» Archive for June, 2007

Whither iPhone? iPod or Newton?

Friday, June 29th, 2007 by Jonathan Spira

Enterprise market fails to roll out the welcome mat.

Will the iPhone turn out to be the mobile device that rocks the industry?  Apple and AT&T certainly hope so, as do hard-core Apple fans.  The path ahead, however, is far from clear.  Apple, aside from spawning a host of changes in how other makers of mobile devices design their wares, is hoping for a repeat of the iPod’s success and praying that the iPhone will not follow the footsteps of the Lisa and Newton Message Pad, both innovative devices that were somewhat ahead of their time and expensive.

And will Apple become a player in the enterprise space, a lucrative market with the potential for millions of sales in the next few years?

In less than one day, the iPhone will go on sale in the United States with a two-year mobile phone contract from AT&T.  The device is due to appear in Europe later this year and in Asia in 2008.  The market in the U.S. for $500 and higher mobile devices is quite small, perhaps 1% of the total market.  Clearly, with its sales projections of 200,000 sales in the first two days and as many as three million in the second half of 2007, Apple is counting on pent-up demand and hoping that purchasers will overlook the high price and mandatory two-year contract (as well as contract termination fees some customers may pay if they switch to another mobile operator before the end of their contract).

The iPhone, as revolutionary as it appears, is not the first touchscreen of its kind.  LG and HTC beat Apple to the punch with the Prada and Touch respectively.  But the iPod wasn’t the first music player either; it just turned out to be the coolest, easiest to use device with better infrastructure (iTunes) behind it.  The iPhone ups the ante in the mobile phone multi-function space, with optical-quality glass and a 3.5″ display, and software that allows users to control the iPhone with a tap, flick, or pinch of the fingers.  However clever this may be, the lack of a real (thumb-operated) keyboard may be its most glaring weakness, as more and more users see such devices as e-mail and SMS appliances.

Apple isn’t the first to provide visual voicemail, either.  A quick search using Google revealed that dozens of companies already offer what Apple calls an “industry first”; in fact, just today I installed SimulSays, a free, downloadable visual voicemail application for newer BlackBerry devices, that provides functionality virtually identical to what Apple promises.

The iPhone, with a choice of four or eight gigabytes of storage, won’t replace most people’s iPods, since many users have filled their 30- or 80-gigabyte drives with favorite music.

And the corporate world isn’t rolling out the welcome mat either.  Many companies and government agencies don’t like iPods to begin with, since they see them as just another external storage device that could allow a person to walk out the door with gigabytes of confidential information.

The iPhone cannot send or receive e-mail through corporate mobile e-mail systems, a market dominated by three companies, Research in Motion, maker of the BlackBerry, Microsoft, and Good Technology, owned by Motorola.  Still, Apple will most likely want to compete with RIM, Palm, and Nokia on the enterprise device front since that represents the higher-priced segment and companies tend to buy hundreds of devices at once.

Of course, the creative user could forward e-mail messages via a third-party Web mail service (such as from Google or Microsoft) but that would also compromise security and violate myriad rules.  Corporate security departments consider the iPhone too risky at this junction given its lack of the bullet-proof security features that are considered de rigueur today, such as remote wipe.  Thousands of mobile devices are lost each day and most are unlocked, potentially releasing proprietary and valuable information to third parties.

Most CIOs we’ve spoken with in the past few months have indicated that they have no plans to add support for the iPhone but expressed some interest if Apple were to make it simple for them to license software from Microsoft or RIM that would allow the iPhone to act like a virtual BlackBerry or Windows Mobile device.  Just today, Visto announced a version of its Visto Mobile secure mobile e-mail platform for the iPhone that will support Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Domino and Notes.  I’m sure others will follow suit but few if any companies will switch mobile-mail platforms midstream.

The silver bullet might eventually come from Cisco, owner of the iPhone trademark.  In resolving its trademark dispute with Apple, which came a month after the iPhone was launched, the two companies announced they will “explore opportunities for interoperability in the areas of security, and consumer and enterprise communications.”

In the meantime, the crowds will start lining up outside Apple and AT&T stores by the time you read this.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Airbus Misses Its Connection

Friday, June 22nd, 2007 by Jonathan Spira

Last October, in this space, we looked at the multi-billion euro cost of Airbus’ knowledge sharing failures.

We’ve continued researching this story and what we’ve learnt goes well beyond the € 4.8 billion profit hit parent company EADS will take over the coming four years.  Production of the A380 was halted because of a wiring problem, namely that the wiring harness for the cabin power supply, lighting, and electronics systems was too short.  This was due to the Airbus factory in Finkenwerder, Germany using an older version of CATIA design software from Dassault Systèmes than the Airbus factory in Toulouse, France.  Hence, while groups in the two factories thought they were exchanging very detailed, exact information, it turns out that the incompatibilities between the two versions made such information exchange rife with errors.

Why were there multiple versions?  Someone at Dassault put it succinctly, namely the “lack of foresight in process management at both the national and international level.”  In addition, the company was unwilling, by all accounts, to invest in the training that would be necessary for an upgrade.  Penny wise and pound foolish comes to mind.

But our story doesn’t end there.  Airbus then demonstrated an inability to share knowledge, this time between customers and the company, when it unveiled its A350 aircraft.  The A350 is in the mid-sized passenger plane market, estimated to be ca. 6,000 aircraft over the next 20 years.  Chief competitor Boeing has been selling the 787 Dreamliner for the past two years and Airbus is behind Boeing by over 550 orders.  Airbus thought they could get market share with a warmed-over version of an existing plane while Boeing was selling an aircraft that used innovative, high-tech materials that as a result was markedly more fuel efficient.

Had Airbus listened more closely to customers (a necessary part of knowledge sharing and collaboration), this error in judgment on their part may have been avoided.

The A380 problem made customers somewhat wary of Airbus; the A350 made customers flee to the competition.   Only recently did Airbus introduce a version of the A350 that looks as if it may compete with the Boeing 787 but the 787 will be in the air several years before the A350.

In a few weeks we’ll be publishing an In-Depth Research Report looking at Airbus’ plight so stay tuned.  We’ll let you know how the story ends.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Much Ado About Information Overload

Friday, June 15th, 2007 by Jonathan Spira

Some topics are worthy of discussion and information overload is certainly deserving of our attention.  The problem of information overload is constantly on our minds not only because managers at companies we talk to are starting to recognize the problem but because it impacts each one of us every day.

Sometimes information overload is too much information.  Sometimes it is not making the point clear at the beginning.  Narrative and story telling is all well and good, but if it is done at the cost of the reader’s understanding of what action he needs to take at the end, then it is simply too much.

A recent e-mail from a correspondent made my eyes glaze over.  The details of the e-mail are not germane, but the goal of this particular missive was to say “use test y.”  But the writer went on and on about test x and only mentioned test y once.

My takeaway from his e-mail – at least the first time – was to use test x.  About fifteen minutes later, I found myself rereading the note, convinced that there had to be more to it.  And, tucked in the many sentences, was “use test y.”

Writing an effective e-mail doesn’t mean filling the screen, it means getting the point across.  E-mail is an ever-increasing part of how we do business and a major contributor to the problem of information overload.

If we take a step back, and try to write more succinctly, we’ll get our point across better and save time to boot.

We’re just starting a major research program on information overload, appropriately enough entitled Information Overload Strategies.  You can learn more about this program by clicking here.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

So Simple a Five-Year-Old Can Do It

Friday, June 8th, 2007 by Jonathan Spira

We were brought up to be polite.  We say “thank you” and “good bye” and “you’re welcome” and observe other social niceties.  This is all well and good in person but frankly might be overkill when observed in enterprise instant messaging sessions.

Just like the oaf who has to reply to all with “Thanks” or “Great!”, many knowledge workers have trouble knowing where to stop the conversation in IM.

An ideal IM session might be no more than a few sentences, e.g.

Me:  Sorry to interrupt – do you have quick figures on February sales?

VP Finance:  Sure.  Widgets were $30 million and doodads were $10.5 million.  Need anything else?

Me:  No but thanks. NNTR.

There we have it. Short and sweet.  But what is this NNTR I hear you all cry.  NNTR is shorthand I came up with to end the frustration of the IM session that goes on forever.  It is shorthand for “no need to reply.”  Effectively, by its use, the writer is saying “Don’t feel obligated to continue as we have accomplished all we need to accomplish.”

It’s so simple a five-year-old could do it.

But does it work?  I started using NNTR about a year ago here at Basex (with a brief explanation of course) and I have found that not only are people stopping after an NNTR but they are NNTRing me as well.

Since I’ve covered all that needs to be said, let’s just say NNTR and good night.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Palm Introduces Foleo, New Tool for the Knowledge Worker

Friday, June 1st, 2007 by Jonathan Spira

On Wednesday, Palm announced a new type of product, the Palm Foleo.  Palm bills this as a smartphone companion and it fulfills that function admirably.  The Foleo, with a 10.2″ color screen and full-sized keyboard, allows mobile knowledge workers to view and edit e-mail and Microsoft Office documents that reside on a smartphone.  Indeed, eventually, the information could reside on a non-Palm device.  The Foleo and smartphone to which it is paired stay synchronized throughout the day.

This is clearly aimed at those knowledge workers who have more to say than one can easily write on a Palm device and who spend a good deal of time out of the office.  But you don’t really need a Palm device to use the Foleo.  It comes with built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless support.  It can access Web-based e-mail and Web sites without a Palm when you are in range of Wi-Fi – and today that is almost everywhere.  Having recently taken five two-hour flights in relatively small regional jets, my first thought was that this is the perfect form for such cramped working environments.

With a Palm, the Foleo is a complete mobile solution for e-mail (that is, any e-mail that your Palm supports), attachments, and Web access.  For heavy users of e-mail who don’t want to carry a laptop and who find the smartphone form factor insufficient, this is a very promising solution.  It automatically saves your work and starts up and shuts down instantly with no bootup or shutdown sequence.  Many knowledge workers use a smartphone as a key computing device but as workers need to do more and more on the go, the frustration level with a small screen and limited input capability has also grown.

Yesterday, in advance of the announcement, I sat down with Brodie Keast, Palm’s senior vice president of marketing (who joined Palm late last year from Seagate).  Keast told me that the Foleo had been Jeff Hawkins’ “brainchild” for many years. (Hawkins is the founder of Palm Computing and the inventor of the Palm Pilot.)  The Foleo, Keast added, was on the drawing board back when the first Treo was introduced and was in actual development for the past two years.  “The time is right” for this device, Keast told me.  Palm “views this as the first in a line of products” and “a new category for Palm.”

The Linux-based Foleo represents a great opportunity for third party developers.  Palm will release tools for developers when the Foleo hits the stores.  By choosing Linux, it is clear that Palm hopes to get replicate the success it’s had with developers and build a community that will create new applications that will extend the Foleo’s capabilities.  The first such application should be a printing application, since the Foleo does not support printing out of the box.  Palm already has DataViz and Opera software as partners.  In addition, it will not only support Treo smartphones on both the Palm OS and Windows Mobile (from the 680 on, numerically higher) but Palm will also certify non-Palm Windows mobile products.

Let’s look under the hood, or better under the 10.2″ 1024×600 display.  The Foleo comes with 256 Mbytes of storage and can be expanded to 8 Gbytes.   It weighs only 1.3 kg, and runs on Linux (more on that in a moment).  It comes with the Opera browser and sports a scroll wheel, back-and-forth buttons, and a track point that allows for easy navigation without requiring the user’s hands to leave the full sized keyboard.  The battery will last up to five hours.  It has a VGA output connector so you can deliver PowerPoint presentations directly from the Foleo.  It also has slots for SD and compact flash cards for memory expansion, a USB port, and a headphone jack.  The power adapter is a normal sized charger, not a brick.  You can also trickle charge your Palm Treo via the Foleo’s USB port.

It’s a smartphone companion, not a smartphone.  It has no telephony capabilities and as far as I know, no microphone.  It will be available in the U.S. this summer (Palm is not saying exactly when) for $499 (after $100 rebate) during the introductory period.

My take is that this is a very cool, elegant application that I would want to use.  My biggest complaint about smartphones has been that I have too much to say (perhaps no surprise to regular readers here) than can easily be tapped into a smartphone’s e-mail client.   There are many times where the mobile knowledge worker truly needs a full-sized keyboard and display.  To fully appreciate the Palm Foleo, you have to see it and hold it.  It’s very small, very light, can be opened from any one of three sides, has an elegant finish (similar to what Palm uses on the Treo 750), and a nice radius on the outside.  It’s also no more than 2.5 cm thick.   I can’t wait to have one.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.