The madness that is Hodor and Yo. Or is it?

Yo LogoOne constant source of bemusement – well, really horror – is the inefficiency of social media to deliver a message to it’s intended recipients. In any company setting, saying “I didn’t receive your message” is the management equivalent of “the dog ate my homework” excuse at school; it is considered a very rare occurrence and the excuse a poor attempt to seek forgiveness.

Sending bulk (but personalised) email to a long list of people who know you is just the start. Routinely, 30% of what you send will end up finishing short of your destination; no matter how many campaigns i’ve seen from anyone, none get higher than 70% delivery to the intended recipients. In practice, the number routinely read by the recipient normally bests at 20-30% of the number sent. Spam filters often over-zealous too. With practice, you get to find out that sending email to arrive in the recipients in-tray at 3:00pm on a Thursday afternoon local time is 7x more likely to be read than the same one sent at 6:00am on a Sunday morning. And that mentioning the recipients name, an indication of what it’s about and what they’ll see when the email is opened – all hooked together in the subject line -vastly improves open rates. But most people are still facing 70-80% wastage rates. I’ve done some work on this, but that experience is available to my consulting clients!

So, thank god for Facebook. Except that the visibility of status updates routinely only gets seen by 16% of your friends on average (the range is 2%-47% depending on all sorts of factors, but 16% is the average). The two ways to improve this is to make your own list that others can subscribe to, and if they remember to access that list name, then they’ll see the works. But few remember to do this. The other method is to pay Facebook for delivery, where you can push your update (or invite to an interest list, aka ‘likes’) to a defined set of demographics in specific geographic areas. But few guarantees that you’ll get >50% viewership even then.

So, thank god for Twitter. Except the chance of some of your followers actually seeing your tweets drops into the sub-1% range; the norm is that you’ll need to be watching your stream as the update is posted. So you’re down to using something like Tweetdeck to follow individual people in their own column, or a specific hashtag in another. You very quickly run out of screen real estate to see everything you actually want to see. This is a particular frustration to me, as I quite often find myself in the middle of a Tweet storm (where a notable person, like @pmarca – Marc Andreessen – will routinely run off 8-12 numbered tweets); the end result is like listening to a group of experts discussing interesting things around a virtual water cooler, and that is fascinating to be part of. The main gotcha is that I get to see his stuff early on a Saturday morning in the UK only because he tweets before folks on the west coast of the USA are headed to bed – otherwise i’d never catch it.

Some of the modern messaging apps (like SnapChat) at least tell you when that picture has been received and read by the recipient(s) you sent it too – and duly deleted on sight. But we’re well short of an application where you can intelligently follow Twitter scale dialogues reliably for people you really want to follow. Twitter themselves just appear happy to keep suggesting all sorts of people for me to follow, probably unconscious that routine acceptance would do little other than further polluting my stream with useless trash.

Parking all this, I saw one company produce a spoof Android custom keyboard, where the only key provided just says “Hodor”. Or if you press it down for longer, it gives you “Hodor” in bold. You can probably imagine the content of the reviews of it on the Google Play Store (mainly long missives that just keep repeating the word).

Then the next madness. Someone writing an application that just lists your friends names, and if you press their name, it just sends through a message to them saying “Yo!”.

Yo! Screenshot

Just like the Facebook Pokes of old. A team of three programmers wrote it in a couple of days, and it’s already been downloaded many thousands of times from the Apple App Store. It did sound to me like a modern variation of the Budweiser “Whats Up” habit a few years back, so I largely shook my head and carried on with other work.

The disbelief set in when I found out that this app had been subject to a $1.5 million VC funding round, which valued the company (this is their only “significant” app) at a $10m valuation. Then found out one of the lead investors was none other than a very respected John Borthwick (who runs Betaworks, an application Studio housed in the old Meat Packing area of New York).

His thing seems to be that this application ushers in a new world, where we quite often want to throw a yes/go-ahead/binary notification reliably to another entity. That may be a person (to say i’ve left work, or i’ve arrived at the restaurant, etc) or indeed a device (say ‘Yo’ to the coffee maker as you approach work, or to turn on the TV). So, there may indeed be some logic in the upcoming world of the “Internet of Things”, hyped to death as it may be.

John’s announcement of his funding can be found here. The challenge will no doubt be to see whether his investment is as prescient as many of his other ones (IFTTT, Bit.lyDots, Digg Deeper, etc) have been to date. In the meantime, back to code my own app – which is slightly more ambitious than that now famous one.

On the unusability of internal systems. Ugh!

Enterprise Apps - Notes Needed

 

Saw this picture alongside an excellent blog post today. Does this look familiar?

The company have probably spent many millions buying software to automate their business processes or to fulfil all manner of other objectives. But the User Interface and Operating Nuances are so involved, the poor user has to keep a notebook to hand to help navigate around the mess served to them. And they have to interact with their ultimate customers with a smile on their face, protecting them from the mess behind the scenes.

If that was served up on a phone handset, no consumer would touch it with the longest bargepole known to man. One of the things that plays on my mind is how to disrupt these vendors. Or the companies whose directors decide to buy this stuff and inflict this (and the associated costs) to their downstream customers.

Jon Barrett had a lot of the glue to sort this phenomenon with Digital’s Jabberwocky project back in the early 1990′s, with what amounted to be an Enterprise Software Bus with some basic screen scraping functionality. At least pilot users could string together some business process interactions atop those disparate applications that behaved in a way that today’s mobile phone users might have found a bit more palatable. It’s been a long time since, and little apparent progress.

In the meantime, the blog post by Leisa Reichelt is here. Well worth a read.

Footnote: within 12 hours of posting this, I read an excellent article here on the failure of a “Choose and Book” system on which over £300m was spent. Reading the drains up, it looks like a set of top level objectives were being pursued, but with no appreciation of the unwanted constraints being placed on the users of the resulting service, so the whole thing fell into disrepute. Like the old dutch proverb: “a ship on a beach is a lighthouse to the sea”.

Nadella: Heard what he said, knew what he meant

Satya Nadella

That’s a variation of an old “Two Ronnies” song in the guise of “Jehosaphat & Jones” entitled “I heard what she said, but knew what she meant” (words or three minutes into this video). Having read Satya Nadella’s Open Letter to employees issued at the start of Microsoft’s new fiscal year, I did think it was long. However, the real delight was reading Jean-Louis Gassee – previously the CTO of Apple – not only pulling it apart, but then having a crack at showing how it should have been written:

Team,

This is the beginning of our new FY 2015 – and of a new era at Microsoft. I have good news and bad news.The bad news is the old Devices and Services mantra won’t work. For example: I’ve determined we’ll never make money in tablets or smartphones.

So, do we continue to pretend we’re “all in” or do we face reality and make the painful decision to pull out so we can use our resources – including our integrity – to fight winnable battles? With the support of the Microsoft Board, I’ve chosen the latter.

We’ll do our utmost to minimize the pain that will naturally arise from this change. Specifically, we’ll offer generous transitions arrangements in and out of the company to concerned Microsoftians and former Nokians.

The good news is we have immense resources to be a major player in the new world of Cloud services and Native Apps for mobile devices.

We let the first innings of that game go by, but the sting energizes us. An example of such commitment is the rapid spread of Office applications – and related Cloud services – on any and all mobile devices. All Microsoft Enterprise and Consumer products/services will follow, including Xbox properties.

I realize this will disrupt the status quo and apologize for the pain to come. We have a choice: change or be changed.

Stay tuned.

Satya.

Jean-Louis Gassee’s  full take-home on the original is provided here. Satya Nadella should hire him.

Ians Brain goes all Economics on him

A couple of unconnected events in the last week. One was an article by Scott Adams of Dilbert Fame, with some observations about how Silicon Valley was really one big Psychological Experiment (see his blog post: http://dilbert.com/blog/entry/the_pivot/).

It’s a further extension on a comment I once read by Max Schireson, CEO of MongoDB, reflecting on how Salespeoples compensation works – very much like paying in lottery tickets: http://maxschireson.com/2013/02/02/sales-compensation-and-lottery-tickets/.

The main connection being that Salespeople tend to get paid in lottery tickets in Max’s case, whereas Scott thinks the same is an industry-wide phenomenon – for hundreds of startup companies in one part of California just south of San Francisco. Both hence disputing a central ethos of the American Dream – that he who works hard gets the (financial) spoils.

Today, there was a piece on BBC Radio 2 about books that people never get to finish reading. This was based on some analysis of progress of many people reading Kindle books; this being useful because researchers can see where people stop reading as they progress through each book. By far the worst case example turned out to be “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” by Thomas Piketty, where people tended to stop around Page 26 of a 700-page book.

The executive summary of this book was in fact quite pithy; it predicts that the (asset) rich will continue to get richer, to the expense of the rest of the population whose survival depends on receiving an income flow. Full review here. And that it didn’t happen last century due to two world wars and the 1930′s depression, something we’ve not experienced this century. So far. The book just went into great detail, chapter by chapter, to demonstrate the connections leading to the authors thesis, and people abandoned the book early en mass.

However, it sounds plausible to me; assets tend to hold their relative “value”, whereas money is typically deflationary (inflation of monetary values and devaluation through printing money, no longer anchored to a specific value of gold assets). Even the UK Government factor the devaluation in when calculating their future debt repayment commitments. Just hoping this doesn’t send us too far to repeat what happened to Rome a couple of thousand years ago or so (as cited in one of my previous blog posts here).

Stand back – intellectual deep thought follows:

The place where my brain shorted out was the thought that, if that trend continued, that at some point our tax regime would need to switch from being based monetary income flows to being based on assets owned instead. The implications of this would be very far reaching.

That’ll be a tough sell – at least until everyone thinks we’ve returned to a feudal system and the crowds with pitchforks appear on the scene.

Paid Queue Jumping, San Francisco Style

Keep Calm and Queue Here Sign

There’s a fair amount of controversy about two mobile applications in San Francisco right now; MonkeyParking and ReservationHop. Both offer a twist on selling a place in a queue to a limited resource:

  • In an environment where it can sometimes take 45 minutes to find a car parking place, MonkeyParking enables someone currently occupying a space to sell this to another driver in the same proximity.
  • Likewise, where Restaurants having waiting lists that may extend to over a month, ReservationHop prebooks tables and sells these to customers who want to make a late booking

Transport authorities are objecting to the scalping of public parking spaces, and likewise there is concern about unsold restaurant bookings causing inefficiences when virtual diners don’t turn into real ones.

Besides the market for ticket touts, i’m also reminded that some customers will pay a hobo (tramp) to reserve their place in queues for new iPhones. I also recall Sir John Harvey-Jones, ex CEO of ICI plc, who once vented his frustration at the management of Morgan Cars, who maintained a multi-year waiting list for cars rolling off their production line. Customers would routinely sell their positions at greater than the cost of a new car, a practice resulting in much shrugging of shoulders at a practice that they felt wasn’t really cricket – but which they allowed to carry on regardless.

I guess the answer is to charge a premium for a standard car, and to discount personal customisations ordered up front. Customising something normally increases the value to the originally intended recipient, while decreasing the value to everyone else. Anyone who doubts that hasn’t looked at the value an iPad sale achieves on eBay between stock machines and ones engraved with the owners name.

But, same old. It’s happened from the dawn of time, and rarity of any resource (and timely access to same) normally attracts some value that scalpers can attribute a price to. The only thing I find distasteful is the name coined for mobile apps that enhance this process on the West Coast of the USA right now – that of “Jerkware”. Hopefully we can come up with a more appropriate name going forward.

Apple iWatch: Watch, Fashion, Sensors or all three?

iWatch Concept Guess Late last year there was an excellent 60 minute episode of the Cubed.fm Podcast by Benedict Evans and Ben Bajarin, with guest Bill Geiser, CEO of Metawatch. Bill had been working on Smart watches for over 20 years, starting with wearables to measure his swimming activity, working for over 8 years as running Fossil‘s Watch Technology Division, before buying out that division to start Metawatch. He has also consulted for Sony in the design and manufacture of their Smart watches, for Microsoft SPOT technology and for Palm on their watch efforts. The Podcast is a really fascinating background on the history and likely future directions of this (widely believed to be) nascent industry: listen here.

Following that podcast, i’ve always listened carefully to the ebbs and flows of likely smart watch releases from Google, and from Apple (largely to see how they’ve built further than the great work by Pebble). Apple duly started registering the iWatch trademark in several countries (nominally in class 9 and 14, representative of Jewelry, precious metal and watch devices). There was a flurry of patent applications from Apple in January 2014 of Liquid Metal and Sapphire materials, which included references to potential wrist-based devices.

There have also been a steady stream of rumours that an Apple watch product would likely include sensors that could pair with health related applications (over low energy bluetooth) to the users iPhone.

Apple duly recruited Angela Ahrendts, previously CEO of Burberry, to head up Apple’s Retail Operations. Shortly followed by Nike Fuelband Consultant Jay Blahnik and several Medical technology hires. Nike (where Apple CEO Tim Cook is a Director) laid off it’s Fuelband hardware team, citing a future focus on software only. And just this weekend, it was announced that Apple had recruited the Tag Heuer Watches VP of Sales (here).

That article on the Verge had a video of an interview from CNBC with Jean-Claude Biver, who is Head of Watch brands for LVMH – including Louis Vuitton, Hennessey and TAG Heuer. The bizarre thing (to me) he mentioned was that his employee who’d just left for a contract at Apple was not going to a Direct Competitor, and that he wished him well. He also cited a “Made in Switzerland” marketing asset as being something Apple could then leverage. I sincerely think he’s not naive, as Apple may well impact his market quite significantly if there was a significant product overlap. I sort of suspect that his reaction was that of someone partnering Apple in the near future, not of someone waiting for an inbound tidal wave from an foreign competitor.

Google, at their I/O Developers Conference last week, duly announced Android Wear, among which was support for Smart Watches from Samsung, LG and Motorola. Besides normal time and date use, include the ability to receive the excellent “Google Now” notifications from the users phone handset, plus process email. The core hope is that application developers will start to write their own applications to use this new set of hardware devices.

Two thoughts come to mind.

A couple of weeks back, my wife needed a new battery in one of her Swatch watches. With that, we visited the Swatch Shop outside the Arndale Centre in Manchester. While her battery was being replaced, I looked at all the displays, and indeed at least three range catalogues. Beautiful fashionable devices that convey status and personal expression. Jane duly decided to buy another Swatch that matched an evening outfit likely to be worn to an upcoming family Wedding Anniversary. A watch battery replacement turned into an £85 new sale!

Thought #1 is that the Samsung and LG watches are, not to put a finer point on it, far from fashion items (I nearly said “ugly”). Available in around 5 variations, which map to the same base unit shape and different colour wrist bands. LG likewise. The Moto 360 is better looking (bulky and circular). That said, it’s typically Fashion/Status industry suicide with an offer like this. Bill Geiser related that “one size fits all” is a dangerous strategy; suppliers typically build a common “watch movement” platform, but wrap this in an assortment of enclosures to appeal to a broad audience.

My brain sort of locks on to a possibility, given a complete absence of conventional watch manufacturers involved with Google’s work, to wonder if Apple are OEM’ing (or licensing) a “watch guts” platform usable by Watch manufacturers to use in their own enclosures.

Thought #2 relates to sensors. There are often cited assumptions that Apple’s iWatch will provide a series of sensors to feed user activity and vital signs into their iPhone based Health application. On that assumption, i’ve been noting the sort of sensors required to feed the measures maintained “out of the box” by their iPhone health app, and agonising as to if these would fit on a single wrist based device.

The main one that has been bugging me – and which would solve a need for millions of users – is that of measuring glucose levels in the bloodstream of people with Diabetes. This is usually collected today with invasive blood sampling; I suspect little demand for a watch that vampire bites the users wrist. I found today that there are devices that can measure blood glucose levels by shining Infrared Light at a skin surface using near-infrared absorption spectroscopy. One such article here.

The main gotcha is that the primary areas where such readings a best taken are on the ear drum or on the inside of an arm’s elbow joint. Neither the ideal position for a watch, but well within the reach of earbuds or a separate sensor. Both could communicate with the Health App directly wired to an iPhone or over a low energy bluetooth connection.

Blood pressure may also need such an external sensor. There are, of course, plenty of sensors that may find their way into a watch style form factor, and indeed there are Apple patents that discuss some typical ones they can sense from a wrist-attached device. That said, you’re working against limited real estate for the devices electronics, display and indeed the size of battery needed to power it’s operation.

In summary, I wonder aloud if Apple are providing an OEM watch movement for use by conventional Watch suppliers, and whether the Health sensor characteristics are better served by a raft of third party, low energy bluetooth devices rather than an iWatch itself.

About the only sure thing is that when Apple do finally announce their iWatch, that my wife will expect me to be early in the queue to buy hers. And that I won’t disappoint her. Until then, iWatch rumours updated here.

European Courts have been great; just one fumble to correct

Delete Spoof Logo

We have an outstanding parliament that works in the Public Interest. Where mobile roaming charges are being eroded into oblivion, where there is tacit support in law for the principles of Net Neutrality, and where the Minister is fully supportive of a forward looking (for consumers) Digital future. That is the European Parliament, and the excellent work of Neelie Kroes and her staff.

The one blight on the EC’s otherwise excellent work has been the decision to enact – then outsource – a “Right to be Forgotten” process to a commercial third party. The car started skidding off the road of sensibility very early in the process, albeit underpinned by one valid core assumption.

Fundamentally, there are protections in place, where a personal financial misfortune or a criminal offence in a persons formative years has occurred, to have a public disclosure time limit enshrined in law. This is to prevent undue prejudice after an agreed time, and to allow the afflicted to carry on their affairs without penalty or undue suffering after lessons have been both internalised and not repeated.

There are public data maintenance and reporting limits on some cases of data on a criminal reference database, or on financial conduct databases, that are mandated to be erased from the public record a specific number of years after first being placed there. This was the case with the Spanish Gentleman who believed his privacy was being violated by the publication of a bankruptcy asset sale well past this statutory public financial reporting boundary, in a newspaper who attributed that sale to him personally.

In my humble opinion, the resolution of the court should have been to (quietly) order the Newspaper to remove (or obfuscate) his name from that article at source. Job done; this then formally disassociated his name from the event, and all downstream (searchable) references to it likewise, so achieving the alignment of his privacy with the usual public record financial reporting acts in law.

By leaving the source in place, and merely telling search engine providers to enact processes to allow individuals to request removal of unwanted facts from the search indexes only, opens the door to a litany of undesirable consequences – and indeed leaves the original article on a newspaper web site untouched and in direct violation of the subjects right to privacy over 7 years after his bankruptcy; this association should now have no place on the public record.

Besides timescales coded into law on specific timescales where certain classes of personal data can remain on the public record, there are also ample remedies at law in place for enforcing removal (and seeking compensation for) the publication of libellous or slanderous material. Or indeed the refusal to take-down such material in a timely manner with, or without, a corresponding written apology where this is judged appropriate. No new laws needed; it is then clear that factual content has its status reinforced in history.

In the event, we’re now subject to a morass of take-down requests that have no legal basis for support. Of the initial volume (of 10′s of 1,000′s of removal requests):

  • 31 percent of requests from the UK and Ireland related to frauds or scams
  • 20 percent to arrests or convictions for violent or serious crimes
  • 12 percent to child pornography arrests
  • 5 percent to the government and police
  • 2 percent related to celebrities

That is demonstrably not serving the public interest.

I do sincerely hope the European Justices that enacted the current process will reflect on the monster they have created, and instead change the focus to enact privacy of individuals in line with the financial and criminal record keeping edicts of publicly accessible data coded in law already. In that way, justice will be served, and we will no longer be subjected to a process outsourced to a third party who should never be put in a position of judge and jury.

That is what the courts are for, where the laws are very specific, and in which the public was full confidence.

Facebook Mood Research: who’s really not thinking this through?

Facebook Logo

Must admit, i’ve been totally bemused by the reaction of many folks and media outlets I usually respect to this “incident”. As you may recall from other news sources, Facebook did some research to see if posts they deemed as “happier” (or the opposite) had a corresponding effect on the mood of other friends seeing those status posts. From what I can make out, Facebook didn’t inject any changes to any text; they merely prioritised the feed of specific posts based on a sentiment analysis of the words in them. With that came cries of outrage that Facebook should not be meddling with the moods of it’s users.

The piece folks miss is that due to the volume of status updates – and the propensity of your friends to be able to consume that flow of information from their friends – an average of 16% of your status posts get seen by folks in your network (the spread, depending on various other factors, is from 2% to 47% – but the mean is 16% – 1 in 6). This has been progressively stepping down; two years ago, the same average was 25% or so. Facebooks algorithms make a judgement on how pertinent any status makes to each of your friends, and selectively places (or ignores) that in their feed at the time they read their wall.

As an advertiser with Facebook, you can add weight to a posts exposure to show ads in the wall of people with specific demographics or declared interests (aka “likes”). Which can usually be a specific advert, or an invite to “like” a specific interest area or brand – and hence to be more likely to see that content in your wall alongside other posts from friends.

So, Facebook changed their algorithm, based on text sentiment analysis, to slightly prioritise updates with a seemingly positive (or negative) disposition – and to see if that disposition found it’s way downstream into your friends’ own status updates. And in something like 1 in a 1000 cases, it did have an influence.

Bang! Reports everywhere of “How dare Facebook cross the line and start to meddle with the mood swings of their audience”. My initial reaction, and one I still hold, is the surprising naivety of that point of view, totally out of depth with:

  1. the physics of how many people see your Facebook updates
  2. the fact that Facebook did not inject anything into the text – just prioritised based on an automated sentiment analysis of what was written and above all:
  3. have people being living under a rock that they don’t know how editorial decisions get prioritised by *every* media outlet known to man?

There are six Newspaper proprietors in the UK that control virtually all the National Newsprint output, albeit a business that will continue to erode with an ever aging readership demographic. Are people so naive that they don’t think Tabloid headlines, articles and limited right to reply do not follow a carefully orchestrated interest of their owners and associated funding sources? Likewise the Television and Radio networks.

The full horror is seeing output from a Newspaper, relaying stories about foreign benefit cheats, who end up hiring a Russian model to act as a Latvian immigrant, inject alleged comments from her to incite a “how dare you” reaction, add text of a government ministerial condemnation, and then heavily moderate the resulting forum posts to keep a sense of “Nationalistic” outrage at the manufactured fiction. That I find appalling and beneath any sense of moral decency. That is the land of the Tabloid Press; to never let facts get in the way of a good story. That is a part of society actively fiddling with the mood swings of their customers. By any measure, Facebook don’t even get on the same playing field.

In that context, folks getting their knickers in a twist about this Facebook research are, I fear, losing all sense of perspective. Time to engage brain, and think things through, before imitating Mr Angry. They should know better.

Why did Digital Equipment Corporation Fail?

Digital Equipment Corp Logo

I answered that question on Quora, but thought i’d put a copy of my (long) answer here. Just one ex-employees perception from prisoner badge #50734!

I managed the UK Software Products Group in my last two years at DEC and had a 17 year term there (1976-1993). There are a wide variety of components that contributed to the final state, though failing to understand industry trends across the company was not among them. The below is a personal view, and happy for any ex colleagues to chip in with their own perspectives.

The original growth 1957 through to Jan 1983 has based on discrete, industry based product lines. In combination, they placed demand on central engineering, manufacturing and sales to support their own business objectives, and generally ran the show to dominate their own industry segments. For example, Laboratory Data Products, Graphic Arts (Newspapers!), Commercial OEM, Tech OEM, MDC (Manufacturing, Distribution and Control), ESG (Engineering Systems Group), Medical Systems and so forth.

The finance function ran as a separate reporting entity with management controls that went top to bottom with little ability for product lines to unduly behave in any way except for the overall corporate good.

The whole lot started to develop into a chaotic internal economy, albeit one that meshed together well and covered any cracks. The product lines were removed in Jan 1983, followed by a first ever stall in a hitherto unblemished Stock Market Performance. The company became much more centrally planned, and one built around a one company, one strategy, one architecture focus (the cynics in the company paraphrased this as one company, one egg, one basket). All focus on getting VAX widely deployed, given it’s then unique ability to run exactly the same binaries from board products all the way up to high end, close to mainframe class processors.

The most senior leadership started to go past it’s sell by date in the late 1980s. While the semiconductor teams were, as expected, pumping out impressive $300 VAX silicon, the elements of the leadership became fixated on the date on which DEC would finally overtake IBM in size. They made some poor technology investment calls in trying to extend VAX into IBM 3090 scale territory, seemingly oblivious to being nibbled from underneath on the low end.

Areas of the company were being frustrated at the high end focus and the inability for the Executive to give clear guidance on the next generation processor requirements. They kept on being flip-flopped between 32-bit and 64-bit designs, and brought out MIPS based workstations in a vain attempt to at least stay competitive performance wise until the new architecture was ready to ship.

Bob Palmer came to prominence by stopping the flip-flopping and had the semiconductor team ship a 64 bit design that completely outperformed every other chip in the industry by 50-100% (which ended up being the case for nearly 10 years). He then got put in charge of worldwide manufacturing, increasing the productivity by 4x in 2 years.

The company needed to increase its volume radically or reduce headcount to align competitively with the market as it went horizontally orientated (previously, IBM, DEC and the BUNCH – Burroughs, Univac, NCR, CDC and Honeywell were all vertically orientated).

Ken Olsen got deposed by the board around 1992, and they took the rather unusual step of reaching out to Bob Palmer, who was then a direct report of SVP Jack Smith, to lead the company.

While there was some early promise, the company focussed around a small number of areas (PCs, Components & Peripherals, Systems, Consumer Process Manufacturing, Discrete Manufacturing and Defence, and I think Health). The operating practice was that any leaders who missed their targets two quarters in a row were fired, and the salesforce given commission targets for the first time.

The whole thing degenerated from there, such that the company made equivalent losses in Palmers reign greater than the retained profits made under Olsen 1957-1982. He sued Intel for patent infringement, which ended up with Intel settling including the purchase of semiconductor operations in Hudson. He likewise sued Microsoft, which ended up with Microsoft lending DEC money to get its field force trained up on Microsoft products (impressive ju-jitsu on their part). Then sold the whole company to Compaq.

Text in some of the books about DEC include some comments by C Gordon Bell (technical god in DECs great years) which will not endear him to a place on Bob Palmers Christmas Card List (but words which many of us would agree with).

There was also a spoof Harvard Business Review article, written by George Van Treeck (a widely respected employee on the Marketing Notes conference maintained on the company network), which outlined the death of Digital – written in 1989 or so. Brilliant writing (I still have a copy in my files here), and he guessed the stages with impressive accuracy way back then. His words are probably a better summary than this, but until then, I trust this will give one persons perception.

It is still, without doubt, the finest company i’ve ever had the privilege to work for.

Rest in Peace, Ken Olsen. You did a great job, and the world is much better for your lifes work.

Corning Glass, Android, Amazon then – surprise!

3D Glasses

One piece of uncharted territory in the mobile phone and tablet industry relates to how much Gorilla Glass (used for touch screens) that Corning manufacture, compared to an estimate of how many devices are physically shipped. Corning routinely publish the total area of glass produced, from which analysts attempt to triangulate with the relative sizes, and volumes, of the products that employ the technology.

The biggest estimated gap appears to relate to glass used to power “media tablets” in China. These tend to run the Open Source version of Android (aka “AOSP” – Android Open Source Project), don’t use any of the Google Play services (hence never need to authenticate with Google), and are assumed to be personal TVs that feed content from WiFi. Or suitable capacity SD memory cards traded (illicitly?) in some Chinese markets, preloaded with films or video from other sources.

The existence of these low cost WiFi personal TVs would explain why Apple, with a seemingly sub 15% unit market share, still drive a vastly disproportionate amount of web and e-commerce traffic that operators experience. However, such tablets – Kindle Fire being the most prominent exception – are fairly rare outside China and India.

There are rumours that Amazon are about to release a mobile phone – I don’t even think they’ve said phone themselves – but on their announcement invite video, folks are rocking their heads from side to side looking at a handheld device. All the bets are on showing items in 3D, as demonstrated by this (now Google) employee – who conjured the effect using a Nintendo Wii remote and matching sensor bar. A fascinating (less than 5 minutes) demonstration of what was possible some months back here: Head Tracking for Desktop VR Displays

Of course, by the time you read this, Amazon will have likely blown your head away with a ready to ship (soon) device, and some compelling content or applications. As an Amazon Prime customer, i’m looking forward to it. Not least having a 3D display without the need for special glasses!

Footnote: the Amazon Fire Phone was announced, two of it’s features described (in 80 seconds) in this BBC video. This neglected to mention that the WiFi can wind up to full dual channel 801.11ac speeds (as fast 300Mb/s), and that it already supports the UK LTE and HSPA+ bands out of the box. You can also throw video to your TV using Miracast (as present in a lot of modern TVs already, and in many set-top boxes). At the moment, like the Fire TV set top box, it has been announced for the US only.

I must admit, I did tap the US off contract price into Google: 649 usd in gbp – and it comes out £381.52 + VAT = £458 or so. As in the USA, that’s a 32GB phone for the price of a 16GB iPhone 5S. Then told myself off for doing this, as the USA cellular market is a strange beast (most business in $80/month contracts including handset subsidies – where the handset cost is $200 up front). Everything about the hardware is great, and the source of initial moans by the tech community around US pricing, being tied to AT&T for contract sales, no sign of a rumoured bundled carrier data contract etc – are things that Amazon could iterate at blinding speed – both in the USA and elsewhere.

It is a shopaholics dream phone – it can look up from a selection of millions of items visually, or by listening to music or TV shows – and to be able to order them for you (and deliver on a bundled Amazon Prime service) in a very, very slick fashion. About the only thing it can’t do yet is to value antiques. Or can it?