June 29th 2007 – the day developers left Microsoft

There was a time when Microsoft owned the developer community. It could almost say or do anything it wanted, the developers would always follow. However loyalty in business relationships is fragile, it can span time but lacks the core depth of personal relationships. It is governed by the most shallow and transparent of currency the almighty dollar.  During my career the developer has always been at the forefront of jobs that I have had.  Developers were the key to Microsoft’s success and did more than anybody to drive the success of the Windows empire.  Developers were Microsoft royalty.  If you wanted to get lots of free swag attend a Microsoft developers conference.  Laptop bags, T-Shirts, Polo’s, Pens etc..Parties were key as they went late into the evening with lots of food and drink.  Developers were the royalty of Microsoft, treated better than anyone else.

When the world changed it happened quickly.  That change happened on June 29, 2007 when Apple launched the much anticipated iPhone.  It was a breakthrough event in terms of the user experience.  Catapulting what we had known of the mobile experience into a new dimension.  It happened on so many different levels, from touch screen to browsing the web.  But most importantly it fostered a new eco-system of mobile app developers.  Within months Objective C went from being a forgotten development language to a top 5 language.  All of a sudden Apple was the pace to be.  The iPod had been successful, but it was the iPhone that created the new Apple developer mantra.

Mobility would breed new competition.  The biggest threat to all being Google with its Android platform.  They understood that they would need developers and that developers were attracted to open source.  It was interesting that to head up this effort they picked a Microsoft guy, Vic Gudotra.  I had seen Vic speak several times and the word, “showman” would define his speaking style.  He was an acquired taste, a little over the top for some.  Seeing him on TV at an Android Developers Conference was interesting.  As he walked around the Partner booths (just like Microsoft in the old days) he talked each partner up, saying that Android’s success depended upon them.  Every thing he said was not something new he had invented, it was borrowed from a Microsoft past, except now Windows was no longer the platform being promoted.

Ballmer pleaded at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in 2012, to stick with the company.  We have not let you down in the past and we have a bright future.  This was leading up to the Windows 8 launch and having applications at launch was critical.  It was now a decades old Microsoft formula.  Not sure why he needed to beg and pander to his audience.   But I can tell when it happened.  When it became necessary.  The technology is driven by change and sometimes changes generates tidal waves, mass hysteria, a sense of I need to go there if I do not want to be swept under by the massive crash of thunderous waves.  This was the case when Steve Jobs had his moment where he eclipsed the sun.  It seemed just a matter of moments where developers left Windows and flooded to iOS.  Job postings all of a sudden begged for developers who could write mobile iOS applications.  When it comes to money loyalty is a fickle thing.

When you look at the Windows Phone and Surface the designs have come a long way from where they started, as has the OS.  But unlike Microsoft’s origins getting developers to write applications to the Microsoft platform has become much more difficult.  Since the launch of the Apple iPhone and the subsequent success of Android Microsoft has struggled to recreate the sense of nearly spiritual community it had before.  Developer’s have options, but more importantly, as has been said, they have options that can make them money.  The iPhone has created so many opportunities for developers that they dare not stop and go back to Windows development

It does not seem that long ago Microsoft owned the developer community.  That they could whisper anything and a developer movement would naturally coalesce around it  in an organic manner.   Every launch of the new Windows operating system began and was defined by the Microsoft developer community.  In the enterprise Microsoft still has a lot of pull with developers however in the consumer space it is a struggle for Microsoft to garner the attention of developers to write to the Windows OS.  Consumers, unlike enterprises, do not have deep roots with legacy systems.  They are governed by emotion.  Their gut.  Visual stimulation.  Things marketers talk about but only after they have already occurred.

The industry is driven by momentum, by big swings in the technological landscape.  When these sea changes happen it is best to be in front and on-board with the change otherwise you will be left behind in its wake.  Ballmer knew this but he just did not have the vision to see the road ahead.  Now what is left is a company trying to get developers to listen, when in the past they never had to do that.  Apple to its credit saw the move to mobility and enlarged the opportunity.  Once a company or companies develop momentum it is very hard to catch up. As for every one application developed on your platform, the competition gets ten.  To be a leader on the industry you must have developers, when they start migrating it puts your future into question.  For Microsoft that happened one summer day over six years ago.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann December 31, 2013

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The Amazon UAV future

It was with great interest I read about Jeff Bezo’s bold plan for Amazon and using Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAV’s) to ship products directly from an Amazon warehouse.  As Bezos pointed out 84% of shipments weigh less than 5 lbs.  Why do I need to use FedEx to send packages that get routed through Memphis, TN, even when I may be shipping something just three miles away?  I could have a fleet of UAV’s that could simply launch from an Amazon warehouse and deliver directly to the end customer.  if we take a step further based on what Bezos claims, it could literally be within 30 minutes of the order being placed online.  First this is a bold and audacious vision of the future, which I like.  It also will create new industries and new scenarios across every industry we know.  Not to mention we area society in the US that likes instant gratification, 30 minutes will still be long for some but it beats 3-5 days.

We first started to hear about UAV’s during the hunt for Osama Bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks.  If you know any history of Afghanistan then you know that the mountains in Afghanistan throughout history have proven rugged and impenetrable.  Time and time again invaders have fallen as Afghan rebels retreated high into the remote caves of this rugged  mountainous landscape.  Most recently the Soviet Union learned this lesson when it made an ill-advised invasion of Afghanistan.  However in the post 9-11 world the United States was able to send troops into the mountains with far better information than had ever existed before as US drones patrolled the skies.  Since that times we continue to hear about the military’s use of drones to carry out attacks in the Middle East, In fact they are used so much that they have made it into Hollywood films (A high compliment in American society).  They are now a standard and core component of the US military complex.  Increasing our military capacity while removing military personal from harms way.

As is so often the case the US military may have the technology first but eventually it makes its way into the private sector. As the technology matures it moves beyond its roots for battle and entrepreneurs’, the great savior of American capitalism, figure out how to build a business case for the technology, secure venture capital and build either a small business or business empire.  Amazon may not fit nicely into that description, as it already is a well established business, but they still have a very entrepreneurial spirit. More importantly the idea of a fleet of drones either owned and run by Amazon or outsourced to a UPS or FedEx has broad appeal to Amazons business model.  One of the big, not so hidden costs, for Amazon is fuel.  Maybe Amazon does not spend a lot relatively speaking but its carriers do.  Those fuel costs then get passed on, to you, I and Amazon.  A lightweight device that can carry small packages can be a potential bonanza in savings for us all.

As Bezos pointed out the first hurdles will be the regulatory barriers faced by launching something that is not really regulated by the FAA.  There are a lot of questions about airspace that need to be answered.  What altitudes can these UAV’s fly at?  How many UAV’s can occupy a specified airspace?  Remember these are small devices, not 787’s.  Potentially ten or a hundred can occupy the same space as a jetliner.  What will our skies look like?  Do you want your mountain views blotted out by thousands of UAV’s?  What about environmental impact?  Because it is fairly new technology if we race full steam ahead, we may discover down the road irreparable damage has been done to the environment.  These type of mistakes end up costing both the government and the tax payer more down the road.  Granted predicting ramifications of future ill’s created by technology is more an art, than a science.

The reality is beyond basic transportation of goods UAV’s are going to play a bigger role in the United States.  From crop dusting to Homeland Security.  Industries that traditionally required a labor force will see the need for skilled labor decrease.  As in everything where humans get replaced on one line of work there ends up being a demand in other lines of work.  It can be a difficult transition as the people being replaced are not necessarily suited for the jobs that are being created.  One thing the United States is well positioned is the ability to create the entrepreneurial spirit that fosters risk taking and creates new industry. Companies like Amazon and Google push that needle.

At the end of the day what Amazon is attempting could be and should be viewed as disruptive , if successful, it could lead the competition scrambling to catch up.  How would any e-commerce site react to having to compete with a company trying to deliver within 30 minutes from the time it was ordered online?  Luckily for the competition today they can thank the US government for giving them time to catch up as governments move slowly and trying to get FAA regulations liberated and updated, takes time.  What Amazon is suggesting will prove to be a bold new en-devour moving forward into the great unknown.  But the industry is built on big bets.  The bets that most people comfortably say will not happen.  However if they do happen it disrupts the existing business models.  Most companies who manufactured typewriters did not predict or foresee the impact of the personal computer.  Where are they now?

The Amazon vision will happen.  It is already happening.  In nearly a dozen countries there are already case studies of various scenarios ranging from mapping to terrorism where UAV’s have been used.  The number of countries will continue to grow as will the number of scenarios by country.  We are entering a new race as these type of robotic creations expand into every walk of life. The age-old arms race will take a significant turn towards the future.  Within the next five to ten years, however, expect your delivery service to be less personal, but much quicker from the time of online purchase to delivery.  Amazon is thinking big and believing big in this future and may be the company to make it happen.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann December 17, 2013

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Google – threats and opportunities 2014

One of the more popular blogs that I have written was about Google.  It was written back in March of 2012 and because this industry moves so fast it seems like I am overdue for an update on where I see Google’s opportunities and threats today.  I have actually written a couple of blog posts about Google (Threats and Opportunities and The Google Decade) and they are already starting to look a little dated.  In the world or technology that is not surprising, we are moving from decades to half decades. I thought it a good time to update what I see at one of the world’s leading technology companies.  In the two years since I wrote my initial blog, Google has continued to create industry excitement with its work in wearable technology, Google Glass and in robotics, with its efforts around creating a robotic vehicle.   It is rumored to be creating its own watch to potentially compete with the iWatch.  I say potentially because nothing has been released yet by any major player.  When we review what I wrote and where we are there are  a few updates.  A few new opportunities and new threats.

There is the obvious competitor and then the not s0 obvious co-opetition.  The obvious is Apple.  With the immensely popular iPhone it is the most direct competitor to Google’s Android platform and when we talk about consumers this is direct competition as we have come to know and love.  However this states the obvious, probably more relevant is the threat from its largest partner: Samsung.  When Google made its Android platform open-source and easy to license I imagine it saw a field similar to what Microsoft had created with its OEM platform, a huge ecosystem of partners competing with one another.  However an interesting thing happened along the way, Samsung took more than its fair share leaving the competition in the dust.  Unlike Microsoft’s ecosystems, in Google’s ecosystem one company has come to dominate.  Samsung will use it’s position as leverage against Google, that is for certain, otherwise they would not be a very wise in their future outlook.  How Google manages this relationship will be a big part of its future failure or success..

When we talk about consumers we quickly can get in the Social Media aspects of consumers lives.  Google’s foray into this space has not been an instant media darling as would have been hoped.  Google Plus launched and got some initial traction but has certainly seemed tp slow down to the point it is rarely even mentioned.  The two big threats to Google’s business are Facebook and Twitter.  Around a year ago, just after Facebook’s IPO, Mark Zuckerberg commented that Facebook was making a billion dollars in their search business, without even trying. Since that time Facebook has focused heavily on generating revenue from it’s mobile business.   Twitter is the pulse of the internet.  If you want to know what is happening right now in the world the best place to go is Twitter.  More than anything Twitter had become digital democracy.  With each revolution the main place to get news is on Twitter.  Google makes money on eyeballs on the internet, when another company comes along that takes those eyeballs they threaten revenues, which make Twiiter and Facebook two of Google’s prime competitors.

Robotics is an interesting area.  Google’s interest in Robotic vehicles is not a “humanitarian” act.  If you think about it the first things you do when you get in a robotic vehicle  is give it directions.  Let’s see, who does this better than anybody else?  Why of course it would be Google Maps, which is nicely tied in with Google search, and there you have it.  Google could make money every time you are in your car.  To me, though, Robotics is not just what we have come to now and love in film and books, it’s the new mobile future.  Despite the freedom we have with out tablets and smartphones, we are still in some shape or form physically clinging to our devices.  Robotics is the promise of removing the umbilical cord and providing us all we have today with out the need to be tied to a device. That vision will play out as hybrid of robotics and the cloud.  Google will play in both if it chooses.  That opportunity will dwarf everything we know.

In addition to robotic vehicles Google has what is known as Project Moonshot.  These are essentially where Google comes up with big ideas and then tries to figure out what it can do and if there is a future for Google in what ever Project Moonshot comes up with.  Robotic Vehicles and Google Glass are two such things that have come our of this en-devour.  Now Andy Rubin, of Android fame, has his own Project Moonshot underway focused on simply Robots.  I think what is best about Google and where it shines is with the efforts it places in Project Moonshot.  They come up with futuristic and really big idea and garner attention and admiration for what they do.  Having spent time at Microsoft and seen the billions put into research and development, it seems like the return has been very little, and I think a large part of it has been the inability to see new markets and to try to fund project that will fill the void.  The opportunity that Google envisions and creates in Project Moonshot can potentially yield huge financial upside for Google, while more importantly keeping Google a relevant technology company.

The browser war’s continue to tilt in Google’s favor as their share seems to have only increased since I wrote my original blog.  Google’s business depends on the internet.  The more eyeballs on the internet the more revenue for Google.  It only made sense for Google to invest heavily in the market that provides the windows to the internet.  The latest market share stats show a slow and fairly consistent trend upwards.  Google has launched Chrome based netbooks to challenge Microsoft’s traditional dominance in the PC Manufacturing space, should this take  off it would have a significant impact on the bottom line of Google and of Microsoft.  There are certainly other competitors in this space, such as Firefox and Apple’s Safari.  Firefox shows the limitations of open source as nothing speaks to pressure like an earnings report.  Something the folks at Mozilla seem to be missing, thus relying on the communities passion of the community, who can leave whenever they want.  Safari is too tied to Apple’s product line to be the “biggest” threat.  It will be relevant but in the short term I do not see it being the dominant player.

A lot of Google’s success can be tied to their indirect model of using cash revenues from search to fund other businesses at Google. One such beast is Google Docs.  It is still far behind the 800lb gorilla, Microsoft Office, but unlike previous competitors Google Docs is funded.  It is making headway with younger generations who do not need all that Microsoft Office has to offer.  My kids use GoogleDocs at school, in fact I rarely if ever see or hear about Microsoft software.  It may not hurt Microsoft today but if could tomorrow and considering the over ten billion in revenues it means to Microsoft I am sure Google has thought, “what if we get 20% of that market”?.  As usual Google is able to tie in Search and Chrome as part of the overall experience, thus increasing revenues and talking browser market share.  Cloud based productivity is here to stay and growing quickly and Google Docs will be a big part of that market.

The natural competitor to Google’s traditional search is Microsoft’s Bing search engine.  Despite its enormous financial resources and talent, Microsoft’s Bing has failed to become a serious threat to Google’s search business.  The fear Google should have here is not that Bing within a year or two will take serious market share from Google. A bigger concern is that they will go away all together.  Seems odd, but with the uncertainty at Microsoft these days around who the next CEO will be, some talk has begun that whomever takes over will either sell or kill off the business.  If that were to happen the competition for Google would shrink significantly.  We would have Yahoo, Baidu and a few other foreign competitors, but it would raise anti-trust fears and may make Google “lazy”, not having a competitor to wake up and focus on each working day.  Ironically you see rumblings by Microsoft about the anti-trust.  It seems human nature to hate the government until you need them.

Information everywhere is a powerful driver of revenue and in the end that means we are always connected.  Google drives its revenue from the internet, and despite its already enormous size it continues to grow, foster new innovations and by default new opportunities.  Despite the recent hype around the “cloud”, we have always thought of the internet as being  in some virtual non-physical location.  It is digital, not real.  Google has been at the forefront.  But looking to the future that ethereal environment is about to take on a more physical appearance as that information stored in the cloud will be relayed to communicate with a whole host smart and robotic devices.  There are plenty of great opportunities, not just for Google but the industry to capitalize on.  Perhaps it will be one or more of the existing players and likely their will be several new entries into the market who will become big fast.  The only thing for sure right now at Google is the future has never looked brighter or more ominous.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann December 6, 2013