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My first iPad

I am not an Apple fanboy, but I’m not a total hater either. In fact, I have been the proud owner of various iPod Shuffles over the course of the past 8 years. The Shuffle is my music player of choice particularly because of the little clip that is perfectly designed for listening to music while working out.

All that being said, I wasn’t interested in shelling out $500-$600 for a tablet. Fortunately I didn’t have to because I ended up winning a iPad 3 32GB version last month at work. Overall I am impressed with the product. I had used an older version of the Barnes and Noble Nook as well as a Blackberry Palybook. Each of those had positives going for them; the Nook is slightly more flexible because of the Android OS and the Playbook offers greater security and connectivity for office email.

The iPad, on the other hand, blends greater usability and a more integrated experience. The Retina display is nice but I can’t comment on its improvement from the previous iPad 2. I have already downloaded a few apps both for home and work to test. With a few weeks under my belt, I am looking forward to exploring the iPad further.

Status Quo Vs. Innovation: Kindle 2 Buries Text-to-Speech

March 1, 2009 1 comment

Short-SightedOne of the biggest challenges to innovation is the status quo. While the defenders of the status quo, a.k.a. the short-sighted ones, would like to continue to protect their territories, markets and margins, they are continually being pushed by innovation. Ultimately, the ‘short-sighted ones‘ have to make a choice to embrace innovation or try to block it.

Amazon.com chose the later when faced with objections from the Authors’ Guild about text-to-speech capabilities in the Kindle 2. Seth Godin writes about other recent missteps by similarly short-sighted groups.

Ultimately the Kindle 2’s fate will be determined by the market. Hopefully a challenger to the Kindle 2 will appear with full text-to-speech capabilities so that those with impaired vision will be able to enjoy literary works like the rest of us.

Unlocking Business Opportunities

Kindle 2

What Amazon may not have fully thought through are the businss opportunities in a market enhanced with text-to-speech. For example, they could offer a selection of voice over actors for any book on the Amazon store. This could range from Paris Hilton reading The Little Engine that Could all the way to Patrick Stewart reading Moby Dick. How about having a selection of actors reading Moby Dick and let the customer choose which one to hear? What if Amazon offered it up in a marketplace like iTunes at a price of 99 cents where voice actors can upload their versions of stories that can be imported into the ebook on the Kindle 2?

And what real leverage does the Authors Guild have over Amazon? Can’t Amazon simply choose to not distribute books that disagree with their text-to-speech implementation on the Kindle 2? But the Authors Guild does not have to be locked out of this potential revenue stream and, in fact, the more voice-enabled books there are, the more books they will sell. Maybe I am just naive to think everyone would benefit or maybe the Authors’ Guild are short-sighted?

Amazon may have such a plan in place and they are simply working through logistics. I hope that is the case. There are other platforms, besides the Kindle, that can also take advantage of integrating text-to-speech into ebooks. Android already has a few text-to-speech and ebook apps on the marketplace. The next step would be to combine the two and allow users to upload their audio readings of the books. Eventually more well known voice actors i.e. LeVar Burton may join in and offer their interpretations at a slightly higher premium price.

There will continue to be ‘short-sighted ones’ that prefer the status quo in the face of change. In those cases, just look at how these organizations fared:

1. The RIAA and MPAA are losing the battle to justify lost revenues in light of the trend towards file sharing networks

2. Microsoft’s anti-trust activities failed to maintain browser marketshare against alternatives offering innovation

3. The Republican party completed an epic fail in losing the presidency and any influence in the house and senate in election cycle 2008

All I can say is that if you favor innovation then you will NOT chose to click that ‘Add to Cart’ button for the Kindle 2. 

Photo Credit: dekuwa , rajeshvj

Turning Product Development into a Process

January 13, 2009 1 comment

A product manager’s best friend is data. Without data you are left with opinion and predjudice. With data you can have great discussions about tradeoffs, impacts and data forces people to deal in the ‘real’ versus ‘what if’ world. Digging into my product management roots, I thought I would share one of the tools we used to track project releases, release contents and keep product development on the same page with marketing. This tool is called the ‘Product Calendar‘ and it is an Excel spreadsheet. Pretty innovative, no?

How much simpler can managing releases via an excel spreadsheet be? Take a look below.

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How It Works

  • Each release bucket is represented as a column and features are represented as rows. 
  • Columns are designated with a release date and an overall status at the top: Planning, Development, Released, etc… If a feature does not look like it will make the release, it moves to the right into the next column i.e. next  release. 
  • Based on the readiness of the feature it moves up or down the colum. To get above the bold black line the feature has to be defined somehow in the form of a PRD, spec, wiki page to the point where engineering knows what is being built. To move above the thick gray bar, QA must sign off on having tested the feature.

The magic of this method: everything that goes on the spreasheet must fit on an 8.5 x 11 in. piece of paper. It doesn’t matter how small the font is and you can’t roll over to a second page. What does this accomplish? It forces the organization to make tradeoffs with features/resources/time and it gives a very simple format for marketing, engineering and QA on which to base that discussion. It is very easy to over-commit on features and delay releases, especially in start-up world.

Updating the Calendar

Every week we would have a Product Calendar meeting with the product managers and engineering and QA managers. Everyone is expected to come prepared on the status of how the features are doing, if the feature is ready for QA, completed testing, etc… The features would move up/down or right/left In reality not everyone came on time, but that changed over time as peer pressure kicked in.

In Summary

Here are a few reasons on why I found this to be such a helpful tool. 

1. It is basically a very well organized excel sheet. Most people are allergic to overly complex project management tools but everyone knows how to use excel.

2. Everything fits on one page making it easy to get a complete picture of the product details going out 6-9 months.

3. It forces great discussions on resources, priorities and product strategies.

Finally, I was introduced to the Product Calendar and this process by Dr. Russell while we worked together at GigaFin. It takes a little time to get everyone use to the process, but then it becomes second nature.

Augmented Reality – G1 app to add context to the stars?

December 20, 2008 5 comments

I just read Jennifer Bruin’s blog post on an app for the G1 called Wikitude AR Travel Guide. The app employs augmented reality, AR. If you don’t know anything about AR, like me, reading the wikipedia entry is very helpful.  

After reading it, I can think of other ways to employ it for everyday use. Here is an interesting idea.

 G1 + AR = Astronomy 101 for Everone

astronomy

Ever find yourself lying down on a field of grass or hood of your car, looking up at the stars in the clear sky and wishing you learned how to identify the Big Dipper, Polaris or Orion? Never? Ok, but what if you did? What if you can take your G1, point it to the sky and have it identify constellations for you as you look through the camera lens? Think of all those millions of children that never had the opportunity to learn about the stars or astronomy, now having all this information in their hands. In addition to identifying the stars, there can be more context of each star given on the screen, like origin of the name, when it was discovered and other interesting stats. Make astronomy fun again. (was it fun to begin with?)

Take it step farther and incorporate interactive learning so that the patterns are not just being identified for you, but the G1 is teaching you how to identify them yourself like in this tutorial.

With this kind of app, an interesting case can be made for the G1 to be subsidized by schools for students. Isn’t learning supposed to be fun and interactive?

Interested in Augmented Reality? Read this wrap up of milestones in 2008 for AR.

Productivity driving the IT purchase cycle

December 3, 2008 Leave a comment

Yesterday I read an article in the Dec/Jan issue of Fast Company about the change in Cisco’s corporate culture to embrace social media and collaboration. According to the article, Cisco has taken a strong step to leverage Web 2.0 technologies through acquisition and internally developed Web 2.0 tools. One interesting point made in the article is how the general user community, in this case made up of employees, are empowered to develop and adopt new technologies that result in greater communcation and productivity. Furthermore, once the tool or application gets to a point where data integrity and application availablity become important, the application is handed over to IT to manage and scale. This is exactly the way I think internal groups should collaborate with IT to encourage productivity.

Productivity driving growth

Blackberry Storm

Productivity is an important driver behind innovation. For example, look at the Blackerry smartphone. There is not doubt that the success of the Blackberry in the business world is due to the integration of e-mail for the mobile worker. It freed executives from having to constantly sit at their desks to check mail and  enabled sales reps to communicate with customers, forward support issues and take sales orders without needing a laptop. In the later case, you can quantify the increased revenue as a result of better productivity. Eventually the adoption of Blackberries by sales teams and executives drove these devices to become supported by the IT departments becuase the productivity could be tied to revenue. Once in the hands of IT, action items like Exchange integration and server backup became a priority.

The success of Blackberry in gaining wide adoption within the business community started a wave that Palm, Nokia and Microsoft were never able to achieve previously. It also showed that if you can bring tangible productivity benefits, consumers will follow. If you can show revenue impact then IT will adopt. 

My belief is that productivity applications are an indicator to growth of general IT spending in networking and security. Going back to the Blackberry secnario above, there were many new requirements on the cellular networks to support the Blackberry service. To gain the bandwidth and GPRS coveragefor mobile e-mail, telecos and service providers needed to upgrade infrastructure. While this alone was not the main driving factor for infrastructure upgrades, it is a much easier business case to make when you have customers needing bandwidth for real application versus potential future business opportunities that need greater bandwidth.

Another example is the adoption of wireless LANs within businesses. I can remember when employees would sneak rogue Linksys and Netgear access points into the corporate network so they can move around the building with their laptops. Pretty soon a strong business case for wireless LANs could be made showing the increased productivity from being able to connect from conference rooms, during meetings and presentations. Once that tipping point from ‘nice to have’ to ‘must have’ occurred, the IT department was tasked with supporting wireless LANs and building a scalable, reliable and secure solution. All of these are factors driving the growth of wireless LAN products from companies like Aruba Networks and Cisco.

You can make a similar case for  businesses Internet access driving infrastructure upgrades as well as security purchases. Is there a responsible business out there that does not have a firewall hanging off of their Internet connection?

Telepresence, the next productivity driver?

Telepresence is a new technology area being pushed because of significant productivity benefits and cost savings. Video conferencing is one application of telepresence that has been around. New applications leverage HD technology and have virtual attendees beamed into meetings as 3D images. Whether or not this takes off in the way that mobile e-mail has will depend less on cost savings and more on the productivity benefits it can provide. How many more sales opportunities can close using video conferencing or other telepresence technology? At what point will the sales team demand it because they have shown significant growth and shorter sales cycles? Those are questions that will get telepresence technology more widely adopted and supported by IT.

What it means for IT spending

Cisco learned a valuable lesson after the dotcom bubble that unless there are real applications driving the need for more bandwidth, they will not be selling many network infrastructure products. As a result, their message has evolved to one of productivity benefits of adopting new technologies like Web 2.0 tools and other collaboration media like telepresence that coincidentally also require faster, more reliable networks with larger storage capabilities. Cisco went a step further by acquiring companies like WebEx that deliver productivity increasing applications. Now Cisco is driving the adoption of these applications thus setting themselves up for growth in infrastructure sales and controlling their own destiny. Pretty smart.

With a looming collapse of IT spending on the horizon, will telepresence be an area upon which IT spending will increase? What other producivity applications will drive IT spending in the coming years? Start asking the sales team what will help grow more revenue and shorten the sales cycle ain order identify the next growth areas.