Carnival of the Mobilists #70: Is RIM stupid or lying?

Welcome to the 70th weekly Carnival of the Mobilists. If you're not familiar with the Carnival, it's a collection of mobile-related commentary from the last week, nominated by the weblog authors themselves. The hosting duties rotate from week to week.

This week's articles cover a huge range of subjects, from game-playing cameras to RIM's service outage. I tried to come up with some clever theme to link them all together, but I think the main message is that the mobile market is so diverse that there are no common themes.

And away we go...

RIM's service outage: Are they liars, or just incompetent? Wow. The Mobile Enterprise Weblog gives a scathing analysis of RIM's recent service failure, and concludes:

"Either RIM's NOC is managed by idiots OR RIM's PR department is incompetent OR none of the above."

(With 'none of the above' meaning the company had a more serious failure and is trying to cover it up.) I have no idea what really happened, but this commentary is what occurs online when you try to play down a story. It's far better to be completely open about a problem. Then at least people may trust you in the future rather than assuming you're lying.

MVNOs: Victory of the bottom-feeders? Jason Devitt at Skydeck, a mysterious new mobile startup, contributes a very interesting post on the fate of MVNOs. He argues that the high-profile MVNOs targeting lucrative customers are doomed, and that the ones to watch are those targeting low-end customers.

How to improve feature phones. Little Springs Design reviews some of the flaws of today's feature phones, and makes suggestions on what needs to be changed.

American business executives should all use SMS instead of e-mail. That's the message from Tomi Ahonen's fervent (and very detailed) essay on the benefits of SMS messaging, and its ubiquity outside the US.

The dumbest convergence product of all time (in my opinion). Pocket Gamer brings us news of a new digital camera that comes with twenty video games built in. They treated the product with very polite respect, but I can't restrain myself: I thought I had seen dumb convergence products before, but this one's the new champion.

Using SMS to communicate to students. Mopocket editorializes that universities should use text messaging to communicate with students in emergencies.

The rebirth of Web Clipping? Well, sort of. Web clipping was a technique Palm used several years ago in an effort to overcome the latency problem with accessing web content on mobile devices. David Beers predicts that Palm's going to use something similar in the future.

Anger over mobile data charges. Helen Keegan editorializes on the charges for mobile data in the UK, and she's not happy.

Enthusiasm for Nokia's web tablet. b-trends brings us a very enthusiastic review of the Nokia n800 Internet tablet device. They tested a nice range of websites, and there are good screen shots.

Checking out a new operator in Spain. WAP Review gives a hands-on review of the Spanish operator Yoigo.

The future of mobile advertising. Always-on Real Time Access summarizes a recent panel on mobile advertising.

Future barcodes. The Pondering Primate speculates about possible future competition between Microsoft and Google in barcodes.

Mobile phone myths corrected. Shackkdiesel tackles some interesting myths about mobile phones.

Which devices to target in enterprise? Mobbu talks about the process for choosing which devices to target when creating an enterprise mobile application. It's not always best to pick the most advanced device.

Bloggus interruptus. My submission for this week is a short commentary on trying to use the mobile Internet while riding on a train.

A robot to load the dishwasher. SharpBrains contributes a summary of the recent Stanford Media X conference, a technology conference featuring Stanford researchers and others. Most of the content wasn't mobile-related, but it makes interesting reading anyway. Check out the robot that can load a dishwasher.

Post of the week. Each week's host traditionally picks a favorite post, and mine this week is Mobile Enterprise's rant on RIM's service outage. It's not the longest post of the week, but the analysis made sense to me, and I always enjoy a weblog post with a bit of passion to it.

So it goes. Next week's Carnival will be at the Silicon Valley Himalayan Expedition. Anyone with a weblog can submit a post to the Carnival. You can use the new online submission form here.

How vs. what: Why so many new tech products fail

Here's something I wrote for the Rubicon newsletter. It's relevant here.

One of the advantages of working as a consultant is that you get to look at the big picture across corporations. You can see trends and common themes that might not be obvious to somebody working in a single company.

A theme that’s become very clear lately is the tech industry’s difficulty telling the difference between “how” and “what” when designing products.

Most of our companies tend to focus on building what I call “how” products. That means products that focus on enabling technologies to let people do a wide range of tasks. For example, building a web browser and a WiFi connection into a product that doesn’t currently have them is a classic “how” move, because it enables the user to potentially do a lot of different interesting things.

As technophiles, we’re all very good at figuring out how to make use of a “how” feature. For example, we’ll say, “Gee, with a browser and WiFi in that product, I can install Skype and use it as a free mobile phone.” Then we’ll go out and find the Skype client, install it, maybe tune the configuration a bit, and sit back in amazement at how cool our industry is.

The problem with the “how” approach is that normal people don’t think this way. They are much more focused on “what,” as in “What does the product do for me?” Because they don’t understand technology at a deep level, they can’t see the possibilities created by a great enabling technology. And even if they could see the possibilities, they don’t have the skills necessary to adapt it to their needs. Even an (allegedly) simple act like pairing a wireless device to an unfamiliar WiFi router can be enough to give a typical user hives.

In competitive situations, “how” products usually lose to “whats”...

To read the full article, click here. (There's no charge or registration required, but I wrote this one on company time so it's only fair that I link back to their site.)

New offers for startups, and established companies that need insight fast

Please forgive the commercial message, but I wanted to let folks know about a couple of new services that we're offering at Rubicon Consulting. We're trying to design services tailored to the special needs of tech companies, so I'm interested in feedback and suggestions.

Most of the work I do in my day job is big, traditional consulting projects for tech companies -- defining a product strategy, creating a marketing plan, etc. But we noticed two situations in which people needed something smaller and faster. That's what the new offers are about.

Boot Camp: Bringing a team up to speed on a critical industry issue

A Boot Camp is an interactive half-day working session, led by Rubicon's principals (that's me and our other principal, Nilofer Merchant), focused on one of the most important issues facing tech companies. We teach your team what's happening, opportunities and pitfalls, and best practices. And we lead them through brainstorming on exactly what you can do about it. The session is designed to drive alignment, set priorities, and challenge conventional thinking.

In 2007 we're offering Boot Camps on:
--Moving from the enterprise market into small and medium business
--How traditional software companies can compete with Web 2.0 (hint: It's not about posting your app for free online and selling ads)
--Mobile market essentials for non-mobile companies
--Defeating an assault by Microsoft
--Online marketing: Best practices and killer opportunities

The Rubicon Consultation: Advice for startups

If you're an entrepreneur, you often don't need a project, you just need seasoned advice. The Rubicon Consultation is designed and priced specifically for that situation. Our principals work with your core team in a custom half-day or full-day session focused on a deliverable, plan, or issue that you need to resolve. Just like a consultation with a doctor, it's a great way to get quick insight from a trusted advisor.

Consultation topics can include:
--Review and tune a key presentation
--Refine the pitch for an important alliance
--Brainstorm product features and value proposition
--Define a market opportunity
--Get independent feedback on your strategy
...or whatever else you need. Just call us and ask.

We've been doing consultations for about six months now while we tested the process, and they're a lot of fun.

Click on these links for more information on Rubicon Boot Camp or the Rubicon Consultation. Or drop me a note.

Thanks for listening.

Why Web 2.0 still doesn't cut it for mobile devices

About a year ago, I wrote an article on "why Web 2.0 doesn't cut it for mobile devices." My basic argument was that because wireless web connections are intermittent and unreliable, a completely thin client architecture for applications won't work. (A thin client application is one in which the code for the app stays on a server, and all you have on your PC or mobile device is a little user interface widget. Every time you do something with the web app, your device has to talk to the server. Almost all web 2.0 apps are thin client apps.)

So here I am riding the BART train out of San Francisco, after spending the day at the Web 2 Expo. I'm using a Pantech/Sprint EVDO card in my computer, which gives the rough equivalent of low-speed DSL connectivity all over the city. Even though it cuts my notebook's battery life in half, I still think it's cool as ice cream in July.

Anyway, I'm having a good time working on a couple of blog posts, using the thin client Blogger interface, when the train goes through a tunnel. Guess what, no connection. Then we come out of the tunnel at a station, and my connection comes back for 30 seconds. Quick! Load that page! Then we go back into the tunnel again. And on, and on, and on.

Think of it as Bloggus Interruptus.

I guess I could ding Sprint for failing to extend its network to the subway tunnels, but this sort of problem is ubiquitous around the world for high-speed data networks. They have much less coverage than the voice networks, and that's changing only gradually. Even as we get more coverage, it won't be possible to depend on always having the connection when you need it.

The way mobile web apps need to work is that they download the full app and a copy of your data to your device, so you can work independently. Then in the background, they should sync the data whenever you're connected. That's how RIM's e-mail works, and it's still the state of the art for giving you the illusion of always-on wireless connectivity even though there's no such thing in the real world.

Going to Web 2 Expo

I'm going to Web 2 Expo in San Francisco this week. If you're attending and want to chat, please drop me an e-mail here.

If you're not going, I'll post a note on what I see at the show.