Saturday, June 30, 2012

BlackBerry When?

It seems that most of the time Apple just needs to keep on its current trajectory and let its competitors make error after error as they try to catch up.

Most catastrophic of all is BlackBerry who have just announced another delay to its new platform - BB10 - until after the Christmas season.

As a software engineer myself I find it impossible to understand how BlackBerry can blunder so badly. I can only conclude that the previous directors, and maybe the current ones, do not understand software. And BlackBerry is a software company as much as a hardware company.

The thing about software is that it is enormously difficult to develop quality software. Failed software projects litter the history of computing.

One way to mitigate the risk is to continue with a working product and make incremental changes. This is how Apple works with iOs and OSX. The problem with the incremental approach is that it is rather dull and developers love nothing more than building their own solutions from scratch.

Throwing away your old product to build a new one is described by respected software guru Joel Spolsky as the worst strategic decision a software company can make - see here.

If you must develop a completely new product then you continue developing the old product in parallel so that you still have something to ship if the new project is delayed. This is how Apple managed the transition to Intel processors.

It seems that the BlackBerry management were unaware of the enormous risk involved in moving to a new platform and have put all their eggs in the BB10 basket.

So now, while Apple and Android are devouring their market share, they have nothing exciting to ship until next year!

It is no good talking about what a great platform BB10 will be - most customers do not care about geeky things like HTML 5 and Flash. What customers are interesting in is the form factor, the speed of the phone, the number of apps available and the size of the screen.

With that in mind get this - BB10 will not run existing BlackBerry apps!

From an investment point of view I would not go anywhere near RIMM. It may look cheap based on some investment metrics but this ship is nowhere near turning around. Ugly!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Focussed on the Surface

Microsoft have finally listened to the advice on my blog and taken control of the hardware as well as the software. And so we have the "Surface", Microsoft's own tablet - except that they like to call it a PC.

Is it going to be a success?

I think it will be a moderate success, partly due to the marketing muscle Microsoft will put into it and partly because it appears to be a well built device.

However in my opinion it has a "designed by committee" feel to it.

In the Steve Jobs era Apple never used focus groups. That is because Steve himself knew exactly what made a great device. He had the strength of character to drive forward a vision and ignore the thousands of distractions that present themselves along the way.

That "no compromise" approach is what results in insanely great products. That is why the iPad is a great tablet - it is not trying to be anything else.

The Surface, however, is trying to be a PC. It appears that Microsoft have put a lot of thought into the cover which doubles as a keyboard and touch pad. The problem is that the keyboard will not be as good as one built into a laptop so you are not going to buy a Surface to use as your main productivity machine. Especially when the screen is less than 11 inches in size. The idea of a tablet is that you can easily use it when you are sat down or even lying down. When used in this way the keyboard has no purpose. So for a tablet the keyboard is not that important - but with the Surface the cost of one will be included with the product.

The Surface also has a number of ports such as USB and HDMI. This means wires attached to your tablet. Wires! Wires are so last century!

Most unbelievably the Surface comes with a stylus - even after Apple have already proved that people prefer to use their fingers. How to you do multi-touch with a stylus? Will it come with extra styluses in case you keep losing them?

Every feature that a product contains represents a trade-off against the simplicity and purity of the device. At the very least it will add to the weight and cost of the unit. To keep a device simple requires tremendous passion and drive. That is what Steve Jobs had and it seems the Tim Cook learnt from him well. But does anyone at Microsoft understand this?

Having said all that, the Surface does look like a decent attempt at a business tablet and will probably sell well to the corporate sector. But I don't think it will make a dent to Apple's iPad sales. In fact it may increase them as it generates more publicity for the tablet sector of the market.

So the Surface is good for Microsoft and even better for Apple.