A few thoughts about the mobile world

It’s been a pretty interesting couple of weeks since Android 2.0 & the Droid came out.

I’ve been meeting with a lot of entrepreneurs, startups and hackers that are working on mobile apps and services.

Sunday night is my night to make dinner for the family so I’m in a bit of a rush (pls excuse any typos). Here’s a few things i’m thinking about in the mobile world

1. I haven’t met any developers or hackers building Palm Pre apps.

2. Developers are getting extremely frustrated with the Apple App Store (understatement). I’m hearing it can take developers 4 weeks to get an update released. That’s dysfunctional.

3. Yet at the same time the quality of iPhone apps are just getting better. I saw a number of new iPhone apps that use the relatively new in app purchase and it’s paying off big time. Google needs to add this to Android.

4. I’m pretty impressed with the Android Market. It’s fast to navigate and find what you need. A number of iPhone developers are creating Android apps. They like Google’s open app store model, all the new hardware and Android 2.0.

There is an issue with the current review system in the Android Market. Some users will say an app is “sluggish” and others will say “best app ever”. I’m finding its mostly dependent on the hardware. That’s quite confusing to users and needs to be addressed somehow.

5. If I was in charge of RIM, I would be 100% focused on getting a world class webkit browser into the Blackberry yesterday. The blackberry browser is just awful compared to the iPhone, Android or Palm Pre.

6. I’ve been thinking a ton about Joe Hewitt’s latest post about mobile apps vs the mobile web.

7. A number of VCs don’t like the mobile world. They don’t like the carrier issues and some of the challenges with the lack of standards, gatekeepers and other stuff. Put me in the other camp. I can’t get enough of it and I’m more excited than ever about the possibilities.

Here’s my Suggested User List

I’ve been using the new Twitter List functionality over the past month and I’m already addicted. I’ve created a few lists for my benefit including some super close friends which I made private and a bunch of other lists that are public. It’s a simple way to filter my stream.

Now that more users have access to Twitter List, I took some time and created a new one called bijanisfollowing. This is a list of everyone I follow on Twitter.

I guess it’s my very own Suggested User List.

I love getting tweets from the folks on that list. Check it out and if you like what you see you can follow all of those people with a single click.

Thinking about time shifting and live, real time streams

The very first time I used a DVR I was hooked. The DVR was more than just a glorified VCR. It was something completely new and refreshing. Beyond season events or one click recording, I could actually pause live tv. Or I could go back 30 seconds. Or I could record a show and then start watching the show 25 minutes later so I could catch up in real time by skipping all of the ads.

Absolutely amazing.

The DVR also came at the same time broadband was being deployed. As users we expected to have an always on connection to the web and everything on the web was unicast and on-demand by design. There was no such thing as an appointment web or Must See TV online. And the DVR brought that on-demand, time shifted experience to our big screen.

But it’s interesting to think that as television copied some of the web’s best behaviors, the web went real time. For some television shows, time shifting is far less interesting because we are now plugged into real time information networks like Twitter & Facebook. For example, I used to DVR football games but that’s harder to do nowadays.

The web now also has many more real time activies beyond Twitter & Facebook. Online games aren’t merely turn based but they are social and real time. CNN and others stream live online. MLB streams live. The other other day YouTube streamed the U2 concert live. The Presidential inauguration was steamed live. The list goes on and on.

But the real time web vs the real time broadcast television model in reality couldn’t be any different. The real time web is a two way network. It’s social. It’s a la carte. It’s comes with a permalink. It can be indexed, saved, copied, and blogged. It can be retweeted. It has super distribution built into it’s guts.

Aviary

This morning Aviary announced a new round of funding from our firm, Spark Capital, along with Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO and existing angels.

Aviary’s mission is to make creation accessible to artists of all genres from graphic design to audio editing. They have built a free, online suite of rich tools.

Here’s a recent review of Aviary from the show G4.

http://blip.tv/play/AYGG0FOPuT8

My colleague Mo Koyfman led our investment in the company and wrote up his thoughts on his blog.

I am proud & delighted to be in business with Avi, Michael and the Aviary team. It’s amazing that such a small team could build something this powerful.

If you haven’t already tried, check out Aviary today and start creating.

The future of branded advertising

Much has been said about the issues facing publishers and advertisers particularly when it comes to branded advertising.

My head always hurts when I hear people say that at least with television, brands can safely advertise their brands.

Yes, television has been a success story when it comes to branded advertising. The dollars are big. Forget big, they are enormous.

But I’m convinced that it’s a fragile business. First, it’s not growing. And our attention is shifting. Even if Nielsen says we are all watching 25 hours of TV per day we know it’s not true in our hearts and our brains. The second the TV commercial comes on we whip out our mobile phone or we turn our eyes to our laptops. Or we just click thru the ads on our DVRs.

Yet online branded advertising has real challenges. The current search business doesn’t deliver branded advertising. The classic banner ad if targeted works well for many things – except branding.

To make display advertising ads friendlier to brands, new formats are being introduced like this super sized banner ad I saw on Alley Insider today.

To give you an idea how big that Mercedes ad, that photo is my 15" MacBook Pro which has a 1440×900 display!

I’m not sure this format is the best for publishers, advertisers and consumers. I have a feeling it’s not.

But I am optimistic that there will be more compelling solutions for branded advertising.  I’ve seen a number of creative ideas & technologies over the past few months and I’m sure we’ll see others too.

The difference between social flow and broadcast

Earlier today Steven Johnson and John Borthwick were on CNBC talking about the real time web.

At one point in the discussion the CNBC guys ask how can users handle this constant flow of data. They were wondering if all of this real time data was beyond what users can handle or manage.

Steven and John gave great answers but I thought it was funny question because at the same time the CNBC screen was filled with all sorts of streaming data that doesn’t have any filter on it whatsoever. Just look at that screen: tickers, news, “breaking news” etc coming in all over the video.

Twitter offers a flow that is quite different. In fact it’s the opposite of the CNBC broadcast. It starts with following people you think are interesting and it takes off from there.

Btw, here’s the actual video, it showed up on my Twitter feed :)

Maybe it’s time to bring back the forklift

In startup and venturespeak sometimes we use the word “forklift” which means a startup that builds a product that requires customers to rip out their current solution completely to use a new product.

It’s commonly referenced in networking, telecom and enterprise software. Want a new billing system? Well, that means you need to forklift the old one out of there.

For the most part, forklifts are tough to say the least. And it’s one of the reasons why enterprise software can be challenging. It’s also why the best forklift solutions make it easy to ramp (e.g. software as a service).

Capital efficient startups and VCs have tried to avoid direct forklifts when possible. That was one lesson we learned from Bubble 1.0.

But sometimes existing technical problems can become so big that merely fixing/improving the current model isn’t interesting. We need something brand spanking new.

For example, right now our wirelesss system isn’t scaling. We are still in the top half of the first inning when it comes to wireless data services. What happens when everyone has a smartphone (e.g. Android, iPhone, Palm Pre etc). The current cellular system won’t scale as we all make data services requests. They were built with a different design goal and use case in mind.

The same thing is true with the current sytems that deliver video on demand to cable and telco subscribers. Those systems were designed for a different use case than a world where everything single piece of content is on demand.

It doesn’t make sense in every case but I do hope we see more entpreneurs and VCs take on forklifts. But this time with the benefits of cloud computing, open source and with new models of efficiency.

(photo via flickr).

User Interface Obsession.

I was thinking the other day about user interfaces on non-PC devices.

For the most part they are all stuck in some frozen point in time. Or worse, they became more complicated with time.

Consider this list which serves as a tiny sample:

-consumer landline telephone

-microwave

-automobile

-payment systems/banking

-digital SLRs

-home audio/video equipment (TVs, set top box, remote control)

-home security

(I could go on and on).

There is an obvious tendancy to give us more features in each update with these products. Yet it doesn’t seem like the companies that make those products have user interface obsession.

I realize that I’m an Apple fanboy when it comes to design and user experience. And sometimes they absolutely miss the target (I happen to think iMovie 09 was a big step backwards). But for the most part they nail the user experience. Yes, I think they have great taste but it’s more than that. Its taste combined with obsession. Taste makes it sound too easy and like something you are born with or without.

Taste (alone) doesn’t give enough credit to companies that hyperfocus about their products.

I think a lot of companies don’t obsess on their user interfaces. That’s the only explanation I have for why my remote control looks like the way it does. And why there are a billion buttons on my car’s dashboard. Or why I still dont’ know how to sync the address book on our home telephone system.

They just don’t care enough.

That’s why I love startups. The best ones obsess about the user experience. They care about their products and the user interface like nobody else does and they don’t settle.

Playing Foursquare: a few feature requests

I’m a fan of Foursquare. I’ve been using the service since July and I’m completely hooked.

As a user, I’ve been thinking about a few features I’d love to see in the product at some point. So I thought I would jot them down here.

1 – History.

A few months ago, I stumbled upon the Flour Bakery in the South End. I checked in at the time on Foursquare. Yesterday, Mo and I were in the South End meeting with a startup. After the meeting, I said, “I gotta take you to this place but I don’t exactly remember the name but they have the best macaroon cookies”. The problem was, I completely forgot what street it was located on as well.

It would be super cool if Foursquare could show me on the iphone my check-in history from my current location/neighborhood. And I’d love to see my friends history as well based on my current location at the time.

2 – Twitter Oauth

The sign up process for Foursquare couldn’t be easier. Phone  number and password and you are off. They also give the option to login with Facebook Connect.


It would be great if they also offered Twitter Oauth as an option. Disqus has that option built into the commenting service so you can leave a comment on this blog using your Twitter credentials. Then, all of my Twitter profile data would exists and a bunch of interesting things could flow from there (DM in the app, recent tweets, follow/invite etc).

3 – Photos.

The Foursquare iPhone app is also a Twitter client in some ways. You can tweet your Foursquare checkins. I’d love a way to add photos to the check in as well just like other iPhone Twitter apps. Integration with twitpic, tumblr and flickr would be sweet.

* * *

The interesting thing about all of the above ideas is that in reality FourSquare doesn’t have to do any of these themselves. The Foursquare API looks really nice. So it’s quite likely that many of these things, and much more, will come from 3rd party developers which is the most powerful way to build a platform.

Plantronics Discovery 975 review

Let me say right up front: I really don’t like headsets. Actually I don’t really like talking on the phone at all but for my job its part of the deal.

My car has bluetooth built in and the iPhones can pair up nicely with the hands-free system. It’s a breeze.

But I’m traveling a lot to the west coast and the law of the land is that drivers must have a hands free system. I think that’s a good idea.

So I wanted to get a bluetooth headset to use on the road.

I picked up the Plantronics Discovery 975. Here’s my quick thoughts on this headset.

-First of all, who came up with the name of this product? I mean, really, the Discovery 975. I found out the the previous model was the Disovery 925. Not kidding. If I was an engineer at Plantronics I would be pretty bummed with the marketing peeps. They work hard at building a product and that’s the best the marketing folks can do?

-okay, now on to the product itself. It’s pairs up easily with the iPhone. No sweat.

-i like that the device can rest in your ear without any of those ear loop things. I wear sunglasses quite a bit and those ear loops never worked for me. I’ve used the device for a few long conference calls and it stays in just fine. Lightweight and comfy.

-audio quality is great in the car. I haven’t used it walking around the city because that’s not the use case for me.

-battery life is a bazillion times longer than the iPhone. I also like that it uses a standard micro-usb charger. Also comes with a portable charger too.

I’m going to recommend this headset if you need a handsfree in your car.

But you probably won’t see me walking down the street with this thing on….