Archive | future shock

Highlights on Sully & that A320 on the Hudson

A320 on the Hudson

A320 on the Hudson

The Sully movie (based on the book) is out in just over a week which prompted me to read the NTSB air accident report (warning, nearly 200 pages long). In university I used to read these things all the time for some reason.

There are some interesting things in there. Here’s the map of passenger evacuations:

Passenger evacuations of US1549

Passenger evacuations of US1549

I’ve modified it from the vertical image in the NTSB report. Nobody goes out the back as it was flooding. Most people go for the nearest exit apart from at the back. First, there was that water coming in the back and secondly crowding at the over-wing exits blocked them. Crew told people to skip to the front, by climbing over seats.

Interestingly, and by chance it seems, the aircraft was equipped for flight over water. Most people didn’t grab seat cushions, and a lot of them couldn’t get the life vest on. Nine people fell in the water.

I’m not sure if that includes the first person out the L1 door (the one you get on the plane through typically). That person jumped straight in to the water and that slide took ~20 seconds or so to begin inflating.

The water was just above freezing and the survivability for that is measured in single-digit minutes for your average human.

The slides are designed to hold 55 people absolute max. The aft slides were out of action so that leaves 110 spots for 155 people on board. They could use the over-wing evacuation slides for flotation right? You’d think so, but not quite. They’re attached to the airframe and would have sunk with it. One of the recommendations of the report is to fix that.

Everyone was off within ~20 minutes of the forced water landing. Injuries? Only a few.

Brace, brace, brace

Brace, brace, brace

The recommended brace position put peoples arms up on the seat in front of them. On landing everyone is thrown forward and a couple of peoples arms suddenly had to take the load of them at impact deceleration plus, presumably, some load from passengers behind them. Their arm went up in to their shoulder and broke it. Apparently two passengers had very similar fractures as a result.

As an aside, if you look around there’s not a whole lot of good information on what to do for brace position. Other than not be in a crash, of course.

One flight attendant had a nasty gash on the leg when a beam apparently broke through the floor but didn’t notice it until off the aircraft.

Apparently the NTSB sensor transcripts:

I’m gonna just call this guy directly cause I don’t think this OPS guy knows what the # he’s doin.

This is mentioned on the ground way before anything bad happens. It happens again later as you might expect. As ever in these things, everything is remarkably normal until it suddenly isn’t.

You can read the book and here’s that movie trailer:

Why I like what3words

When I first came across w3w I had the same reaction many people do – I just didn’t get it.

The idea is pretty simple. Give every 9ft square on the planet three words. So right now I’m at spite.nearly.maps which is a hotel next to SFO. Or hills.boost.oldest is somewhere in England.

There are people out there for whom location is a daily problem. Firefighters trying to find a hydrant. Police trying to find one another. Delivery drivers trying to find the right door. The billions of people who don’t have an address system. For people like that, having some kind of location system makes obvious sense. It’s not hard to help them understand the value of w3w since they spend half their life looking for “the green door half way down on the left.” At 3am. In an emergency.

For most other people we only have this problem occasionally. First you live somewhere where there are addresses. Second you have a phone. But you still have situations where your friend can’t find you in a crowd. Or you go to the doctor and their address is on A Street but the entrance is on 1st Avenue. It doesn’t happen that often so you don’t think of it as a big deal.

But it actually is. If you multiply out all that wasted energy it’s going to end up as billions of dollars of wasted time and gasoline. Just think of every time the secretary has to explain to the new patient that the entrance is on a different street, every day for years. In just one doctors office.

Then in the mapping world, and the computer world, we think this is easy. It’s just latitude and longitude. Or at worst, it’s just a geohash. This is true whenever you have two computers talking about location. If we both have phones, then they can just swap location data off the GPS. Yay.

But here’s the thing. First – where humans are involved you want something simpler. And second geohashes are terrible for actual location when a human needs it.

Geohashes and lat/longs have a bunch of downsides for humans. They’re difficult to remember, bordering impossible. They’re ambiguous – if you get a number wrong then there’s no way to check. And of course everyone has their own hash system.

If you want to design a system that anyone can use and remember, three words is actually a pretty good solution.

  • You can remember three words
    • Shorter words are used near population centers to help this
    • Homonyms are removed (sail, sale)
    • Negative words are removed
  • There’s built in error correction
    • Similar sets of words (e.g. spite.nearly.maps and spit.nearly.maps) are in very different places, so it’s clear there is a problem
  • You can say it over a phone or radio
    • No “b like banana” to spell some strange code out
  • It doesn’t take a lot of cognitive function
    • It’s just three words, not some complicated looking thing that I might mistake a 1 for a 7 or something

If you look at the hashes that have existed in the past they tend to be some code for location like ‘[email protected]’. The technologist solution to this problem is “make an algorithm, make it open, we’re done!”

But the value is much less in just making any old algorithm and declaring the problem solved. The actual value here is first, to build a great algorithm for people, not just for PhDs in Mathematics. Second, to market it.

Because that’s where everyone kind of just gave up. There’s this fantasy that if I make something open and put it on the internet that somehow, via magic, people will use and build upon it. But people don’t. Mostly they don’t know it exists, don’t know it’s a problem and will never use your random geo hash thing.

The thing that’s useful and interesting here with w3w is that a lot of thought and time is going in to marketing and PR so people know about the problem and the solution. And if you go look, that is getting a lot of traction all over the place. Because it turns out that everyone from camping magazines to Glastonbury festival staff to people delivering mail in slums needs a location service. And they’re using w3w.

Even Ireland could do with something better than spending 27 million Euro on a code system.

To drill it home; it’s not the technology. The technology is great, and a lot of work goes in to that. Actual real linguists work on building new language versions. Other hashing algorithms I’m sure were great in their way too. But who cares if nobody uses them?

And that’s why w3w is interesting. They have truly great – some of the best I’ve seen – people who’re pushing this solution all over the place to people for whom it’s an actual problem. If you live in a western country with addresses, a functional cell phone network and you work on open mapping… that probably just isn’t you.

The other thing is, it’s a company born of a problem which means there’s a focus. It isn’t about just burning more money and figuring out what business model fad to follow this week. It’s a real problem, experienced and solved by the same people. Chris, one of the co-founders, actually had this problem coordinating deliveries of music equipment and performers to perform live events. He couldn’t get multiple trucks to show up in the same place. Even when talking to them on the phone. This is in England – a relatively developed country with a paved road network, where citizens speak a common language and road signs blanket the country. Where people are highly paid and educated.

And for some reason we consider it normal in such a modern time and place, that two people can’t locate each other occasionally. That’s actually nuts when you think about it. It’s 2016 – really this should not be a problem. And it costs us a lot of time, energy and money.

By contrast imagine you were born in a world where w3w just existed and everyone used it. You’d think your grandparents were pretty dumb to not be able to find each other at a concert. Or not be able to tell an emergency responder where you were in a field or on a big road. Or that delivery drivers actually wandered around trying to find the right door. And yet were able to somehow land rockets on the moon.

Because that’s the world we live in. And maybe by building a common language of location, for humans, we can make it a problem our grandchildren can just laugh at.

Surface Phone

Six months ago or so I had a job that required a large amount of parallel processing in Windows. The economics and technical constraints of it were such that doing it in the cloud wasn’t going to work easily. So I took to craigslist and bought 8 laptops for about $50-100 each and put Windows 10 preview on them.

These were crappy, old, low spec laptops with keyboards that mostly functioned. And here’s the thing: Win10 ran great on them. Surprisingly great. I hooked them all up to wifi and a remote disk, ran a command and they were off and computing stuff for me. Then I sold them all again, for basically what I paid for them.

Microsoft is rumored to be working on a flagship phone device, dubbed the Surface Phone.

continuum_windows_10_mobile-Large

Begin pure speculation:

I think the Surface Phone is just going to run full Windows 10 and it’ll be an x86/64 Intel device. Here’s why:

  • Windows 10 Mobile on high end devices now feature Continuum. You plug in a display and keyboard and mouse (or bluetooth) and it becomes a pseudo-desktop computer. I say pseudo because the apps are still the pretend Office, pretend Outlook and so on. A real Win10 phone will just be a real Win10 computer. Plug in the display, and it’s a real machine, able to run the universe of windows apps.
  • Old hardware runs Win10 great, as I discovered. Phones are really just old hardware.
  • The high end Lumias can apparently accept micro-SD cards up to 2Tb. I put a 1 or 2Tb SD card in my Surface Phone and it’s a real machine.
  • It fits with the Surface being a tablet-laptop. The Surface Phone can be a phone-desktop.
  • It’ll cut the budgets for enterprise. Microsoft can go to United Airlines, or whatever, and sell them a million phones which are also desktops, cutting the device budget in half. And their IT staff will be happy, since it’s all just still Win10 machines out there.
  • It explains Win10 Mobiles lack of push, and nothing much happening in the phone space for Microsoft. I have it on a Lumia 535, which is a super low end device. It actually works pretty well but it doesn’t feel like Microsoft is super serious about it. The releases are slow and it doesn’t have a ton of polish. Maybe it’s just like WinPhone7 (based on CE) and it’s another stopgap until phones just run the full Win10.
  • It also leverages all the apps. The mobile Outlook and so on can all still run on a x64 Surface Phone.
  • It leverages all of Microsofts strengths. The other 80,000 (or whatever) people at Microsoft can all help the phone be a success if it’s running full Windows. A lot harder if it’s some bastard child requiring special care and attention.
  • Intel is rumored to be working on the Surface Phone too.
  • Because it’s a desktop machine, it’ll be plugged in most of the day. So you can sidestep a lot of power constraints of running a x64 machine all day long on battery.
  • Microsoft has bridge projects so you can port your android or iOS app to Windows. Having a phone just run full Win10 will help immeasurably in simplifying that whole idea. No porting to strange OS or processor. It’s just Windows.
  • What the hell else will they do? Win10 Mobile is going to be tough to push otherwise.
  • It fits the history and it’s just logical. DOS and Win3.1 combined to Win95. 95+NT to become Windows… Pulling in the train of WinPhone OS in to Windows makes sense.
  • Look at the Win10 tablet devices. Stick a SIM card in one and make it slightly smaller and it’s a phone.
  • It has to happen eventually, why not now?

So in short, what you’re seeing in high end Win10 Mobile devices, things like Continuum and porting Android apps over is just  dress rehearsal for phones running full Windows.

In addition to the prediction that it would be a real Win10 machine;

  • I think it’ll be a phablet. It’s the preferred form factor these days and it allows you to fit a bunch of hardware in too. Call it $699 or so and you need to add the SD card. Probably too hard to get the cost down to $499 but you never know.
  • There might be a retail SKU which includes the phone, a dock, keyboard and mouse for $999. Probably just USB for cost reasons.
  • You still want to make the phone able to make phone calls while it’s a desktop computer. This is tough because it means you can’t really use a drop-in dock. You can use a long cable but it’s messy. A dock for power, but the display, keyboard and mouse being wireless would make the most sense but may be too expensive to be viable.
    • Having a SKU for a display with the hub hardware built in would make sense. You pair your phone to the display, which has the keyboard and mouse attached. Rather than having a standard display and separate docking hardware.
  • It might make sense to make some kind of laptop-like dock for the phone, maybe completely wireless again.
  • It might make sense to short desktop hardware makers if all this happens.

Or, maybe I’m completely wrong.

Google Cardboard

Google Cardboard is a device for turning your phone in to a VR headset. When combined with headphones it’s pretty immersive.

If you haven’t yet, buy a Google Cardboard unit at amazon or eBay. eBay units can be had cheaper, around $2 but can take forever to ship from Hong Kong. Mine was $1.80 and took 3 weeks to arrive.

Or, get one free from Lowes:

20151128_145630

Lowes have a vending machine next to some iPads. You can use the iPads to design your perfect kitchen and then get a free cardboard unit dispensed. Download the app, login and you can view that kitchen in 3D as if you’re there. Luckily my local Lowes is one of the few with these units – maybe they’re hoping that nobody will notice in rural Colorado.

You’re going to see more people give these things away for free like the NYT did recently.

The experiences available via the VRSE app and others are pretty mind-blowing. Most are short 3-6 minute video productions using bubble cameras that put you in the middle of the action. You can look all around and pretty quickly lose connection with reality – great for flights.

The cost of VR hardware is now zero but the content is going to be a while in coming. There’s some great tasty treats out there and we’ll get to the point of paying money at some point for longer works I’m sure, including games and education.

I’ve used an Oculus DK2 and honestly, it’s not worth it compared to the cardboard unit. The DK2 may have slightly better specs but frankly who cares when the tradeoff is adoption. A DK2 costs real money and needs to be hooked up to a PC, cardboard means anyone can get started with a device that practically everyone owns – your phone.

What is it?

IMG_3334

What is it? is a free iPhone app for recognizing objects. You point it at things and the app will recognize the stillness of the scene, vibrate, take a photo and tell you what the object is. It’s “always on” and watching on purpose, just point your phone at something and it will attempt to recognize it.

And if it’s wrong, you can fix it by tapping the flashing text and typing what it is.

The app relies heavily on ImageIdentify[] from Wolfram Research. You can play with their website here on a phone, tablet or desktop device. The backend of the app is powered by the rather wonderful Wolfram Cloud which makes building something like this very easy.

Using Wolfram Cloud isn’t far from using Mathematica, and you can deploy APIs trivially from both:

CloudDeploy[
APIFunction[{“image” -> “Image”}, ImageIdentify[#image] &]]

That’s about all it takes. The system returns a URL and you can then use that to make requests against. Mathematica and the Wolfram Cloud go way, way beyond this basic example of course. I can’t recommend enough that you play with this stuff. In a couple of weeks there’s a new book coming out on it too!

Today, this app has some decent if limited capabilities. The goal is something better than a star trek tricorder – something that will tell you the species of a leaf or the model year and trim of a car.

Glass Business Cards

IMG_2568

I had this idea a while ago – why not take the incredibly strong glass we use on phones and make business cards out of them?

After some iterations on the process, I now have some! I can get them down to just 2 millimeters thin and mass laser etch them. They look incredible, you’re going to want to lick them:

IMG_2259

I have a website mockup and name (Clarity Cards):

ClarityCards_Mockup_R4

Sound interesting? The website is over here. Sign up for the mailing list to keep in the loop, it will be a kickstarter project soon:


Open GeoQuestion – collecting data in the field

IMG_3195

Screenshot of Open GeoQuesiton

There are lots of attributes of the world out there that it would be nice to collect in to some structured data. Questions about your environment like these:

  • Is it noisy where you are?
  • Is it safe?
  • What address are you at?
  • Are you in an urban area?
  • What objects are around you?

… and many more. So I built this crazy little web app here. It’s really best if you look at it on your phone. It works really best, if you’re out walking around some place.

You can answer questions about where you are in a quick-fire way. You can also ask new questions for anyone else to answer, all over the world. What will be really interesting is – what questions will you ask everyone else about the environment.

The data is aggregated together and then hopefully we can do meaningful things with it. Subjectivity of course will be interesting, if I think a place is noisy do you think it is quiet? And so on…

There are two special modes. The first, address-only allows you to focus on addresses and is a simple, clean interface to letting you walk around and collect geocode data. It is primed in the United States with data. The second is thing-only mode which lets you focus on taking pictures of objects and naming them. Objects and their names are very useful in machine learning. Both these modes focus on problems with lack of data that nobody is solving right now and each will get their own blog posts later.

There’s some simple game-ification in there too – you accrue points for all the questions you answer. Variable leaderboards (which refresh hourly) show how you’re doing against your peers in collecting data.

I must give a shout out to Yelp. The way the yelp iOS app asks quick questions when you check in to a venue is pretty neat. You check in, and it asks a variety of things like whether it’s a casual place, whether it’s expensive and so on. It does so in a very quick and fun way that almost makes you feel bad for not answering. I’m seeking to expand that to any question, about the whole world.

So give it a try and email me your thoughts. If you want to stay up to date and learn more about the project, sign up below:


Open Company

Here’s a crazy idea: It would be interesting to build a kind of “open” company.

Most companies are closed in the sense that you have limited contact with them and little insight in to their internals. It would be interesting to create something where there was some high degree of openness both within and without, a flat structure and deep feedback loops.

Valve doesn’t have managers (flat structure) and people just work on whatever they want to, with peer pressures as a check. Amazon has a lot of the same customer and feedback goals but more traditional management. A blend of these would be interesting.

The problem is capital. Valve has a big office in Bellevue and people. Amazon have bigger offices in Seattle and lots more people.

But what if we flip that? 37signals has some large number of remote employees and that appears to work just as well. Why not make all your employees remote? No more office-related costs.

People are, generally, expensive. Well, they are in Bellevue, WA. What if we don’t mind if you work in Timbuktu? What if they don’t work full-time? Suddenly employee costs drop off a cliff. For not much cash, you could hire 5 or 10 people on upwork to get started.

It’s never been cheaper to go do this. We could make the company handbook v 1.0 just be Valve’s handbook.

Amazon started with books, Valve with Half-Life. What if you start with nothing at all but people interested in the experiment, and employees own ideas of what to work on?

Could you make the company an entertainment in itself? People love following along kickstarter projects and watching Dragons Den / Shark Tank. People are already therefore paying dollars and time to be part of the experience in creating something.

An Open Company could put you right there with the people making things happen. You can follow along and influence who gets hired and what people work on. It would be like The Sims, only more entertaining because it’s real. You could help choose the company logo, be an “associate CEO”, vote on product wireframes… or not be involved at all and just watch (in your “OpenCompany” t-shirt).

Worst case, it would be an entertaining art project. Best case, it would be fun and create something of value.

Sound fun? Sign up for more at 0pen.company or here:


Peak Apple

AAPL’s valuation is currently $355B and will likely go up a while. In terms of dollar value, it can continue to do so. In terms of being the largest company, or second largest on the planet, it cannot. Once you’ve made first place you can’t make zeroth. The only way is down. The question is when?

I’m fairly bearish. Last weeks event appeared to be the bottom of the barrel in scraping around for things that they’ve been sitting on for a while. Shipping the Pencil and iPad Pro was nice (people actually laughed in the audience, they thought the Pencil was a joke), but there are no new markets here. We’re now in to “copy Microsoft” territory (Surface). Once meaningful phrases are now fairly vacuous – “the only thing that’s changed is everything” would apply to iPhone but not iPhone 6S.

Share buybacks, splits and dividends – throwing money at people – will support the stock for a while. Casting around for more prototyped things to ship will too. However, the days of focus, small product selection and quality are gone. iOS and MacOS are no longer a step above their competitors, they fall apart all the time.

(Yesterday I had to kill iMessage because it wouldn’t stop recording an audio message, the swipe-to-show-delete doesn’t work either and the delete button keeps disappearing. This is about as good as Modern Mail on Windows 10 at present).

It feels like a committee is in charge of what apple should be like if it were still apple. The pre/post Jobs discussion isn’t useful. “What would Jobs do?” isn’t a useful discussion. What is useful is, “what will the new committee do?”

I predict the new committee will continue shipping nice enough incremental improvements. The machine will still print money for quite a while. But it will go the way all committees do eventually. People will turnover, long-term will give way to short-term thinking and there will be a painful descent when, eventually, the revenue doesn’t support millions of people creating the artifact.

The amount of specialization under Apple’s roof is incredible and it’s led to to an amazing core product that pays for everything (the iPhone). But it’s also very fragile. All of this is maybe a decade away. Maybe more, maybe less. That’s the trouble with predictions.

Inverting the question, what would I do differently? I would stop the dividends. I would stop giving money to charity. I would stop showing up to Cisco launch events. I would be very fearful and focus on the next thing, because the iPhone is going to die eventually just like the Mac did. And when it happens, it will be quicker and more brutal than the ascent. It will probably still be a nice business, just like the Mac is, but it’s going down eventually.

Rumors fly that the next thing is a car. The question isn’t “Will AppleCar do well?” – it’s “What should apple do next?” – they could copy SpaceX just as well as copying Tesla. Or they could start building houses or boats. I’m sure there’s a VR prototype at Apple along with a drone prototype. They could ship any of these things, and they’d be pretty good products.

But once you’re in that territory of copying or improving there’s limited upside. I’m sure an AppleCar would be marginally (maybe even meaningfully) better than a Tesla and it would sell lots. That isn’t the point. It’s this – where do the new things come from if not from Apple?

Google keeps throwing out cool new things, but they don’t tend to make any money. Microsoft seems much more aware that Office and Windows are going away and the focus shifts to HoloLens, which has a genuine shot at pornography and from there to mass market adoption. Both could be considered variations on the above theme but with different strategies.

No – for all this bearish talk I think the bullish should focus on Amazon.

Amazon’s algorithm appears to be this:

  1. Don’t spend any money
  2. Try things
  3. If success, expand
  4. If failure, kill
  5. GOTO 1.

Fundamentally the big four – Google, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon all have to be trying new things. The only thing we can do in life is try new things and see if they work. Little semi-scientific experiments to make more money.

Some large fraction of those things will fail. I posit that Amazon’s competitors are okay at steps 2-5. None are very good at step 1. The other fundamental difference at Amazon is how organic and bottom up the process is. Anyone comes up with ideas and has the ability to very frugally try them internally and externally. This isn’t exactly the case elsewhere.

Amazon isn’t perfect, neither are the rest of them. But keeping everything else roughly constant (management teams, culture and so on) Amazon is going to win. And it won’t do it by copying Surface or giving phone operating systems away for free. They don’t tend to sit around copying people. They’ll win because they’re like a big commercial arm of the US Marine corps. Everyone is iterating their OODA loops across individual, team and unit scales.

Per dollar, Amazon is able to try more things than anyone else (I posit). That would scare the crap out of me if I were their competitor. And since they want to compete with everyone, everywhere, it should scare everyone. The only people who can try more things, in aggregate, are startups. It’s arguable whether they can do it cheaper (my guess is not). In startups we drop billions of dollars with a ~5% success rate. But there is no feedback, I become a lucky ticket holder then I sell my company and go whale watching or helicopter snowboarding. Amazon keep the feedback, not dissimilarly to Berkshire Hathaway.

Today the valuations look like this ($billions) :

  1. AAPL 655
  2. GOOG 438
  3. MSFT 343
  4. AMZN 244

My prediction is this:

  1. AMZN
  2. {everyone else}

Because AAPL, GOOG and MSFT are all mere subsets of AMZN’s market and they’ll eventually eat them and everything else. We haven’t even talked about Wal-Mart. Amazon will try things cheaper and quicker and be able to ship at a lower price point. They don’t necessarily have to make more money, they can also just outlive everyone. Blue Origin’s motto Gradatim Ferociter! (step by step, ferociously) is just as well applied to Amazon.

John Boyd posited that merely executing your OODA loop faster than your competition made you certain to win. And that’s all I’m relying on here.

Or maybe I’m wrong! Either way, now’s the time to tell you I have money in AMZN.

Platform as a Service

It was not long ago that MacOS and iOS were far and away the best platforms to both develop on and use. Pleasurable might be the word. They had the JustWork(TM) feature, which is the killer app.

Development had its pain. It’s arguable that a degree in particle physics would help you comprehend Objective C but Swift looks nice enough. As others have noted, the general build quality of MacOS and iOS overall has dropped substantially. Maybe we should call it the “fit and finish”. I type this on a Mac that is no longer responding to hot corners or clicking on the dock. Literally, I click on an app in the dock and it doesn’t bring it to the front. I move the cursor to a hot corner to start the screensaver or show all windows, and it does nothing.

I have similar anecdotes for my iPhone. How did we get to the point where application context switching doesn’t work? It’s (almost) literally the most important thing you need to do. It’s the whole point we have Windows, Icons, Mouse and the Pointer, what we used to call WIMP. And it doesn’t work on my mac. My Mac was $3,000 or so when it was new, and I can’t click on applications.

Perhaps a reboot would fix it? What is this, Windows 3.11?

I’ve been using a lot of platforms recently. My Mac, my iPhone. My Surface Pro 3. My WinPhone win Win10 preview on it. A Nexus 5 and a Nexus 7.

What’s striking is how little there is between them. They’re all black rectangles. They all have Office. They all can make phone calls and take pictures. They all have notifications and calendars and twitter. They’re all the same platform with slightly different boot up logos.

The distinguishing feature is now the fit and finish.

Android

Let’s talk Android. Boy is it confusing. What committee designed this thing? Why does the Android Lollipop clock icon look like a very low-contrast pie chart? We must give up, since there is no logical reasoning behind anything I can see on Android. Maybe that’s somehow on purpose. Some kind of lock-in so you get used to swiping one way for media and one way for cards and get confused when that isn’t there any more and keep you locked in to these behaviors.

Maybe Android is iOS-by-committee? It’s hard to find a mental framework to understand it all. The development environment is the same way, maybe there is some causality there.

Which is a shame, since there is so much potential there. When the material design works, it works really well.

Windows

And so Windows. The bastard child of history trying to do everything, all the time, everywhere. Amazingly it’s actually pretty good (Windows 10, that is) both on the phone and the desktop. How the heck did that happen? What happened to Windows 8’s mess? Win10’s design is clean, the thing works, things are where you expect them. It even boots quickly. And it’s cheaper than the other guys. Huh.

But they miss the apps. The apps on WindowsPhone tend to be somewhere from dire to awful. So Microsoft have tried to build an app store covering everything from Xbox to Windows to WindowsPhone – or Windows Mobile, or whatever it’s currently called. Great idea on paper but it has some technical challenges.

Except, when you go investigate and actually build something in Visual Studio it all works pretty well. There’s remarkable cross-platform targeting that doesn’t really exist on the Mac or Android/Chrome. Not just for native apps, but Cordova and everything else you can imagine. There’s this ridiculous multi-decade history of the CLI allowing you to target it with everything under the sun, and then magically run that code on everything from the Xbox to Windows to the phone.

The clever thing is Microsoft have a fairly mature stack to make Android apps work magically on Windows, and the iOS stuff that shipped recently will get there. But think about this – they only need one of them to work. Twitter has a great android app and a great iOS app, they don’t need to port both of them to Windows. One will do.

And Visual Studio really is fun. It’s like… have you tried Open/Libre/Office vs. Office? That’s what it’s like after using Eclipse. Why would you ever go back to Eclipse?

And the only way is up. It’s hard to see the Windows Mobile share go down much more, where do you go after 3%? 2%?

Future Choices

So let us say you’re in the market for a new phone or computer. Is there really some compelling reason to buy iOS over Android? It doesn’t look like it any more. They’re both ok, they both have apps, and Android is cheaper.

Not long ago I helped my father-in-law get a iMac. Today, he regularly has trouble with it. Including, if you can believe this, web-based malware that locks out Safari and asks you to pay money to an 1-800 number you have to call. It somehow pops up a MsgBox and you can’t get rid of it by rebooting, quiting Safari or 100 other ways. It’s remarkably tough to get Safari to quit, kill the network connection, close the tab and restart the browser to get out of this lock-out. It’s like Windows98 with IE.

Win10 is surprisingly compelling and I’d probably recommend that today. It’s cleaner and cheaper and it works.

Platforms as a Service

If you’re trying to accomplish real work on top of any of this mess, today it feels like you may as well pick randomly. Office, email and your calendar is available on everything. They even all look the same. It doesn’t matter if you buy iOS, Android or Windows for any actual work task. They all work with some marginal pros and cons.

I think that makes the future very interesting.

It’s not particularly sustainable for all three to have their own everything. If you go look, Apple, Google and MSFT all have something like 100,000 people give or take. They’re all making development stacks, they’re all mapping the world, they’re all working on search, they’re all building cloud things, they all have spreadsheets. It goes on and on.

It doesn’t feel particularly sustainable or rational. At some point, something will give and the cash cows that pay for all of this will fall over. One of them will not have the cash to sustain it all, then there will be two. Like some medieval city-state after a drought, it’ll become some kind of Sun Microsystems or SGI. How many decades away is that? Hard to predict.

Unless memory fails, Nassim Taleb predicted a while ago that Italy was more robust and sustainable than Syria. Syria had a long period of stability under dictatorship. Italy was a mess of factions and in-fighting. People thought he was nuts, but then Syria fell over.

These 100k people organizations can be understood like that. There’s a deep fragility in everyone building these huge stacks. Apple taking device revenue and building maps, or Google taking search revenue and building laptops. Unless you make the leap to profitability, independent of the start up capital from your cash cow, eventually something will give. Apple and Microsoft have done that multiple, multiple times. Google has not as yet.

It’s also interesting how vertical Google and Apple are, compared with Microsoft. Microsoft has those same vertical stacks as those guys, plus all the horizontal services across Android and iOS. It’s unbelievable how decent Outlook is on iOS. It’s hard to see Google or Apple responding by making their services work great on each others platforms in the same way.

The attack on Android

It’s hard to see Microsoft making a frontal or otherwise attack on iOS. It’s too locked up and they locked out Google as much as they could. On the other hand going after Android isn’t going to be that hard. Plus the reality is a massive amount of cooperation between Apple and MSFT.

By building this big suite of services out on Android it’s going to be very easy for a manufacturer to jump ship to a Microsoft Android. Pretty much all the pieces are there; office, email, calendar, maps. I suspect Windows Mobile is Plan A by expanding Windows in to phones and Plan B is Microsoft Android. Or why not do both? Android support is a great way to go run interference that is hard to respond to. It’s much harder for Google to go run interference on Microsoft’s revenue streams today, but it’ll get easier with build out.

Also interesting to note is that Windows Mobile will probably disappear. Windows itself runs very well on low end hardware. We aren’t far from a phone being just a low-end Windows device. It almost feels like, playing with it, that Windows 10 Mobile is like the days when Windows and NT were separate products. It takes time, but then they’re the same thing.

Outlook

Thus I think the future is very unstable. Note I don’t think instability is a bad thing.

Being forced in to a corner and losing all marketshare in the big emergent space of mobile has forced Microsoft to be extremely innovative. It doesn’t face the same barriers to thinking or entry of the other two. It has nothing particularly to defend in the mobile space and everything to gain. And it has the same money and smart people the other guys do.

The barriers to Apple or Google going horizontal and supporting each other today are going to hurt them. They’ll both keep doing what they’re doing. iOS will gradually get more messy and flaky and Android will continue to commoditize whatever iOS does. Next up, fingerprints, or whatever it is.

In the end the consumer wins.

Try it and see

Whatever you favorite flavor of ice cream is, if you haven’t tried the other two I’d urge you to go do that. Old iPhones, Nexus devices and Lumia devices are all pretty cheap on eBay.

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