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Love Newham?

17 Mar

Why would you build an app like this:


When your mobile website looks like this:


Apps are all well and good, but you need to build different versions for different phones – iOS, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry and so on. A properly designed mobile website will work on all phones, plus tablets (the Love Newham app is only designed for phones), and doesn’t require citizens to go through the extra steps of visiting an app store, signing in (assuming you already have an account – if you don’t setting one up is another step), downloading and installing. They just work.

And they provide access to the full range of online council services.

But if people really want a dedicated app for reporting problems, why not simply point them to MySociety’s FixMyStreet app? Point 2 of the Government Digital Service’s design principles says it best: do less. If someone else is doing it — link to it.

I don’t know who’s advising Newham council on digital strategy, but if it was me I’d put developing a mobile version of the website a long, long way ahead of building an app.

Not so smart on a phone

22 Jul

What Newham’s website looks like on my iPhone

According to the Office for National Statistics:

  • Access to the Internet using a mobile phone more than doubled between 2010 and 2012, from 24% to 51%.
  • In 2012, 32% of adults accessed the Internet using a mobile phone every day. [my emphasis added]

There really is no excuse for not having a proper mobile version of your website.

And yes Newham council, I am looking at you.

Scratching the Surface

6 Jul


Last week Microsoft summoned journalists to Hollywood for a major product announcement. What they unveiled was Surface, a new tablet computer that will run Windows 8.

Microsoft is going to control both the hardware and software platforms for this device. It will be manufactured and marketed as a Microsoft product and compete directly for sales with companies that are otherwise partners in the PC business.

Although Microsoft is no stranger to this approach in the games market – its Xbox console is among the market leaders – this is a major change of strategy in the mainstream PC market, where previously the company has licensed its software to a range of 3rd party vendors and left them free to design, build and sell the hardware it runs on. 

This strategy led to mega-profits, as the marginal cost of each new copy of Windows and Office sold was close to zero. Microsoft dominated the technology sector and was for a time the world’s most valuable company. So why change a winning formula? And why risk antagonising a whole raft of your most valuable partners?

A hint lies in the identity of the company that is now wears Microsoft’s old crown and is rated the world’s most valuable business: Apple.

Apple now exceeds Microsoft (and incidentally Google) in operating margin percentage, despite the vast majority of their revenues coming from hardware sales. Apple’s thing has always been controlling the whole customer experience through tightly integrated hardware and software. Its model is cheap (or free) software running on moderately priced hardware; Microsoft’s has always been expensive software running on cheap hardware.

Mobile industry analyst Horace Dediu estimates that Microsoft makes a net operating profit of $78 per PC sold, assuming that PC has both Windows and Office installed (and most do). Apple, by contrast, makes $195 of operating profit per iPad sold.

Sure, Microsoft has bigger volumes – there were 336 million Windows PCs sold last year – but that will change. The iPad has created a new market that is growing rapidly, which is disrupting the PC market and in which there is almost no competition. It is a market in which Microsoft’s traditional model is doomed to failure. It simply cannot maintain its current per-device profits selling Windows and Office to 3rd party vendors when Android is free and Office-like software is available at a fraction of the cost.

Surface offers the Redmond giant a way out. If it can sell the devices at the same prices Apple sells its iPads for it can maintain its profits (at least on a per device basis).

The problem will be making and selling enough of them. And as we still don’t know – more than a week after the launch event – when Surface tablets will be available or how much they will cost, it is hard to know if they will succeed. While the PC market is not going to die anytime soon Microsoft needs a new strategy – for now, Surface looks like its big bet.


Word Up – Office for iPad?

6 Jan

This is something I wrote for my company’s blog, which was published yesterday:

In the past weeks, Microsoft has released a slew of iOS apps, including SkyDrive (with 25 gB of free online storage), OneNote for iPad, Halo Waypoint, and My Xbox LIVE, Lync 2010 for iPhone and Lync 2010 for iPad, in addition to previous releases like Bing, Photosynth, and OneNote for iPhone.

And there are strong rumours that Office for iPad is in the works. With Windows 8 tablets like to appear at some point in 2012 and Windows Phone 7 already in the market, the big question is why would Microsoft bolster its rival’s business by offering products which may keep them away from its own devices? At first glance, it looks like madness.

But Microsoft is a software company first and foremost (notwithstanding their excellent range of PC mice & keyboards, and the XBox business). 90% of their revenues comes from software, so it makes sense to put its software on as many platforms as possible. Right?

Well, kind of. Most of those apps are free (OneNote allows 500 free notes, then it costs £2.99), so there’s no revenue attached. But there’s huge value in user data. By putting apps on to the only tablet with any significant market scale and tying them back to online services they get to see exactly how users behave. It’s like a giant user testing laboratory and Microsoft engineers will use that information to figure out the best implementation of their apps on their own tablet version. Putting XBox LIVE on iOS extends the platform onto the world’s most popular handheld gaming device.

But those arguments don’t hold true for Office. The two cornerstones of Microsoft’s business are the revenues it earns from its Office and Windows franchises. Nothing, but nothing, is allowed to compromise that. Ever.

Although there is a huge and flourishing market for premium (i.e paid-for) apps on iOS, price expectations are set pretty low. Even for iPad there are few apps priced over £9.99. Apple’s own iWorks app (Pages, Keynote and Numbers) cost £6.99 each. Even with their larger feature sets it’s hard to see how Microsoft could charge anywhere close to the current lowest price for Office on Windows or Mac (the Home & Student edition is £72.99 on Amazon; the business edition is £100 more expensive but includes Outlook). 

So Microsoft has to make a judgement call – will Office for iPad sales be additive to desktop sales, or cannibalise them? And would a lower price on iPad exert significant downward pressure on Office prices for PC, even if the tablet versions are functionally limited? 

My best guess is that there may well be more iOS apps from Microsoft through 2012, but we won’t be seeing Office for iPad anytime soon. The risk to core revenues is simply too great. Those looking to move their entire working lives to iPad will have to wait a little longer, or explore the non-Microsoft options.

Amazon Opens Fire in Tablet War

3 Oct

A new post by me on my employer’s blog about the Amazon Kindle Fire and its potential impact on the tablet market.



Keep Taking the Tablets

18 Aug

My look at Apple’s influence on the tablet market, on the company blog:

Once again, enjoy!

BBM, Social Media and the riots

9 Aug

My colleague Jonathan Akwue posted a great article yesterday about “the unlikely social network fuelling the riots” – not, as the Mail and others had so predictably claimed, Twitter and Facebook but BlackBerry Messaging.

It got wide pick-up across the media and was quoted in the Guardian and the New York Times, among others.

If you haven’t already done so, I suggest you read it: