Archive for the ‘General’ Category

What eventually happens with apps

There has been a lot of talk about apps generally not doing well. There may be truth in the matter.

Let’s take my mother, a classic example of someone who plays Candy Crush (made by King, whom are now public listed in London). She plays this mainly on her iPad, but also on her iPhone.

Life began quite simply by just playing the game. She got up to nearly level 500, and she only made 3 in-app purchases. Countless hours of entertainment, for what amounts to 3×0.99 cents. You don’t get much for $3 these days.

Then suddenly with the help of automatic app updates (and the fact that the Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) needs to increase for earnings), she was required to login with Facebook finally.

She did, and started from scratch!!! Nearly 500 up there, and starting from scratch. You can’t imagine she’s pleased but she enjoys playing the game.

Fast forward to today, and the Facebook app logged her out. Candy Crush became aware & asked for a re-login. Lo and behold, the 70-odd levels she completed were gone and she had to start from scratch.

Her total investment in time? 8 months. Her total unrecoverable investment in in-app purchases? Less than $3. Her frustration levels? Like she wanted to throw the iPad at the wall!

What can we learn from this? Apps provide countless hours of entertainment for very little revenue to the app creator. App updates that break the database, eventually annoy the user. Is the user likely to continue with other games or apps? Possibly. But after a while there is app fatigue.

So it’s not about discovery. Sure the lists help. But being social (ie in-person) aids discovery too.

Being consistent, is key. Who downloads an offline travel guide, that gets updated and needs a resync, when you happen to be offline? I know a few offenders.

Splitting up apps that should be one – Facebook/Messenger, Foursquare/Swarm, etc. Then not providing a consistent interface, removing features or worse crashing when you’ve got to switch to the next app.

App fatigue is caused by putting the company or investor first, and the user last.

And as more contribute to the subpar user experience, the more smartphones will be whittled down to providing their basic functions provided for by Android & iOS with a sparse few extras. Overall, that makes the barrier to success much higher than before.

T-Mobile USA changes their pay-as-you-go plans

I’ve had a T-Mobile USA prepaid number for quite some time. It was a brilliant service — you turn on unlimited calls & data (200MB at high speeds, and then it goes down to 2G speeds) when you’re in town for a mere USD$3/day. If you can live with 2G speeds, it cost USD$2/day. And when you didn’t use it, you just went into a mode that would charge you upon usage. 

All this was and still is changeable online on your T-Mobile account. A bonus: add $100 credit, and you’ve got validity for 365 days.

Now, they’ve decided that the moment you go to one of those $2-3 plans, you can’t go back to the old “idle” mode. Now you’re charged a minimum of USD$3/month just to keep your number alive & active. So that’s $36/year to keep your number alive.

I don’t mind the extra charge, but I think its quite dishonest to change existing customers to this. A lot of people praise T-Mobile, but even they falter. 

MH17 – Malaysia isn’t to blame

I’m deeply saddened by MH17. I haven’t gotten over MH370 yet, and I can’t imagine how all at MAS, people flying it, and everyone involved react to all of this — 2 tragedies within 6 months is truly unprecedented. This is a long piece but just remember: This is not the fault of MAS. Stop blaming them. The plane was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Why do I care? People that know me, know that I’m up in the air all the time. For those that don’t know me, last year I took over 12 trips around the Earth, and the year before that over 18 trips around the Earth (circumference of earth = 24,901 miles = 40,075 km). I’ve been doing this since about 2003, though nowadays I fly less – I just spend a lot longer at destinations.

People that know me also know I’m no big fan of our national flag carrier, MAS. I swore off them sometime in 2003 (becoming a SQ Gold loyalist then; and also a CX Diamond in 2012), and tried them again for a few legs in 2013 (London, Paris, Bali, Hong Kong, Singapore, Phnom Penh) as they joined OneWorld. I told myself that service still hadn’t improved (yes, they’re great – but when you compare them to Cathay Pacific or Singapore Airlines, there’s not much left to say).

Parking problems. A plane is in our gate and needs to be removed!That said, I’m a proud Malaysian. I will not forget where I was when I first heard the news about MH370 – I woke up at the Hyatt Regency Yogyakarta and was told of what had happened that Saturday morning. Messages started streaming in from worried folk all thru that week. I followed closely to see what was happening to MH370 over the entire search period, and sad to say the handling of everything was just poor – typical of the mediocre leadership in Malaysia. I still stand that the DCA chief, MAS CEO and Hishamuddin Hussein need to resign. It took weeks to release the cargo manifests, there was so much misinformation, so much confusion, and overall, it just put Malaysia and MAS in a really bad light.

Not over MH370 (we still have no idea what has happened or where the plane has ended) we are hit with MH17 (I landed in a Cathay Pacific plane in Los Angeles after radio silence for about 14 hours to text messages asking if I was ok – so turned on roaming data immediately to find out what happened in plane). MH17 is different: it is an act of terror. It is clear that MAS is not at fault at all. It was shot down.

However people are looking to appropriate blame – especially after MH370. Detractors (typically Malaysian’s angry with the current government, or “ex-Malaysians” who are now part of our diaspora) question why Malaysia Airlines flew over Ukranian airspace knowing that it was unsafe. Detractors wonder if ailing MAS was trying to save money by using the shorter route.

Here’s some news for you: MAS wasn’t the only airline using said airspace. Over 400 flights per day travel over that region including passenger jets from KLM, Lufthansa, Thai Airways, Singapore Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and Air India. There are probably a lot more airlines that used said airspace (does anyone have a complete list?). British Airways and Qantas have changed route plans previously. Remember that this isn’t just for routes that do AMS-KUL, but also for routes that are like SIN-LHR and so forth. I’ve been flying over this airspace for a long time…

This data is all open nowadays (FT also has a good article: Downed Malaysian Airlines jet was travelling outside no-fly zone). Just ask FlightRadar24. Look at some of the graphics coming out of the NYT (very useful to understand that MH17 wasn’t doing anything wrong).

Yes, the FAA had issued warnings in April 2014. Eurocontrol said it was safe as long as people flew above 32,000ft. So the airspace was restricted but not closed. Operations departments at many airlines (MAS included) chart paths that are most optimum – this is what happened here.

 

TuakLufthansa defended its decisionto fly over this airspace:

“Every airline selects the routes that are the most energy efficient and which offer the shortest flight time, but we would never make a trade off between operational safety and cost”

In hindsight (everything is always clearer isn’t it?), people can say that aviators can refuse to fly said routes or ask the operations departments to re-route around conflict zones. Sure. That’s what everyone has done after MH17. But before, many commercial airlines were happily using this route.

Its appalling that airlines try to claim they’re safe and weren’t using the route before. Offenders include (read the thread):


Who then admitted to being wrong, and posting a corrected tweet (i.e. they don’t currently fly over Ukranian airspace).

Singapore Airlines says they’re not using Ukranian airspace any longer (read the thread).

MAS its time to learn to be better – and comebacks are the best – Singapore Airlines made a comeback from their tragic 2000 incident – SQ006. Let’s not forget the 1997 SilkAir 185 incident.

MAS, don’t give up. People, don’t give up on MAS (MH17 was at full capacity probably due to fare cuts). I’m going to try to change some routes to take on more MH flights to support the local carrier. Malaysia needs a local carrier — and that carrier is MAS. Godspeed.

Update:

Keeping citizens data in local data centers

Moscow has just made waves by trying to tell web services at personal data of local Russians needs to be stored on Russian soil – see: Moscow seeks to tighten grip online (it’s an FT link which is behind a paywall, but surely a search will find similar articles).

Not long ago, Brazil tried to do this, but the idea was quickly scrapped. The FT take is that this is a means of trying to control citizenry. And of course it’s deadly costly to companies like Google or Facebook.

I don’t see it that way (though it may very well be the main motivator). Keeping local data in local data centers can mean a lot for a country.

One of the strong points of the open source economy is that there is sovereignty preserved. It’s a selling point. Keeping data local (I.e. Shards of data) means that he data doesn’t leave the borders. It keeps it out of prying eyes of international spy agencies. It also means faster access for local citizenry – you can’t beat faster than a local DC.

What else is good with such a move? Instead of just edge nodes being run by several engineers, you get the full benefit of more jobs being created and more data centers being operated.

Yes, the costs go up for international companies. Also there’s a barrier to entry or immediate expansion into said markets. Middlemen who partner with these foreign companies will definitely likely reap some rewards – think of the franchise model (recent examples have KakaoTalk in Korea, with local partnerships say in Malaysia).

But it may also prove to spur local entrepreneurship. You create local clones of services, and maybe one day there is an exit to the international company (think group buying clones and Groupon). Or like in China you create new classes of millionaires and billionaires (by censoring and blocking foreign websites).

Today with the cloud as a back end, people in Korea ask why their data is stored in Tokyo or Singapore points of presence (taking the Amazon example). Why do Malaysians have to only benefit from edge locations and a small employee base and data centre usage, with all major data stored in Singapore?

Friendly (efficient) nations thus lose monopolies on being regional hubs. Who suffers? The shareholders of these international firms (increased cost of doing business – policy wonks, more operations, etc.). But when you’re a large market like Brazil, Russia, or China, shareholders will demand that you not only enter, but conquer those markets – valuation is added for growth potential.

Overall I’m not entirely sure this proposal is a bad idea from a local economic standpoint.

The importance of having a working knowledge of your products

Rob Young is back in the MySQL ecosystem (now working at Percona), but he was previously at MongoDB (formerly known as 10gen), and he made a really interesting observation:

10gen places a huge importance on all employees having a working technical knowledge of its products. 

I joined 10gen with years of application and database development experience, mostly using relational models. While most concepts apply to a document-oriented model there are enough technical differences that leave me as a complete novice when it comes to specific MongoDB details and its practical use cases. I have spent my first month in a series of self-guided and instructor led technical training sessions and a practical, real-world bootcamp that have proven to be a welcome quickstart to my understanding and working with the technology. This will pay great dividends as I get more overwhelmed with my true PM duties.

I cannot agree more with this stand that MongoDB takes. All employees should have a working technical knowledge of the products that the company makes. 

I remember back in MySQL AB, it was a requirement that support engineers spent their first 3 months on support requests but were also required to get certified during that timeframe. That’s fine and dandy when you have a certification program that you’re selling ;)

I think its important for everyone to know what their products do, instead of just the engineering/consulting/sales engineering teams. It is important for the executive team to know what products they really offer. It is important for the sales team to go beyond what they are given in product brochures. It is important for the marketing team to know what they’re marketing (else they just spout garbage that no one listens to).

Kudos MongoDB for the smarts!

Apps should be conduits for web services

Beautiful designed apps should be conduits for web services. Or provide some form of “desktop” capability. Sync is important.

Brent Simmons recently wrote of Marco Arment

You know him from Tumblr, Instapaper, The Magazine, and (coming soon) Overcast.

You may think of Marco as an iOS developer — but every single one of those apps is a web service.

This thought process works very well with a presentation John Gruber gave at Web 2.0 Expo NY – watch the 10 minute video on Apple and the Open Web. He describes Apple as a “ht” company: they’ve embraced HTML and HTTP.

I look at my iPhone and think to myself what apps I use (i.e. have an icon on my screen) that are web apps:

  1. Google Calendar (direct web app, opens a browser window)
  2. RunKeeper
  3. Fitbit
  4. Withings
  5. Cardiio
  6. MyFitnessPal
  7. Chrome
  8. Mail
  9. TripIt
  10. Evernote
  11. Instapaper
  12. Kindle
  13. NewsBlur
  14. Hello (by Evernote)
  15. Skype
  16. Instagram
  17. Vine
  18. Rdio
  19. Spotify
  20. Google
  21. Reminders (stock Apple app, wonderful sync at work)
  22. Safari
  23. Facebook
  24. Foursquare
  25. Twitter
  26. KakaoTalk
  27. Line
  28. Messenger
  29. Hangouts
  30. Telegram
  31. Tweetbot
  32. Google+
  33. Dropbox
  34. 1Password
  35. Expensify
  36. MyTeksi
  37. Uber
  38. YouTube
  39. Paper
  40. Bloomberg

What isn’t a web app? Photos (though there is an iCloud Sync that I don’t use – I prefer it going to Dropbox), Camera, most of Apple’s standard apps (of course, FaceTime, Notes, Calendar – they all sync), DocScanner (syncs to Dropbox, but has no web app behind it), Snapseed, Camera+, 360 (has a web component though I never use it). Music/Podcasts theoretically sync with the web, but again, not my use case. I don’t consider Google Authenticator a web app either though I use it in conjunction with the web. Messages has iMessage but there isn’t a web interface (yet?).

We can argue that the messaging apps aren’t really web services. KakaoTalk/Line have desktop clients. Whatsapp is notoriously mobile-only. Viber/WeChat seem to be mobile only for me. Telegram leads the way by having a nice Chrome browser plugin. Skype is a desktop app.

That makes the majority of my apps that I use, really, web apps. My phone is a conduit to the Internet. This is why I consume data and WiFi.

My iPad is not much different – I use it a lot more for reading, and that includes the FT (fully HTML5 web + mobile app), WSJ, NYTimes, New Yorker, The Economist. OK, there’s GoodReader, iBooks, Zinio for offline reading too, a lot more magazines, and some office software – the iWork suite (which syncs to iCloud). A cool app like Penultimate (now free after Evernote purchased them – again syncs online).

This is the success metric for an app. No point building an application to have a F1 racing timetable (I get that from F1.com or a simple Google search). No point building an application that collects Malay proverbs (I can search for that if I was interested; or if it was the English context, I’d just look up wikiquote).

Games seem to be an exception to this, but as I have never played games and don’t intend to start (I don’t grok the mind of a gamer, sorry), I’ll pass on overall commentary. 


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