings when I had to get to a meeting but the traffic was far worse than I expected and I was late, even though I left home early.

Now thanks to an app on my smartphone, and the data the app uses, I have a better idea of traffic conditions. Not only that, I can review different routes to see which might be better.

HereDriveCommuteI’m referring to the Here Drive+ app on my Nokia Windows Phone. The My Commute function on Here Drive+ allows me to view different routes I have used to get to work. It shows how long each route will take and indicates where the traffic flow is bad.

I had to initiate My Commute and let it run during my first commute in order to store my particular routes, but after that the routes are saved. Like Google Maps, it will also calculate a best route.

According to one article, the Here traffic algorithm works by aggregating data from various sources into the cloud, and giving almost real-time reporting. In most cases that is sufficient for me, however I look forward to a real-time traffic alert because traffic jams seem to happen very quickly.

Reading about the company, which is part of Nokia, it seems to be part of the new wave of connected in-car apps that will re-design the driver interface.

Mobile marketshare – think regional, not global

When I see smartphone market share reports, like the one from Gartner quoted in the Seattle Times, I wonder if anyone realises that there is a problem with ‘global’ reports.

The reason why I believe global reports are a problem is that they obscure the fact that market shares for this type of technology are not globally uniform, and can be very different between regions.

It’s wrong to assume that  Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century is true. In fact, a recent article that examines Friedman’s view notes:

The world is still far from flat today, and, in many industries, it’s likely to retain its curvature for quite some time to come.

A more detailed mobile market share report shows how the market shares can vary widely by country.

It does amaze me though that US writers seem surprised that the market share patterns in their country are not followed elsewhere – even when the reasons are pointed out.

For technology companies, therefore, check what type of technology your industry is in. Is there significant regional variation? If so, do you know what the reasons are, and how can you address them?

My big upgrade and review – Windows Phone

I have recently upgraded my mobile phone – I used to have a feature phone, Nokia E51, but upgraded to a smart phone, Nokia Lumia 710. The big upgrade though is the operating system; the E51 ran Symbian, the Lumia runs Windows Phone 7 (actually it’s 7.5, Mango). Getting used to the physical phone, from one with real keys to one with a keyboard display, wasn’t the biggest adjustment, but getting used to the new operating system with its new way of doing things, actually doing everything, was an enormous challenge.

This change in the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) was enormous. I think the last time I had to adjust to such a significant UI and UX was when I changed from a PC running DOS to one that ran Windows. You get to learn to do things a certain way, and then with the new operating system you discover that in order to learn  about the new things you have to unlearn the old ones.

It probably took me a week to get used to the new UI (keyboard etc), but longer to become familiar with the UX (e.g. how the keyboard works in different situations). However, after I got used to doing things differently, I began to appreciate the new things that I couldn’t do before. Microsoft’s integration of Windows Phone with its Internet services and Office web applications is amazing. I am referring to how you can use SkyDrive to store not only pictures you take with the phone, but also notes and reminders you can create using the web version of Windows OneNote. You can also upload Word and Excel files to SkyDrive and read them on the phone.

As a phone, Nokia have done a great design and engineering job on the Lumia. Combine that with the capabilities of Office and other Microsoft software, and the Windows Phone is the best business-oriented phone I have seen. The iPhone is great for individuals, but if you work in a business environment where Microsoft predominates, Windows Phone is far better suited for your needs.

From a social point of view, Windows Phone allows you to share photos to Facebook very easily (Microsoft’s purchase of Facebook shares probably helped that) as well as other social networks like Twitter. There is also a very useful feature in contact management – Windows Phone allows you to combine your standard contact details with other details that the same person may logged via your phone elsewhere. For example, I could combine people’s Outlook contact details with their Google email address and Twitter handle. The only major weakness though is that there is no way to easily send someone’s contact card via an SMS (text message).

Windows Phone also allows you to combine calendars; so I can see my work-related Outlook Calendar and my personal Google Calendar appointments in one phone calendar view.

There is an app store, the Market Place, where you can download free and paid-for apps. The apps I really needed – e.g. for TwitterEvernote, RememberTheMilk – I could find on the Market Place. I also found that Amazon provide a free Kindle app for the Windows Phone, so for the first time I have started considering Kindle books.

If I was interested in games, I might be able to say something about the Xbox features on the Lumia Windows Phone, but as I am not, I won’t. The music apps – Microsoft’s Zune, and Nokia Music – work well together and I found it very easy to use. But you do have to download Zune to your PC to in order to sync the music between your PC and the phone.

In sumary, I like the Nokia Lumia and am very glad I got it. I also think Microsoft have done a great job with Windows Phone in terms of its look-and-feel and general usability.

Anyone else got some comments?

Reality for iPhone fans

Care of a BBC story about the Windows Phone 7 launch, there is a chart showing the relative market shares of mobile phone categories.

While Apple’s market share has increased significantly in the last 2 years, Symbian is still the biggest by a large margin. Apple has gone from only a few percentage points to about 15%. The really interesting item is that Android as come from nothing to 15-20%.