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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

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Quick Poll: What kind of security do you need for G1 WiFi Tethering?

February 26, 2009 1 comment

I wrote an entry a couple weeks ago about how to tether your laptop to the G1 and Android to get Internet access. The method I described has you connect to the G1 over WiFi and uses an app called GWiFi. What I didn’t mention is that this also turns your G1 into a wireless hotspot. Now any Tom, Dick and Mary can connect and use your 3G link for Internet access. I looked at other tethering apps and they had the same security options…none.

Lock

It’s not the end of the world if the appdoesn’t provide any type of wireless encryption or MAC filtering. For example, in lieu of those esential security features, you can protect the WiFi network by monitoring who connects by looking at the status screen of the GWiFi app. If you see another computer connect, you can immediately disconnect them. Not the best security mechanism as you can see. 

To find out if other G1 users feel wireless security is important, I put together a quick question and sent it out via Twitter.  I explicilty named WPA and MAC filtering as two security options since those were the most well known. My guess is that most people will be happy with just being able to tether and securing that connection is of lesser importance. I’ll report back with the results in a future blog entry.

Photo Credit: CarbonNYC

SMS Messaging with Android on the G1

February 22, 2009 5 comments

It seems like there are a ton of SMS apps on the Android Marketplace, but can they all be great? I thought I would share what is working well for me and maybe that will help a small percentage of Android and G1 users find something that works for them as well.

DISCLAIMER: To be honest, I’ve had a very limited exposure to all the SMS apps in the Marketplace. I usually try to test a few and then once I find one that works well, I stick with it. If the developer of that app continues to add interesting features and fix issues then the barrier for me to switch apps gets to be higher. Trying new apps that do the same thing as the one I have become accustomed to is really not my thing. So if you are looking for a review of all the SMS apps on the Marketplace, try AndroidGuys, AndroidApps or just Google sms+android+app+review.

SMS Messaging

Chomp SMS

I am probably what would be classified as a low volume SMS user. Most of my contact with friends and colleagues is, in order of use, via e-mail, IM and Twitter. SMS comes up fourth because I mainly use it to very quickly communicate with friends when I am not at the computer or they are not at the computer. So the apps I selected and now use daily are based on my own selection criteria. Yours may be different and thus these apps may not suffice. To each their own.

First off, the built in SMS app is OK but definitely not great. There were a number of bells and whistles missing and it takes two Marketplace apps to compensate for these shortcomings.

Chomp SMS adds a very cool interface that allows you to see your SMS conversations as word bubbles. It also adds an on-screen keyboard,  a highly sought after feature for sending off quick messages without needing to open the keyboard. Finally, you can text multiple recipients from a single message. For those of you that don’t have root access to the G1, thus no auto-rotate, Chomp SMS also has a auto-rotate option. There is a video review of the Chomp SMS app on Youtube for anyone interested.

SMS Alerting

SMS Popup

To make SMS on the G1 even more convient, wouldn’t it be great if the messages popped up on the screen as they came in making it easy to read them? It would be even better if the messages displyed even when the screen was locked so that you didn’t have to unlock the phone just to read SMS messages. Add to that being able to set a different LED color for SMS messages and you have almost a complete SMS alerting app.

That is where SMS Popup comes in. In addition to all of these features mentioned above you can also set the notification to vibrate and set reminders of unread messages. There is a video review of this app for those interested.

I’ve run with both of these apps for a few weeks and not had any issues with crashes or usability. You’ll notice that in order to get the close to perfect SMS experience you need both apps, but that is a small price to pay primarily because they are both FREE

That rounds up my SMS review for the G1 and Android Marketplace. There are a lot of other SMS apps on the market and I am sure they all have their benefits. If any of the apps mentioned above start to falter, I’ll be shopping for something new so let me know which ones are comparable or better in your opinon.

Wireless Tethering with the G1 using GWiFi from Ndroi

February 15, 2009 2 comments

Wireless Access in Coffee Shop

Over the past summer I was doing a lot of my work at the local coffee shops. I am a huge fan of coffee shops as workspaces especially if you are a consultant. It is a semi-quiet environment, you can listen to your music, there is a constant stream of caffeine  and most importantly, no one bothers you. I used to spend 3-4 hours at one shot sitting in the coffee shop. The biggest drawbacks were the missing social relationships you get when working in an office and a good Internet connection. I am still trying to explore how to compensate for the lack of office interaction via involvement with social networking sites. As far as the Internet connection is concerned, you have a choice between the one supplied by the coffee shop or bringing your own i.e. tethering your laptop to your phone. 

I used to have the Blackberry  Curve and tethering with that was brain-dead easy. Just connect the phone via USB and connect to the Edge network. When I transitioned over to the G1  late last year, tethering was one of the of main features that was missing. As a result, I was paying the $3-$10 for Internet access, depending on the location. Starbucks recently added the new offer of 2 free hours of Internet access if you buy a drink, which is a great deal. But there are situations when you stay for longer than 2 hours, or you are in a coffee shop, airport, hotel or any other place without free Internet access. In those situations the handy GWiFi app for the G1 is a good solution that allows you to tether your laptop to the G1 via WiFi and then use the G1′ s 3G Internet speed. 

GWiFi is developed by Ndroi. The app requires that you have root access to the Android OS on your G1 in order to install. The actual installation instructions on the Ndroi pages are very simple and it took about 10 minutes to complete. Once the app is installed, you simply click on the GWiFi app to start it and select Open to start tethering. From your laptop you’ll see the Peer-to-Peer connection from G1 appear in the list of available wireless networks. Just connect and you are good to go. I was able to browse the Internet and even connect back to another network via VPN. 

One word of caution is that once you open up the tethering, your G1 essentially becomes a hotspot. With no security mechanism or MAC filtering in the app, this means anyone can connect and use your 3G Internet bandwidth. GWiFi does alert you when someone connects so you’ll have a list of connected clients and you can disconnect non-authorized devices. Because of the need for root access and the security concern I mentioned, the app probably is not ready for novice users. Overall it has filled a very large hole in my own list of must haves for the G1.

NOTE: If you have not taken the leap of getting root access to your G1, then you are only scratching the surface of what the phone can do or how you can customize it. I was not too sure about this at first, but after a little reading, the steps were pretty straightforward. 

Here are some screenshots of the app taken from the Ndroi site. 

 A picture of GWiFi icon in the app list.

After starting the app, the GWiFi icon appears in the Status bar.

Click Open to start tethering. All connected client machines will appear in the list.

Update: If you want to tether without gaining root access to the G1 you can try this, but the limitiations are it only works for Web traffic using Firefox as the browser.

Photo credit: crouchingrasshoppa

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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more about “Template-ProductCalendar“, posted with vodpod

 

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.

G1 Android Wishlist for 2009

January 2, 2009 2 comments

Potential

2009 is the year of Android and G1, at least that is my hope. There is a lot of potential in this product, but potential doesn’t get you success or superbowl rings, just ask Tony Romo, T.O. and the Dallas Cowboys. I found a post talking about a Top 10 G1 wishlist which covered the most important feature missing in the G1, the on-screen keyboard. With the upcoming ‘cupcake’ release that will hopefully be remedied. Unfortunately as of Jan.1 in CA, there is no more texting and driving so my #1 reason for wanting the on-screen keyboard is no longer valid. Not to worry there are a few other reasons for wanting the on-screen kb which I will not bore everyone with unless you really want to hear it.

Continuing on with the G1 Android wishlist, here are a few that I think can take this product from just a smartphone to my most favorite gadget EVER!! At this moment, that spot is being held by the Flip Mino HD, which I got a few weeks ago and absolutely cannot live without.

SIDEBAR When I was growing up one of my responsibilities was family video recorder. I had to lug around these giant video cameras to record family vacations and social events on VHS tapes. The weight of this on my shoulder alone cost me any shot at a professional sports career. The fact that I had no hops, just average speed and was 5’6″ didn’t help either. Fast forward 15 years and the video recorder is the size of a cell phone, records in HD and is as easy as pushing a little red button. If I had this when I was growing up, then my mom or dad could have been the one recording and I would have been able to protect my shoulder for football, basketball or baseball. I guess these things happen for a reason. 

Back to the G1 Android list, here are a few things that I think will continue to fully exploit the G1’s potential. (In no particular order)

1. Better integration with the accelerometer and screen rotation in all apps. It is already integrated into the video player and Steel showed that you can do this with the web browser, what about other apps like fBook, WikiNotes, photos?

2. More battery life. I am tempted to buy the higher capacity battery. Power Meter is a very cool utility that takes on managing the battery for me, but I need to be able to go longer between charges.

3. More apps that integrate camera with context like shopsavy and wikitude. Augmented Reality is not a future innovation, it is here and getting integrated in many places. There are a ton of opportunities to blend context into the camera that will make people happier, more aware of their surroundings, save them money and connect them to the world among other things. We are just scratching the surface of what is possible and I would love to see the G1 be the device to bring AR into the hands of consumers. Read my earlier post about AR for other uses.

4. Mario Kart + accelerometer integrated would be killer. This is a personal wish based on the cravings of my innerchild. But it would be cool, no?

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more about “Luigi Travels the Rainbow Road in Mar…“, posted with vodpod

Hope you enjoyed my take on the G1’s potential.

Photo Credits: Cheryl Syverson

Lists, Lists and More Lists – Why Lists Will Dominate 2009

December 30, 2008 Leave a comment

Attack of the Show recently came out with a list of top 5 Android Apps. If you didn’t have a chance to catch it, it is available on Hulu.com and I have embedded it below.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The five apps mentioned are worthy of being on the top 5 list, but I suppose you have to take into account the type of person using the Android device. For example, someone that was really into Facebook or Twitter might have fbook or twidroid in their top 5. On the other hand, someone that likes really cool utilities that makes their phone that much more useful might have Anycut or Steel on their top 5 list. The point is that lists have to be put into some sort of context, either from the perspective of the person creating the list or the audience that the list is being created for.

So Why Create Lists?

One thing about lists that is true, is that they make great water cooler conversation or in the current techno-speak, they make great comments pages for blogs and videos. Every one has an opinion and these days, voicing that opinion has become easier than in the past. With a single click you can add your 2 cents to any list, you can even remain anonymous in most cases, further enabling the silent majority to voice an opinion. Want to send off a comment to a post you heard over coffee with a friend, no need to wait until you get home, just type away on your phone. For the truly brave, you can even comment on a list with a video response. Just to keep the comments page growing, the list author answers back at the critiques with further proof that the list is correct resulting in another barrage of comments.

Comments to lists ususally follow a typical flow. They start off with a counter list, then question the list author’s intentions and credentials to create such a list while using their own background or experience as proof that thier counter list is better. The final blow from the commentors puts the proverbial nail in the author’s coffin as they critique the author’s 3rd grade list of “Top 5 Things to Eat for Thanksgiving” in which he mis-spelled “chicken” as “chikin”. There is no response that the author can give, except for maybe a new list of “Top 5 Worst Online Personalities”.  

Agendas and Intent

Lists are not generic and usually have some intent and/or prejudice built into them. That’s what’s so great about them and also why they generate so much interest. Why else would someone want to write a list other than to deal with some hidden childhood issue of being excluded from groups? Creating your own list and excluding 99.9% of the world is the best medicine I say. When I read a list, the first thing I think about is the author’s ulterior motive. For example, a few recent Top NFL Franchise lists have the Pittsburgh Steelers or Dallas Cowboys at the top. That’s when I look at the bio of the author to find out which Texas or Ohio college/high school the they went to. Sure enough 3 times out of 4 the author was the water boy for his high school football team in Dallas or Pittsburgh. 

Another list I recently commented upon turned into a very interesting debate about Social Media Experts. The original list on this blog post was meant to be slighlty sarcastic and a little truthful. Combining those two things in a list has only been done successfully by David Letterman or Comedy Central in recent times so it was an uphill battle to begin with. I have taken a note to attach the following warning at the top any list I create: Contents of this List May Combine Both Truth and Sarcasm, Minors Should Close their Eyes

Controversy is not bad when talking about lists, in fact, controversy is the best way to keep lists relevant. If a list doesn’t incite some controversy, then the author should take a week off from writing, ban themselves from Starbucks as punishment, and return to writing only when they have a truly controversial list that will incite online protests and fund raising drives from Moveon.org and on air commentary from Bill O’Reilly.

Don’t Give Readers the Power to Rank Listsrankopedia

What happens when you let readers vote on the ranking of a list? Almost nothing as I recently saw in a Web site called Rankopedia. The site is basically a collection of user generated list topics with rankings by members. There are some interesting lists like, “Greatest All-Time Men’s College Basketball Team” or “Most Evil Person Ever” but it is missing the inciteful author effect. What fun is it to have people vote to create a list when it is much more fun to call out an author for making a boneheaded move by putting New York ahead of California for the best states to live in? Realistically speaking, would you rather have the public vote for the Time person of the year or have that decision come from the magazine’s chosen list creator? Even though the result would be Barack Obama either way, it is much more interesting to tear apart Time for their cler hidden agenda.

So what are the top 5 things to remember about lists? 

1. Lists must inspire comments

2. List authors usually have some hidden agenda, so call them out in your comments

3. List authors are dealing with deep childhood issues, so be kind in your comments

4. Any list intending to be both sarcastic and truthful must have a disclaimer stated someplace in the list

5. Democratizing list creation is the first step to armageddon 

 

Lists are here to stay so get ready to add your 2 cents worth in 2009.