Bad UI, Not Buggy Apps, killed the Blackberry

So CNN Money reports, What Killed BlackBerry: Terrible Apps, but I disagree, I left because I couldn’t seem to install/update apps. I LOVED the Unified Message Inbox, that connected Facebook, Email, and SMS. I HATED that LinkedIn never worked — on the BUSINESS PHONE?  Blackberry App World was a buggy painful experience in contrast to the App Store.

I still miss my Blackberry keyboard, but I don’t miss my crash prone buggy phone… I loved my Palm Treo 650, best interface ever, but the damned thing was buggy, the Phone Application would hang/crash, and they refused to support Syncing to my Mac… and they kept breaking the third party application I bought… trying to force me into buggy Palm Desktop instead of supporting Apple iSync.

I think that the bad syncing with the Mac did more damage to Blackberry than people let on. So many Web developers are Mac people… not just the graphic artists.  Internet Executives, road warriors, old Unix die-hards, all toted Apple Laptops around.  People obsessed over the fact that 90%+ machines ran Windows, but when you take out the embedded machines, public kiosks, and other devices that people didn’t control, Apple’s Marketshare was WAY higher.

Apple may have forced you to use iTunes, but people LIKE iTunes.  Over time, they made it so you can use the iPhone totally untethered from a computer of any kind.  You can sync with your computer, sync everything via the Cloud, etc.  I absolutely LOVE the fact that when I update a Contact on my machine OR phone, my other computers all sync as well.  With my Blackberry, everything was unsynced until I plugged into a machine, and even then it was haphazard if it would sync.  MobileMe’s death was the final death knell for me (Apple pushed me off Blackberry), because my phone was totally unusable.  Had Blackberry embraced iSync instead of forcing me into using third party software (which they broke and forced me to use their horrible one), I might still be with them.

But that’s how market leaders are destroyed.  2% of the market here, 2% there, and pretty soon, you’re NOT the only dominant player, and that lets your competitors eat your lunch.

Home Entertainment and Technology

About 11 years ago, fresh out of school, I set up my first entertainment center, and at the core of it was a ReplayTV, which let me record and time shift my programming around.  I originally liked it better than Tivo, because it gave me a slick Digital TV style grid (like DirecTV/Dish), despite recording off the mediocre digital cable system we had…  Over time, I saw the beauty in Tivo’s Now Playing (now My Shows) system, and switched to a DirecTV/Tivo combination, and excitedly upgraded to HD Tivo when it came out after several years of watching live programming in HD and everything else in SD.

Fast forward to today, my wife is annoyed that we no longer have simple “universal” remotes…  the companies that made them stopped selling easy to program ones to the public.  Everything seems off, and our monthly bill for this stuff is huge…  add to the mix a few children, and we simply don’t watch that much television, we watch the regular network stuff, and a couple of random things.

Combine that with a total mess of devices… DirecTV DVRs that don’t talk (my account wasn’t eligible for Whole House without them coming in and redoing my wiring, having run 3 coax to each room, 2x DTV + 1x Ant for DirecTivoHD), the 1 coax/location didn’t matter, and I was souring on DirecTV after their Fox debacle…  I almost never schedule recordings at home, I do it remotely, and their system never picked up my OTA channels, so some of my Fox shows were sometimes lost on DTV 7HD instead of OTA 7-1HD, which came in fine, others that I set up at home were fine, I was fed up.

So where are we today:

  • AppleTV – Awesome interface, odd sized little box, love Airplay for the iPod/iPad/iPhone system, Netflix app was great, sold the AppleTV2 to upgrade to AppleTV3 (people are buying them to jailbreak, why deny hobbyists), but slow to bring out content HuluPlus FINALLY launched, lacks a reasonable OTA DVR solution to tie in
  • Tivo Premier – What Tivo does well, it does well, but the box is “odd…”  Certain menus switch back to SD, which is strange, and the integration with Netflix/Hulu+ is “off” — I love Universal Search, find a show, grab it everywhere, but I’m not sure why my Hulu Queue won’t slide into My Shows (formerly Now Playing), same with Netflix.  I can search them when finding a show, but I have to load up their slow loading App with it’s own interface… why…
  • Roku – Looks like the coolest in terms of ability to add content, but the interface looks kludgy, no OTA DVR that I can find…  but promises to change that

It’s sad/frustrating.  My BluRay Players both have all the streaming apps included, but the interface is AWFUL, I never want to launch them.  AppleTV has the best interface, but their content restrictions are frustrating.  Roku shows promise.

Tivo has been the most disappointing.  After a few years with the DirecTV DVRs being so inferior, I was looking forward to the new Series 4 since I had heard good things with the Series 3 and was disappointed in DirecTV limiting the Series 2 toys…  We’ll see what the next few weeks shows, but I’m guessing that this is a stop gap on the way to better system.

I don’t mind paying for Content I want, I just want it on my terms.  What I really want would be a box with a nice interface (Tivo or AppleTV) that lets me aggregate content from my various sources and few it.  It’s REALLY cool that Tivo lets me search for a show, and it let’s me pick from Netflix Streaming, Amazon Downloads, and Hulu+, that’s freaking awesome, plus keep my OTA, but they are slow to add Content.  AOL On is coming out for the “new players” first, and can be connected to everyone else, but not Tivo.

All the devices are comparable ($100 for a Tivo on Clearance, $150 for a bigger one, the other devices are $50-$100)… the fee for Tivo ($15/mo on first device, $13/mo on additional devices) seems “reasonable” for the amount of content it makes easily available… compared to Netflix/HULU+ streaming @ $8/each.  But their being slow is just unacceptable.

They are the closest, but they aren’t “right.”  If I’m stuck with bad UIs, then I’d like as much content as possible.  Switching devices is annoying, not a deal breaker, just annoying.  I switch for BluRay/DVD disks, I even popped a VHS tape in a few weeks ago, but if I just want to watch TV for 45 minutes, I want to look at what’s available, not search it out…  We shall see…

Copyright in the Digital Age

In Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, Lawrence Lessig was over 10 years ahead of his time, but pointed to the fact that code, as in software, was as important to the realities of the online legal regime as the laws passed by governing bodies.  There seems to be an increasing understanding that copyright, as we know it, is becoming obsolete.

Our notion of copyright, the exclusive right of an author/creator to control distribution, makes less and less sense as the technology evolves.  Copyright, at it’s core, protected the author from exploitation from the owners of the printing press.  Without copyright, the owner of the printing press would be able to create multiple copies of a book, article, etc., without compensation to the original author.

Consider as a thought exercise, a novel writer, who brings a sample to a press owner, who agrees to share the revenues with the author.  Without copyright, that author would be able to collect from that press owner, but had no protection from dozens of other press owners taking that work and making copies without compensation.  Copyright protected the author.  Our founding fathers established limited protection, 14 years for registered copyrights, with another 14 year renewal available, which made the protection a limited time.  With extensions and treaty obligations, Congress has extended the protection to around 100 years, give or take, depending upon whether it is published, (70 years after the death of author, or for corporate works, 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever expires first).  This has insured that all works are protected seemingly forever.

However, in a digital realm, we are no longer worrying about the press owners, but everyone.  Everyone with a computer is capable of duplicating any work, so copyright attempts to regulate everyone.  In addition, the terms have been extended beyond anything reasonable, making the “public domain” trade-off merely theoretical.  For a television show released in 2010, it will be in the public domain in 2105, when nobody will have the ability to duplicate the product.  As culture speeds up, the lifespan of these works is measured in months or years, yet the copyright will last nearly 100 years.

In the computer space, we see the blatantly illegal Abandonware issue, where enthusiasts have archives of no longer available products available for download and possible emulation.  While one might question the literary importance of early computer games, they certainly played a role in American and global culture, and the copyright regime makes it likely that these works will never be available.  Publishers from the 1980s and 1990s are long gone, the copyright holders defunct or swallowed into larger companies, all with no interest in preserving the works of that time period.  For every game like Civilization with endless sequels (and presumably originals maintained and later republished as Flash games or equivalent), there are plenty of games that were exciting but the company went defunct, and changing architecture makes it impossible to maintain.

If I want to show my son the games of my youth, the laws of copyright may not apply (the disks/cartridges may be in a box at my parents house), but with no way to play them, the laws of code render them gone.  The copyright system simply has no way of maintaining preservation of our digital past.  Websites go up and down, articles disappear or are archived, and the only record may be a print out that someone grabbed at the time, threw in a box, and has no legal right to republish.

The intersection of law and code is interesting, because the code permits saving the file and ANYONE republishing it, while the law prohbits anyone from doing so.  Alternative, in the case of abandon ware, the law permits me to own and play my purchased copy, but doesn’t permit any reasonable way of actually doing so without the works of those flaunting the laws.

Napster may be long gone, but for over 10 years, nobody assumes an obligation to pay for anything, just choosing to for convenience.  Copyright is increasing a blunt instrument, simply at odds with how people publish and consume content.  Youtube lets anyone with an interest parody something, but leaves the enforcement of fair use to the increasing lawsuit nervous companies to simply take down something that uses a few seconds of clips.  The meaning of copyright needs to be reconsidered when everyone can duplicate, creating of content may be increasingly expensive, and our culture may simply be at the mercy of technology.

Decades of movies that will never be released in a digital format may exist in people’s VHS collection, but without a way to play them, they’ll simply be lost.  Culture is important, and who knows what future historians will be interested in when researching culture of the 20th and 21st century.  Some of our early writing samples are of mundane things, simply because they survived, and it is tragic if we simply litigate our creative history out of existence.  Current copyright is obsolete, and a new line needs to be drawn to preserve our culture and our rights.

Disney may not be interested in re-releasing Song of the South, but should they be allowed to keep it out of the nation’s cultural archive?

Few Monopolies Bridge two Eras, Google’s Cockiness Unwarranted

The only constant of the computer industry is the utter failure of one company to seemingly dominate two generations of computer technology.  IBM’s dominance in the Mainframe era was replaced by Digital’s Minicomputer Dominance.  The PC/Workstation era was categorized by a variety of Unix vendors on the workstation side while Microsoft dominated the PC side.  That era of multiple poles, including Apple as a significant player seemed to end as Windows 95 brought Microsoft to a monopoly status, and Office 95’s integration with Windows 95 simply displaced Wordperfect and Lotus 1-2-3 as the dominant desktop applications, with a combination of bundling, technical malfeasance, and marketing muscle.

Despite the drama of the Netscape vs. Microsoft “Browser Wars,” Microsoft was never able to extend their dominance of the desktop environment onto the Web.  The Free Linux operating system with the Free Apache web server simply out-muscled Microsoft for the server space (in part because FreeBSD had a high performance server platform that Apache grew up on while Microsoft tried to maneuver a server designed for fighting NetWare as a file & print server into a web server), Adobe dominated the development tools, and free standards, despite attempts at manipulation by Microsoft, largely owns the Internet space.  The period of time in which people were willing to develop an IE-only web was relatively short lived, and the Netscape Plugin vs. IE ActiveX controls seems like a blip in the eye compared to the modern era of dynamic, standards compliant (or relatively open Flash) environment.

The post-Web Internet, where the application replaced the web site as the area of interest has been dominated by Google in a way not seen since Microsoft’s early monopoly.  Just as the DOJ complaint against IBM left an opening for Microsoft to monopolize the desktop, the investigation and suit against Microsoft created enough breathing room for the industry to open up the market to new players.  In the last years of the past decade, Google’s industry dominance has resulted in every website honoring their search guidelines, applications supporting their APIs, and their embrace of the AJAX tool set legitimized it despite the technology being effectively created by a Microsoft extension years earlier.

With their new dominance, we’re seeing a newly humbled Microsoft battling an increasingly arrogant Google, creating a new dominant “evil empire” for companies to compete with.  Email marketers trying to work within the guidelines at Microsoft can get a detailed report of their email system, while Google’s Gmail has a handful of vague help pages.  Microsoft’s street address of “One Microsoft Way” was often mocked not as an address, but a mindset, but increasingly Microsoft is willing to work and cooperate with other companies, while Google makes changes in secret that affect the livelihood of millions.

Dominant players of one era happily live on as profitable organizations in the next one, if their management makes the right changes and is able to take their customer base to a new environment.  IBM migrated to a servers company and Microsoft offers solutions in a multi-vendor world.  On the other hand, AOL is a shell of the company it was when it dominated both the dial-up and instant message environment, (see my article about how AIM should be where Twitter is, but somehow didn’t extend to dominate the communication landscape), but may still find a way to bring their existing users and customers to a new market position, Wordperfect and Digital got swallowed up by other companies, and other formerly major players are no more.

Facebook currently controls a rich application environment with tremendous reach, and Apple’s iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad ecosystem is an interesting niche, but whether either can challenge Google’s dominant position over the Internet remains to be seen.

AIM Gets Social Media Connection

So, back in September, I mused about how AOL could have become the open platform that twitter is, and mused about why they didn’t.  Back in the day, AOL was THE game in town for communication, especially after purchasing the ICQ network.  Failure to integrate the network and failure to open it up, ultimately, propelled competition to their IM Client.  Concerned about losing advertising revenue, AOL wouldn’t allow third party clients with real access to the OSCAR Protocol, instead just a barely supported Talk to OSCAR Protocol.

(NOTE: Back when I was in school, the Unix machines lacked an AOL Client, and the weird TAC Client that ran under Motif.)

Had AOL simply provided a few APIs, perhaps just sending messages (for automation), as well as login and authentication, they’d be where the Open ID type plays are.

I still use AOL IM, but I use it via a LibGAIM Client, Pidgen at the office, AdiumX at home.  I have multiple AIM Names, plus the other networks for those on the others.  Interestingly, I was using IM less and less, but the support for Facebook in Adium recently brought me back.  I think that this is a great move on AOL’s part, as it will help bring AIM back to relevancy as a great communication medium, especially as casual Internet users are all on Facebook more than a computer with an IM client.

AIM vs. Twitter: Why didn’t AIM Become the Center of the Social Web?

When my wife and I were discussing social media, and I mentioned that at Third Solutions we use Skype for IM, and at ASG Group we were using Twitter, she asked me if we had gotten old? When I arrived at MIT in 1997, I ran ICQ for friends from home + Zephyr for talking to classmates, the next year the freshmen showed up with big lists of AIM friends, and by the time I left school, ICQ and Zephyr were basically dead and AIM dominated communication.

Here is it, over 10 years later, and I still use AIM as a constant business communication tool, but it certainly lacks any hype or excitement. Gmail accounts form the basis of OpenID, yet AOL with 20 years of AOL accounts and 10-15 years of AIM accounts couldn’t make themselves the login option of choice for the community web or the Web 2.0 world.

An old AOL hand asks, “Could AIM Have Been Twitter?”  AOL fought third party integration, mostly because Microsoft was at the time masters of embrace and extend, and the only on-ramp was the weird open access AOL published for the Tik client that we ran on Unix, with limited access.  While AOL had the users, they didn’t have the culture of centrality.  Openness may have helped, but the open-IM groups pushed by Yahoo and MSN fizzled, Jabber went nowhere, and even though Google via Google Chat supports Jabber, Facebook chat seems more vigorous.

I think that AOL could have done a lot with their platform.  But the corporate culture, more than the business around technology, prevented them from being cool.  Everything AOL bought saw talent flee to start-ups and generally fall apart.  Other than picking up Time Warner for a steal, they weren’t able to use their early lead in the Internet, perhaps because of their Internet for the Masses reputation, they couldn’t be “cool” to the technologists, so even if the masses used AIM, nobody was building upon AIM.  That, more than AOL’s internal walled garden mentality, is why AIM didn’t become Twitter.