AWS does need to get a mobile story together

I am a big fan of AWS but I will call a spade a spade – their mobile services suck but really they just don’t have any.

Good article on the current situation is here :: http://gigaom.com/2014/07/08/cloud-favorite-aws-is-finally-ready-to-join-the-mobile-development-services-party/

We love AWS at Spuul and wouldn’t be here without it. Yes – you can find cheaper services to run virtual machines on – we know that but when it comes to running a global service with servers we can spin up around the globe – I still think AWS has no equals. None.

However doing some simple things on AWS for mobile is well – not simple. We tried to build our push messaging stack around it and we hit too many walls and had our messages capped per day. AWS had no concept of our user base and the ability for us to buy messages in volume. We went to PushWoosh cause it was simple and cheap. Everything else we do we hand roll behind an API that we run on AWS using AWS services. We always try to use a service versus install code on a server so we have less things to support and update. This keeps our admin headcount low. I won’t tell you how low but let’s say it can’t go any lower.

MSFT is doing a good job with mobile services but I have no first hand experience with it but I know they make some things dead simple – like push messaging, among others. AWS is never really dead simple but it works and you know what you are dealing with.

Mobile is the thing and my guess even the next thing is all about – mobile.

AWS needs to up their mobile game.

I am watching.

Any yes – Brazil really did get spanked.

The 3rd one

It’s more a question than a statement. All one has to do is watch WWDC and Google I/O to see that Apple and Google are in a league of their own.

I keep thinking that Windows Phone is the one holding on to 3rd place but it seems like they are barely holding on according to this – http://gigaom.com/2014/06/30/windows-phone-sales-are-falling-in-the-u-s-and-china-according-to-new-survey/. Meaning they are only going to get 3rd place cause no one else is doing better than MSFT. Kind of a sad state.

I still think a healthy ecosystem in mobile phones would be the best thing for all of us product folks but of course I say that knowing the truth of the paradox – I am rooting for a 3rd place but I am not using anything or building anything for the runner up. There in lies the issue – if no one builds for #3 then there won’t be a #3. We want there to be one but we are not really supporting anyone right now apart from the two lead dogs.

This is kind of scary.

I played around with Firefox OS some and well – it’s interesting but has a long ways to go before I would use it or build on it.

We can see BlackBerry is still trying, http://crackberry.com/exclusive-pre-release-review-blackberry-passport, but seriously would you buy one of these phones? I wouldn’t. Someone might but I think BB will be a niche hardware maker with an OS not many developers are going to build for. I guess they may eventually make a great takeover target for some Chinese handset maker wanting to hedge their android bets.

So where does that leave the playing field?

Apple and Google getting it all or will MSFT do something cool – other than add folders?

Another tech article written without the tech…

I always find that when someone makes some sort of sweeping statement they should at least be able to support their statement with enough technical reasons to make a convincing argument. Usually TNW gets it right but on this one the writer failed pretty miserably.

http://thenextweb.com/dd/2014/04/19/rip-flash-html5-will-take-video-web-year/

First off let’s admit that flash is doing its job with video pretty well which is why it hasn’t died on the desktop as quick as everyone claimed it would. For reliable, secure and performant desktop streaming video – flash is still alive and well and won’t die in 2014. It will die only when there is a satisfactory replacement for it. At the moment there is not.

With OSMF framework players and all the plugin work going on – flash is still powering most of the world’s steaming video and is doing a fine job of it. Flash is not perfect and many would love to replace it, including me, but there is not a suitable production replacement at this time.

Is 2014 the year for flash to die. Not likely.

All this aside it usually helps to understand the tech more and to correctly understand what is keeping flash from dying and what might take its place? Also it is important not to lump mobile and desktop into the same bucket and pretend it’s all the same thing – cause it is not.

For starters mobile was never going to use flash but at the same time mobile is not using HTML 5 as a replacement for it either. Most premium mobile video apps are using native code and players – not HTML 5 anyway. I still feel native offers the better user experience and better streaming but people can always argue otherwise.

However lets cut to the chase as to why desktop is still dominated by flash and why mobile is dominated by native video players – it’s for one simple reason and one the author of the article didn’t even talk about which is security. I will delve into this further but for the moment I will use the term security versus DRM cause in my opinion they are not the same thing. Currently HTML 5 has no cross browser standard for implementing secure streams so that whatever is streamed is not easily stolen. Until this is fixed flash won’t die and native code will trump HTML 5.

I think the most promising work is around MPEG-DASH + CENC common encryption scheme. Dash is a new way of doing streaming media – kind of a better form of apple’s HLS and the CENC work is to come up with a cross browser of way of encrypting it. If you talk to folks in the biz – this and the new h265 stuff are getting the most attention but none of them would promise you a 2014 delivery date. Given that, it is ludicrous to purport that flash will die in 2014 since the replacement for it is not ready.

Now that we have covered that flash is not dead yet it is worth spending some time on the whole DRM debate cause I think it is misunderstood at times. DRM to me is usually associated with the notion of buying some content like a cd or a DVD and being prevented by tech from copying it or watching it wherever you want. I think if you have bought something you should be able to copy or watch where you want but you shouldn’t be able to sell it again, stream it for profit or make copies for others who might sell it. So in my opinion if you buy it and you want to put it online for others to pirate it then it is wrong and if tech can help prevent that it should. Problem is that same tech can sometimes prevent the person who bought it from using it the way they want. That is the bad part about DRM but that aside this is different from security.

Security in my opinion is the tech to prevent someone from stealing it who didn’t pay for it. It’s that simple. Meaning if you pay for a streaming service then you should be able to watch it on all the devices that service offers cause you paid to do so. However let’s say you want to make a copy of the movie to store it for later or to give to a friend. If the service does not offer that then in my mind the user doesn’t get that but if the service never purported to offer it then the user has to live with those parameters. Some would say the user should be able to then take the movie to do with it how they please but to me that is the stealing part. Streaming services are not selling movies but selling the ability to watch where the service is offered. Normally this is why subscription services are cheaper per month than buying movies.

Others would argue that anything on a screen can be stolen so why bother trying to protect it but that is an easy one to answer. If you are an independent film maker and you debut something on a streaming service you are hoping that, although it is never 100 percent, that the service is not an easy source for people to steal the content. Otherwise the movie is better off in the theaters versus streaming. Any company who is in the business of streaming doesn’t want to lose this relationship with the content owners so they try to ensure they can offer a safe platform that does not contribute to the overall piracy problem.

So companies in the business of streaming have to take security seriously and in most cases security is not the same as DRM because the goal is to not make it hard on people who pay but to prevent those who don’t want to pay from petty theft. I personally think stealing streams is theft and is no different from stealing a book or a meal. Taking something you don’t want to pay for doesn’t look any different to me for a physical item or a digital item. It’s theft. Pay for it. If you don’t want to pay for it then you can’t have it.

So for the moment flash offers streaming companies a safer place to stream movies than HTML 5 does. Yes it will change but not this year.

Wonder if the new CEO will seriously overhaul Windows?

Before I rant – I am cheering MSFT on to win a lot more than they do :: http://www.nokpis.com/2014/02/06/microsoft/

In order to do that they need to fix the turd that is Windows at some point.

Gruber linked to this, from a MSFT fanboy at – scathing indeed :: http://winsupersite.com/windows-8/what-heck-happening-windows

I don’t own a windoze box. Got rid of the last HP netbook we had laying around cause it ceased to boot anymore.

So I run Parallels and had windoze 7 on it. Then I bought windoze 8. Tried upgrade and couldn’t. Tried a clean install and couldn’t.

Finally discovered I had to upgrade over win 7 but I needed to use the win 8 32 disks cause for some reason my win 7 was 32 bit.

Horribly confusing, very slow process and lots of rebooting.

Windows needs to be redone from the ground up at some point.

Or maybe it is too late?

We shall see what the new dude does.

Microsoft

Microsoft has a new CEO. I know little about him but he seems to curry favor with the troops and judging by what is being written about him I am guessing he looks to be the right guy to turn the place around. Yes – it needs turning around. Why you might ask? Cause tech folks like myself don’t really use anything from Microsoft anymore. I practically cut my computing teeth on everything Microsoft but now I use mostly Apple products, iOS (and the many made for iOS apps), and lots of other services in the cloud of which none of them are made by Microsoft.

However the world needs competition. A google and apple world is not great for any of us.

BB is dead – let’s not even pretend to think otherwise.

I would love to see bing compete.

I would love to see windows phone compete.

I would love, also very surprised, to see windows wow me with stuff that might tease me away from OSX.

I would love to see azure, or whatever name you call Microsoft cloud services, compete head on with AWS.

I would love to see xbox own the living room, I don’t give a SHIT about gaming, and challenge the notions of what a home entertainment (console) device could do when everything is connected up.

Lately I have been somewhat surprised at working with Microsoft around some Spuul stuff. They have engineered some good tech and offer good support but they still seem to focus everything around windows versus windows phone. Mobile and cloud is where it is at. Bottom line – they need to sort that out quick.

Office – yes I still use it unfortunately but I am miffed they don’t properly support it across all of my iOS devices well. I am guessing the new guy will change that.

So Microsoft is back in the spotlight and people like me are quietly cheering them on. Maybe even less quietly now that they have a CEO that isn’t going to mock or berate people like me.

The clock is ticking but I expect to see the new Microsoft slowly appear this year.

Thinking about TV’s

The TV ecosystem really is a mess. What I am talking about is the way consumers can easily consume OTT content on their TV set.

I myself use Apple TV and I mostly love it. I can throw anything from my iOS device onto it, I can buy things from iTunes, and I can use some of the apps on it to watch things but I must say I don’t use it that way much. I have played with Google Chromecast and it works well. If only Google would open it up like Apple TV to developers to cast to it. It is funny to me that in this regard Apple is currently more OPEN than Google.

I was reading Benedict’s latest Mobile newsletter for this nugget:

YouTube ‘Pair’ – turn the YouTube app on your smart TV into a mirror to whatever you do on your smartphone. This approach seems to me to make the most sense – use the sophisticated touch screen in your hand to control what appears on the TV and make the TV itself ‘dumb glass’ – whether it’s via Airplay, Chromecast, YouTube or something else, either embedded or via a cheap HDMI widget.

What I love is the dumb glass comment. This is really what we all want. The ability to easily throw on to the glass whatever we are doing on our mobile phone, computer, tablet, or device connected to the TV. What we don’t want is to click a button, with this shitty remote, to bring up a plethora of things we don’t want, and an app store that is hard to search saddled with the performance of a 1990’s computer. Looking at you all the Smart TV platforms in the world.

Sure – maybe someone wants this but I think it is mostly just the TV manufacturers wishing for an app store economy like what Apple and Google have but they can keep dreaming because they will never have it. And FYI – the economics they demand from the developers are worse usually than what Apple and Google offer. So the pitch is not very good. For example – asking for a cut of payments when they don’t even offer the payment engine.

So where do we go from here? I expect the TV guys to keep pushing since they seem to claiming successes like this: http://www.broadbandtvnews.com/2014/01/06/samsung-declares-a-million-smart-uk-users/#more-96531

However I am guessing we will see more of Apple TV and Google chromecast, Roku and everything else trying to cut out the TV for something easier to use. Of course Roku is trying to land inside the TV but the end result is the same. Problem with all this stuff is there is no real cross platform standard to adhere to. Google does it one way, Apple another, Samsung another and of course Roku uses their own stack through and through. I won’t even get into what each TV stack has – every set is like a totally different platform. HTML 5 is the tool but requires a lot of cross platform troubleshooting.

Users want to walk up to their screen and just watch shit. Purpose built boxes help make this easier and Google with Android TV is making this a very possible reality. Apple needs to open up Apple TV to apps and speed up their position in the home cause Google is moving faster than Apple right now when it comes to the home. Looks no further than the Nest acquisition as an example of that. My guts says the Apple users will have an Apple home and the Google users will have a Google home. Of course Microsoft could disrupt this with X Box but it is not really open enough in my opinion.

Users want to stream on their TV – right now this is a mess.

Let’s see what happens next.

The impossible user contract!

I am sure this subject is like opening a can of flaming hot worms – there really is no one answer to it.

I stumbled across this today:
http://steveblank.com/2013/11/21/when-product-features-disappear-amazon-apple-and-tesla-and-troubled-future-of-21st-century-consumers/

The downside is when companies unilaterally remove features from their products without asking their customers permission and/or remove consumers’ ability to use the previous versions. Products can just as easily be downgraded as upgraded.

Steve makes some fair points but as a PM myself I grapple with this concept all the time. Do we have some contract with the users that we must keep everything we have ever put in the product alive? Steve almost alludes to that but I know he is just trying to make the point – especially as compared to what has happened lately with products like the Apple iWork suite.

Huge backlash over the new completely rewritten stack losing some key features but with Apple slowly pouring them back in on a new code base. The premise is that Apple rewrote the iWork suite to make it function across iOS, web and OSX. Now that the rewrite happened they are adding some, but not all, of the features back in. Seems logical but as a user you might still hate it since you still lose the feature and running old version is hard to do these days.

Latest on the iWork shuffle:
http://www.macrumors.com/2013/11/21/iwork-for-for-ios-and-mac-updated-keynote-gains-with-new-transitions/

We experienced some of this at Spuul as we moved over to our new API stack, brought to you by the code magicians at Spuul, since we pretty much rewrote everything from the ground up to accommodate more clients and features. This also meant looking at our current feature usage and deciding what features might stay and which ones might hit the bit bucket. Did I ask users about this? No. Mostly cause the data largely answered the questions for us – we could see what was being used and what wasn’t. We could also look at our help queries and the customers emails that I save. All of these made up a nice view that for the most part gave us a clear indication of what to do. Then we added in some ideas of our own and logical guesses to decide what to throw out and what to save.

Some of the goals were the same as Apple really. Build from a new more agile base, simplify, and then work our way back up. We are just not as big so the impact isn’t the same. With Apple – they are so big that practically anything they do will affect someone in some way. I don’t know if Apple handled it right- most of the cuts haven’t affected me but I assume they affected someone. Could Apple have polled everyone? Maybe but the poll would have created a funnel for people to complain and then even more press about it. I am not sure anyone wins at this. Expectations are just so high that everyone expects to be pleased in their own way setting up an impossible user contract.

Steve Blank uses other examples like Tesla and Google to prove his point. The Tesla one is the most interesting cause it is a software update that changes the car – something very tangible. I think Tesla should have been upfront about it and stated that for the safety of the occupants in their vehicles they felt this is the best way to handle it until they come up with more data or options. Just doing it without telling folks seems sly – in a bad way even if the goal is for good.

Steve closes out with user contract idea of some sorts:

A 21st Century Bill of Consumer Product Rights

For books/texts/video/music:

  • No changes to content paid for (whether on a user’s device or accessed in the cloud)

  • For software/hardware:

  • Notify users if an update downgrades or removes a feature
  • Give users the option of not installing an update
  • Provide users an ability to rollback (go back to a previous release) of the software
  • This is interesting but in the world of App Stores this is tough to manage with all the auto-updating and no ability to roll back. So for any of this to happen the folks like Apple, Google and MSFT would have to allow the developers to manage stuff like this. Today it is not really clear how one would do that.

    Great topic to think about but a tough one to really have a definitive answer for.