Universal Apps – a perspective

During Build Microsoft clearly demonstrated that they are dedicated to bring cross platform and cross device development to the Windows 10 platform. The most applauds came from the IOS and Android ports and the Windows 10 “universal” app platform was well received by the community. With this investment, Microsoft takes what the likes of Xamarin and PhoneGap have been doing, incorporate it as a native part of Windows and makes a leap forward.

But does this mean that we now have solved the riddle of cross platform and device development? That we now, mostly, will have one code base to manage and develop?

It depends on what you think the challenge is. As I see it the challenge is not the lack of frameworks or technical possibilities. It’s politics, platform differences and application purposes.

The politics
Even in the logical world of IT, not everything is a 1 or a 0, not everything is logical. You can have the best intention in the world. The best technology, and yet no one will use your stuff. In the world of apps and os platforms, this truth is cast in stone. In the back waters of Xamarin, PhoneGap and Sencha there have still not been a significant shift to truly universal apps. Some apps are just available for certain platforms or devices. Not on all of them. This is the politics of the shop that made them (or tech-religious beliefs in some cases), people are people and are not prone to change.

Platform differences
The differences in platform and device capabilities means that any app that wants to be truly universal needs to be created with the least common denominator as a basis. A fact that the java community have struggled with the last decade or two. To really shine on a certain platform, there will have to be differences in the app. An example of this is the Windows 10 “continuum”. An awesome feature not available on other platforms. So while a core can be shared, the app can’t truly be universal if it also wants to be truly awesome.

Application purpose
The last hurdle for truly universal apps is the purpose for it coming to life. While you can argue that doing universal apps for IOS, Android and Windows Phone have great potential, it does not mean that I use the apps in the same way, or even the same apps, on my desktop, laptop or XBOX. The purpose of the device is different and thus the purpose of the apps I use on them are different. With my laptop, desktop and XBOX, most of what I do is seated (well except a Kinect game or two). With my phone or tablet, most of what I do is mobile. It matters for my choice of device for a certain activity.

In addition to that, the form factor is different. 3,7,12, 50 – in this case every inch matters. A great experience on 3” will not automatically be a great experience on 50”.

So do I not believe in frameworks like Xamarin, “Project Astoria” or Windows “universal” apps?

On the contrary; I absolutely do.

These technologies bring a lot of value to the development community; for the cases where cross platform and cross device development is feasible and desirable.

I am however very cautious in declaring that this is always, or even most commonly, the case.

Three things to watch and one to ignore during 2015

Big Data, IoT, Digital, Wearables, Drones. 2014 had a lot of really cool tech emerging and evolving. I have found myself trying out a lot more new stuff this year then previous years. While being cool though, most of it is really hype. Very little of it has been tangible or shown value beyond it’s hype-factor.

2015 will be the year of de-hyping some of the recent hypes. It will also bring a shift in focus on details in the hypes when we gain more insights in what the hype’s actually are and where the value lies. Overall, 2015 will be the year of showing value and making things real.

Digital will show it’s true face

Everybody are prefixing everything with “Digital” these days. Much like social in the latest hype and dotcom before that; Digital has become synonym to “current IT evolvement”.

At Avanade we are as guilty as the next guy. We talk about Digital Customer (which is the always on consumer), Digital Workplace (which is the always on employee) and Digital Innovation (which is innovation to transform any organization to a digital business).

During 2015 the conversation will be about figuring out what digital actually is and what it isn’t. To put it in the words of Gartner: 2015 will push “Digital” to “Trough of Disillusionment”

Less Big Data more Insights

In the data and analytics community, Big has been the word on everybody’s tongue. Much like Digital it has been everywhere where data has been mentioned, and much like Digital nobody really has a clear distinction of what Big really means. During 2015 this won’t matter. This is the year we’ll talk more about how to gain insights in current and future events, no matter the size of the data.

With Microsoft, among others, commoditizing machine learning and event processing (“event stream reporting”), the tools to gain insights in small, big and complex data is available for any organization.

2015 will be the year we’ll see others following NetFlix’s footsteps to utilize data as a the key driver for future business development.

Internet of Things will be less things and internet

Internet of Things, Connected Everything, Internet of Everything – No matter what you call it, the discussions around IoT has primarily been around one, maybe two, of the three “C’s” in what makes up IoT: Connect, Compute, Communicate.

We’ve seen and heard a lot about sensors and machine to machine communication. Kickstarter have numerous projects like the Thingsee One that Connect and Communicate. There are less communications on the actual intelligence, the compute, of IoT. Making things communicate over the internet is not a new paradigm shift, neither are sensors that can connect to it’s surroundings.

The shift is in the complete CCC and the technology that makes all three cheap and available. During 2015, this will be the theme; how do we actually makes sense of what the things are saying and how do we realize value from that.

Wearing Wearable’s
Microsoft Band, Samsung and Apple watches, Google glass, intelligent clothing – the list of wearable’s launched in 2014 can be made long. But yet we see very little traction outside of the geeky “must have” feelings. We are still waiting for the breakthrough of usability and value add. The Apple watch created a lot of ooooh and aaaaah among the already Apple saved, but I have yet to see someone actually wear it or even find an useful application. I believe wearable’s will leave us waiting passed next new years as well. They are cool – but not particular useful at this point.

2015 – year of value

So, 2015 will be the year where we see more focus on value creation on the current hypes. In the words of Gartner; we’ll move a lot of hypes to Trough of Disillusionment and even some to slope of enlightenment. If you work with Digital, Big data or IoT this is good news; this will move these things from the whiteboard to actual projects creating not only cool appliances but actual value paying your bills.

Digital Innovation and the Bear Experience

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Everyone is talking about innovation and digital. The words are getting washed up completely and it’s fair to ask if this is a hype that will pass. I’d argue that it won’t. I’d argue that this is the new norm and it will be commoditized just like having a “home page” or an “app” have.

The driver behind this is our expectation of experiences. We do not want to exchange money for things anymore, we expect that for what we pay, companies should give us an experience.

Build a Bear

Build a bear is a prime example where a simple product becomes an experience. They have turned the cuddly bear from a toy you buy and play with to a toy and a service.

As a customer you start by going to their store and build your bear. You go through the experience of selecting body, head and accessories. You pay more for fancy stuff of course.

Image from careers.buildabear.com

What is unique is that the bear then get’s a virtual persona where you can play with your bear online, send it to the north pole and you will receive post cards from it’s trip.

Build a bear has been innovative around the cuddly bear. They’ve turned a toy product into a service they can charge a premium for.

Moving from products and services to experiences.

We expect experiences with what we buy. No matter if it is a product or a service. This can range from your café experience to buying a car.

A business that wants to stay relevant and not get into a price war needs to start building these experiences for their customers. They need to shift from product innovation to service innovation.

Build a bear does this beautifully. They are not throwing themselves into a price war where the only increase in margin can come from lowering their cost of manufacturing. They create experiences that are unique. Experiences they can charge a premium for. By adding more services to the experience they make it hard for a competitor to copy their service chain without a huge investment up front.

At Avanade we see this shift in most of our consumer goods clients. They are all trying to figure out how add to the experience and turn their products into services. In our services clients we see a push to chaining services together to make their unique experience hard to copy. Banks are investing heavily in this now. Moving deeper into your household economy with apps and online services.

This is only logical. We as consumers, or buyers, are lazy. We want our experiences to be easy. If my travel agency takes care of everything for me, I’ll pay for that service. If my coffee machine maker calls me when I need to cleanse my machine, I’ll pay a premium for the machine. If my phone gives me all the services I need. I’ll never switch.

Same old, same old?

We have of course always loved it when the customer service is great. We gladly tip our waiter if we had good service. In that sense, turning products into services and chaining them together is nothing new. What is new is that companies that aren’t pure service companies are investing into this. They are switching from gaining value in the exchange of goods to gaining value in creating experiences.

There is an opportunity for you here.

One of the most important enablers of this is technology. As developers, architects and technology leaders we play a huge role in creating these services. Build a bear wouldn’t be successful without the technology component, nor would the banks.

The shift from product dominance to service dominance is a huge opportunity for us as technologists to truly disrupt and create unique values. Most businesses do not understand technology as well as you and have a hard time to turn technical advancements into innovation for their market.

There is a huge amount of cool work to be done. Go fetch.

Read more:
Service Dominant Logic (wikipedia)
Service Innovation – A Service – Dominant Logic Perspective (research paper)
Competing in a service economy (eBook)
From Software as product to Software as a Service (blog post)

Microsoft buying Skype – The vision

So Microsoft bought Skype. Interesting. Looking at the tech that Microsoft is now owning in this space, Live Messenger, Lync and Skype you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see where this can go.

Let’s put up a couple of stand alone facts.

  • Microsoft is addressing IP-Telephones and video conferencing using Lync for the business.
  • Skype is addressing IP-Telephones and video conferencing for the consumer space.
  • Lync could be delivered in the cloud (parts of it is already is in Office 365).
  • Skype is delivered using the cloud.
  • Microsoft announced Skype clients to your Windows Phone 7
  • Microsoft announced Skype clients to Microsoft XBox.

Now do you see what I see?

Bring up your phone, call your friend. He/She will be able to answer where ever he/she is. Sitting at the computer with a skype-lync client, the mobile phone or from the couch in front of the Kinect. Some of these options will be with video, some wont.

All of this options will run through the Microsoft IP-telephony network. Some of this will be paid for by the consumer, some won’t. All in all, Microsoft is becoming a carrier for chat, voice and video.

I think this is cool, thinking about the integration possibilities. On-premises Lync server with all the apps that can hook in, and the ability to call other networks.

What do you think?

In the face of frustration.

I love to write code. I’ve written code in one form or another for the past 25 years and I’ll probably still write code for the upcoming 25. I love the pure power of creation and freedom to let creativity flow that code gives me. But like in any love story there is times when it just frustrates the hell out of me.

I have a confession. I’m not proud of this, I know it’s morally wrong and I would never do this in any other setting; I’ve taken on a mistress.

My mistress is business value. Not that code can’t be business value, but sometimes other options can more quickly satisfy business values and in the face of frustration I’ve started to indulge in those options.

In the past I’ve easily accepted blame for throwing code at most problems and tried to deliver features at a rapid agile pace. Often and early. Sometimes code is just not as rapid as I want.

Now if just the platforms I choose to install to meet business needs quickly wasn’t so frustrating to code for…

Standard products – Can’t live without them, can’t live with them.