Just about every news outlet in the world is buzzing about the launch of Amazon's new Kindle tablet, called the Fire. The real story is not the Fire, however. It's Amazon Silk, the new properietary browser created just for Kindle.
Make no mistake, Amazon is going mano a mano against Apple. But, it's not the Kindle tablet vs. the Apple iPad. This is about Amazon.com vs. iTunes.
Even beyond that, it's about data mining. The Kindle Fire is just the bait to get us in the Amazon tent.
What's unique about Silk is that it divides the online browsing chores between the device's hardware and Amazon's cloud (EC2). From the user's perspective, you browse the Web, surfing from site to site, downloading page after page of content. But in this case, the real processing work is actually being done in Amazon's cloud.
Here's how: Traditionally, tablets with their lesser processing speeds are challenged compared to regular computers. The page loading, along with rendering all those images and their various external scripts, can be clunky and slow. Amazon explains that with Silk, it can render all of that in its cloud with super-computing speed and then download a compressed version to the Kindle at much faster speeds than other tablets.
Anecdotally, reports seem to support Amazon's claims. However, it will take a some days before we start seeing the first results of independent testing clocking actual speeds.
It doesn't matter. It's just the cheese to set the trap, anyway.
As I wrote about in yesterday's post, I have reservations about the claim that the Kindle Fire is going to make its bones in the tablet market. But the Kindle line is another matter. Through the Kindle, Amazon is positioning itself to be the gateway to every move you make on the Internet. Amazon even brags it will give you the privacy to surf anonymously, because every site you visit will only leave behind Amazon's IP address as a footprint and not your own.
There's only one catch to that. Your every move may be anonymous to the sites you visit. But, it won't be anonymous to Amazon. Amazon is positioning itself to data-scrap every move a customer makes.
Back to iTunes
The media have become so obsessed with Apple's cash cows, the iPhone and iPad, it has taken its eye off the other cash cow: iTunes.
Over the past decade, Apple has brilliantly built a walled garden where the average customer invests hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dollars over time in buying media content (music, movies, apps, games, eBooks, etc.). From the customer's perspective, if you don't like the latest iPad or iPhone or iPod; what are you really going to do about it? Porting over all your files to another ecosystem is a pain, if not impossible for the not-so-tech savvy user.
iTunes is like the Hotel California of online shopping. You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.
Amazon wants its walled garden too. Just like Apple first did with the iPod and then the iPhone and now the iPad, Amazon wants to do the same using the Kindle.
It would be the vehicle to check you in, so you can never quite leave.
"We don't think of Kindle Fire as a tablet. We think of it as a service."
Amazon CEO and founder, JefF Bezos, is not making much of a secret of all this. At yesterday's launch event he said the following: "We don't think of Kindle Fire as a tablet. We think of it as a service."
Earlier this week, I wrote about the creepiness of OnStar's announcement that it plans to data-mine the movements of even its former subscribers with presumably inactive systems still in their cars.
This is worse, much worse. It doesn't bode well for personal privacy and it doesn't bode well for the online start-up that may soon find much of their potential online customer base already under the thumb of their larger, established online competitors.
If Amazon's new Kindle Fire doesn't make it; it won't be from lack of hype in the press. Actually, I can give you a list of reasons why the Fire leaves me cool.
First however, let's go over the launch details.
Today, Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos stopped short of wearing a mock black turtleneck to do his best Steve Jobs impersonation. He even went so far as to introduce the highly anticipated and well-rumored Kindle Fire with a "Now, I've got one more thing to show you" (a direct rip-off of Jobs' signature line at Apple launch events).
Bezos unveiled a new line-up of Kindles with a price range from $79 to $199. Three models are under $100. That part is pretty exciting news in the eReader world (unless you are on the board at Barnes and Noble, seller of the Nook). The top of the line model is a new stripped down tablet called the Fire.
It runs on the Android platform, although it won't really feel like it to the user. Unlike other Android tablets, the Fire uses Amazon's own properietary browser called Amazon Silk.
Again, there is much hype and excitement about the Fire. Here's why I am skeptical:
1. Is it a tablet or an eReader? It's clearly trying to be both. It's a Kindle, after all. And with the Amazon Silk browser, it is optimized for eBooks and now other media content. The problem is that it doesn't have an eInk screen, which is optimal for long format reading. So, it's sub-standard eReader. The battery life is also much shorter than the cheaper Kindles, with only six to eight hours of juice. It's also technically a tablet. It runs on the Android platform. It only comes in a 7-inch screen for now, and with no camera (so no video chat). So for someone who is ready to get a tablet, this will not satisfy. Believe me, no one is going to dump their iPad or Galaxy Tab for the Fire. Bottom line: The Fire will not bridge these two technologies. It will fall between them.
2. In the short term, I believe the Kindle Fire will sell like hotcakes this Christmas. Lots of grown children will buy one for their retired Mom or Dad, who would likely be more content with a stripped down tablet with limited functionality. It's simple and it is a turn-key to access all that consumable media on Amazon.com. As long as you can get everything you need in Amazon's walled garden, you'll be happy for awhile. This reminds me of all the people who started out on "America Online" back in the mid-90s and outgrew it within a year or two. Even the more technophobic types eventually moved on to surfing the Internet with just a browser. To date, no one has looked back. To me, the souped up versions of the Kindle (and the Nook) are tablets with training wheels. Short-term, they will sell. In the longterm, they will become Trivial Pursuit questions.
4. Pricing. Right now, some are praising Bezos as a pricing genius offering his low-end eReaders below $100 and his new high-end Fire at $199. $199 beats out the cheapest iPad at two thirds the price. More importantly, it beats out the color Nook by $50. Sounds great, right? I agree, the low-end models are where they need to be. The run on the recent fire-saled HP WebOS tablets at $99 showed everyone that there are a lot of people out there excited about getting their first tablet. Priced low enough, they'll camp out at Best Buy to get one. Keep in mind, this is not $99 for a fully operational, fully featured tablet. It's twice the price for half the product, as that. When consumers start looking at the specs and see what they are getting for their money, they'll remember Mama was right. You get what you pay for.
All that being said, there was something that really got my attention from today's launch. Forget the Fire, It will flame out. It's that new browser, Amazon Silk, that is in for a long smooth ride.
More on that tomorrow.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a fan of nuclear energy. I was able to get an inside look at the current state of the nuclear industry from a friend at Qualitech Solutions named Chris Sewell. Qualitech Solutions provides mission-critical software to many industries, including the energy industry. They have customers that are involved in nuclear utilities as well as design engineering firms working on major construction projects. Qualitech Solutions has been in business for more than a decade.
I first wanted to talk about how the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster in Japan that followed the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011 affected the industry.
Sewell says, “There is a hesitancy to continue with nuclear construction projects amidst the public concern over nuclear safety. Society as a whole has become hypersensitive with anything pertaining to nuclear plant issues and safety. The Fukushima incident not only altered the social climate, but also affected the financial backing of various new construction projects. There is however, a general consensus that due to its low carbon imprint, nuclear energy must be part of our energy future.”
The general public fears nuclear energy. That is understandable considering the information that the public has been given. The catastrophes and the mistakes are front page news. But if the general public had more information about how the best nuclear plants are run, the opinion could turn. This is why I asked Sewell about the success of nuclear energy in France.
“The French generate approximately 80% of their energy using nuclear power. They have realized the long-term financial and environmental benefits to nuclear power and have continued supporting the industry and its growth within their country and abroad. AREVA, the French nuclear engineering firm, continues to work with partner companies to license and construct new nuclear plants and fuel facilities, such as the uranium enrichment plant in Idaho.”
But in other countries, “nuclear plants are trying to get by with fewer people,” Sewell explained. However, the more safety mechanisms that are developed in the industry, the more financial support the nuclear energy industry will receive. One big safety development is in regard to the nuclear reactors themselves.
“The newest nuclear reactors (Generation IIIs) have additional layers of safety and technology to stave off a meltdown in the event of a power loss (as happened at Fukushima). The first of the Generation III reactors is due to come online in 2016 at The Vogtle Electric Generating Plant, located in Georgia,” said Sewell.
The more safety measures that are developed, the more proactive the nuclear energy industry can be in addressing problem areas before a catastrophe happens. I'm sure this won't make everyone feel safe tonight though, will it?
General Motors's subsidiary, OnStar, is now the one getting tracked by some Congressional leaders after a controversial e-mail it sent out to customers earlier this month.
OnStar disclosed to customers that starting December 1, it will be tracking the movements of its customers for data-mining purposes. That includes former customers. So, even if you cancel your subscription to OnStar services; it plans to track your every turn and detour for milk for the purposes of selling marketing data to third parties.
In fact, it is more than tracking locations. It also includes tracking vehicle diagnostics. OnStar wants to collect data when its customers and former customers are changing their oil, checking their tires, and filling up their tanks. Like we don't get enough Meineke circulars as is.
OnStar argues this is okay because the data will be aggregated making individual data anonymous.
Democratic Senators Chris Coons, Al Franken, and Chuck Schumer beg to differ. Coons and Franken have written a letter to OnStar condemining the practice as a basic violation of privacy. Schumer is asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate.
OnStar is offering an opt-out option by phone. However, it is only by phone and not also offered online. It's interesting to me that the company they informed customers by e-mail, but can't offer a link at the bottom of the e-mail to opt out on the website.
Or better yet, how about leaving it to customers to opt-in?
Why is the economy so dismal? The Federal Reserve warned in September 2011 that the U.S. economy is facing "significant downside risks" as stocks and commodity prices are falling around the world. Since the start of April 2011, unemployment claims have sat above 400,000 each week, according to U.S. Labor Department. This is not good news for our nation as we try to crawl out from under this recession.
“By certain synthetic measures of profitability, some economists calculate that we have been coming out of a recession for a couple of years now; and they worry that America is likely to dive back down for a second downturn,” says Clayton Christensen, expert on innovation, Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School and founder of Innosight Institute. Why aren’t companies hiring? The answer can be found in how we measure profitability, which Christensen believes to be flawed at its core. “These measures are like having managers inhale nitrous oxide (laughing gas). They feel like all is well – even though their companies often are truly in distress. In reality we have never come out from the 2008 recession.”
Christensen explains how profitability models mislead managers. “RONA (Return On Net Assets), for example, has a numerator and a denominator. You can increase that ratio by creating more profit or by getting assets off the balance sheet. The more you outsource, the fewer the assets and the higher your RONA becomes. But then they realize there’s nothing left of their company – they’ve divested everything in the company that creates true profit, even as they pursued ‘profitability,’” he says.
Even though RONA is a valuable equation for companies, it can trick a company into outsourcing too much work, which results in hiring fewer people, owing more money and ultimately being less profitable. This hurts job seekers and the economy. Compare this to how a start-up company initially measures profitability.
“Generally when a company is starting out, it measures growth by the number of employees, revenues, market share and net profits,” says Christensen. “At some point, as these fundamentals hit a plateau, many companies adopt new key indicators of ‘health’ – anything that can produce a bar chart in the company’s annual report that shows improvement – measures like RONA (in reality, they’ve often outsourced things to get assets off the balance sheet); gross margins (they’re being driven out of the mainstream market by disruptive competitors); or revenues per worker (it masquerades as a measure of productivity, when in reality you just had a big lay-off). Such indicators convey that the company is going up, when in reality it is not.”
What are other causes of fewer jobs in the marketplace? Christensen believes it is also due to how venture capitalists fund businesses: “Venture capitalists have largely stopped funding disruptive innovation. As a consequence, we haven’t had the engine of employment like we’ve had in the past. We measure the economy with the wrong metrics, and then employment rates do not improve because we aren’t creating new disruptive opportunities.”
The concept of capital formerly connoted things like permanence and building. Now, much of capital is “migratory capital.” The minute it is put into a company it wants to get out. If the capitalists can get more capital out of the company than they put into it, and if they can get it out fast, it increases their IRR (internal rate of return) – another synthetic shot of laughing gas. It causes venture investors to invest primarily in projects that can quickly be sold to a larger company. Investing to create companies that create what Christensen calls “new-market disruptions” – companies that make products or services that are so much more affordable and accessible that many more people can own and use a product than in the past – are increasingly rare. The reason: it typically takes 5-10 years until such disruptive companies are ready to go public – and it kills the IRR. As a result, the economy is awash in migratory capital that is trolling around the economy for companies in which they can quickly get more money out of the company than they put into it. And the economy is in a drought of company-building capital.
Clayton Christensen is someone I greatly admire. He is the expert on disruptive innovation. His expertise on this topic was first outlined in his book, The Innovator’s Dilemma. He is currently a Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School and founder of Innosight Institute, a non-profit think tank.
I sat down with Christensen recently to chat about two of his books, Disrupting Class and The Innovator’s Prescription, as well as his current research. A topic we discussed at length is his analysis of marketing—and why most businesses get it wrong.
According to Christensen, “The basic idea that marketing is wrong at its core is one of the main reasons why innovation seems blocked and unpredictable.”
So, what is the impetus that causes consumers to buy a certain product? Simple: consumers buy products to complete jobs that need to be accomplished.
“We all have jobs in our lives that we must get done. We reach out and bring products into our lives to get these jobs done,” said Christensen. “Marketing is all about asking, ‘What job is the customer trying to accomplish?’”
By shifting the focus to the job that needs to be completed, a product’s life cycle becomes insignificant. “Most marketers think there’s a concept called a product life cycle. Once you realize that the world is organized by jobs that need to be done, you understand that product life cycles don’t exist.”
So what’s so innovative about marketing with the idea of helping customers achieve their goals? According to Christensen, this idea will greatly differentiate your business from your competitors.
“If you understand cause and effect, it brings about a set of insights that leads you to a very different place. The knowledge will persuade you that the market isn’t organized by customer category or by product category. If you understand the job that consumers need to complete, you can articulate all of the experiences in that job,” Christensen explains.
A company’s product and the buying process must provide a sense of job completion for the customer. If a company can accomplish this, it can gain an advantage in the marketplace.
“When a company identifies how to integrate the processes needed to give the consumer a sense of job completion, it can blow away the competition. A product is easy to copy but experiences are very hard to replicate,” Christensen says.
A good example of this concept is Ikea. Ikea accomplishes the job of furnishing a new apartment as fast as possible. They’ve been at the top of their market for 40 years because they serve that needed task so well.
An important question to ask is: how often does the job your business is aligned with occur for the customer? In order to figure this out, Christensen suggests, “Use your own intuition; your intuition about how lives occur.”
I’m such a fan of equations, so that answer is a little scary for me, but I understand what he means. We all know how we think and feel about the various jobs in our lives. Christensen suggests using our knowledge, our instinct, to tap into how a customer feels about the job he or she needs to accomplish. This is an exciting and new way to look at marketing.
What job does your business accomplish?
At least it's not pink!
HTC refuses to admit it's new Android "Rhyme" is a chick phone. But make no mistake; it's a chick phone. It's purple and comes with matching accessories. Need I say more?
You know I will. Here goes...
The "Rhyme" was unveiled to the press in New York City this week. It actually goes on sale through Verizon later this month for $199.00 (that's with a two-year service contract, of course).
Indeed it is purple and I have to admit, it's actually a pretty good deal. It comes with loads of accessories (matching purple, of course); a purple bluetooth, a set of purple tangle-free ear buds, and a (not-purple) speaker dock. The accessory getting the most attention, however, is something called the "Charm."
It's purple, of course.
The charm is a dongle-like attachment with a cube at the end that lights up (purple) when there's a call or text message. The idea is that when your phone is deep in the bowels of, say, a purse (or a manbag, I suppose), the charm can keep you from missing something important. Justin Beiber fans are going to love it!
The specs are certainly respectable enough, but not exceptional to other recently released Android models. It runs on Android "Gingerbread," has a 3.7-inch display, a 1GHZ processor, and includes both a rear and front-facing camera on board. Again, not bad—today! It'll likely be a dinosaur by the holidays, however.
Funny, when consumer electronic makers want to rope in men; they emphasize performance. When then want to rope in women, we get purple.
I'm not "charmed."
However if you're going to cross that invisible line, HTC, and patronize us, you might as well do it right.
Maybe the Rhyme II could come with some pre-loaded diet apps and a basil thermometer.
Better yet, speaking for the middle-aged soccer-mom crowd; I'd like a special "Steel Magnolias" Anniversary Rhyme in Julia Roberts' signature colors (bashful and blush).
Ooh! Ooh! Maybe you could partner with Revlon and match our nail polish. I'd also like my bluetooth to have a little compartment for my lipstick, while you're at it.
It's not just the so-called "Post-PC" era that is kicking the backsides of Microsoft, HP, and Dell; it's the dramatic shift in the server market too.
While Microsoft continues to dominate the enterprise server market with 71 percent of new sales worldwide (according to second-quarter figures for 2011), the Web server market is a different story.
According to Netcraft, Microsoft Web servers now account for just more than 15 percent of market share. A year ago, it was 25 percent. That's a big drop in one year; big enough to call it a trend, I think. Two-thirds of the Web server market is now sewn up by Apache.
Given Microsoft's dominance in the enterprise space, I don't think anyone has to worry about the 'softies in Redmond going without a holiday bonus this year. However, the long view is looking a bit scary.
When we talk about Web servers, we're primarily talking about servers for big public websites and their data centers; i.e. the "cloud."
Yes, the cloud! You know, that place where the future of computing is headed at a very fast clip.
As big companies like Google and Facebook, for example, build data centers to host their "clouds" of vast, vast data, they are typically doing two things:
1. Choosing open-source options (instead of a Windows server).
2. Building their own stripped down servers (instead of buying a Dell or HP server).
Facebook not only builds its own "DIY servers," but it also wants other businesses to do the same. Unlike Google, which jealously guards its homebrew server know-how, Facebook earlier this year launched something called the "Open Compute Project" educating other businesses in how to build stripped down, "no brand name" servers.
Facebook boasts that its DIY servers are cheaper, use less electricity, and run more efficiently in a cloud environment.
DIY servers now account for 20 percent of the server market.
That's a lot of lost market share for the likes of HP and Dell to swallow at a time when desktop PC and laptop sales are getting cannibalized by the mushrooming tablet and smartphone markets.
Footnote: Oddly enough, Microsoft is sort of doing the DIY server thing, too. For its MSN and Bing cloud, for example, Microsoft has built data centers running on a customized, stripped down, DIY server farm too. The difference is that its DIY servers run on Windows—and Microsoft outsourced HP and Dell to build them according to spec.
It's certainly looking that way—and Apple's iPad is the victor. The latest casuality appears to be Research in Motion's Blackberry Playbook. It's still on the market, but sales have been lackluster to say the least. In an earnings call this week (another sad story in of itself), RIM had to acknowledge it only sold only 200,000 Playbooks over the previous quarter. That's less than than half of what it was expected to sell. During the same time period, Apple sold over nine million iPads, by comparison.
Also this week, Sharp scaled back its tablet offerings in Japan. It's only selling the 7-inch screen model, pulling its 10-inch and 5-inch screen options. Apple is beating the pants off all the other tablet options in Japan, as well, needless to say.
Just a few weeks ago, Hewlett Packard made the dramatic move pulling its WebOS Touchpad off the market after only six weeks in stores.
Reality sandwich: the iPad owns 66 percent of the tablet market. Android trails behind at 27 percent. The few other percentage points belong to the varioius distant runner-ups that just can't seem to get any traction.
The popular technology research think tank, International Data Corp, is projecting this gap between the iPad and Android tablets to at least begin to narrow next year driven primarily by price cuts.
I agree its possible the gap will tighten from competitive pricing. But, dare I say that it's "game over"? When so many consumers are in the position of buying their first ever tablet and they are being baraged with one headline after another of newly introduced tablets struggling, why would anyone take a chance on anything besides the established iPad? Who wants to risk buying a tablet that could be an overpriced brick by the time you get it home?
More importantly, if Apple has won the tablet war then what will this mean for the smartphone war?
As more people move into the multi-device lifestyle of having both a smartphone and a tablet, it stands to reason they are going to want both to run on the same operating system. It's not practical to have an Android phone and an iPad tablet. Will Apple's critical mass in the tablet market drive more smartphone users to use iPhones instead of Android phones, especially with more carriers now offering iPhones? Google has given Apple a big run for its money over the past couple of years—even surpassing the iPhone in new smartphone sales. Given these two factors, iPad sales and more carriers offering the iPhone, I'm not sure Google can sustain this.
It’s becoming common practice among small businesses to have employees spread out all over the country and even all over the globe. How do you establish a company culture when employees are not working together in the same office everyday? Thanks to social networking, connecting with offsite employees is easier than ever. There are now social networking tools created specifically for enterprises, and one of them is Yammer.
Yammer is a “social collaboration [tool that helps] teams connect and complete the projects they are working on faster because they can find information, answer questions, poll colleagues and share ideas in real-time,” describes Adam Pisoni, CTO of Yammer. Yammer has a user interface that is quite similar to Facebook, which makes the learning curve very small. Yammer has a downloadable desktop app as well as a mobile app, which also have very clean user interfaces and are easy to use.
At Journyx, we’ve been experimenting with Yammer and there have been mixed opinions. The onsite employees would rather just talk to each other face-to-face but the offsite employees are feeling more connected. For example, an onsite employee is currently planning the annual company holiday party and she is using Yammer to ask everyone what their preferences are for the party. Offsite employees have been able to offer suggestions, such as having karaoke and requesting preferred party times. This makes the entire company feel connected: the party planner is able to gather input from everyone in the company, regardless of their location, and all employees can offer their input in a helpful way.
One offsite employee said that Yammer felt like a giant instant message group since many employees are on Yammer, but Yammer is beyond an IM group. We can share content as well as send both private and public messages.
Bruce McGraw of Cognitive Technologies, a SharePoint consultancy, points out that SharePoint already does all of the things that Yammer does, out of the box. But very few companies realize this so it’s doubtful that SharePoint is being used in this way in many cases.
One word of caution about Yammer: it becomes rooted in your company with no knowledge or assistance from your IT team or executive staff -- after all, it's free. But before you know it, Yammer might become an integral part of your operations, containing important and sensitive data about your firm. If someone spouts off and says something inappropriate and you need to obtain the administrative rights to the system, then you have to pay. The cost is only $5 per user, per month, so it’s not much but it could add up if you have 5,000 employees. Of course, you can always firewall off the site but not from remote employees.
It's just another example of how tools are entering your workplace whether you want them to or not. This is an issue that all companies will deal with and you need to plan appropriately.
Curt Finch is the CEO of Journyx, a time and resource management web-based software.
There are lots of entrepreneurs out there (maybe you!) who have a great business plan that happens to have either an e-business part to it or all of it would be an e-business. Having the business acumen to come up with a rock-solid plan, dazzle investors, and maintain the determination to launch it are one thing. Having the tech chops to launch the online presence necessary (a website, a mobile website, an auction storefront on eBAy, etc.) is another set of, well, chops.
We all know the uphill battle new businesses face. According to the Small Business Adminstration, about three out of 10 fail within the first two years. Within five years, about half of all start-ups fail. For the enterpreneur who is dicey about designing and launching their own website ... well, what statistical door do you think they will enter?
So, there you are looking at the promise of ease setting up an online shingle or storefront with your hosting domain's sitebuilding tool or an eBay page, etc. Here's what you need to know:
You get what you pay for.
If it's that easy to set up, you are not going to stand out among the crowd. Your site is going to look like a million other sites.
Unless you are entrepreneur who also happens to be an accomplished web producer, your site will have limited function, no search engine optimization to speak of and you your traffic numbers will be limited to your Mom and maybe few percent of your closest friends on Facebook who take pity on you and click on your site once to support your new endeavor.
It's ugly out there.
Hiring a pro to get you started might just be an even uglier option. It's just too expensive and easy credit is hard to come by in this economy.
Here's a third option. Buy someone else's website at a bargain-basement price.
If you sell shoes, I'm not suggesting buying Zappos. However, there are tons of websites out there brokering the sale of small business websites. Depending on the site, it may cost less than a grand. Other more successful sites will cost more, of course.
Other than saving you the sweat equity of building your own website, here are some other advantages (provided you do your homework and verify the numbers on the site):
1. An established site will come with at least some established site traffic.
2. An established site will already have a toe-hold in the search engine rankings for you to build on when you take it over.
3. An established site will already have a customer base from that site traffic.
4. It's easier to tweek a site cosmetically, then to dream up the entire look and feel from scratch. Fix it, don't fantasize it.
5. Talk to the previous owner and get some feedback on what worked and failed in the past. You'll make your own mistakes. But, there's no need to make the same mistakes twice.
6. One of your greatest challenges will be whether to launch multiple sites (one for the Web, one for the mobile Web, one within a high traffic, but walled garden venue like eBay, etc.). Buy the first one and use it as a launch pad onto other platforms.
Here are some places to shop around for existing websites:
- EBiz Brokers
- eBay's "Businesses and Web Sites For Sale" section
- BusinessBroker.net (clearinghouse of bricks and mortar businesses for sale, too)
- WebMaster's Marketplace
There are many other places to shop around. It goes without saying, "Caveat Emptor" (let the buyer beware). If it sounds too good to be true, very likely it is. If you can't get the owner of the website on the phone before putting your money down, something's fishy. Swim away.
If true, I think this way lies madness, HTC! In an interview with China's Economic Observer, HTC Chairwoman Cher Wang confirmed her company is possibly in the market for an operating system. She was quick to add that she's in no hurry to make a move. Nor did she say anything to indicate that HTC is lusting after Hewlett Packard's recently shelved and orphaned WebOS.
Of course, that's what everyone else is thinking. Just a few weeks ago, HP stopped production on its new line of WebOS tablets and indicated it has plans to spin off its PC unit while refocusing the company on software services for the enterprise. Since then the rumors have been flying about who might want to make a play for HP's WebOS. Samsung and HTC have been the most obvious suitors.
At the same time, Google announced plans to snap up Motorola Mobility, marrying Android to Motorola handsets and tablets in the future. As we know, Apple is married to itself with it's iOS mobile platform on top of its own iPhones, iPads and iPods. Research in Motion has its own proprietary operating system for its Blackberry devices. And while Microsoft doesn't own Nokia (yet?), the two companies have entangled themselves businesswise to better entangle Windows Phone 7 and Nokia's mobile hardware.
It seems integrated mobile devices are all the rage. But, is this a strategy that will backfire on the mobile industry?
Integrated devices is a strategy that works well for Apple. It's the industry leader. Logic would follow; copy Apple and be competitive. That's what Google is doing (and for them, this strategy is working beautifully). For Research in Motion, which just a few years ago ruled the cell phone/smartphone roost with its Blackberries, is now dying on the vine. HP bought up Palm just to get its hands on WebOS to integrate with its mobile devices. In action, that strategy lasted about six weeks on the consumer market.
My take: I think integrated devices are a great strategy for number one and two (Apple and Google's Android). For everyone else, you're screwed. The bottom line is that the mobile market is very, very quickly shaping up into an "either/or" market between Apple's iOS and Google's Android operating sytem.
Reseach in Motion, Microsoft, and the others who now or later decide to careen among the distant numbers three, four, and five mobile-operating sytems will have to learn how to survive on crumbs of market share—or do something else (like HP refocusing on software solutions for the enterprise).
The issue isn't whether the operating system and hardware should be fully integrated under one brand name. The issue is whether it's an Apple or Android device. Period.
Samsung, HTC and other mobile manufactorers would be better served shoring up their partnerships with Android (Google, for now, has now known plans to make Android proprietary to Motorola devices once the deal goes through). Hitching their wagons to one of the also-ran operating systems out there would put them on the path to the trash heap of mobile computing history, I fear.
Agree, or disagree?
The oil and gas industry hardly innovates! They just dig up oil! Who cares?
Actually, I care and I believe that you should, too. I’m so interested in this that I’ve been interviewing innovative professionals in the oil and gas industry. In my last post, I interviewed Wavefront Technology Solutions and RigNet. The more I spoke to these executives, the more impressed I became with the industry.
NeighborOil is changing the end of the energy cycle. As NeighborOil CEO Paul Harkins says, “We are the last mile in the oil business.” NeighborOil sells home heating oil in a very different way. Customers get points (or Neighbor Points as they are called) in several ways, including inviting other people to the NeighborOil web site. This gives NeighborOil a viral effect. “Our customers get Neighbor Points by interacting with the web site. For example, they get points for posting what’s going on in their local area or inviting neighbors in their area to join NeighborOil. Points then convert to a cash credit when a person buys oil no matter where they live,” Harkins explains.
NeighborOil is using social networking to help customers lower their own oil costs. In this way, customers are advertising NeighborOil and getting rewarded for it. NeighborOil is about empowerment. “Our company puts the power to control the price they pay for oil back in the hands of customers,” says Harkins.
One striking difference about the oil and gas industry from other industries is its ability to operate every single day of the year without fail. Everyday we are able to pump gas in our cars and heat our homes. Dale Emanuel, president of Solomon Associates, the global energy consulting firm, told me how increased environmental regulations caused the industry to change their operations without disrupting business:
“Over the last 10 years, the industry has moved from a high sulfur content in gasoline and diesel to literally almost no sulfur. The American public really never knew about it and didn’t realize that the refining business had to spend billions and billions of dollars to do it. It was shipped all over the country effortlessly.”
Sulfur is a known contributor to haze. Reducing it not only provides important public health and environmental benefits but also greatly reduces the maintenance requirements of oil heat equipment.
The oil and gas industry incorporated this change seamlessly without affecting consumers. Operations can’t come to a halt in the oil and gas industry or the American public would suffer. We are dependent upon oil. But even through this intense demand, the industry was able to reduce the amount of sulfur in gasoline and diesel. I asked Emanuel about innovation in the industry and he had this to say:
“Regarding innovation, the most important thing I can highlight is what the oil and gas industry does every day, 365 days a year. To deliver gasoline to so many consumers so safely and economically is really an incredible feat. I think the American public tends to take this for granted.”
We would certainly realize it if things weren’t so reliable, if getting gas in our cars wasn’t always a given. But we know we can drive to the gas station and get gas immediately. I’ve said before that I think the oil and gas industry gets a bad rap. I am hopeful that those with negative opinions can identify the positive aspects of the industry. The industry is striving to be more environmentally conscious everyday. Additionally, it is working hard to make sure the industry doesn’t die out, to comply with increased government regulations, and to keep operations reliable ever single day for consumers.
I’m impressed. Are you?
The oil and gas business never changes! You get oil out of the ground, turn it into gas and put it in your car. Nothing ever changes, right?
New companies are making major inroads into changing the oil and gas industry. I had the pleasure of speaking with some innovative individuals in the industry and I’m excited to share their information with you.
Wavefront Technology Solutions Inc.
“We add 2 to 5 percent more to overall recovery, by rescuing stranded oil from light and heavy reservoirs. Primary production brings about 20 to 40 percent recovery. Secondary production by water flooding might add another 10 to 15 percent recovery. Add on our technology, Powerwave, to water or CO2 flooding and we may achieve up to 60 percent overall recovery.”
Wavefront’s patented Powerwave process is an injection technology that improves the flow of fluids in geological materials, including sedimentary soils and fractured rock. Powerwave increases oil recovery by optimizing the performance of existing secondary and tertiary oil recovery methods.
How are they able to recover so much oil? Brett compares the Powerwave technology to a water hose:
“We use a pulse. Take a water hose, for example. If I put a kink in the hose, I automatically stop the flow. I am storing energy behind the kink. When I release the kink, there is a sudden burst of accelerated fluid and then it goes back to normal flow. Wavefront adds a special device on the end of the injection string. It’s a valve that opens and closes. The valve mimics a garden hose when it closes by storing energy above the valve. When the valve opens, there is a sudden burst of accelerated fluid. Powerwave is an optimization technique that can potentially add billions of additional barrels of oil to world production.”
Wavefront’s Powerwave is a green technology; protecting the environment by potentially reducing the drilling of new wells to achieve better overall oil recovery from existing reservoirs.
RigNet, which supplies the upstream oil and gas industry with managed communications and other network-based services, provides internet services to oil rig workers in order to increase communication.
RigNet president and CEO Mark Slaughter provided more information: “We standardize the provision of remote communications to and from offshore drilling rigs. RigNet is used on about one third of the world’s offshore rigs.”
RigNet’s technology is similar to the internet access provided on airplanes where the internet is streamed via satellite.
Why would internet access be important to the crew of an oil rig? According to Slaughter, “When rig personnel are off duty, and personnel are usually young, internet-savvy males, they want to be connected to the internet to surf the web, email, use Skype, or check Facebook. If they don’t have that availability on the rig, they won’t want to stay in the industry.”
Providing internet access to rig personnel has caught on and RigNet makes it simple for workers to purchase internet time. Slaughter says, “Employees can log-on and enter a credit card number to purchase internet time. Our most affordable package is about $100 for 20 hours.” Regardless of whether the oil rig employee is very internet-savvy or only logs-on occasionally, RigNet’s internet access is popular due to the sheer amount of time that most employees are out on the rig, which is about 30 days.
Just like every other industry, the oil industry must constantly recruit new workers into the field. Providing internet access from the very beginning is vital to attracting new workers to the industry. Increased government regulations requiring rigs to report their operations more often also supports RigNet’s growing business. With the increase need of communication, the demand for services like RigNet becomes more in demand.
Stay tuned to part 2 of this article where I speak to more oil and gas executives.
Imagine this: There is a suspicion that you are in possession of stolen property (hypothetically, of course). Police want to come search your house, your car, and your office. Wanting to clear your name, you say "sure"!
But how would you feel if the owner of the stolen property joined the police in their search of your home, car, and office? If someone stole your laptop or collectible baseball card collection, would you expect the police to allow you to help search the private homes, etc. of their top suspects?
Apparantly, Apple gets this kind of VIP treatment from the San Francisco Police Department.
Last week, I told you that Apple did it again. Somehow an Apple insider managed to lose a super secret iPhone prototype at a San Francisco bar. This happened once before about 18 months ago at another San Francisco Bay Area bar just before the release of the iPhone 4. Crazy, eh? This time, what is believed to be an iPhone 5 prototype (there's unofficial word the real thing will come out next month) was reportedly found and sold on Craig's List for $200. Apple reportedly traced the missing phone via GPS signal to a San Francisco residential address and tipped off the police.
Here's where it gets creepy. It has since come to light, confirmed by the San Francsico Police Department, that Apple executives were allowed to go with police officers to the home in question and participate in the search of a private residence.
The man who lives at the house, 22-year-old Sergio Calderon, claims he did not understand at the time that the plain clothes people who he allowed to search his house were Apple employees and that if he had it to do again, he would have said "no". The Apple employees apparently searched his home, car, and computer. No missing iPhone was found, and no complaint was filed by Apple.
So what do you think? Do you think Apple overstepped? Is this the same company that positioned itself as the anti-Big Brother company back in 1984?
One other note: Apple posted a couple of jobs last week (not making this up) for new product security managers. You can read the job description yourself. For starters, here's the first requirement; "The candidate will be responsible for overseeing the protection of, and managing risks to, Apple’s unreleased products and related intellectual property".
For this job, Advil will be tax write-off, I'm guessing.
And there was much rejoicing! The people have spoken and Apple has heard your cries regarding the klugey compatibility between Final Cut X, the latest version of Apple's popular video editing suite, and previous versions.
Final Cut X, launched earlier this summer. Complaints were swift and copious. Apparantly, there was no seamless way to import projects or XML files from previous versions. At the same time, Apple was quick to take those older versions off the market nudging users to upgrade whether they wanted to or not.
On a much smaller scale, of course, this is sort of sounding like the Windows Vista/Windows XP situation that Microsoft stepped into a few years ago. Microsoft ended up keeping XP on the market way longer than it ever wanted.
Along those lines, Apple has announced today it is putting the previous version of Final Cut back on the market. It's $999 ($899 for educator clients) available to order only by Apple's 800 number on its web site. You won't find it listed on its site or in an Apple store.
It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but its not. Holy smartphone, it's happened again. On the eve of another iPhone release (iPhone 5 will reportedly come out later this month or next depending which reports you believe), Apple has lost its super secret iPhone prototype in a San Francisco Bay Area bar. Again! And somewhere in the San Francisco Bay Area, Gizmodo reporter Jason Chen is screaming, "Don't look at me this time!"
You may recall about 18 months ago (April of 2010), just a few months before the release of the highly anticipated iPhone 4, Chen got in a world of legal hurt after publishing pictures of a "missing" iPhone 4 prototype. the Gizmodo reporter claimed he bought it on behalf of his news organization for $5000 from a man who "found" it in a Redwood City bar (about a half hour south of San Francisco). Presumbably an Apple employee with access to the prototype had one too many Apple-tinis (Okay, that part's poetic license; couldn't resist. It was actually a beer garden.) and left it behind.
Apple didn't see it that way, claiming it was "stolen property" and while no one had reason to believe Chen stole it himself; Apple did press that he had to know it was stolen. Chen's apartment was raided by the local authorities seizing all his computer equipment. California has strict laws against knowingly possessing stolen property. It also has strict laws protecting the sources of journalists. Controversy ensued. Chen was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing and Apple sold a gazillion iPhone 4s (like there was ever a chance it wouldn't!). Now, fast forward to present day, weeks away from the next iPhone release.
As New York Yankee legend and tautological zen master, Yogi Berra would say: "It's deja vu all over again."
This time another iPhone prototype has been lost, presumbably the soon-to-be-released iPhone 5. This time it happened in a San Francisco bar, Cava22, which is described as a Tequila lounge. This time the finder of said phone reportedly sold it on Craig's List for $200 (economic indicator?).
Although the story broke this week, all this happened a month ago. Apple executives have been frantic to track down the phone. Apparantly it had a "Find my iPhone prototype" app installed (more tongue in cheek). Apple tracked down the missing phone to a residential address in San Francisco. Cops showed up. The resident claimed no knowledge of the phone and allowed them to search. It wasn't found. Apple executives on the scene offered a monetary reward and no questions asked if he could just cough up the phone. The man is sticking to his story and the prototype is still out there.
Really? I mean really? If Apple wants to leak a prototype to whip up pre-launch publicity, how about changing up the playbook! Do you believe lightening has struck twice? Is this just so goofy, could it actually be coincidence?
How come this never happens to Samsung or HTC?
In Part 1 of my interview, Sunni Brown, business owner, creative director, speaker and co-author of one of Amazon’s Top 100 Business Books titled GameStorming: A Playbook for Rule-breakers, Innovators and Changemakers, described graphic recording and the definition of Gamestorming. Below, Sunni discusses how to create innovative environments that produce amazing ideas.
Curt-What are the top reasons that a company would choose to do Gamestorming?
- It engages visual thinking. Visual thinking is dramatically different from traditional thinking.
- It’s participatory. Most people are multimodal learners, so the games are kinesthetic, visual and auditory-based. So it’s highly participatory on different modalities.
- It’s a highly innovative approach. Gamestorming has funneled people to innovative and breakthrough thinking. Let’s say you need to create a new software app. The games would help people come up with software apps they never had thought of. Games provide a creative environment for great ideas to emerge.
Curt-Which is more important to you: selling your book or providing great consulting services?
Sunni-This is going to sound kind of hippy, but I actually care about teaching people. It’s hard for me to make decisions about publishing because what I care about is getting more readers. I don’t necessarily care if that’s linked to more consulting or more book sales. I just want people to understand that this is a language, their native language, in fact. If they can incorporate visual language into their lives and their work, they’ll see a significant change. That’s what I actually care about.
Curt-Tell me an interesting Gamestorming story.
Sunni-The Gamestorming session with Razorfish was pretty interesting. Their client was being out-competed in terms of filing patents for innovative technologies. Their client was a huge global technology company and if you measure your patent filing as a rate of success, then they were not being as successful as they would have liked.
They asked me and a 2nd-City improvisational facilitator to come in and design a two-day Gamestorming session where they would ultimately come up with five patentable technology concepts in the visionary space. If they develop a patent for technology that is incremental, the probability of somebody already having filed the patent is very high so that’s not interesting. If they develop exploratory patents, which are about three to five years in the future, there’s less probability that somebody has already claimed that patent, but it’s still pretty high.
So we were trying to literally break through technological thinking that’s way out into the future. We gathered all these really brilliant people and the facilitator and I designed a sequence of games that we went through. We used some improv, which is so valuable for people to get out of their normal frame of thinking, but ultimately, because of the design of the games and the engagement of the stakeholders, they were able to come up with really solid, pursuable ideas.
I just spoke with Razorfish recently and they have filed the patents for the five ideas they came up with and they’re happy because they accomplished their goal. Before this, they had been half successful at putting people in a room and asking them to get creative and think about technology. But that kind of setting is not ideal for creativity. You’re literally not colliding neurons in your head that create something new when you put people in a room and don’t give them anything to play with. They’re just relying on people’s natural creative abilities rather than actually lighting a fire.
Curt-So that story’s really about innovation.
Sunni-Yes, but that’s not always the goal in a Gamestorming session. We just worked with the American Cancer Society and they were not trying to innovate, they were trying to analyze. Gamestorming is really valuable for breakthrough thinking, but it’s also valuable for analyzing and putting tactical ideas in place based on information you already have. It’s all about how you sequence the series of games. You can get to any outcome you want. You just have to know what you want your outcome to be and then design backwards from the knowledge of what you’re trying to accomplish.
Curt-It’s interesting that you’re using a low-tech technique to help technology companies create new technology.
Sunni-Yes, Gamestorming is absolutely low tech and it’s intentionally so. When you have businesses solving world problems, their end product may be digital, but all the things previous to that are going to be hands-on.
Thomas Edison’s research and development lab was the first of its kind. Western innovation was a bunch of people getting together, colliding ideas, playing with their hands and doing things that human beings do when they’re really trying to engage a topic or a challenge.
Gamestorming has 83 games now and we’ll keep adding games. The next step will be to look at video games, like Angry Birds, and take the game mechanics that make it fun and then apply it in a low-tech setting with real people. I’m a big fan of low tech, even though I speak at technology conferences all the time.
Curt-When I talk to young people about a career path, I wonder if they shouldn’t focus away from being a multitasker. Perhaps the person who is more hirable is the person who is more focused. It seems to me that what you’re doing is also very counter culture. It’s very not digital and doesn’t promote multitasking.
Sunni-Oh, absolutely. Much of the work that we do is based on the latest cognitive research about how the brain works. Multitasking is not even possible—it’s just shifting between tasks. You’re looking at one thing in a fragmented way and then looking at another thing in a fragmented way. Therefore, it takes even longer to do something and it’s usually lower quality. If I was looking for a job, I would never tell someone I was a great multitasker, but rather someone who chooses to focus on one thing at a time and does one task really well.
This concludes my interview with Sunni Brown. Are you going to use games in your next meeting? Let me know in the comments below!
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