I was watching the other morning the announcement by Microsoft of its new update to Windows Phone 7 called , “Mango”. On air was Windows Phone Czar, Andy Lee’s. As I listened to him fumble through a series of questions about what makes “Mango” so cool it took me back to my early years in the industry. I was listening to a program manager talk about the exciting new release of C/C++ 7.0 (put your pants back on I can tell you are getting excited already). He equated a C/C++ presentation to “watching paint dry”. I think I have made my point regarding Andy’s oratory skills.  Phone’s are a sexy device so if you are going to talk about a new phone update with over 500 new features it had better have some sizzle. Why not have some dancers?  Give the public some entertainment value.  Make them think they are having fun!  With my pontificating coming to a close, there were good things that came from this weeks announcement and a lot of things that made me worried for the future.

If you are going to pre-announce a new phone that will not be available for 6 months it had best generate some excitement, because what you are trying to do is tell the market place is, “hey wait…be patient because in 6 months we are going to have something for you that is really cool”.    I don’t think that was accomplished.  For starters this announcement did not have much of a whisper campaign leading up to it.  I first started hearing rumblings about a week ago.  In Microsoft’s defense it’s different when they leak to the press and Apple leaks to the press about a new iPhone, the market dictates and right now in terms of market share Apple is grossly superior.  There was a time in Windows 95 days that Microsoft was the king of the whisper campaign.  But to generate such a campaign there needs to be something in the new product to get people excited.  I heard a lot of feature discussions but nothing I would deem break through. Maybe it’s just me but I do like the name”Mango”.

Second competing on features is a zero sum game.  There are so many mobile apps available in the market place today and your phone form factors are pretty  well-defined, that there is not a lot of wiggle room to create the game changing feature that will change how people use their mobile phones.  The real game changer these days is to change the user experience, which Mango sounds like it is trying to do (or at least market), but it will not happen until the release in fall, just in time for the holidays.  The end users will decide.  However between now and then a whole host of new features will be provided across multiple devices.  Thus cluttering the market place even more.

Partnerships can be a blessing and a burden. The partnership with Nokia has a lot of great potential.  Nokia has invested heavily in emerging markets such as China and India.  Two countries with huge upside.  The downside is the company recently received an internal memo from CEO Stephen Elop that Nokia is a “burning platform”.  Not the kind of motivational speech I am sure Nokia employees were hoping for. A huge part of Mango’s success or failure will hinge on Nokia.  A company that is desperate and making its last stand.  That is not the ideal place to be if you are trying to recapture past glory, but due to a series of missteps Nokia and Microsoft find themselves on the same boat trying to plug the same hole before the ship slips below the surface seeking the depths of the abyss.

Microsoft, despite all the brain drain that has occurred, still have a lot of people who care deeply about the ability of the Windows Phone business to succeed.  Despite Andy Lee’s monotone delivery style he has a brilliant and successful track record at Microsoft, he is not a dumb guy by any stretch of the imagination. Sometimes a legacy of success can lead you down a road of false belief.  The Microsoft mobile group was on a path to success and just got side swiped by Apple, who had a grander vision for mobility.  But maybe that’s the’s about mobility and not the phone.  As long as the game is about developing the next great phone, than an opportunity is lost as easily as it is gained.

Now it’s about sustainment for the next 6 months as Microsoft will need to keep the name “Mango” on people’s lips.  There will be significant hurdles as between now and then there will be updates from Android, called “Honeycomb” and the release of the iPbone 5.  It will be imperative to continue to re-iterate the new features coming in “Mango” and get people to wait.  But Microsoft is a big company with a lot of different big initiatives and what is hot one day and considered a company directive is gone the next as XBOX, Bing, Office, Windows all vie for the publics attention and affection.  That to me is the big question over the coming months leading up the official launch.  Can Microsoft maintain the initial momentum garnered from this weeks big press release in New York, can a whisper campaign be sustained end elevated. Whispers can grow to a Lions roar, causing excitement, angst, a multitude of emotions or they can just blow away silently with the wind, all but forgotten.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann May 26, 2011

The Age of Information or Isolation?

I was sitting in a room on the Microsoft campus watching the Harvard debate team take on Northwest University, the topic was “The Internet:  Does it dumb us down or enlighten us?”  It really could have been called is that glass half full or half empty. When I was first starting in the industry we discussed and promoted the idea of the information age.  It is interesting in that this was before the advent of the modern internet.  The information age at the time was purely defined within the context of the Personal Computer, the possibilities seemed limitless with a PC.  By todays standards that seems rather drab.  We now have access to information at the push of a button, when we want it, when we need it, wherever we may be.  We receive news updates at near real-time pushed to us at the time the actual event has occurred or even occurring.  Are we better off by these developments in technology or are we more isolated than we have ever been? I read the news every day and every minute a controversial issue is taken and expanded into something bigger than historically it ever would have been before the advent of the information age.  As we sit there glued to out monitor seeing the history of the globe unfold before us from the confines of our dark little office.  Internalizing it all while experiencing nothing.

Are their benefits to all this technological innovation?  You bet.  Drive down a freeway and you may see an Amber Alert letting you know a child has been kidnapped.  Getting this information out quickly and to as many people as possible saves lives. The ability to connect with anyone at anytime has been enhanced with mobility – voice, text messaging, email, Facebook etc..With mapping we can now find our way around any major city regardless of if we have ever been there before (though I will add there is a certain excitement in being lost in a foreign place).  You’re in home living room experience has greatly been enhanced with the convergence of everything to digital – from television to voice and it’s all wireless.  Your TV screens are flat and 60 inches.  We are one the verge and experiencing major revolutions in health care, communications, commerce, mobility,’s a long list that touches everything we know. It’s a fast-moving train that will, and is, hitting super-sonic speeds.

Yet with all this rapid change, things at times seem darker than ever.  Looking back at the horrific shooting  in Tuscon or the massacre at Virginia Tech a few years ago there is an air of fear among us all.   There will always be individuals or groups that do not fit into the general society, they are not all as bad as what happened in Tuscon or Blacksburg,  but they may be misguided. The age of information has a way of providing a steady diet of what they need to justify their views and to cement some very extreme beliefs. When the two fore mentioned events happened, what is one of the first places investigators look?  They want to see where the individuals hung out on the web and get insight into their day-to-day lives.  A lot of extremism can be found on in the internet and sometimes it is brutal in its content.   In fact it is a place that allows these hateful viewpoints to organically grow. Whatever your anger is, it can find a home in the information age.  Our media seems intent on feeding us a steady diet of fear and technology enables that to reach us wherever we may be.  That filters down the individuals, who given the right skill scan mass market themselves as somehow more enlightened than the rest of society.  There are no lack of individuals throughout history who claimed to “know”.  Their “enlightenment” has led to some of the gravest travesties of human kind.

One big issue with all this information is it allows people to gravitate to places where they only hear the views they want to hear, not listening, but dictating.  We see it in television.  We hear it on the radio.  We gravitate to it on the internet.  All the time dragging us farther to the  left or harder to the right.  We soak in what we want and tune out we don’t want to hear.  Not even trying to understand the validity of an opposing point of view.  Searching only for statements to belittle the opposition.  In the process only fueling anger and rage.  It seems dialog is being lost between individuals and replaced with anger and a series of screaming contortions that reflect the mood of society

The silver lining in all this is that we as a just society can do better.  We can listen to all the information and act upon it in a positive manner.  At a time when we can live healthier based on all the great information we receive,  obesity is a growing concern and continues to rise, increasing our health care costs along the way.  We can confront extremism with generosity and compassion.  In a society where we are always connected we are yet more alone then we ever were. In the end we are creating a society that is  becoming increasingly withdrawn.  Afraid to walk out our front door.  Beyond what we know lurks out in the world something far worse lurks, what we don’t know.  Though we may be communicating more we are doing less face to face communications.    If we are becoming isolated and withdrawn from day-to-day society are we listening?  Are we learning?  Or are we just interpreting what we read? The internet should be about inclusion, but more importantly society should be about inclusion.  That becomes a challenge when we do not physically or mentally confront what ills us by tying ourselves to the monitor.  We are informed as our eyes are glued to the abyss, tuning out all that is around us.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann May 23, 2011

Google I/O 2011

I followed with a lot of interest the Google I/O  conference for developers online this last week. The I/O conference was held in San Francisco and there were a lot of interesting announcements and observations.  For starters it’s always interesting to see the charismatic Vic Gudotra present. Prior to his role at Google, Vic was the right hand man for the former Microsoft VP of development evangelism at Microsoft Sanjay Parsatharathay,  Sanjay was a lousy speaker, where as Vic was quite comfortable in front of an audience.  It always seemed Vic was the voice and face for developers at Microsoft, so it was a coup when Google stole him. He now is leading the development programs at Google.  Many people at Microsoft say he has adopted the Microsoft play book at Google.  I would say he has updated it and improved it.  For this event however he was the host so his role was minimized as developers never want entertainment they just want to get into the guts of the technology and how it will improve their productivity and generate new opportunities.  I am going to take the high road to summarize my impressions

Day one at the conference was all about Android.  Google started by highlighting all the success Android has had with developers world-wide.  When you look at the number of developers and the number of applications that have been built its pretty easy to have a successful opening to a developer conference.  Android has 100 million activated devices worldwide.  Any business today getting into the mobile space will only talk about two things Apple iOS and Android. So what were the cool announcements?  Improvement to the AppMarket for Android and some new tools for Eclipse (an open source development tool that has a huge following, not sexy but very important)) I found Android@home  the most interesting announcement and comical hysterical announcement at the same time.  The idea being Android on any device anywhere.  Think beyond what you know today and think of home appliance running Android tomorrow, it could be your oven, your washer, pretty much anything that could benefit from software. This is not a new idea, Novell and Microsoft toyed with this idea over fifteen years ago.  Interestingly Microsoft’s initiative was called…@home.  I think the difference now is where Novell and Microsoft were ahead of the curve, it seems like we are at the dawn of where this idea will become reality.  Coming up with big ideas is not that hard, timing it however is the trick to success.

Day two was about Chrome.  Chrome today is really a browser.  If you look at browser market share Chrome is between 10% and 12% (NetMarket Share Data).  Which is impressive but still a long way off from catching Firefox or Internet Explorer.  Chrome however is about the future of web development and browser-based hardware devices.  Recently we have seen the first Chromebooks hit the market and the conference had several more announcements about Chromebooks.  The idea of an always connected browser-based device without all the overhead if a traditional operating system has some merit.  The problem at east for now is we are not always connected and sometimes we do not want to be.  Still I agree with most that this is the start of the next generation device, where connectivity will be ubiquitous and cloud services will be everywhere.  Google also announced the expansion of the Chrome Store.  This is  all fine and dandy that it no is available in 41 countries, but we do seem to have a lot of companies out there with a lot of online stores…how many do we need?

Finally across both days there were a couple of horizontal technologies that went across both Android and Chrome. One was cloud based services.  The idea beyond a marketing term is that the days where certain things could only be done on the desktop are coming to an end.  Sure there may be certain apps that leverage the capabilities of the desktop OS or hardware, but they will have limited market value.  The idea that a word processor needs to be tied to the PC is rapidly changing as apps like Google Docs increase in functionality.  Are they at parity with Microsoft Office?  Not even close today, but the ability to make up ground and create new cloud based scenarios is causing disruption in the landscape and will continue t do so (that is not to say Microsoft could not be the drivers of this change).  The other theme was every demo it seemed was Angry Birds.  I gotta be honest I don’t know these birds and I am not sure why they are angry, but my kids do.   It got to the point it was annoying.  Hey wait…it’s on my iPhone.  I need to talk with my children.

What impressed me about Google I/O was the clarity of what developers should be looking to do to create value today (Android) and to start thinking about tomorrow (Chrome).   There is a lot to be said to keep it simple.  In many ways that is what Google has done.  Provide the building blocks and let the developer community be innovative and creative. We are still along way from the full promise of what the web can and will deliver but the pieces are coming together to make it accessible  to a very large audience.  As I have written before to be successful in technology you must have a clear vision  of the future and be able to articulate that vision to a large and broad audience.  Did Google I/O answer all the questions?  No.  I am still a little confused as to why we have to have two different platforms, why not just make it all Android?  But the long-term vision of the role the web will play in our lives and where Google will fit in that ecosystem is clear.  There was a time it was all about a PC in every home, now it’ the cloud.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann May 19th 2011

Skype…it’s a verb

It was in the local paper today, Microsoft is buying a verb. It’s hard for me to comment here as I will be the first to say grammar was never my grade school strength. It was that stretch during the school day where I resigned myself to be bored. But thanks to Google it is now a core part of every major tech companies strategy. We must have a strategy that adds to the English language. Screw our partners the only partnership that matters is a partnership with Webster’s.  It’s the largest deal in Microsoft history so I am forced to address my youthful loathing and attempt to confront my greatest weakness.

The acquisition by Microsoft of Skype was largely driven by consumer behavior and the desire (in my opinion) to have a likable consumer face.  It is also great technology that has matured and been around for a long time (by tech standards). There are a lot of people and companies who actively use Skype for voice over IP communications.  It is one of those technologies if we are not using it today we can safely say we will be using it in the not so distant future.  If it can be done digitally, it will.  It is also popular with over 145 million subscribers, in particular in Europe where traditional lanline phone services are very expensive.  Beyond a large user base it seems a purchase with color or as it is called at Microsoft, life beyond beige.

A successful acquisition for Microsoft at this stage of the game is important.  Otherwise it will just prove the skeptics correct.  Many Wall Street analysts are saying it’s a bolt on solution, the real value in Skype is past its due date and why did Microsoft not buy this 10 years ago when it was just bursting onto the scene (and was much cheaper…eBay paid $2.7 billion while Microsoft paid $8.5 billion).  The last point I cannot fault.  Had they done this ten years ago it would have displayed a vision for the future.  By doing now they are just validating the future.

Still I believe there is tremendous upside should my former employer to do this right.  With Skype comes a lot of phone numbers and seamless integration into XBOX or the enterprise would be huge.  Also the upcoming Nokia Phones with Windows Phone 7  (or later) could provide a nice marketing opportunity to drive interest in the Microsoft Mobile platform.  Though XBOX has live chat today and video camera’s this could expand the base.  A question here is how many of Skyp’s 145 million users are gamers?  Based on that question this seems for XBOX more a technology play, I do not see this about driving XBOX adoption.  But with XBOX becoming more of a home media center integrating cool voice/video capabilities has its merits.

What could derail this?  Politics. Brain drain.  The first is internal to Microsoft but could affect the latter.  With Skype comes a lot of talent, now granted the good new here is it’s not all about the talent (which was major reason to buy Yahoo! for $35 billion, good thing that did not pan out).  Still retaining the key engineers who built up Skype and are loyal to Skype cannot be underestimated.  For too long now Microsoft has been losing the true creators of technology at Microsoft.  The people who built a business and wore Microsoft on their sleeve.  Once it’s handed off to those with no history it is just a business and the passion that built the breakthroughs is gone.  One thing about the tech sector, you had better have passion for what you are doing, otherwise save us all time and go home.

The biggest challenge will be integration, which over the last 10-15 years has been an Achilles heal for Microsoft. Starting with WebTV, through Navision and Great Plains to Danger,  aQuantive, all seemed like great acquisitions at the time they have just had trouble finding a home (ok I will come clean…I never got the Danger purchase).  With Skype the two likely places for the technology to land will be in the Microsoft enterprise solution, Office Communicator and it will make its way into XBOX.    I will add both products and technologies I really like.  The challenge could be more organizationally as they operate under two entirely different divisions at Microsoft.  Microsoft has long had the idea of integrated innovation and I do mean idea.  Sharing technology across organizations at Microsoft has proved far more challenging than the dreamy memo’s from Bill Gates originally suggested.  Internally Skype may have to be split up across groups.   The last point is interesting in that in the announcement a new business division was being created at Microsoft specifically for Skype.  But as has been pointed out the technology Skype brings is being eyed by multiple other groups at Microsoft.  I can only guess this was a part of the deal to help ease transition.  The tech industry is not a patient industry.

Buying a verb is an odd strategy, though as stated it has its technical merits.  But of late Microsoft seems to be doing odd things.  The partnership with Nokia to standardize on Windows Phone 7, getting RIM to use Bing as the default search engine for their mobile devices, and now buying Skype. I get the sense reading the blogs and talking with old colleagues, is people are frustrated with deals being done out of desperation and not a clear vision of the future.   The future used to be a divine right, now it seems a distant star.  Also so many of the things Skype is bringing our already being dome within various Microsoft products – why not invest a few billion in a significant marketing campaign?  It seems like  it would save some money and as a shareholder I may get angry about all this, but for now I am just going to try to identify the verb in this sentence…for free.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann May 12, 2011

You need to be Cool to be Tech

Kevin Turner, Microsoft COO, would often get asked by internal employees, “Why can’t Microsoft be cool like Apple?”.  He would always reply, “I would rather have 90% market share than be cool”.  I think the question actually made him upset. I found his dismissive attitude towards Apple rather naive and offensive.  All I can say is its dangerous to use the past to justify the future.  It has been a interesting twist of events to get to this point and by all accounts great product execution by the people at Apple.  With the latest earning release, Apple continues to be operating on all cylinders, forging ahead full throttle.  Their Apple iPhone now has 5% global market share, an increase over last quarter of 115%.  It is now more profitable than Microsoft.  No small feet given they make hardware, which naturally has higher COGS.  How does something like this happen?  It’s an interesting journey.

I think you have to take a step back before you move forward.  When technology  was first thrust upon us in the late eighties/early nineties it was new and foreign.  You needed a grease monkey to help with running it.  Grease monkey being men who had not showered in a week and slept under their desk.  Not a pretty site.  Speaking of pretty sites the technology we were given was not pretty either.  It was big, clunky and beige.  You needed to hide it in a home office as it did not make for pretty home decor.  But the people behind these new innovations were proud of what they had created, like they had unlocked the mysteries of the universe.  The early phase of technology was exciting but very intimidating, as many of the people who were the first to use at home and at work started their word processing experience on a typewriter.  If you made a mistake you used something called white-out.  Some of my readers of middle age will be laughing now, while my younger audience is clueless as to what I am writing about.  This new computer based word processing was intimidating and frustrating.  Auto-save did not always exist.  If your computer crashed after working two hours on a midterm, late at night, you lost everything.  No joke, I know from experience.

Along the way though something else was happening.  A generation if kids were growing up with this technology.  They were used to interacting with technology.  They had higher standards.  They had lives.  Kids today have no fear of technology.  Give them a device and they naturally start poking around trying to figure out what cool things it can do.  There is no intimidation about technology.  It is just something they are accustomed to.  Their natural curiosity just takes over and takes them away.  You see it in school with 2nd and 3rd graders walking around with a iTouch.  The presentations they do on the Mac at school is better than most presentations I give at work (supposedly I am a pro) – they are more lively and more colorful.  It is most amazing how seamless the whole experience seems to the younger generation.  They are not intimidated, they do not need to learn, they just know.

Thirdly there is digital convergence.  The lines between PC’s, Television, phones, music, etc..were all being blurred as everything is going digital.   The debate today of is a Tablet a PC or not highlights this for me.  Who cares except for a bunch of marketing and industry analyst folks.  At the end of the day consumers are buying what they desire and if a Tablet can perform all the tasks they need, great.  They will forgo the purchase of a Netbook or Laptop, but they are still interacting with a whole host of offerings that they used to do on a laptop (or not).  It could be streaming Netflix.  Browsing the web for a great deal on sports attire.  Listening to  music.  With everything going digital how we view and interact with technology is about to explode well beyond where we are today.  Flat screens will be on and in everything we buy or utilize.  Our home appliances,, our transportation (private or public).  All the lines are becoming blurred and in doing so things are becoming much more interesting as a wave of new devices become available and better yet they are all mobile,  They are thin, sleek and in color.

For technology companies to be successful, in particular in the consumer space, they must pay heed to this fact.  If they want to be successful if they want to take market share, they have to get the “cool” factor going.  They need to pay attention to design.  Those consumer behavior studies that discuss things like emotional response are relevant.  They should be scrutinized and thoroughly studied, not in a effort to disprove them but to learn from them in intricate detail.  Most people in the world are not engineers or software designers.  It’s Bobby Joe who is a mechanic. Terri who is a nurse.  Jack the insurance salesman.  They may seem drab to some but they are a large part of the economy and they want and use technology, is it wrong for them to want a sleek silver mobile device with cool apps?  Do not dismiss their opions as irrelevant. Respect them or lose them.  And if you lose them watch all you have worked for wash away with the tide.

We are numb to technology.  It has become pervasive and we are seldom wowed by what we see or experience. What will catch our eye is how it makes us feel. How it makes us look.  It is all in our basic human emotion.  So deep yet so shallow.  When I see the latest iPad are people wowed by the operating system?  I honestly doubt anyone really thinks about that.  The fact is technology is becoming more and more an extension of the human experience, it is becoming an ingrained part of that experience.  In some instance blurring the lines of fiction and reality.  Those lines will only become more blurred moving forward as technology accelerates, we accelerate.  But one thing is for certain we want to feel good about where technology takes us and we want to look good doing it.  We want to be cool.  It may be shallow but it’s who we are.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann May 2, 2011