Microsoft’s Path Dependent Strategy

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, interviewed by Mary Jo Foley:

Universal Windows apps are going to be written because you want to have those apps used on the desktop. The reason why anybody would want to write universal apps is not because of our three percent share in phones. It’s because a billion consumers are going to have a Start Menu, which is going to have your app. You start the journey there and take them to multiple places. Their app can go to the phone. They can go to HoloLens. They can go to Xbox. You talk to somebody like Airbnb. It might be more attractive, given our three percent share on phone, for them to actually build something for the desktop and for the Xbox.

And by the way, when we hook them on that, we have a phone app. This strategy is path dependent, which is a term I use that means where you start is not where you end up. And therein lies a lot of the nuance. The fundamental truth for developers is they will build if there are users. And in our case the truth is we have users on desktop.

Universal Windows apps is an ambitious vision. I am not convinced universal Windows apps will be competitive against Android and iOS apps. Android and iOS apps are coded and compiled to run efficiently on specific hardware and on specific operating systems. That’s why Android and iOS apps are almost always faster, and therefore offer a better user experience, than their ‘equivalent’ web apps. On iOS Apple is trying to further differentiate how we interact with apps on iPhone 6 and smaller iPhones, iPhone 6 Plus, and iPads. The differentiation makes it more difficult for iOS developers, but it also gives them an opportunity to fine tune the experience. Can universal Windows apps be as fine tuned? It would be a great achievement, but I have my doubts.

In general Microsoft’s approach will be always this dual-use focus, or this multi-focus. What we can uniquely do is bridge consumer to enterprise. That’s in our DNA.

Multi-focus? Sounds paradoxical. Perhaps Nadella is trying to convey the idea of multi-level strategy?: time (short-term, mid-term, long-term), market (broad & horizontal, verticals), devices. Regardless of his semantic inaccuracies I think Nadella’s focus is singular: Windows. Azure, Office, etc. all end up strengthening Windows. Windows can be thought of as Microsoft’s neural network. Everything else is built on top of it and adds skeletal structure or muscular strength.

Obese News Sites

Frederic Filloux and Jean-Louis Gassee, Monday Note:

When I click on a New York Times article page, it takes about 4 minutes to download 2 megabytes of data through… 192 requests, some to Times’ hosts, most to a flurry of others servers hosting scores of scripts. Granted: the most useful part — 1700 words / 10,300 characters article + pictures — will load in less that five seconds.

But when I go to Wikipedia, a 1900 words story will load in 983 milliseconds, requiring only 168 kilobytes of data through 28 requests.

News websites need to generate revenue from their online properties so they display ads. Most ads suck: they are irrelevant, they are visually unappealing, and they take a while to load. (I too used to have those ads in the earlier days of DISPLAYBLOG; I apologize for making you wait and cluttering your reading experience.) That’s why I use AdBlock and recommend it to all of my friends. Getting rid of ads cleans up the website, makes it load quicker, and lets me get to the content I want to read with less delay.

Requests by a site like the Washington Post are impossible to measure since the site never stops downloading, endlessly calling data for auto-play videos; these megabytes are often rendered by Flash Player, well-known for CPU overheating (you can hear your laptop’s fans make a drone-like noise).

Using Google’s Chrome browser on a 64-bit Windows 7 laptop, I set the device to Samsung Galaxy S4 and network to GPRS (50 kbps) in Developer Tools. The Washington Post took 2.2 minutes to finish loading 731 KB (KiloBytes). (Read “Developing For A Slow Internet” to understand why I used those settings.) 2.2 minutes. We shouldn’t have to wait that long to read the news. Note: In addition to AdBlock, I use the Disconnect extension on my Chrome browser. Disconnect stops background tracking of your online activities. I’m guessing that’s probably why The Washington Post eventually finished loading. Just in case you were wondering, the Monday Note article I referenced for this article loaded in 1.1 minutes, transferring 332 KB. In my opinion, that is better than the Washington Post, but only by a little bit.

Speed isn’t everything, but when all you want is to get to the content, all the ads and background trackers that make you wait can get annoying, really fast.

So what’s the solution for news sites? Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Custom: Amazon looks at my purchase history and recommends other products I may be interested in. Amazon is good at this. A news site can look at my reading history and recommend other articles I may be interested in. A news site could be just as good as Amazon. Imagine the entire front page of the New York Times, personalized.
  • Fast: No ads. No tracking, except for what I read so I can receive relevant recommendations. No photos either, unless they add significantly to the article. For instance, a photo of a bunch of politicians adds little toward the news of a nuclear deal with Iran. The new Acura NSX climbs Pikes Peak? Beautiful, professionally taken photos (and video) please! A clean, fast, and pleasant user experience is a must.
  • Data: News is not objective. Data isn’t either; it depends on what you collect and how you interpret data. But data cuts some subjectivity away and takes you a little closer to what is true. Add more data.

I’d pay for a ‘newspaper’ like this.

SHOWTIME, Cable Optional

Chance Miller:

In addition to coming to Apple TV, a new Showtime app that does not require a cable login is also hitting the iOS App Store. The app is not live yet, although it should rollout soon. The same $11/mo charge applies to it, as well. HBO’s standalone service costs $14.99, for comparison’s sake.

FYI, for Hulu subscribers SHOWTIME can be added for an additional US$8.99. Content aggregation and streaming services like Hulu seem poised to be the next generation of ‘cable’.

Apple Music Review By Joanna Stern

Joanna Stern, The Wall Street Journal:

As it stands right now, it’s hard to give Apple Music my $10 a month.

I love how well it integrates with my own personal music collection, and recommends great music throughout the day, but there are too many bugs and frustrations to battle. And while it will work on my home Sonos speaker system, it doesn’t yet. For now, my $10 feels better spent with Spotify.

Half baked. Apple seems to be taking a page out of Google’s operations manual: get something out quickly, and don’t worry about bugs, the users (beta testers) will find them for you.

Microsoft Scales Back Windows Phone

Paul Thurrott:

The company that makes over 96 percent of all Windows Phone handsets in use just wrote off $7.6 billion related to its Windows Phone assets, and has announced plans to dramatically scale back its mobile operations. And, yes, Windows Phone has fallen to just 3 percent market share worldwide too. Things aren’t going well.

“The company” is Microsoft.

But could that mean Nadella wants to pair down mobile operations so Microsoft focuses on building just one Lumia Windows Phone? If so, that would be good.

Have Microsoft designers and engineers focus on making one Lumia mobile device and do what Toyota does: Identify your market segment. Establish the retail price. And work backwards. Microsoft could build the Hyundai Sonata of smartphones: reliable, good looking, and with everything you need without the fluff.

Let’s hope this is what Nadella has in mind for Windows Phone.

Developing For A Slow Internet

via John Gruber. Gabor Lenard was stuck at 32kbps. He learned some things:

  • Test at Snail’s Pace: Use Chrome’s developer tools and test your website on the GPRS (50kbps) network speed setting.
  • Custom Fonts: Use sparingly.
  • Design Offline Capabilities: “Cache content. Queue up outgoing data and actions without blocking the user. Handle conflicts.”

Chrome’s developer tools are unparalleled: The ability to test your web-dependent app on different devices is both a time and money saver. I’m currently testing this website at GPRS speeds, and it seems to be loading quickly. One comment about custom fonts: In my opinion, based on the criteria of simplicity and speed, three is max. Two is better. One is best.

According to Akamai Technologies (source: Wikipedia) South Korea enjoyed the fastest download data rate of 25.3mbps in 2014, followed by Hong Kong (16.3), and Japan (15.0). The U.S. was #12 with a rate of 11.5mbps. The last (#55) on the list was 1.1mbps. As you can see broadband speeds from #1 to #55 decline rapidly. There are 196 countries in the world today, which probably means most of the other 141 countries experience extremely slow (and likely unreliable) Internet connectivity.

As a student of user experience design, Lenard’s lessons are invaluable in developing web-dependent apps that work no matter the speed.

Blue Light, Sleep, and Performance

I’ll attempt to explain the relationship between blue light and sleep, specifically how blue light from your smartphone, tablet, laptop, monitor, and TV can make it difficult for you to sleep at night. We all know sleep is important, but it’s a lot more important than we think.

Want to be at peak performance when you’re studying? Working? You need sleep. And not any kind of sleep will do: you need both good quality and decent quantity. Working backwards: to be at your best you need good sleep, and to sleep well you need to limit yourself from all those gadgets I mentioned above that emit blue light at night.

This will be quite technical at first, but only at first, so bear with me. I’m paraphrasing from Wikipedia. Melanopsin is a photo-sensitive pigment, found among ganglion cells in our retina. Melanopsin is sensitive to short-wavelength visible light and reach peak light absorption at 488 nanometers (nm), which is within the blue light spectrum of 450-495 nm.

Melanopsin has a direct communication link to a particular area of the brain called suprachiasmatic nucleus or SCN. The SCN can be thought of as our biological clock, and controls our circadian rhythm. This makes sense: our eyes tell the brain when it’s dark and our brain tells the body to sleep. If you spend a lot of time looking at displays at night — most displays use blue LED as the light source — the chance of disrupting your normal biological circadian rhythm is high. Here’s a simpler way to put it: if you stare at displays at night there’s a good chance you’ll not be sleeping well. But sleeping well is important for your health as well as for your performance (no, not that kind of performance, though you may see improvements there too).

Sleep Deficit: The Performance Killer” is an old Harvard Business Review article from 2006. The title is crystal clear: If you don’t sleep well your performance at work will suffer.

According to WebMD this is how sleeping poorly on a regular basis affects your brain: reduced attention and concentration, reduced reaction time, reduced decision-making and memory capabilities. Exactly the things you don’t want to happen when you’re trying to achieve excellence.

When the sun goes down, put down your smartphone, put the computer to sleep, and instead of watching that movie or TV show, turn off your energy-efficient LED lights, and get ready to go to sleep. Your body and your brain will thank you for it. And when you wake up you’ll be more ready to tackle your day.