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This week Nabeel and I recorded our seventeenth episode of our podcast “Hallway Chat”. 

In this show we discussed the 30th anniversary of the Mac (and I discovered Nabeel was a PC guy), Facebook Paper, Android and TiVo.

Sadly we had an additional 20 minutes of the show that we had to nuke because of audio interference problems we discovered after recording the entire show. 

About to buy the Samsung Galaxy S4 but…

There is so much I find appealing and seductive about Android.

Paul Stamatiou’s post, Android is better, left a mark on me because it basically pointed out all of the frustrating things about iOS and Android keeps getting better and better. 

I’ve been putting my money where my heart is and buying various Android devices over the years too. I was an early Android user with the G1 and have owned the HTC Incredible and the more recent Nexus 4.

So back to Paul’s post. I’m ready to hit the buy button and pick up a stock Android (w/o Samsung bloatware) on a Galaxy S4 but….

I can’t. At least not just yet.

Some of my favorite apps still don’t exist on Android but I know they will soon (ie Lift, Jelly, AvgCam Pro and a few others). Although there is a sweet private beta of Foursquare that I can’t use yet because it’s running on Android right now. 

But I’m guessing the app parity between the platforms is closing and will continue to close. At least that is what I’m seeing with our portfolio.

Yet I still pause…

This vacation I’m currently on is a pretty good example of why.

Our family is way in deep with iOS. All of our chargers on this trip, in our cars and in various rooms in our house have Apple connectors. It’s too easy to plug in and charge without having to get another cable system. (Not to mention, back home all of the iOS devices can beam to the big screens with AirPlay/AppleTV)  

I also picked up this waterproof housing for our iPhones. It’s so awesome and we are having a ball with this thing. As far as I know, you can’t get something like this for the Galaxy S4?

So here I am. My heart says one thing and my head says another….

Crackberry

To those unaware (or too young to remember), “Crackberry” was the name many of us called our Blackberry once upon a time.

I was an early and loyal user. From the early days of with a pager style version and up until winning my title

The Blackberry was a beloved product for sure. It was designed to do one thing — always on email in your pocket. And it did that thing very well. 

It was so novel and addicting many users reported phantom vibrations when the device wasn’t with them. They just felt it anyway.

All of this seems like a lifetime ago as Blackberry is now looking for a buyer. The past half a decade or so has not been kind to the company. Apple and Google have catapulted in front with products that make mobile the most important part of our connected lives. 

However, this was a company many large companies would have loved to acquire back in the day. It would have been a perfect acquisition for Microsoft. Strong enterprise penetration and a seamless integration with Microsoft Exchange server.

I have no idea what someone will pay to acquire the company but its far less than what it was worth years ago. It feels simply too late. Shouldn’t the board have acted sooner?

Perhaps, but it likely looks a lot easier from the outside than the inside.

I’ve been on many boards where you just want to believe in the future that is better than today.

You see the new products on the roadmap and they look exciting. The team is fired up. Maybe this product will be the one to get things back on track. You want to believe. You don’t want to be the asshole sitting in the board room being negative while management and the employees are working like crazy working. 

Sometimes I have gotten it right. Staying positive through rough times was the right call. Or calling a spade a spade during the tough times.

But lord knows I’ve also gotten it wrong by waiting too long.

Just wanting to believe.

The trouble with Microsoft

(Warning: rambling post ahead. clearly my writing skills are quite rusty as my photography has taken over this blog)

Look, I am uncomfortable kicking a company when it’s down but I gotta take a moment and talk about Microsoft. It’s because I like the company and I’m friends with many folks that work there. 

Bill Gates needs to come back. 

I’ve said this before and every one tells me Billg is happy running his foundation. I don’t blame him for being inspired by the work he’s doing (it’s fantastic) but we are talking about one of the smartest and most competitive founders the world has ever seen. Ever.

He can’t be happy watching his company fade away to irrelevance over the years. 

The Surface isn’t a failure because it was late. I submit if the iPad never existed the Surface would have failed anyway.

It’s just a poor product. 

I say that with a heavy heart because I’m quite sure a number of talented engineers worked on it tirelessly. 

But I’m equally convinced they were forced into some decisions about Windows and Office (and other MSFT technologies and PC behavior) which were unnatural to people trying to think different and make something new happen. 

The Surface isn’t the only fail. Remember Zune. Windows Mobile. Bing. Sharepoint. Outlook on the Mac, hell, office on the Mac. Moving on past the consumer space, we see many/most portfolio companies are increasingly using Amazon infrastructure. This was MSFT’s birthright. 

There is a lesson from Apple during it’s dark days in the 90’s. 

Apple didn’t lose the desktop war to Microsoft because of an “open vs closed” approach. Windows beat Apple (in marketshare) in the 90’s because Apple’s OS wasn’t a great product in those days. Remember System 7? Remember the browser choices we had in those days on the Mac? Internet Explorer and Netscape. Oy. 

At our firm we moved entirely off of Microsoft technology several years ago and haven’t looked back. My current Mac at the office doesn’t have a single MSFT product on it (unless you include Skype). Same thing at home. 

I can’t tell you the last time I’ve seen a founder come see us at Spark with a Windows machine. I haven’t seen a Windows phone in the wild in NYC, Boston or SF except in the hands of current Microsoft employees. Former MS execs that I interact with have switched to iPhone or Android. 

It’s not right. And if I was the founder I would be pissed off. 

Microsoft needs to start building amazing products. The current leadership isn’t getting it done. 

A review of some gear I picked up recently

It’s been awhile since I wrote up some stuff on gear. This year I’ve picked up a few things so I thought I would share. 

1. Filson Small Field Bag. I love this bag. I got the tan one with brown leather trim/straps. It fits my Leica M9, a couple Field Notes pads, and a Mophie Juice sled. It also fits a modified gorilla pod which I often bring along

2. V-Moda Crossfade m80 headphones. I’ve gone through more headphones that I care to admidt. I tried getting into the Bose noise cancelling headphones for long airplane rides but the idea of charging yet another thing in my life wasn’t a good fit for me. The m80s work and sound great. The build quality is excellent and they don’t require batteries.

3. iPad, back to the big version. I was in the Apple Store the other day. The camera on my iphone was messed up and I was waiting for my appointment at the genius bar (apple replaced my iphone on the spot. amazing). While I was waiting I started playing around with the latest iPad Retina/4g model. It was the first time I used the “big boy” iPad since picking up my iPad mini. The screen was stunning and everything felt so much faster than the mini. I bought one at the store and I’m loving it. The Mini will likely end up as a Sonos remote in the house and a game machine for the kiddies. 

4. Fuji x100s. Before my Leica, I was shooting with the original Fuji x100. That camera was quirky but a delight. I ended up selling the x100 when this Leica came into my life. Recently, Fuji updated the model to the x100s and promised to fix several quirks along with a number of improvements, notably autofocus speed. I picked it up as a way complement my rangefinder system which is all manual. 

After using this system, I came away a big fan of the Fuji. It’s small, quiet.The built in 35mm glass is lovely and the controls are wonderful. The EVF and OVF combo is killer. The images are gorgeous, especially in low light. Sony and Olympus can learn a lot from Fuji.

However, I ultimately returned the x100s. I just didn’t find I was using it and that felt wasteful. But if my Leica was ever stolen or busted beyond repair, I would get the x100s in a second. 

The second screen

For years, many of us have imagined a world where a computer would sit in your family room and bring connectivity to your big screen, television.

I believe that is going to happen. And I’ve put my money where my mouth is with our investment in Boxee.

That computer is going to live inside of settops, blu-ray players, game consoles or connected tvs and other devices. It will have smart, social software and it’s bring the open web to our lives in new ways. All on the big screen and a remote control. 

There is another way two way streams are going to come into your family room and that’s on your mobile device – either smartphone or tablets. 

The reality is that second screen apps have actually been happening for a long time now. Twitter is a killer second screen application.

Here’s a graph that the Twitter folks posted after last super bowl.

(full size image)

The horizontal axis is time. The vertical axis is a percentage: the blue line is the percentage of tweets, relative to the total worldwide tweet volume, that were about the Super Bowl each minute, while the red line is the percentage of tweets that were about brands or commercials. 

There are other startups bringing the second screen to life including Miso, Hot Potato and Boxee is working on an iPad app as well. 

Thanks to the iPad and upcoming Android powered tablets we are going to see a lot more of these second screen applications this year.

In a world where the software and user interface on our cable and telco boxes have been closed & stuck, I’m very happy to see the second screen take off. 

Freemium backlash?

It’s easy to kick someone when they are having trouble I guess. Ning announced a significant layoff and the critics pounced.

I guess I wasn’t surprised at this point. But the thing that surprised me was the negativity about freemium.

Just because some companies struggle with freemium doesn’t mean the model doesn’t work. In my mind that would be like writing off the entire search space because pre-google it wasn’t a big business or writing off ecommerce because a bunch of startups aren’t successful in the category or writing off any category frankly.

There are plenty of reasons companies in every category struggle or fail. Their decision to go with freemium may not have been a natural fit for their products or services. Or maybe the product struggled regardless of business model. Too many variables to blame freemium.

I believe this with all of my heart. There are just too many large companies (google, craigslist, etc) and young companies (xobni, dropbox, zynga, pandora, etc) that are nailing the freemium model along with amazing products.

Of course I’m biased here to be sure. I am thrilled that our portfolio companies are thinking through creative ideas on revenue. Tumblr has launched unique revenue products and so has Twitter.

But let’s not be too hasty to judge an entire category when some companies struggle. This is the startup business. Many companies won’t work out – we know that up front.

But a number will create figure it out. They will build something so special and incredibly important. Thankfully.

Quick thoughts after day 1 at Chirp

I was at Chirp, Twitter’s developer conference, yesterday in San Francisco. 

First, let me say I fully recognize the tireless effort the folks at Twitter put into making such a great event. It showed in so many ways. 

The team announced a number of things like some metrics and the new ad platform

It was great to meet so many developers at once and in one place like that. The diversity of applications and creativity was inspiring. And so was the energy level. 

I’m most excited about where the platform is going and all of the new capabilities of the platform, namely Places, Annotations, User Streams and @anywhere. These are all important things that will give developers a more exciting canvas to build highly differentiated applications and richer user experiences. 

We have a number of portfolio companies that build stuff on the Twitter API. I’m looking forward to see what they will come up next. 

I’m also looking forward to investing in new startups that have a vision for new apps based on Annotations. So drop me a line if that’s what you are doing!