Monthly Archives: December 2011

My first photowalk with Lytro’s lightfield camera

This weekend we’ll be in Yosemite with Google+ photographers, including Thomas Hawk, Trey Ratcliff Karen Hutton Scott Jarvie Peter Adams shirley lo and Kimberly Shoemaker. All trying to make a better image than the ones that come up in searches for Yosemite on Google+.

So, to prepare, I went on a photowalk around Half Moon Bay with a new kind of camera: Lytro’s lightfield camera. Lytro’s director of photography, Eric Cheng, gave me a late Christmas present: he let me be one of the first people in the world to actually use one in the wild. Yesterday we walked around and I made 278 images. He shot a bunch too (he’s one of the world’s best underwater photographers, by the way, and has videos of sharks eating GoPro cameras, crazy!). Unfortunately Eric didn’t let me share the actual images online, since this is still a pre-production unit and doesn’t have the final software or viewer yet, but we did shoot a video where you can see some of the results.

I have already purchased a Lytro with my own money, so you know I’m interested in this new camera, that lets you do things like refocus images after you shoot (it does more, too, which we discuss in the video).

So, how was it?

Both disappointing and enthralling.

But first, this is NOT a review. It’s just an early look at a product that hasn’t yet shipped (they expect to ship them sometime in Q1, 2012, so by April 1, although first units might start shipping in February). The software isn’t done, and Eric showed me a few things that they are working on for the future.

You’ll have to wait for an official “review” of the final camera.

So, why was it disappointing?

Well, if you just want the ultimately sharpest photo, this isn’t a camera for you (it won’t do 22 megapixel photos like my Canon 5D MKII will, and the images are generally good enough for on-screen use but if you want to blow them up to wall sized images, this isn’t a camera for you).
If you like having a huge choice of lenses, this isn’t a camera for you.
If you want to shoot action sports, this isn’t a camera for you.
If you want to see through the viewfinder to choose your own focus point, this isn’t a camera for you.
If you want the best low-light performance, then this isn’t a camera for you.

But why is it enthralling?

It let me see the world in a new way. I no longer needed to worry about focus. In fact, I quickly learned that there’s a kind of photo that only works on the Lytro: one where you can get very close to the subject and just shoot, without any worry about where the focus is.

Plus, coming sometime after the camera ships you can turn each image into a 3D image. I saw some examples from Eric’s computer on my 65-inch Vizio 3D TV and they rocked.

Some other reactions.

1. Shooting is actually pretty comfortable and fun. In the video you’ll see Eric shooting with it.
2. The shutter reacts pretty quickly. I was able to capture some shots of golfers in mid swing. That said, top shutter speed is 250th of a second, so this won’t freeze most sports action. Water that I shot out of a fountain was slightly blurred because of the slow shutter.
3. Exposure was usually pretty good, although on some subjects, highlights were overblown. Eric says that they are still tweaking the settings in the camera, so these will probably improve.
4. The viewfinder was frustrating to use in bright sunlight. In fact, most of the time I just shot without seeing the image. That isn’t as big a deal as it might seem, though, because you don’t need to focus, just need to properly compose the image. Eric says that they are working on making the viewfinder brighter.
5. In low light images got a big grainy for my tastes, but still worked.
6. To get the “refocusable effect” you need to pick images where the camera is extremely close to one subject while another subject is in the distant background. This takes a little bit of playing around to optimize for, but I got some good examples, including one where I stuck the camera four inches away from a window frame and shot outside.
7. The camera gets a lot of reactions. At one point the bartender at the Ritz grabbed ours and said “I read about this in Wired” and started shooting with it. The fact that he could pick it up and figure out the controls quickly tells me it is well designed.
8. There are improvements coming that I can’t talk about.
9. Some images have light-field artifacts. This happens when it can’t build the 3D model properly that it relies on, like when there’s motion blur. These aren’t going to be noticed by most people who view your images on Facebook but we were blowing the images up on my 65-inch TV.

Is this camera worth buying?

For me and other early adopters who want to own a piece of the future, absolutely 100% yes.
For my wife? She’ll probably keep using her iPhone’s cameras.

I can’t wait to get mine for real. The technology behind this is mind blowing.

Oh, Charlie, you should have been here for Christmas

Oh, Charlie. Charlie Kindel, that is. He used to work at Microsoft. He still has Microsoft in his blood as he tries to explain why Windows Phone 7 hasn’t taken off.

I thought about posting this over on Google+ or Facebook or Twitter, but I like the way MG Siegler is treating it. All the stupid stuff goes on the blog and all the important stuff goes on YouTube, Tumblr, or Google+. Heh.

MG mailed Charlie’s post back with a “way too late” headline and pointed out that apps do matter.

It’s worse than that. Sorry Charlie.

I had dozens of people here for several events this weekend. Phones came up in nearly every conversation. Not a single person brought up Windows Phone 7.

While watching TV I was reminded again of why: it’s all about apps. Yeah, Charlie, all that other stuff matters a bit. You know, what Carriers decide to push and all that. But only if the customers are willing to go along with the push.

See, I used to work retail and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t unload crappy products on consumers. They generally are smarter than that.

One thing I learned working the counter at several Silicon Valley consumer electronics stores is that there’s only one thing people really care about when it comes to buying things:

Not looking stupid.

Now, let’s look at the ads on TV right now. There’s all sorts of people saying to get their app, including the local TV news departments. Do they talk about Android? Yes, of course. iOS? Of course! Windows Phone 7? Hell no. RIM/Blackberry? I haven’t heard that in an app advertisement in, well, forever.

So, when a consumer goes into a carrier store to buy a new phone, what is going on in the back of her/his head?

Android=safe.
iOS/iPhone=safe.
Everything else=not safe.

Why? Because all you had to do was come to my Christmas parties to see why. Everything around you showed that having an Android or an iPhone was “safe.”

When I go around interviewing startups I hear over and over that they are staying away from anything that isn’t Android or iOS based.

That means that any product not based on iOS or Android isn’t “safe.”

End of discussion. Until RIM or Microsoft changes that belief among app developers in a demonstrable way Microsoft will continue to struggle.

And don’t tell me that Nokia is gonna be able to change this in the developing world. Anyone who is on Twitter now can watch this search:

https://twitter.com/#!/search/apps

Go ahead. Put that search into a good Twitter client. Every second or two a new Tweet gets made. Now watch how many of them talk about anything but iOS or Android devices: nearly none.

I watch this search every day on StreamBoard on my iPad.

It shows why Charlie is so wrong: apps do matter and matter big time and TODAY matter more than carriers. UPDATE: Charlie claims he didn’t say apps don’t matter. Just that they don’t matter for his discussion. I disagree. Here’s why: Carriers are no longer hungry for a competitor to iPhones the way they were back in 2009. So, the “lever” to the market will NOT be carriers. But Android and iOS DO have a “lever” called developers and apps.

That will not change in 2012, no matter how much Microsofties (or ex-Microsofties) wish to hide from that problem.

Viral coefficients + store feature + branding + influencers = cool apps on iOS first

At LeWeb last week former Google CEO, Eric Schmidt was asked by an audience member why the coolest apps come out on iOS first. Apps like Flipboard and Instagram. He answered:

“”So my prediction is that 6 months from now, I think the question
is exactly right right now, and 6 months from now, you’ll say the
opposite. Because ultimately applications vendors are driven by
volume, and the volume is favored by the open approach that Google is
taking. That there are literally so many manufacturers who are working
so hard to distribute Android phones globally, that whether you
like ICS or not, and again I like it a great deal, you will want to
develop for that platform, and perhaps even first. So think of it as a transition over the next 6 months.””

Thing is, that doesn’t measure up with what lots of app developers tell me, and it doesn’t measure up with what you can see in the street.

Right after that an entrepreneur walked up to me with his app, which looked like Instagram. He wondered why the press doesn’t cover apps not designed on iOS. I said “come with me.”

We walked around the street at LeWeb. First person I ran into was Ayelet Noff. She is one of Israel’s top community connector types. Runs a blog called “Blonde 2.0.” But that doesn’t really explain her role in the tech scene.

“What kind of phone do you use?” “iPhone.”
Next up? Cathy Brooks, who does the same thing in SF? “iPhone.”

This continued with person after person until we got about 10 people. I think we saw one Android phone, nine iPhones, and no WP7′s. This was a crowd of European entrepreneurs and tech passionates.

“Had enough yet?” I asked the entrepreneur.

This matches what I have seen at conference after conference. Last year I spoke at the Where 2.0 conference. This is a conference with tons of hackers and mobile passionate developers and leaders. 80% of the audience used an iPhone.

Last week I had dinner with Loic LeMeur, who runs LeWeb. I watched him closely at dinner. He only used his iPhone. But when I started talking to him about mobile he quickly pulled out an Android and a Windows Phone 7 device. But it was obvious to me that his favorite device was iPhone. Do you think we talked about apps that only existed on WP7 or on Android? No way.

Other things I’ve noticed. Folks who study the app market, like Distimo, say that Android users won’t buy apps.

That gets discussed behind closed doors in Silicon Valley VC funds. Note that famous VC Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers has an iFund (they fund lots of famous iOS apps, including Flipboard, etc). When I asked Matt Murphy whether he was going to have an aFund or a WP7Fund he quickly answered “no.”

When I talked with Path CEO Dave Morin a week ago:

He told me how hard it is to build beautiful apps on Android. Tonight I asked him what the numbers were like?

“80% iOS, 20% Android,” he texted me.

Now, to be fair, not every developer sees these kinds of results. Bobby Ghoshal, CEO of Flud, says he saw more Android users than iOS users. The problem with his results is that he had a very strong competitor on iOS (App of the Year in 2010 on iPad, Flipboard) while his app had nearly no competiton on Android. Let’s see what happens to Flud when Flipboard moves over.

One major reason, by the way, that Flipboard continues to be Apple’s darling is that it hasn’t yet done an app for another platform. Developers tell me that Apple is much more likely to reward you with a “featured” spot if you stay iOS only. Path is one of the most public examples of a company breaking Apple’s unspoken rules and getting away with it (so far).

When I recently interviewed Mike McCue, CEO of Flipboard, where he showed me his new iPhone app, I tried to nail him down about Android. He deftly didn’t answer the question:

What does that mean? Well, last week I was in the car with 955 Dreams CEO Kiran Bellubbi shortly after he learned that Apple had named his app, Band of the Day, as runner up for iPhone app of the year. He told me his servers were near melting down with thousands of downloads per hour.

Which gets me to the final point. Here’s why Eric Schmidt is wrong and will continue to be wrong: virality coefficient.

What is that? Well, it’s the ability to tap into an early user base and get that user base to tell other people about it.

Paul Davison, left, shows off a stealth app at a SF geek party

Meet Paul Davison. That’s him on the left. He has an app that’s still in stealth. I accidentally learned about it at a geek party today in San Francisco. I watched him work the room and get everyone in the room on his app. Nearly every person in that room was an iPhone user.

He has not yet gotten funding. His app will be the hottest thing at SXSW next year. I can’t wait to tell you about it. I took a picture so I could remember the moment I first got on this app but I was also watching how the San Francisco network works.

I wasn’t the only one watching the reactions and laughs that Paul was getting. Users, even though they were asked to keep it quiet, kept heading over to other parts of the party to tell their friends that they had to see Paul’s app. All had iPhones. I think I saw only two Android phones at that party and no Windows Phone 7 devices.

Watching this was me and a group of VCs. They asked for the app and business cards.

See, what do VCs look for? Virality coefficients. This is why they poured so much money into Facebook so early. The virality coefficient for that was about what Paul was getting today. In other words, one user is likely to tell four other users about this app. That’s extraordinary. Just listen to Eric Ries, author of the Lean Startup, tell me about why getting a high viral coefficient is so important to businesses.

But it’s worse than that. Because investors want to see sizable adoption before they will fund any app, you gotta do the hard work that Paul was doing today: showing your app around and hoping that someone picks it up and starts spreading it around.

Will that happen with Android? It can. There are more handsets out there than on iOS. But, in my experience, it’s very hard to get the kinds of virality that you need to get funded on non-iOS platforms.

It’s also much harder to get the press, the folks who run the Apple store (they watch the press too and use it as a guide for what they should pick), and the VCs to take you seriously if you aren’t on iOS.

I don’t see this mix changing much. In fact, as Loic told me, he has moved back to iOS because of this and other reasons. That means that Google has its work cut out for it if it wants the sexy cool apps written for it first.

Now, when I talk with experts who help launch companies, like Mike Schroeder, who works at LaunchSquad, he says that Android is coming on strong. His clients, like Thuuz, a sports enthusiast app, are seeing about 65% Android/35% iOS and he’s pushing his clients to do Android and iOS together.

That’s good advice.

Now, who really is hurt by all this? Well, RIM is completely out of the game. No developers I know are building RIM apps on go-to-market entries.

Microsoft continues to struggle. It’s very rare to see a WP7 app demoed anywhere (LeWeb shows why, the only WP7 devices I saw there were owned by Microsoft execs/employees, or by app developers who were paid for their development).

Consumers who haven’t bought iOS devices will feel hurt, but generally only the better apps will get pulled over from iOS anyway, so are they really hurt? Well, only if they care about being on the bleeding edge. Most users don’t care so much, if they did, Android wouldn’t have the marketshare it now has.

So, all this really means is if you are struggling to get adoption, you have to care and if you like arguing OS’s out, like I do, then you’ll care. The rest of it will come out in the wash.

That said, Eric Schmidt will have to face more of these questions because Android isn’t changing the game that I can see. iOS is still king for early adopters.

UPDATE: Brian Hall asks “Are Android users simply cheap?”