September 09, 2010

Windows Phone 7 Released to Manufacturing

A little over a week ago, Windows Phone 7 (WP7) was released to manufacturing. This smartphone OS marks a brave but necessary change for Microsoft in the mobile device market. On smartphones, the Windows Mobile platform (WM) has been steadily losing share to iOS and Android. Microsoft risks being sidelined.

Much has been written about how it is too late to catch up. How MSFT have missed the boat and Android is the winner. They also get beaten up for “abandoning” the WM and Win CE user and developer base with a totally new platform. That is, on the one hand they are told their share is so small it’s gone. And on the other hand they are criticized for giving up that ineffective base. How can it be both?

Well, people forget how wide open the smartphone market is, as almost all devices out there are still just phones. So, it's not impossible for a new player to garner a significant portion of the market going forward without needing to steal today's users from iPhone and Android.

I'm not saying it's easy. That new player has to be well funded (check). They have to be able to pull together a great launch (check-minus), build developer mindshare (check) and have great, sexy hardware (uh-oh). It's that last part that could be the hardest for WP7.

Even Apple has been slightly bruised by a handset issue. And Android is doing great with some hot new handsets like the Galaxy S. Until a really special handset comes out, it could be a drag against growing enough of a user base to avoid being written off--unfairly or not. MSFT is using Xbox Live, holiday time and other angles to boot strap the launch numbers. I'm just not sure the software is enough--no matter how revolutionary.

It's troublesome that everyone--Apple fan or not; techie or not--seemed to know that Apple was releasing a smartphone before the iPhone launched. However, no one I know outside of 'the business' seems to be talking about WP7. Maybe in the Xbox world they are .... Or maybe they have some secret handset up their sleeves. I can only hope!

As for the enterprise market, if WP7 gets airborne among consumers, MSFT will have time to win that crowd. I don't think it works the other way around. Well, clearly it does not. Or everyone would be using Windows Mobile today. And we wouldn't know an iPhone from our iButt!

July 30, 2010

Life on DROID

About two months ago, I switched from a Windows Mobile smartphone to a DROID from Motorola (and from AT&T to Verizon—more on that below).

The best way I can sum up Android is that it makes a nice handheld “iPad-like” device with a mediocre phone app. Oh, the sound quality is fine once you are in a call. That is, when you have a connection (oh yeah, more on that later). But it’s that phone app that bothers me.

On my Windows Mobile phone, the ill fated Samsung Epix (I had less trouble than most people as it got mine after some fixes), it still felt like a phone first and a computer second. From an idle phone, begin pressing the number keys of the keyboard (without needing to hold ALT key) and it would start dialing. If a call came in when it was locked, I could answer with the touch of the screen. Not so with the DROID. It’s a handheld PC first and a phone second.

Want to make a call? There’s an app for that!

First push the power button to wake. Then swipe to unlock. Then run the phone app. Then dial. Whew.

My wife and I both got DROIDs when we could finally, contractually, combine on the same phone plan. She was coming from a BlackBerry. I used to make fun of the BlackBerry—it was a command line compared to GUI. But, guess what, for communicating by phone or by text email, that thing is highly optimized. And it’s designed for one hand use. No wonder busy bankers and the like are stuck on it. It’s pretty foolproof too. I’m talking about the older BB with the track ball, not the keyboard-less ones that suffer from the same “smart” phone problems as Android and the rest. Smart means Finicky, I suppose.

So, as much as I’m annoyed by the DROID phone app—my wife is ready to chuck it out the window!

But wait, there’s more

Okay, it’s not 100% bad. Like I said, as an iPad-like “thingy” that actually fits in your pocket, the Android and DROID are pretty cool. All the neat swiping and gesturing. Nice media apps like New York Times and such that are really cool ways to consume your news and entertainment. (C’mon B&N, let’s get that Android e-reader, please!) For sitting anywhere and reading news or entertainment, it’s a great device. Very good for email and social media too.

For all the other things you can do, the Android is at least as good as an iPhone. Okay I admit it; I’ve only seen other people use the iPhone. But the apps—especially the media readers—look just as good on Android. And the DROID has a decent size screen to view all.

I got the DROID for the hardware keyboard. However, I recommend you not be scared off of no-keyboard Android phones as I was. With the phone held in landscape position, the virtual keyboard has large enough keys to work pretty well. I’ve taken to holding it one hand and typing with the other.

Unfortunately, I had only briefly tried the no-keyboard models like DROID Incredible in portrait mode and found the virtual keys too narrow for my liking. Now I know that next time I can go without the hardware keyboard.

Email? Works for me

I read about a lot of trouble with email, especially Exchange. Settings would disappear and other such tragedies. There are some good tools like Touchdown that are workarounds that do indeed work.

However, by the time I got the DROID it was running Android 2.1, and the Exchange function has been fine. I have my Yahoo! Mail, my personal Exchange account, and my work Exchange account all running in my Combined Inbox. Android has never lost the settings as users originally experienced. I only miss direct access to my Windows Live email. (Android can't get Live Mail? Go figure!)

AT&T: it’s not you; it’s me

What about those map commercials and the “Can you hear me now?” ads from Verizon. Well my experience only confirms my suspicion that Verizon runs the more misleading ads. More on that here.

Particularly, where I live, AT&T works. Sprint works. Verizon … well, Let’s just say, “I can’t hear you now!”

My fault, I suppose. When asked for carrier recommendations, I always tell people find out what works at their home, at their work and at points in between. Forget loyalty or brands or customer service or a few dollars a month. Go for coverage!

Well, I should have listened to myself! I went for the best price on a family plan and saved $120 a year. But that's not worth it if I can’t make calls from home!

DROID quirks

Some other DROID quirks I hope they fixed in the new DROID X:

On DROID, the 4 Android keys (Home, Menu, Back, Search) are touch sensitive buttons that don’t depress (yes, there’s probably some technical term like capacitive resistance buttons). It’s far too easy to accidently close programs as you adjust your grip on the device and move past the soft buttons. You are working away and then, "Hey, where’d my app go?”

The virtual keyboard has, I suppose, a good feature where you can initially land on one key and then move and release over a neighboring key. It accepts the last one touched. That's good a lot of the time. But often, when I intentionally type a combination such as “er”, I only get the “r.” Trust me, “er” is used a lot in English!

The phone is not great at handling the switch from portrait to landscape. For instance, if I start a text edit with on screen keyboard in portrait orientation, and then swing to landscape, it drops out of the virtual keyboard. This is a pain if I rotae the phone when I am editing in mid-paragraph, because it ends up with the cursor at a different place. It is not easy to place the cursor with your thumb or finger. I miss my Windows Mobile stylus for those exacting cursor placements, selections and edits.

Forget cost, remember value

As it was, for purely cost reasons, I decided to try Android and Verizon while I waited for Windows Phone 7. Most people have written Microsoft off in the phone OS market. Personally, I think WP7 will be at least as good as Android and iPhone. And I hope it’s not too late to grab some market share. They will need one hell of a launch campaign.

And yes, I miss AT&T service. I miss being on a call and browsing at the same time. I miss the better coverage and faster data. From my experience, AT&T has the best and fastest 3G with excellent voice and data coverage.

While I’m not totally disappointed, a big part of me wishes I’d simply stayed on Windows Mobile 6.x on AT&T while I waited for Windows Phone 7.


Waiting to Upgrade in California

June 15, 2010

The Marketing Scrum

We’re a few weeks into a test of Agile Marketing. I’m managing and working in the production team of an in-house marketing agency. We do digital and traditional marketing execution, working with in-house “account reps” that have the business units as “clients.”

As the pace of digital campaigns, webinars and trade show activities picked up, we needed a better way to make sure things didn’t fall through the cracks. We wanted to formalize processes without losing agility and quick response times.

Luckily, software developers and project managers have spent a decade or two optimizing processes, methods and documentation for just such a scenario. We’ve been using Scrum like methods for about a month now to manage our workload.

I’ve pared down things from Agile software development. This is partly because some of it doesn’t translate from software development to marketing. And it’s partly because we’re still a small production group—just 4 people plus the occasional freelancer—not a team of 20 developers.

Basically, we’re using 2 week sprints where we lock down as much as we can. One difference with software development is that I have to leave a decent amount of capacity unspecified for “planned unplanned” work. There’s just a steady flow of print requests and other items that can’t be precisely defined two weeks out. Using a sprint for those types of requests would be like trying to pre-assign time to specific help desk issues for two weeks out.

Other than that difference, we use a sprint backlog (or here), estimate our time for each task and subtask and track it every day. I started by trying to have a scrum meeting every day.  But we’re such a small group that we are talking face-to-face most of the day anyway. And the backlog is being updated ‘organically’ as we do and discuss.

I've built a spreadsheet in Google Docs to track our sprints and chart our progress with a burn down chart.

Our analog to the Product Backlog (or here) is the Marketing Backlog. Here again, it's not as strict as in software or product management. We just use the order of items on the list to show priority—no point system. Every two weeks I meet with the account reps and make sure the priority is right. Then our group plans a sprint by pulling from the top until we’re at near capacity.  After that, we take what fits in the remaining time.

No, it’s not really that neat and tidy. And yes, things come up mid-sprint that change priorities. That would be a major violation to a lot of Scrum teams, I know. But unlike a software product, a lot of our campaign activities are independent—they don’t have to all work together to make a functioning release. And even if we swap a task out mid sprint, at least now we really know the impact. Before the Scrum methods, we usually failed to deliver something when an interrupt task came in—simply because we weren’t tracking it very closely.

Overall, I have a much better picture of what we’re working on. And the team likes it for the same reason. That and we have buy-in from the account team on priorities. They are learning to plan ahead!

January 11, 2010

January 06, 2010

Spend Wisely. But Spend!

The first reaction when I say, "Spend Wisely. But Spend." is a sarcastic, "Oh, the marketing guy wants to spend on marketing. Alert the Media!" That’s usually followed by an equally sarcastic, "Well, duh."

It’s one of those "common sense" things—of course we have to spend on marketing, and of course we want to spend wisely.

But—and you marketing folks, especially in young technology companies, are nodding—intellectual agreement doesn’t always translate to action.

From flat out hostility against it to simply thinking it is lower priority than everything else, technology entrepreneurs quite often don’t think they have to do marketing. Marketing lives hand-to-mouth, no budget, trying to get each item approved as it comes up. (Meanwhile, they just hired yet another sales/development/QA/IT/Whatever resource—complete with new laptop, headset, cell phone, travel budget, masseuse, and cappuccino machine—right?)

Very early stage, this view is justified. Your first customers are likely to come from your business connections and through strategic selling. You cannot even handle all the leads marketing would bring in. It will be enough to just support the one or two early adopters you do sell!

Ultimately, though, you cannot grow a business without spending on marketing. Spending Wisely means planning first, allocating a budget, hiring or leasing good talent and then letting marketing execute to the plan. Without the framework of a budget and the freedom to execute, it is hard to create marketing that builds the desired brand and generates compound returns.

For one, your creative thinking is constrained—you cannot plan big, across channels and for the long term. Secondly, you cannot set up a good supply chain without some scale and scope. Going one small project at a time can actually cost more in the end as you lose negotiating power and you often miss opportunities. Agencies and publishers appreciate repeat business as much as employees like knowing they have some runway to take off and airspace to fly in. And you want a consistent team of partners and talent to leverage the learning you all do.

Finally, if all that is not reason enough, know that at least one of your competitors will spend. Big. And then you will be in reaction mode all the time as they set the agenda. This will ensure your desired brand image is never fully realized. Remember, the best technology doesn’t always win. The best marketing—by admittedly circular logic—always does!