Mobile Fanboy! Good or bad?

Welcome to the Future

David Bisset said it: “Fanboys out in force today.”

It’s interesting, whenever I write about mobile, no matter what side of the fence I come down on, people try to use “fanboy” as a pejorative.

It always makes me question whether I’m doing my best to serve my audience.

Here’s my thinking.

First, people who claim to not be fans can be written off completely as non-participants. It’s like going to a Giants vs. Dodgers game and finding someone who says “I don’t care who wins.” People like that bug me. Why are you even at the ballpark then?

In this case, why are you commenting on Louis Gray’s blog? (The first comment was from someone like this “I try to not be someone who roots for either one.”) Bah humbug.

Even Louis’ headline “the iPhone Fanboys can’t handle the truth on Android” makes this go down further. Unlike Louis, who has totally bought into the Google ecosystem, I can be seen carrying both devices. Of course, Louis’ fanboyisms gets him invited into Google events and even gets him free gear from Google. Translation: more free gear than I get. (Louis got a Google CR-48 laptop that I didn’t get) 🙂

I’m certain Louis is right. But I’ve learned with Louis to have a certain skepticism of what he’s telling me. After all, he’s the guy who got me to invest so much in FriendFeed. Yeah, now I have a friend with Facebook’s CTO (Facebook bought FriendFeed and then promptly took all the engineers off of that and put them on other projects), but it also got me kept off of Twitter’s suggested user list. There are consequences to your fanboyisms.

Me? The only consequences to me personally will be my $300 investment in apps. I already have a Verizon account I’m paying for and already have an Android device I pay for. Along with the iPhone and iPad I paid for and continue to pay for.

I’ve spent thousands of hours on my various mobile devices. So excuse me if I’m a bit passionate about where I see things going. I’ve also interviewed hundreds of mobile developers to understand where they are going and what bets they are making or even which are their favorites. Including Starbucks CIO (iOS), Sephora’s mobile developer (iOS) OpenTable’s mobile guy (iOS), eBay’s mobile guy (iOS), FoodSpotting’s founder (iOS) and on and on and on.

Is that fanboyism or journalism? Louis seems to say it’s all about being a fanboy and tries to justify his own singular choices. That’s cool. When the water on that side of the pool gets warmer I’ll swim on over.

For now, though, I’m sticking with the developers. The coolest apps are — overwhelmingly — on iOS today (and in my experience, when the same app is on both platforms the iPhone version is usually better designed and crashes less). Not many people argued with that. Not even the Google fanboys.

By the way, gotta correct Louis Gray on something. He says: “Android led the way in true multitasking on the phone, offers a superior GPS experience with top-notch places and maps, and is years ahead of Apple on voice search, it seems.”

OK, the old “my platform has more features than yours does.”

If features mattered Apple wouldn’t exist. After all, Nokia had better screens, better cameras, and better battery life long before the iPhone came along.

Heck, imagine for one moment that I had marched into Steve Ballmer’s office and said “Steve, our tablet PC sucks, we need to get rid of the camera, get rid of multitasking, get rid of printing, get rid of all those extra buttons on the front except for one, get rid of the ability to run Microsoft Office, oh, and make sure all those .NET apps don’t run either. Only then should we ship it.” Well, I would have gotten thrown out of his door so fast I wouldn’t have been able to say goodbye to his assistant. Google fans consistently don’t understand that fact.

But, look at my iPad. I used it all the way from SFO to CDG (Paris) and listened to music the ENTIRE time. It only used 9% of my battery life. Why? BECAUSE it didn’t have multitasking (actually, not quite true, it has some multitasking features now).

Funny enough, when Louis and I had dinner last week he showed me a way to kill tasks that were running in the background. I tried the same trick on my Nexus S and it didn’t work. Damn consistency let’s just ship! Grrr. Funny that every Android user has a Task Killer that they loaded as one of their apps. Try explaining THAT to a normal user “oh, you gotta kill tasks otherwise your phone sometimes won’t run right.”

Grrr. Yeah, I’m a fanboy.

But, these problems are gradually going away. It was far worse a year ago. Today at least the Nexus S is fast, has decent battery life, and feels well designed, if not a bit plasticky (if I didn’t have an iPhone I wouldn’t have noticed that, since most other phones are going that route to keep down costs).

Louis also writes “The truth is that Android can go feature by feature against iPhone now.”

Really? We compared panoramic photo apps. His sucked compared to the one from Occipital. His photos sucked too, and so did the display of same, when put side-by-side at dinner. I guess he forgot that. Not to mention that there’s nothing like the magical Word Lens app. Not to mention all the iPad apps that are out there like Flipboard, Aweditorium, NPR’s app, etc etc etc.

Oh, and GPS? That’s laughable. The GPS isn’t nearly as accurate in most Android devices as in the iPhone. Compare the two phones when checking in on Foursquare.

Louis, regarding voice navigation, just open the Google app on iPhone and you can do the same thing, plus, look at Voice DJ which is more accurate than anything on Google’s system (the developer of that told me he’ll bring it to Android next year too). Not to mention Siri, which I’m sure we’ll hear more about next year (Apple didn’t buy it for $200+ million to let it die).

Anyway, Louis ends with “But don’t get blinded by the Apple fans trying to define Android as a cheaper, inferior solution. It’s not.”

Really? Give me a break. I’ll go step-by-step how the ecosystem on Google is behind Apple today. Again, if you want. But I’m tired and my kids need some love.

Keep in mind, those are the words of a fanboy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

The facts in the mirror might be different than they appear on your favorite tech blog, though.

The truth is probably inbetween the fanboy positions. But that’s why I think Fanboys are good, just like Dodgers fans are good for the game of baseball, even though they are on the wrong side of the force. 🙂

If I’m serving my audience well, no one will be able to say “he didn’t do his homework.” That’s what I aim for, but some fanboy attitude is definitely good for the industry. Why? We’re spending our entire waking lives carrying these damn things around and betting our careers on the outcome. If you bet against Microsoft in the 1990s you know how bad that decision is.

How did I do on Hot Startups to Watch of 2010?

So, back in January I wrote about the hot startups to watch of 2010 in two blogs (part I, part II). Here’s the list, and how I did.

First, I missed some of the biggest new startups.

What big wins did I miss?

1. GroupOn. Now valued at $6 billion after being in business just 18 months.
2. Flipboard. Came out in July and was named Apple’s favorite iPad app. (I did have first video of them though).
3. Soluto. Came out in May and won Techcrunch Disrupt. (I did have first video with them, though).
4. Instagram (and competitors Path, PicPlz). Tore it up in December.
5. Siri (which I named as hot in another post, a week after it shipped Apple bought it for about $200 million).
6. A slew of mobile startups like Rovio, who makes Angry Birds.

I’m sure I missed lots of other hot startups, too. Got any?

ReadWriteWeb named their top 10 as (in no particular order, they said, except they published them in this order):

1. Instagram.
2. Quora.
3. Flipboard.
4. Chatroulette (I don’t see how a company that has failed the way this one has should be on such a list, other than they got lots of people to use it for a short time).
5. Rapportive. (I picked Gist which shipped earlier and now does same as Rapportive).
6. Diaspora. Give me a break.
7. Hipmunk. Yup, love this company.
8. LearnBoost.
9. Square.
10. InDinero.

I don’t really agree with RWW’s list, but it’s out there.

So, how did I do?

1. Boxee. Finally shipped Boxee Box, but is largely perceived as struggling against Apple and Google. Tie.
2. Aardvark. Bought by Google. Win. (Google hasn’t done much with it since, which is why I didn’t count it as a big win).
3. Foursquare. Has stayed on a tear. Win.
4. Nextstop. Bought by Facebook and shut down. Tie (if something has deep value it doesn’t get shut down).
5. Rippol. Hasn’t done much. Fail.
6. Waze. Just closed a huge funding round and saw significant gains this year. Big win.
7. Gist. Closed a decent funding round and has gotten lots of kudos. Win.
8. Kynetx. Haven’t heard much about their platform. Fail.
9. Tapulous. Sold to Disney. Big win.
10. Posterous. Continued to see traffic go up and closed good funding round. Win.
11. PointAbout/AppMakr. Right category, but not right company. Fail. (UPDATE: “The AppMakr guys contacted me and let me know about some great traction they’ve gotten this year that I wasn’t aware of (including a $1MM raise). You can find it on their Crunchbase profile: I’m withdrawing the ‘fail’ to see how they do in 2011.”)
12. Payvment. Closed funding and hot space. Win.
13. CloudKick. Rackspace bought them. Big win.
14. Blippy. Closed funding round, and interesting company. I’ll count this as a tie, though, because I haven’t seen much mainstream pickup yet.
15. Expensify. Closed funding round, just shipped new version. Love this company. Win.
16. RedBeacon. Closed funding round, well regarded in marketplace. Win.
17. CitySourced. Has won a lot of city deals, seems to be doing well. Win.
18. Spotify. Roaring across Europe, still hasn’t come to US yet. Win.
19. Plancast. Has become the calendar for geeks, not sure it’s moving into mainstream yet. Win.
20. Evri. Bought Radar Networks, got some more funding. Win.
21. Square. I’m seeing them more and more places. The wine show I was at this year had them everywhere. Win.
22. Aloqa. Acquired by Motorola. Win.
23. Nimsoft. Named to hottest Silicon Valley Companies list, acquired by CA for $350 million. Big win.
24. OneRiot. Shut down its real time search portal. Fail.
25. Wildfire Interactive. Got $4 million in funding. Win.

So, that’s:

Four big wins.
14 wins.
Three ties.
Four fails. Not too shabby. Especially since some of those could turn into wins, like Kinetyx.

Who’ll be on my list next year? I bet that some of those on this Quora list will be considered.

Is Quora the biggest blogging innovation in 10 years?

I’ve now been blogging for 10 years. Looking back we haven’t seen all that much innovation for bloggers. You have a box. You type in it. Put an image into it. And hit publish. That’s much the same as the tools I had 10 years ago.

But now comes Quora.

I’m really loving it. I have a hard time explaining why. I’m not the only one, either.

@Scobleizer I believe @quora is the future of blogging.less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone

VC Shervin Pishevar says “I believe @Quora is the future of blogging.”


So what’s going on there?

First, look at the Quora items I’ve been participating in. This is a lot like a blog. But it’s not Dave Winer’s blog style. It’s any question I’ve followed, written in, voted up, etc.

So, what is the innovation here?

First, it learned from Twitter. Ask your users a question and they’ll answer it.

Second, they learned from Facebook. Build a news feed that brings new items to you.

Third, they learned from the best social networks. You follow people you like. But then they twisted it. You can follow topics. Or you can follow questions in addition to following people. This is great for new users who might not know anyone. They can follow topics.

Fourth, they learned from blogs about how to do great SEO. I’ve started seeing Quora show up on Google.

Fifth, they learned from FriendFeed, Digg, and other systems that let you vote up things. If you watch a question that has a lot of engagement you’ll even see votes roll in live. It’s very addictive.

Sixth, they brought the live “engagement display” that Google Wave had: it shows who is answering a question WHILE they are answering it.

Seventh, it has a great search engine for you to find things you are interested in.

Anyway, I find that there’s something addictive about participating over there instead of here on my blog. Why? Because when you see people voting up your answers or adding their own replies in real time it makes you realize there’s a good group of people reading your stuff. I don’t get that immediate rush here (here I have to wait for comments to show up, which isn’t nearly as immediate).

I notice that the same thing has me very excited about Instagram, too. When I look at other people’s photos I can see lots of people liking them and commenting on them in real time.

Will Quora kill blogging? No. Blogging has a business model for publishers that Quora does not provide yet (I don’t care about the business model so I’m free to go where the innovations are happening).

Thanks Quora for providing a great community and way for people to communicate about what’s interesting in their lives in a new way. That’s innovation in blogging.

By the way, even pro bloggers are using Quora. Today Techcrunch used Quora to find and report on Flickr in a new way (that isn’t the first time they’ve done that, either).

UPDATE: Mark Suster, VC, explains why he thinks Quora is significant.

Why 2011 isn't 1995 for Apple

iPad ads everywhere

In 1995 I remember waiting in lines to buy Windows 95. It effectively ended the design lead Apple had for 11 years in personal computers. From then on Microsoft had both the thought leadership and the market share. Apple ended up with less than 10% market share. Microsoft had most of the rest.

Lots of people think that Apple could repeat 1995 in 2011. This time with iOS instead of Macintosh OS and with Google in the place of Microsoft.

We forget one little thing: 1995 was different.

Here’s how.

In 1995 Microsoft had a HUGE marketshare lead with DOS. That meant it had a huge army of developers who didn’t want to switch over to Apple’s system, which they saw as very closed and inflexible. I remember developers coming into the consumer electronics store I helped run in the 1980s and they’d complain bitterly about Apple’s policies (Apple was far less flexible back then than it is today and forced developers to fit into a “look and feel” set of guidelines).

But I look at who is making money. Back in 1995 developers were mostly making money from DOS. Remember, this caused WordPerfect and Borland to make bad bets. They bet on DOS for too long, while Bill Gates went and built some of the first and best Macintosh apps. The lesson, though, doesn’t pass from 1995 to 2011. Today where are most of the developers making their money? iOS (according to Sephora, Starbucks, OpenTable, eBay, and many other developers). So, Android has to convince developers to switch, or do both platforms at same time. That’s quite different.

Plus, back in 1995, who owned the best distribution and supply chains? Microsoft did. Today? Apple does. Apple didn’t have stores back in 1995 which will ensure its products get seen in the marketplace. Back then Microsoft could outspend Apple for shelf space at Frys and other retailers. Plus, Microsoft’s model of having many OEMs building hardware for its OS was far superior to Apple’s approach. Today that’s not really true, because the OEMs aren’t really able to bring that much value to the table and Apple has the best supply chains in China locked up (I visited one of them about two years ago and keep in touch with the folks there and that’s still the case). So, it’s not very likely that a Google phone will ship with better screens or better materials. At least not in volume. That is a huge difference from 1995 to today.

Inside the Paris subway

Other differences? Apple has outspent Microsoft on Advertising around the world. Look at this picture. It’s in Paris subway. Apple bought every square inch of advertising space (it bought the entire subway system’s advertising space, it seemed, iPad ads were plastered down the entire trackway). Google isn’t able to get its message there. That didn’t happen in 1995. Remember how dominant Microsoft’s advertising was back then? Microsoft even convinced the Empire State Building to change its colors that evening.

Let’s go back to how closed Apple is. Most apps this month got approved in less than a week. Some even got approved in less than four days. During the Christmas rush. Is this as good as Android’s (you can ship in minutes) policy? No. But, on the other hand, there are quality controls which consumers appreciate. The apps — overall — ARE better on iOS than on Android. Just check out TweetDeck. It crashes every few minutes on my Android phone. Twitter isn’t nearly as nice. Facebook isn’t as nice. And most apps aren’t as well designed, nor crash resistant, as on iOS.

I am sensing a switch, though. Fred Wilson is leading the charge. But other developers are grumbling about Apple and want there to be an alternative and they are all comparing notes with each other. “How’s Angry Birds doing with its advertising-only Android apps?” they ask. Very well, the answer comes back. So that means more developers will take the bet on Android, but so far I haven’t seen many go “Android only.” Why not? Because they know most of the PR comes from journalists who use mostly iOS devices and most of the best users are on iOS devices too (Sephora’s lead mobile developer told me 80% of the users who pull out a mobile phone in her stores are using iOS, that is echoed by nearly every developer I talk with). Even Swype, which has been kept from delivering their keyboard on iOS devices showed me a prototype of it running on an iPad and the inventor whispered “if Steve Jobs wants to talk, we’d love to ship this on iOS.”

So, when someone says that Apple is repeating the mistakes of 1995 (yes, I’ve been guilty of saying that in the past couple of years too) you should tell them that 2011 is not even close to the same set of conditions as 1995 has.

Fred Wilson and Fortune are right about Android vs iOS (and everyone else), but I hate it

Fred Wilson is recommending developers invest first in Android and Fortune has a similar article about why 2011 is going to be the year that Android explodes. Why? Market share. Android is about to really take off, his thesis goes.

They are both right. But I hate it. First, let’s talk about why they are right.

I’ve been playing with a Nexus S lately and it finally is “good enough” for me to recommend to family members and friends as a smart phone.

I’ve also had some quality time on the Samsung Galaxy Tab, iPad competitor. It, too, is competent and no longer has the kinds of problems that let me confidently warn my friends and family away from Android platform.

These devices are fast. They have most of the apps you’ll need (maybe not the sexiest ones, but most of the ones that you’ll need). A good web browser. Really good maps, contacts, and phone-handling apps. Etc etc.

Compare Android to every other platform and it stands up as the best choice. Yeah, I know, MG Siegler over at Techcrunch got close to recommending Windows Phone 7 to everyone (he’s an iPhone lover like myself) but notice how many major things he said sucked about that system. The Web browser sucks. The lack of apps sucks. The lack of integration into Google’s many excellent systems like Google Voice, Google Contacts, Google Mail, Google Calendar, or Google Maps sucks (I still don’t like Bing’s maps as much, and that’s the most competitive web service Microsoft has going in my view).

And Windows Phone 7 is superior to Nokia’s OS and RIM’s OS, which have even more significant problems to solve (bad user experiences, difficult developer systems, inadequate app stores, very few modern apps, etc).

So, if I take off my iPhone-loving-hat and look dispassionately at the field I see that 2011 is going to be a great year for Android, a moderately good year for Windows Phone 7, a struggling year for Nokia and RIM (unless they noticeably change the game), with a wildcard year for Palm/HP (we’ll know more about that in about a week, because they are announcing some stuff at CES).

So, what about iPhone? Well, there is one thing neither Fortune nor Fred Wilson are including in their analyses: the Verizon phone. It came up at dinner conversation last night with family members (who aren’t geeky and don’t read Techcrunch). There is a LOT of pent up demand for an iPhone on Verizon. If all the rumors about an iPhone on Verizon are true, that’ll give iPhone a big shot and continue keeping it in the top two of the superphone category (unfortunately Nokia has started calling a wide range of its phones “smart phones” which makes the term “smartphone” totally useless). Most people, when they think of a modern high-end phone are thinking of iPhone, Android (and only when put on a big screen phone like the Nexus S), Windows Phone 7, RIM, Nokia’s N8, etc. This is the only category of phones I care about. I really don’t care that in some poor country Nokia sold hundreds of millions of single-chip, small-screen phones that barely can use text features, not to mention have decent access to the web.

But I don’t see how Verizon will sell enough iPhones to keep it in the numbers race with Android.

Now to why I hate this.

In my usage of the Android-based Samsung Nexus S, I’ve found it’s still behind Apple’s iPhone in almost every way. Even AT&T is far superior to T-Mobile (T-Mobile doesn’t even work in my house and I live 16 miles from Silicon Valley. Arrrrgggh).

The iPhone is easier to use. Smoother, especially when scrolling tweets. More consistent UI. Better designed hardware (the Samsung is, while the best Android phone on market, according to Engadget, not even close to as well designed as the iPhone).

Plus, overall, the apps on both iPhone and iPad are still noticeably ahead of those on Android platform. Today.

Yes, I know both platforms have their fans. I’ve argued both sides of the argument with friends and family. The Android wins if you want Google integration. The iPhone wins if you want best overall experience.

But with the Nexus S Android has caught up to be “close enough” to iPhone that I can no longer confidently state that the best system is Apple’s.

Add price into that equation and I will be recommending Android to a wide range of people in 2011.

I hate that. Because it’s not the best designed device.

So, what can Apple do?

1. Push onto more carriers.
2. Lower price.
3. Come out with some major innovations, particularly for developers (if you haven’t watched my interviews with the smart people behind the funding of Siri, that was bought by Apple, you really should — that interview gives insights into what Apple could do this year to stay in the game. Part I. Part II).
4. Integrate further with other systems in the home. One of the demos of the iPad that gets everyone going is when I show off how to use my iPad as a remote control for my Apple TV.
5. Make a deal with Facebook. Normal people are ADDICTED to Facebook. Ever sit in a lobby at a restaurant and watch what people do on phones? I do. Facebook is #1 app by far. What if next iPhone had best-of-breed integration with Facebook?

Anyway, unless something major happens this year (it probably will, the world keeps speeding up) it looks like Android is gonna take off.

I hate that.

I sure hope Steve Jobs has one of those moments where he shocks the world again and keeps this game interesting. I sure would hate it if Google took over the world of mobile the way Bill Gates took over the world of desktops. And, yes, it sure does feel like early 1995 in the mobile world. So, Steve, what you got up your sleeve?

UPDATE: I did a followup to this post about why 2011 isn’t 1995 for Apple.