Can Mozilla save us & the web from the trunk? Again?

At LeWeb last week I asked Mitchell Baker, chairperson for Mozilla, whether she can save the web. Again. The talk is now up now and at about 3:15 into the interview she showed off a really compelling HTML 5 demo.

But while she put a brave face forward, Mozilla is seeing competition it’s never seen in its short life (and so is the web). Google Chrome is taking market share on one side. New social browsers like RockMelt and Flock are ready to satisfy a new customer need. But the real attacks are from mobile and iPads, which either don’t allow Firefox to run, or make it hard for people to use alternative browsers to their own built-in web.

I laid out how this new future does have dangers. So, now, it’s up to us.

Is there a future for the Web? For Mozilla? Or are we all going to crawl into Steve Jobs (or Steve Ballmer’s, or Eric Schmidt’s trunks?)

Exclusive first look: The voice app that makes iTunes voice controllable

Speak with me's Voice DJ

It’s been quite a year for voice startups that have out-innovated Apple on its own platform.

There’s Siri, which came out in February, and quickly got bought by Apple. You use that app to talk to your phone, it recognizes what you want, and then assists you by talking to dozens of web services. We’ve talked a lot about Siri before.

Today it’s Speak with Me’s turn with its “Voice DJ.” Don’t miss the importance of this app. It’s been in development for years (founder Ajay Juneja first showed me the technology in his “Knight Ridder” car back when I worked at Microsoft in 2005 — it took that long for the technology to get perfected so it could run in a smartphone). Funny enough, Michael Arrington got a tour and was “blown away.” Also funny to note is that the technology was first supposed to be ready in 2007. Ajay told me it took a lot longer to perfect than he expected. Plus, the company couldn’t release until a powerful set of smartphones were on the market.

But now that it’s here: wow.

You hold a button and tell your iPhone “play ‘Le Noise'” and Neil Young’s Le Noise starts playing through the speakers. “Play Lady Gaga” and it’ll start playing tracks from Lady Gaga. “Play next track” and it moves to the next track, and so forth.

You have a variety of other commands, too.

Play song name
Play artist name
Play song name by artist name
Play artist name song name
Play album name
Play playlist name
Add song name to the playlist
Add artist name to the playlist
Add album name to the playlist

Plus dozens of other things to control your iPhone’s volume, or pause/stop the music, etc. You can see all the commands by clicking “help” in the app.

Some things, don’t get caught up on the fact that this is an iPhone/iPad app.

This is a technology platform that will be used to voice control lots of things in the future. It’s just that they needed to prove that this technology would work. It does. Remarkably well.

I expect that Google or Apple (or some other mobile company) will buy this company, just like Siri was bought. Why? Because it’s strategically important. This lets you use your mobile phone in new ways, especially while driving (it does what the more expensive Ford Sync system does, but brings it to iDevices and soon, other platforms).

After dozens of years of promises that “voice control is just around the corner” it’s finally here. Load it on your iPhone, and let me know if you agree that this is an example of where a startup outran Apple.

Or, watch the interview with founder Ajay Juneja where he talks with me about VoiceDJ and he gives me more insights behind the company and technology and the voice-recognition industry. We did the interview outside, on the 18th green of the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay during sunset. Enjoy that view! But even better is VoiceDJ worked every single time, even with the noise of the waves in the background.

Why Nokia is still doomed, no matter how many words Tomi Ahonen writes

Tomi Ahonen just wrote thousands of words about why Nokia has the best smartphone strategy in the market. It’s a very compelling read and I found myself almost ready to give up my iPhone and new Android-based Google Nexus S Samsung smartphone and move to northern Europe.


Definitely the prevailing view in high-tech communities I talk with around the world is that Nokia is doomed. Maybe not as doomed as RIM, after all, Nokia is a huge business that still sells the majority of phones around the world. But last week at LeWeb I met with people around the world. I saw dozens of new mobile apps. Not a single one was pitched to me on a Nokia device.

This alone tells me that Nokia is doomed and has no strategy. Don’t believe me? Just watch Marko Ahtisaari, SVP of Design at Nokia, as he presents last week at LeWeb:

What is Nokia’s strategy?

1. Attack Apple. Er, attack America. Make it a “Europe vs. America” thing.
2. Talk about all the cool things they are gonna do for us.
3. Don’t show off anything new.
4. Arrogantly insist they are OK and will dominate in smartphones.
5. Insist that Meego will save the world.
6. Say that there’s a “Cupertino distortion field” happening. Funny line. But isn’t good strategy.

My view? Nokia is a chicken that has had its head cut off. It’s not the only one. Read this excellent analysis of RIM’s business and why their execs are unable to really come to terms with how bad a spot they are in. This could apply very well to Nokia.

Why is Nokia in a poor spot? Because I’ve had several mobile executives visit my home carrying Nokia phones. Funny enough they always are also carrying iPhones and Android devices. I poke at the folks carrying all these devices. “Do you like the Nokia N8?” The answer is always “no.”

The thing that Tomi and Marko don’t admit is that Nokia’s strategy is in a deep hole with influencers and developers.

Now, do these folks matter? Not in the short term.

But in the long term? Oh, yeah. Microsoft is already learning how important they are. Why? Sales of Windows Phone 7 haven’t been very good at all. And Microsoft is already way ahead of Nokia. How? They have an awesome user experience with a new, rewritten for the modern age, OS. Plus, Microsoft is WAY ahead of Nokia in developer tools. Building apps for Windows Phone 7 is easier than for other platforms, my friends, who include Zagat’s top developer, tell me. Nokia is, they tell me, a real mess to develop for in comparison (and RIM is even worse).

Here’s the deal. People around the world are going into Apple stores (and the ones in Paris were as packed last week as the ones in Cupertino) and are playing with phones. Even if you hate Apple you take note that there’s hundreds of thousands of apps and most of the coolest ones are coming out for iPhone and NOT other platforms (there’s another one coming in an hour, come back here then for a first look).

When those customers go and look at other phones, that have far fewer apps, plus are much harder to use, they balk.

The chicken has no head. I don’t see any Nokia strategy to get app developers to build for it that will work. That’s what’s missing from Tomi’s analysis and why it still doesn’t ring true, no matter how many words he writes.

UPDATE: Tomi just wrote some more words in response to me. Good debate!

Why Google Latitude breaks for me

This morning Google Latitude was released to the iPhone. I will use it, but it’s totally breaking for me. Here’s why:

1. Google Contacts breaks at somewhere over 10,000 contacts. It stops letting you add new contacts. It doesn’t even break gracefully or consistently. Over on Google Buzz I was adding new people to follow at a rapid rate and then things just started going wrong. People wonder why I use Twitter over Google’s services and this is why. I’m following 28,000+ on Twitter and it doesn’t break. Google’s services do and inconsistently too. Makes me not rely on Google for anything. I actually went through and deleted thousands of contacts (mostly added from Google Reader years ago or Google Buzz) just to make it work and I’m not likely to add new people in. Which leads me to the second point. This is really a major downside of Google mixing social news systems like Buzz into my business and family contacts along with location services. I’d rather decouple those like I can with Twitter and Foursquare. Why? Because even if they DO break in the future, they won’t take down my business contacts. Google, in deciding to build all these into one system at really makes the whole mess a single point of failure that’s already bitten me.
2. The UI for adding new people really sucks. It is forcing me to go through friend requests one at a time serially. So, if I need to add a real friend, like my wife, I can’t without first going through hundreds of requests. Compare to Instagram and you’ll see the folly of that.
3. There isn’t value to sharing where I’m at all the time. I look at my friends on Google Buzz. Does it really matter to me that I know where they are? No. It only really matters if they are open for a meeting, if they are in the same neighborhood as I am, or if they are doing something “braggable.” I’m not freaked out by sharing where I’m at, like many other people are, but I just don’t get any value out of it.
4. Because it runs all the time it uses some of my precious battery life. Enough said. The value I get out of it isn’t worth the battery savings.
5. My favorite content pushing services don’t post to Google Latitude. I use, for instance, to push photos to various places on the Internet. Most notably Tumblr and Foursquare. Google Latitude can’t apply.
6. No way to say “make my location totally public.” That’s what I really want to do. Why? So services could make a heat map of where I’ve been, which really is a fingerprint and you could compare that fingerprint to other people and find commonalities. How many BBQ places have I and Kevin Marks visited, for instance?

A far better way to follow me if you really want to know my location is Foursquare. Why? Because I use a variety of services to shove my location there, like, Foodspotting, and Gowalla, amongst others. Plus, I have 11,000 friends on Foursquare and it hasn’t fallen apart yet (and even if it did, it doesn’t mess with my contacts system that MUST be usable because I rely on it for other tasks).

Yes, I know, only me and maybe 20 other people in the world have some of these problems. But, really, why bet on a system that has these kinds of problems? Especially when better location-based services exist? That said, I’ll run the app once in a while to see how things change.

How about you? Are you using Latitude? What are your reasons for or against it?

Oh, and if you need to let a close personal friend see where you are, for some reason, then Glympse is a far better (and more secure) way to do that.