Thursday, July 17, 2008

iPhone 2.0 -- First Day Challenges and Initial App Store Thoughts

Last Friday, like thousands of other owners of the first-gen iPhone, I was caught in the 2.0 upgrade mess, which for several hours wound up "bricking" my phone. ("bricking" is a tech-lingo word for your phone being totally disabled, it turns into a brick). Luckily my iPhone is not my primary phone so I was able to patiently wait until the iTunes network became unclogged enough to allow the upgrade to proceed and reactivation of my phone to complete. But I sympathize with iPhone owners for whom it is their primary phone for business or personal use, what a fiasco, and how stressful to lose your phone for a day or more.

Lots of griping and yelling on the internet boards about this, and this time its well deserved. Although Apple can certainly spin it and crow about the outage being caused by unprecedented demand for the iPhone 3g and 2.0 updates, that would be really twisting things around. Apple and its fanclub seems to enjoy the high drama of 1st day product launches with lines of people sleeping outside stores for the chance to buy their products. But I'm sorry, purchasing an Apple product should not be like trying to score front row seats to a U2 concert. Most people just want to buy the product, have it work, and go on with their lives. Friday was simply mayhem, and its hard to fathom how Apple could not have been better prepared for high demand on their iTunes network based on the huge hype that preceded launch day.

After completing the upgrade, existing iPhone owners may indeed find themselves wondering what all the fuss was about. A casual review of the 2.0 home screen and built in apps doesn't reveal much has changed. Yes there is MobileMe as a sync option, but I don't know what percentage of iPhone users will feel the need to spend money on this service. Two other improvements are support for 3G and GPS, but if you have a 1st gen iPhone, these aren't going to be there anyway.

So that leaves the new App Store as being arguably the most significant new feature for iPhone users (for 1st gen owners, but also perhaps for 3G owners as well). Once I had 2.0 loaded on my iPhone and the requisite 7.7 iTunes upgrade, I spent a considerable amount of time over the weekend nosing around the App Store to see what was available and what the purchase/download/install process was like.

The App Store gave me a lot of timeouts when trying to purchase/download apps. These problems seem to be easing up now a few days later, but on the first couple of days, I frequently was unable to purchase or download an app due to the iTunes network being busy. iPhone enthusiasts will no doubt persist and be determined to get those apps, but the unfortunate downside is you have people out there who have no time or patience to figure out why they can't buy "Super Monkeyball", and they will give up and never return. As iPhone sales grow, its inevitable that they will fall into the hands of people who aren't enthusiasts and simply don't have the time to push past these initial problems. In my view, its really unacceptable to have these problems on such a long-anticipated launch day. Imagine you open your own store on main street and the store is jammed with eager buyers on opening day....but the cash register doesn't work and your employees don't show up. Not a good start.

Getting to a more positive note, I was pretty impressed with how easy it was to get apps onto your device, it melded pretty well with the existing iTunes purchase process. Apps download to the device just like music does, they automatically transfer during sync. Pretty streamlined, and transparent to the user. I saw no sign of any "installer", which has always been an ugly part of purchasing any apps, whether desktop or mobile.

In particular, the iTunes app purchase and installation process puts RIM's offering to shame. RIM has a basic online storefront for BlackBerry apps, but that's all. You purchase there, download to your PC, then you have to figure out how to use the BlackBerry Desktop to locate and install your app. There are many steps in this process, very error prone, especially for non-techie users. I've always felt that iTunes was the secret to iPod's success, and here once again, iTunes demystifies and simplifies the complicated process of getting 3rd party apps onto a mobile device. Kudos to Apple on this one, great job.

So what kind of applications are available on the store? After browsing through most of the categories on the store, they got facebook, they got myspace, they got namco games, they got sega to do a game. Handmark has a version of Express. But out of 500 apps, the vast majority of it appears to be fairly humdrum stuff that performs some small task or convenience or amusement for the user. These apps got a lot of attention because of the big launch, but these aren't apps that would normally excite your average user.

I noted many versions of the same app: lots of "todo lists", "shopping lists", "show me where restaurants are nearby on a map", and "calculate the tip". I had imagined that Apple was going to take a strong stance on the level of polish and quality required for apps on the store, but its not apparent to me that Apple put too strong a filter on what it would allow. Maybe they did do some quality checking, but they certainly didn't do the customer any favors by making them decide which of 30 tip calculators to download (an exaggeration, but I'm making a point).

This is a big problem with competing stores like Handango and Motricity, there's just too much stuff up there and it confuses the customer. I was hopeful (and I still am) that ultimately the App Store will not become another "software flea market", and instead will be a place where iPhone customers can go to learn about and purchase high-quality applications that deliver high value-add to the iPhone experience. With apologies to the many developers out there who want their moment in the sun, my view is that an anything-goes open store policy is not what the marketplace needs.

App prices are shockingly low. I saw almost nothing that’s more than $9.99. And *lots* of complaining about high prices from early reviewers of those 9.99 apps. Given that most of the "name" apps are native app clients for website services, I guess I'm not surprised. There's nothing here that is so clearly momentously high-value to charge much for. Hopefully that will change (I am biased being in the software business of course), as I believe customers will want to pay money for high-value apps as long as they get quality. That's how it works in the non-software world anyway. Regarding the app reviews, Apple needs to step in and make sure that the review section does not become a pile of garbage. Legitimate product reviews should come from customers who have tried the app. There's no place for people posting garbage reviews like "$9.99 for xyz app? Are they crazy?".

Regarding the free applications - there are lots, and I'm not against free, but I have to wonder whats the business model and how are those apps going to be sustained and supported. Most of them are not geared towards advertising revenue. If you aren't charging anything for an app, and have no upsell strategy to a paid-for version, what's the relationship between the developer and the customer? There is none. That has its place in the world, but thats not the model I want new iPhone customers to come away with. If a first time app downloader grabs a bunch of free apps that don't work well, don't have the necessary features, aren't supported, or never get updated, that will sour them on 3rd party apps overall, and that would be a shame.

Where are the "business apps"?. Kind of shocking given the big "We are going after Enterprise" noise Apple has made. No document editing/viewing/anything. I guess as far as Apple is concerned, documents do not exist? How are you a year into the launch of iPhone, yet you aren't recognizing that Palm, Windows Mobile, Symbian and (finally) BlackBerry all bundle document support on their devices? Hopefully this will be rectified soon.

Stepping back, I'm probably being too hard on Apple, after it all the whole thing is only 1 day old, and I'm the last to complain about a company that has clearly paid a good amount of attention to getting apps in their customers hands. But its as if they paid only just enough attention to make sure that the app store came into existence, but that’s where it ended.....I still smell a whiff of the same "flea market" atmosphere that is found on other mobile app stores. Apple threw open the doors, but didn't go out and really get enough serious 3rd party apps on the shelf in categories that count to serious application buyers, and at the same time they allowed hordes of developers to sneak in and set up shop with fairly inconsequential apps. So at least as of my first experience, I'm kind of disappointed. I hope and assume things will get better with time.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Apple iPhone, Take 2

Yesterday at the Apple developer conference, Steve Jobs publicly unveiled the iPhone 3G. Scheduled to be widely available on June 11th, the new version of the iPhone introduces the following key features:

GPS radio for location tracking
3G wireless for faster internet
Microsoft Exchange integration for enterprise customers
App Store for purchasing and downloading add-on native applications

(along with other more minor improvements, go to to get the full specs)

It seemed like the entire world was on hold yesterday waiting for the big announcement. Others may differ, but the unveiling was a bit underwhelming for me. Don't get me wrong, I have an iPhone and I think its a really nice product. But GPS and Exchange Integration is really just playing catchup with the other leading devices out there in the marketplace. I've had GPS on my BlackBerry for quite some time now. With regard to 3G, we will have to see what coverage and real performance improvements over EDGE it will bring in the US market. For sure though, even if its just an incremental rather than revolutionary improvement, the new features are welcome for those who already have bought into iPhone.

Many are writing about and comparing the "iPhone 2.0" with the newly announced BlackBerry Bold. Although perhaps an interesting comparison, the solutions are extremely different, and its not even just about what the device is like.

Let's talk about enterprise sales. Many are wondering if RIM should be worried now. Well, let's give RIM some credit here....they've been working in the enterprise mobile market for years and years....this is Apple's first try. Apple has some things to prove, not the least of which is that corporate america is ready and willing to buy Apple products. Palm tried mightily but overall failed to capture more than a fraction of enterprise, they simply were not able (for many reasons) to crack the market.

Will Apple do better? Its easy for them to say they will, but as they say, the proof is in the pudding. Competition is good for the marketplace, and there is certainly room for a solution like iPhone in the enterprise, but RIM has done EXTREMELY well in this realm to date, and I don't think anyone should be writing an R.I.P. for them anytime soon. Few talk about it, but RIM has their Enterprise Server (BES) which provides a huge competitive advantage over other smartphone devices in that it provides the control, configuration, integration and management that enterprise customers need to deploy mobile devices and applications to their employees.

From my perspective as a mobile applications developer, the most interesting advance announced here was the availability of an "App Store" for customers to purchase add-on native apps for the iPhone. Neither RIM nor any other player in this market has executed successfully on the concept of driving sales of add-on applications, short of bundling them outright on a device. I am very hopeful that Apple will be successful with their applications store, and we for sure will be creating applications for this platform and storefront. What I haven't seen yet is how the App Store will be relevant to enterprise customers and how they procure and install add-on apps.

What I can say is if Apple is not successful in cracking the enterprise market, it still is perhaps the best consumer-oriented solution available, given its integrated media capability and fantastic user interface.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

WES 2008, Final Day

Today wrapped up WES 2008, the yearly BlackBerry conference. A half-day's worth of sessions, and I sat in on some good ones, like yesterday the best one was run by RIM's Mike Kirkup and focused on some best practices in BlackBerry application development.

Overall a really great show, and BlackBerry is a great platform and represents significant opportunity moving forward, not just for RIM, but for solution providers and application developers. There seemed to be extra emphasis on ISVs this week - an expanded Solutions Showcase, many sessions geared towards commercial software application development, the addition of Documents To Go to the BlackBerry platform, and the announcement of the new BlackBerry venture capital fund.

I've been a mobile application developer since 1996 and along with my company Bachmann Sofware we've watched many mobile platforms rise, some failing immediately, some thriving for a while then failing, and some continuing to gain strength and momentum over the years. BlackBerry at present falls into this latter category. There is an aura of excitement about RIM, its BlackBerry devices, the platform, and the overall ecosystem which I have not seen since the early heady days of Palm in the late 90's. We as application developers dream about opportunities like the one BlackBerry presents, so I return from WES today excited about continuing to work with this growing platform.

I also leave the show with many ideas for new blog this space for more thoughts on the Mobile Movement!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

WES Show coverage continued

Today I continue my report from the BlackBerry WES show in Orlando.

After Monday being devoted to RIM Alliance member business, the past two days saw the show open up to a more general audience. There are a lot of attendees, I'm not sure of the number but it sure feels like more than last year's show.

The sessions I've attended have been well presented and contained good information. In my company I am a software developer, a business owner, business/partner development, and I even do some marketing, so I try to attend sessions covering a pretty wide range of topics. I learned about some areas of the BlackBerry solution that I had not known very much about, including BES and how "server push" works, some new areas of LBS/GPS functionality, and some presentations on clever products and solutions from different vendors.

The best session today was chaired by Mike Kirkup at RIM and included a panel of RIM's platform development group managers. To their credit, they stood up there and listened to a litany of problems, gripes and complaints from a fairly large group of developers who were struggling with development issues.

I'll give you an example of a big problem BlackBerry developers face: there are floating out there BlackBerry devices in use that have a very wide range of operating system versions on them. The new Bold runs OS 4.6, and 4.5 is about to hit the market as an upgrade to existing devices. Most 8800's, Curves and Pearls today ship with 4.2 or 4.3, depending on what the wireless carrier supports. An 8700 or 7130, which were the hot devices only a year or so ago, run 4.1 but are possibly running 4.2, 4.3 or even 4.5 (shortly). Older devices such as the 7290 are most likely running 4.0, but could be running a 3.x OS.

Why is this a problem?

Well, the way the development tools are set up, you have to specifically decide which target devices and OS versions will need to run your app, since this dictates the features your app can access. Yes its possible to write an application that runs on all devices new and old, but you would be sacrificing the ability to access any of the newer features that have been introduced along the way. If you decide you want to use a feature in your app that is only available in OS 4.3 or later (video streaming, for example) then your app will *only* run on devices which run OS 4.3 or later. This is all fine if you are a corporate developer writing an in-house app where you know exactly the devices used by your organization. But if you are a commercial application developer creating a business or consumer app, you have to worry about the range of devices and users that may attempt to download and install your app.

The folks at RIM have stated that roughly 75% of the market is running 4.2 or better. So putting it bluntly, if you use features in your app which require 4.2 or better, 25% of the BlackBerry users out there will not be able to use your app. In fact, if they try to install your app on their device, they will get strange and confusing error messages, or a crash, or both. Not good. Essentially, this forces many BlackBerry developers into a situation where they need to build and post multiple versions of their applications, each of which supports a different OS version. This is confusing to customers, a hassle for developers, and bad for RIM.

I'm the first to agree that its unreasonable to be expect to be able to create an app that magically runs on all OS versions....RIM could do it, but it would be a tremendous effort and a drag on their efforts to move the platform forward. But there needs to be a happy compromise....developers need to be able to produce an application with confidence that it will run on a reasonably large percentage of devices out there. Further, they need to be able to include features in their apps that take advantage of the newer devices, but which will still run on older devices. I know it sounds simple, but I realize its a burden on RIM. The panel at the session I attended recognized the problem, but it does not appear there is a near-term solution in sight. Lets hope they go home to Waterloo and talk about the problem some awfully large percentage of the developers in the audience indicated this issue is a problem for them.

Thats all for now - one more day at WES tomorrow, then back to the real world. Again, if you are at WES, give me a shout at

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

BlackBerry WES Show - Day One

Yesterday (Monday) was the first day of the WES conference here in Orlando. Actually to be accurate it was a "pre-show" day devoted to BlackBerry Alliance Partners, a RIM sponsored grouping of application developers, system integrator and other platform players, of which my company Bachmann Software is a member.

Overall it a very long but quite excellent first day of the show for me. The day kicked off with a keynote at which RIM formally announced the new "Bold" smartphone. Information and photos on the Bold had been leaked out as a "BlackBerry 9000", but the product is formally released by RIM as "Bold". And a "bold" stroke it is. Essentially it takes its place as the "Ferrari" of BlackBerry devices, and it has it all.....wi-fi, gps, hi-res screen, full keyboard, media, 1GB of internal storage, you name it. All this comes with a slight compromise in that it is a bit thicker and bigger than the 8800 model, but of course if you want a tiny phone you really want a Pearl anyway. I played with a Bold at the show, and it was indeed a nice device - not necessarily a revolutionary new product, but certainly a very nice evolutionary device that takes its place at the upper end of RIM's product line.

The Bold comes preloaded with Dataviz' Documents To Go, giving BlackBerry users real native document viewing and editing on device for the very first time. Documents To Go is actually not tied to the Bold only, it is part of the general BlackBerry OS 4.5/4.6 version, which will be the base OS on other new models, as well as an upgradeable OS version for current 8800/Pearl/Curve owners. From my perspective, having Documents To Go as an embedded, integral part of the BlackBerry platform fills what I have called a gaping hole in the BlackBerry solution, arguably the last major such hole that exists. Perhaps only a percentage of BlackBerry owners will create or edit documents on their device, but this functionality is pretty standard on virtually all other competing mobile devices (except iPhone, notably). For many people, being able to carry around, view and edit documents, without toting their laptop around, is a major feature. Congratulations to Dataviz on not only porting their solution to BlackBerry, but also for acheiving bundling status on the device! (Now of course we have to finish adapting the BlackBerry version of our PrintBoy software to let you print your documents wirelessly from Documents to Go.....yes, its coming!)

Aside from that, most of the rest of the day was consumed with presentations from RIM on the Alliance Program, re-connecting with some old friends, meeting new prospective partners, clients and customers, and the like. This years Solutions Showcase is bigger than ever, and I got to walk around and chat with some of the vendors at the end of the day. As usual, RIM has put on a great show, and I'm looking forward to the next few days.

Stay tuned, I'll post more tomorrow!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Heading down to WES !!

This weekend I make what will be my 3rd annual trek down to Orlando where Research In Motion will be staging its "WES 2008" conference all next week.

The WES show is all about the BlackBerry world, and it is a gathering of customers, VARs, software developers, content providers and other folks who are involved in purchasing, selling, developing for or otherwise supporting the BlackBerry solution. Last year's WES 2007 show was bigger and better than the 2006 version, and based on the pre-show buzz I am hopeful/expecting that WES 2008 will be bigger and better yet. The possibility of new product unveilings (BlackBerry 9000 sightings are now becoming common around the internet) from RIM as well as its growing cloud of partners and 3rd party application and solution developers only adds to the excitement.

Why do I go? I go to be part of the event, to connect with colleagues and friends old and new, to open myself up to new business opportunities, new customers, and new ideas. I go to meet in person the folks at RIM that we normally only touch via email and phone. Its one of those things that is becoming rarer than ever these days.....a real, live, technology-focused tradeshow that isn't so big that it loses its focus, yet is big enough to get excited about attending. The WES experience hearkens back to the early Palm tradeshows (called "PalmSource"), which made you feel like you were part of something special that is growing and has a chance of changing the world. My company Bachmann Software used to exhibit at PalmSource, and it was a great experience for us. I've never been to Apple's show, but from what I've read it seems like it has some of the same mojo. This year we came close to securing exhibit space at WES, but backed out at the last minute - next year for sure!

While at WES next week I plan to file blog posts each day, recounting my impressions and what I've seen. If you'll be at WES, please do look me up - send me an email at If not, you are of course welcome to check back here for my daily reports.

On to Orlando!


Monday, April 14, 2008

The BlackBerry Phenomenon

Recently it was reported that Research In Motion (RIM) announced yet another impressive financial quarter, roughly doubling both revenues and profits over the same quarter last year.

While impressive in and of itself, this quarter's results are nothing new for RIM. They seem to be making a habit of knocking the cover off the ball every quarter, quite a track record over the past number of years. How do they do it? I'll leave the financial analysis to the Wall Street folks who are more qualified than I to figure out their balance sheet, but what I would like to talk about here is their great BlackBerry line of smartphones.

Until relatively recently, BlackBerry was treated in many ways like an underdog in the mobile industry. In the early days of the emergence of smartphones Palm took most of the attention with their Treo product (in those days BlackBerry devices were often times not even counted in the market research because they did not fit neatly into the definition of a "PDA phone" that the research firms ) Although never the market leader, Microsoft's Windows Mobile has always garnered its fair share of press through the many phone manufacturers who incorporated Windows Mobile into their products. Outside of the U.S., Nokia and its line of Symbian based phones is the 800 pound gorilla. And of course the big story over the past year has been Apple with its iPhone, which it seems everyone wants to talk about.

So what about BlackBerry? I mean, they are shipping something like 10 million+ smartphones each year. For smartphones, this is an outstanding number. The last time you were at the airport or on a plane, did you notice that just about everybody is carrying a BlackBerry? I first noticed this phenomenon a couple years ago. It seemed that quietly over the past few years a huge number of people had obtained and were using a BlackBerry. I had been working with RIM products myself going back to the 1990's, but this observation finally convinced me that they were, at least by my very unscientific method, in fact the true market leader for mobile devices. How did they do it?

Its difficult to explain to somebody until they actually own a BlackBerry and start using it, but usually after just a short period of getting used to the device, people "get it". Yes, Apple may create the most stylish and beautiful products, and Microsoft phones may be jam-packed with the most features, but if you want a device that is practical and functional, BlackBerry is for my money one of the best choices around today. Granted, if you just look at it from a pure "specs" standpoint, on the surface there doesnt seem to be anything terribly special about a BlackBerry. It has a QWERTY keyboard, but so do many other smartphones these days. It doesn't offer stylus navigation or a touch screen, so in some ways it may seem like it might be less elegant and harder to use than, say, a Treo.

The designers of this product over the years have really nailed the concept of making it fast and simple to operate. I believe they've really thought through how to create a product that in many ways anticipates what its owner wants to do and the information that it needs. This is obvious to anyone who uses BlackBerry for email. You don't have to "check your email". Your email is simply there waiting for you, whenever you want to read it. When you compose a message, it has an uncanny ability to locate the addressee you want in just a couple of keystrokes. Its worth going through a comparison of composing an email on a BlackBerry vs. on other devices, the difference is very significant. Years of refining and tweaking its messaging service for its corporate customers has clearly paid off for RIM.

Compared with the Palm and Windows platforms that preceded it in the marketplace, RIM has been relatively slow out of the gate in terms of embracing and supporting third party applications. Applications must be written in Java, and to provide a full BlackBerry experience in your app requires you to develop specifically with BlackBerry in mind, so those have been hurdles for developers to get over. That said, it is hard to ignore the success that RIM has had, and their customer base represents an extremely attractive target market for application developers. There are some excellent third party apps out there, but more need to be available, there are many categories where there is a need for professional quality apps.

I've been carrying a BlackBerry 8800 (AT&T) now for a while, its an excellent product and I am very pleased with it. In particular the GPS feature is surprisingly addictive - I use Google Maps all the time. I wish the calendar function was a little more powerful, and like most mobile devices the web browser experience is still fairly poor, but overall this is another wonderful product from RIM.

It will be fascinating to watch how the competitive landscape unfolds over the next year. RIM has a very strong position and continues to churn out great products, apparently quite profitably. But the pressure on them to continue their winning streak is enormous, and the competition from Apple, Microsoft and others will continue to seek to chip away at their market position.

I'll be at RIM's worldwide tradeshow WES ( in a couple of weeks, I've been to WES each of the last several years and its always been a great show. If you are going, drop me a line at!

Thursday, April 3, 2008


Hello there, and welcome to my weblog. I've probably set some kind of world record in procrastination by waiting until every other human being has a blog before finally starting my own. Its not for lack of anything to say - my friends, family, employees and colleagues will tell you that I love to talk about the mobile industry, smartphones and the software applications that run on them.

There's an old saying that goes something like "May you live in interesting times". Twelve years into my own journey through the mobile industry and still counting, I can say that I am a lucky man indeed to have lived through and grown a business during a time when mobile computing has gone through astonishing change, upheaval and innovation.

My own relationship with mobile computing began when out of curiosity we picked up a funny little organizer called a "Palm Pilot" back in 1996. I saw that it was a great way to keep your appointments, but as a software developer I got totally buzzed when I found out you could actually develop your own software applications that could be loaded onto the device and perform useful add-on functions. I was hooked! I immediately decided to bet my company on what I saw as the future of computing.

Its been a long, strange trip since those early days, and I could probably start a small museum with the collection of PDA's, smartphones and other mobile devices of every imaginable shape and size that I have accumulated. Each product represents a point in the evolution of the mobile device from the earliest Palm Pilot to what has today become nothing short of a massive proliferation of smartphones, a thousand flowers blooming crazy, all simultaneously seeking the attention of the customer. A market that once was so completely dominated by one brand and one product (Palm!) now is hotly contested by the likes of RIM, Apple, Nokia, Google and Microsoft and the tale is not even close to the ending.

I am thrilled to be here at this time in the evolution of mobile computing, I truly feel we are in the middle of what amounts to a "Mobile Movement", and in this blog I hope to share some of the wonder and excitement I feel with those of you who are generous enough with your time to read my little posts. My goal here is to explore many aspects of the world of smartphones and other mobile devices, from my somewhat unique perspective as someone who designs and develops mobile software application products for a living. I hope and plan to cover topics as diverse as industry announcements, product reviews, thoughts on the future of mobile computing, and of course the business of creating mobile software products.

Thanks for reading this far, and I'll be talking to you soon!