Stepping out of the App economy

Sometime late 2010 we started working on 2 rather big mobile projects and they made me think a lot more about apps and how our thinking for mobile is all about apps. Today mobile equals apps, and we are being dictated by the likes of Apple how we have to deal with that. So how big of an improvement the introduction of apps on mobile has been, I believe we limit our thinking by that same evolution, while it shouldn’t end there.

There’s no better way to experience the hassles one has to overcome when developing apps, then to develop your own (especially when the app is for the iPhone). And it was an article on TC about Disney that acquired an HTML5 game engine that got me thinking about this whole app approach. Smart move from Disney by the way. Bye bye appstores, let’s develop game experiences the way we like and let people pay what we think is right. And for multiple OS’s at the same time, all in one take. With Android gaining market share and also WM7 that will take it’s part of the cake at some point, HTML5 mobile web apps make it a lot easier to build experiences across OS’s and devices compared to today, and without all the appstore hassle. And if you go further, when you think about developing for mobile first instead of web and then mobile, I believe there’s a whole lot of untapped potential.

But the Disney acquisition isn’t having any live results yet. I think the FT was the first really big one to have made a move to go for HTML5 and the last few days or weeks a few others seem to have followed. LinkedIn just released a pretty nice HTML5 experience for mobile and earlier this week Amazon launched a similar experience for their Kindle:

“It can do everything that a normal Kindle app can do, such as synchronize your library, your last page read and bookmarks. Yet, the Kindle Cloud Reader is more of a reaction to the draconian app store rules instituted by the Cupertino giant than it is a dynamic new version of Kindle.”

It’s probably just a matter of time before those brand start pulling their apps from the appstore, or at least stop actively updating those in favor of native mobile web apps. I’m with Gigaom on this one when they say that Amazon might as well be showing media companies the future of the web with this one. Also sites as Twitter offer a rich and very nice mobile web experience, nothing like it used to be anymore.

I can only applaud brands moving in this direction and I believe that although the idea of apps on your mobile were a great innovation, they´re only a step towards a very rich mobile web experience. What´s your take?

Bonus link: HTML5 apps that are scaring the pants off Apple

Watch out Instagram?

I must admit, I’m a fan of Instagram since day 1. I love the simplicity, how it deals with cross-posting but most importantly I love the way it makes me feel I’m actually not half as bad as a photographer.

So when I read that Mobli one-upped Instragram (and Color) I’m all ears (and yes I know those headlines are kind of a trap). Downloaded Mobli right away. Created a profile, took a picture, posted it… and will never do it again.

The point that Business Insider seems to miss is that it’s not about community channels based around tags or location. Nor is it about improving search for content or richer interaction. What makes Instagram so cool is that it creates ‘an illusion of creativity’ as Edward Boches so rightfully wrote:

“It strikes me that the real reason Instagram has taken off is that it provides us with the illusion of creativity. The brilliance of Instagram is that it lets us snap a most ordinary photograph and instantly “art it up” with one of 15 filters. It gives us the sense that we are better photographers than we actually are. We don’t have to do anything other than point our iPhone at the most mundane of subjects. Early Bird, Hefe, Sutor, Toaster and their fellow filters do the rest. We think that we are creating, expressing, being clever. But as Douglas Rushkoff might remind us, we’re simply being programmed. Told by this app what constitutes an image.  Just as we’ve been told by Facebook what defines an online profile, a digital friend, or an endorsement. Just as we’ve been told by Tumblr the new format for a blog post.”

The fact that it’s easy to share cross-channel and that it’s doing all of this in the simplest way, focusing well on it’s core make it superb at what it does. But what made people love it in the first place was that it made you feel good about your photography, made you feel like your photography is also worth looking at, worth sharing. It makes me feel better about myself basically.  And that’s a whole different ballgame.

Another week, another tablet

For about 10 days now I switched my iPad for the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 to see how they compare – thanks to Belgacom. First things first, this is the first version of the 10.1 (now renamed to 10.1v), there’s a newer one coming on the market that has the same name but is slightly thinner than this one.

The hardware specs on this tablet are quite impressive. It has a 1280×800 screen resolution, runs Android Honeycomb 3.0, has an 8 megapixel camera (that doubles as 1080p HD video recorder), Wifi and 3G and a 1 GHz dual-core processor. That all weighs just under 600 g making it a bit lighter than the original iPad (it’s also a bit smaller).

What do I like about it?

First of all – nice screen, solid battery, powerful, … everything you expect from a tablet that wants to be a serious competitor to the iPad. Getting the basics right is obviously crucial in this game so no remarks there.

It’s my first real experience with Honecomb and I must say that I was rather pleased with the result. It’s an intuitive experience and something I like about Android in general is that you can add more than just app icons to your screen. The widgets for recent browser history for instance is one that I use quite often and.

The tablet came with a data subscription and I was surprised by the loading speed in both browser as well as with downloads from the Android Market place when on 3G. It’s definitely faster then the data connection Mobistar currently offers on my iPhone.

Flash. You sort of learn to navigate around Flash enabled websites when you’re surfing on the iPad but it’s still annoying when trying to consult a webpage that cannot be displayed due to the no-Flash policy of Apple when it comes to mobile. The Samsung’s browser displays Flash just like you’re used to and that still is a nice surplus.

Last but not least

What can be improved?

I like the more solid, the more polished feel of the iPad. The Galaxy Tab feels a bit more plastic but as mentioned before it’s probably the reason why it weighs less as well.

What needs most improvement in my opinion has more to do with Android Honeycomb than with the device itself. Unlike with the iPad you cannot see which apps on the Android Market are built for tablets, meaning that most apps you download are regular Android apps. Those are decent apps – nothing against that – but they don’t use the screen estate like they should. Similar with the browser as most websites detect your device as a mobile device, defaulting to the mobile phone experience. You will have to switch to desktop version to get the full advantage of the tablet. Since that is a change you can make it’s just a little annoyance, the differentiation for Android and Android Honeycomb in the Android Market is something I would like to see changed soon though.

Overall pretty decent result and definitely worth checking out in my opinion.

[Disclaimer: Belgacom provided the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1v to me including SIM with data subscription]

Is ‘good enough’ the new black?

During the presentations of last night’s Mobile Monday in Brussels (#momobxl – tablet edition) it struck me how often businesses’ seem to work with a ‘good enough’ strategy. It came up during Corelio’s presentation on their mobile approach as well as during SBS’s presentation on the 2nd Screen (Tweede Scherm). The basic idea to create something fast and put it in users hands as soon as possible. Now I’m a big fan of an agile and iterative development approach, I don’t like ‘good enough’ though. Good enough means ‘almost good’ as in ‘mediocre’. How can that ever be a strategy?

‘Good enough’ is also not very inspirational, it’s not very ambitious. A point I wanted to convey during the Q&A session of the event but without success. The response was that (especially the Belgian market) is still very small when it comes to tablets and that we need to be careful with the investments we make. We also need to be careful with what we wish for, since the general public is trailing us geeks and therefore obviously not into digital like we are. Fair enough, but why is that an explanation of ‘good enough’?  The following analogy was made: “ we want to drive 300mph with a car and we’re only just figuring out what a car is, these things need time”. My take on that is that businesses (again especially in Belgium) are not dreaming of driving 300mph at all, they’re trying to drive a car the way they learned to ride a horse. In this case that means merely duplicating experiences on new platforms. And again, that’s still no reason for ‘good enough’.

It might be a Belgian thing, but I just don’t get it. I know, it’s a small country with limited reach and thus limited budget. But that’s no explanation on why things can’t be ambitious. What they can’t be great… instead of good enough. Dream big for god’s sake – “The bigger the statement, the bigger the idea, the bigger your brand will become” dixit Hugh MacLeod (‘the hughtrain’).

Launching a unique duo iPhone app

Yesterday we launched a new iPhone app for Nutricia.  In a new approach to support moms even more we’ve created with Nutricia this new app that helps to get dads more involved in addition of moms tracking their pregnancy.

Another pregnancy iPhone app you say? That’s what we though as well and therefore we’ve taken the new approach to involve dads because ‘Baby Connection’ works best when you use it as a couple. There’s a mum version and a dad version – and everything each parent adds is automatically synced with their partners’ phones. The app can also transform the two iPhones into one big screen. More about that in the video below:

To launch Baby Connection, we came up with an idea to make men pregnant… well kinda. You can see what we did below:

Why hyperlocal is not yet hyper relevant

Hyperlocal is a hot topic these days. Especially for news media it seems to be where the future lies. You can either try to play a global role like The Guardian or Al Jazeera are doing with success, or find a way to be more locally relevant. And I believe the future of news for most publishers will be more local than it will be global. Because let’s face it, only when you publish in one of the world’s most spoken languages you can make a difference on a global scale. 

The problem with hyperlocal is that most people interpret it wrong. Currently the most common practice is to use geolocation, you either enter your postal code or the application/website defines your location based on GPS or IP settings. So you get news, offers, information related to where you are. Very efficient but when thinking about hyperlocal the opportunities are beyond that. 

The reason why is the following:

  1. I got many localities that are relevant for me.  I think about the place where I live, where I work, where I lived when I was young, … I have a bond with all these locations in a certain way so I’m interested in news from all these places and even other types of information. Today no-one is offering me a way to organize news gathering with this in mind. At best, like I mentioned before, you get that output for one of the chose locations, never for a mix of. Prove me otherwise.
  2. The range of interest centered around me can differ in size depending on the topic and the moment. What I mean with that is that when I’m looking to buy new furniture I’m probably okay with driving a bit further than when I want to get a pack of cigarettes, just to name something. Or when I want to buy a car versus when I’m looking for an accountant. This means for me the range you take into account when talking about hyperlocal needs to be quite a bit more subtle than it is today.
  3. Last but not least, hyperlocal doesn’t mean faits divers by default. The local version of my online newspaper tells me about a selection of the tiniest events I don’t care about in my city, but fails to mention when the Tour de France is passing by. Zooming in on hyperlocal seems to mean the same as zooming in on stuff that nobody cares about happening 2 blocks away. Why is that?

With more and more information, media being geotagged and with technologies that allow geofencing I hope that we’ll see an evolution in the way we deal with hyperlocal that takes the reasoning I wrote down into account.

A network of networks

Fascinating. And visually attractive. The people of LinkedIn Labs just recently created this InMaps application, a kind of analytics tool to “visualize your professional network, clustered in realtime based on their inter-relationships”. A pretty cool tool actually, and I’m a sucker for these kind of applications.

Log in with LinkedIn and the tool will analyze your network and visualize it in a graph like the one below, which is actually the output of my LinkedIn network.

What’s extra interesting about it is that the output is dynamic (unlike this image) and that you can hover over each contact to see their specific connections within your network. That way you also get a view of how the clusters are made and InMaps allows you to put a label on each colored cluster to make it easier to see who’s who. Just give it a try, you’ll see for yourself.

Interesting results for myself is to see for instance that I have 2 Microsoft clusters (I’m ex-Microsoft remember), one for MSN/Windows Live related contacts and one for more general Microsoft contacts. Interesting to see that this split is made, although it’s actually pretty logical when you look at it. Also interesting is to see between which groups exist more links, not always what you would expect. I’m definitely not done analyzing this, but curious what your graph/learnings look like so please do share ;)

Last but not least, it’s also pretty interesting proof that people are organized in groups, clusters and that if you want to influence people it’s important you understand these clusters – or ‘spheres of influence’ like we used to call them, dixit David Armano.

The crying invoice

Did you know that 1 in 3 invoices in Belgium are paid late?  That brought us to the idea for this campaign we created for ikki, a new service of USG People developed to support freelancers. From now on invoices will never go unnoticed again: the crying invoice.

Hats off to my colleagues at Duval Guillaume who developed the idea.

When augmentation is about reducing (Pt. 2)

In February of this year I wrote a post about Kevin Slavin’s talk on Augmented Reality at PICNIC NY Salon. In that video he talked about something that made total sense to me… which to be honest is true for most of what Kevin says anyway :)

“His thoughts around augmented cities and why maybe ‘augmented’ should be about taking things away instead of just adding them to the world as we are already drowning in data as it is.”

So when I got this video today from a colleague about a research project on ‘Dimished Reality’ by Jan Herling and Wolfgang Broll of the  Ilmenau University of Technology, it was like a proof of the concept Kevin talked about a year ago now. I don’t like the name ‘Dimished Reality’ because it still is doing more on top of what is really there. But in this case less really is more, check it out:

The future belongs to the geeks…

Nobody else wants it.

This is without a doubt one (of many) personal favorites out of all the cartoons Hugh MacLeod has created in the past x years.

I think there’s a lot of simple truth in this one. Every day/week/month I see innovation that impacts the business I am in and which found its origin in technology, software development or something like it. And then I’m not only talking about pure technology innovation but also about innovation of business processes, creative thinking, etc.

An obvious one is about how technology is driving change in the media landscape. And then especially when you think about how long existing ‘traditional’ media are transforming, not just the new media that gets added. Particularly the interactive tv experience is something that fascinates me a lot recently. In this domain several big players are active – television manufacturers, service providers, content networks, … – and yet somehow I believe the main innovation will come from outside, from a few geeks in the corner that will really create a richer tv experience using a tablet device or whatever. They can think without bounderies of current business processes, revenue management, … no old business models to try to protect. There’s a lot of cool stuff out there already.

Another recent example of technology driving change, and this time in business thinking is Agile Strategic Planning, really interesting stuff if you ask me. This whole idea is an answer to changing consumer/brand needs but is based on a concept that has been used (by some) in software development for almost 10 years now. Neil Perkin used the following quote in a recent post while trying to explain the need for this agile thinking:

“Our structures need to be more speedy. Speed used to kill now lack of speed kills. Lets have organizations that can iterate quickly and empower its folks to make decisions. Percolating decisions up and down an organization makes little sense”

Agile strategic development, adaptive marketing, lean planning, … all terms that highlight more or less the same thing. We have to start thinking in ways that allow for much more iterations and changes while the process is ongoing. A new kind of strategic planning that is heavily influenced by concepts developed in software development.

Just 2 examples in my area of interest that came to mind when I saw this cartoon again. But yeah, the future belongs to the geeks, I’m sure of that.