View From Above

December 22, 2011  11:43 AM

RIM and Nokia Face Major Challenges in 2012

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller
As we approach the close of 2011, two declining mobile companies are probably glad to see the year end, but as the calendar turns to a new year, will anything be different for Nokia and RIM? They better hope so.

It’s clearly been a dismal year for both companies as they saw their market shares erode badly and their stock values plummet.

For Nokia new CEO Stephen Elop came on board, announced the end of Symbian and a new deal with Microsoft to create a new generation of phones running the Windows Phone OS.  Sounded great except it would be almost a year before those Windows phones hit the market and all Elop and company could do was talk, taking a shot at chief rivals Google and Apple whenever he had the stage, such as the World Mobile Congress in June, and wait for those phones to arrive.

Nokia finally revealed the first phones last Fall, the Lumia 710 and 800 phones While they got mostly decent reviews, recent numbers suggest sales are lagging in England, far below initial estimates The phones won’t appear in the US until early 2012 starting with the Lumia 710 on Sprint.

The question is can Nokia begin to rally in 2012. It probably has a better shot than RIM, which has stumbled and bumbled its way through 2011.

It screwed up the PlayBook launch by not being able to decide if wanted to be a consumer device or a business one, an anonymous executive published a letter about inner-turmoil at the company, it had a horrible outage and oh yes, it continued to bleed market share like nobody’s business.

RIM’s value went down even more than Nokia’s, leading to speculation of a sale. Heck, there was even a rumor Amazon, Microsoft and Nokia had kicked the tires on them. Everyone was giving the company advice on how to proceed, usually starting with showing the co-CEOs the door.

If you want to get a true sense of how far RIM has fallen, consider that as recently as 2009 it had 44 percent of US smart phone market share. By this year it dropped down all the way to just a mere 10 percent. That’s a monumental fall and it’s hard to see how the company will ever turn it around.

Nothing is impossible, but it seems the market has moved on without these companies. To think, either could ever catch Apple or Google is probably no more than a pipe dream right now, but there is a clear race for third place and one of these companies could get it.

Whether either company can get it together enough to grab that market share remains to be seen. Nokia could find a consumer market hungry for an alternative, but right now Google and Apple look awfully strong and there doesn’t appear to be a huge interest in the Windows Phone OS.

RIM still has a shot at the secure phone business. As I wrote in July, Security Could Be RIM’s Ace in the Hole, and I still believe that, if they can build a clear, coherent message and a set of products to go with it.

As we head into a new year, these two companies are at a cross roads. If they don’t pull it together this year and begin to show some signs of life, it’s hard to imagine either ever will.

December 19, 2011  8:09 AM

GMail Fails LA PD Strict Security Requirements

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller
In a move that had to disappoint Google officials, the Los Angeles Police Department rejected GMail as an email option, saying that the system failed to meet federal security guidelines for cloud applications.

According to an LA Times article, city official couldn’t see any way for security and cloud computing to live in harmony:

Google’s system “does not have the technical ability to comply with the city’s security requirements” and that those requirements are “not currently compatible with cloud computing,” the story quotes LA officials.

That had to hurt, especially when Google cites an LA official on its Google Docs for Government web page, and LA has repeatedly been the poster child for Google in terms of the huge cost savings Google Docs and GMail brings to the cash-strapped city — but when it comes to the higher security requirements of the police, it’s apparently not quite enough.

The question becomes if the city’s security requirements are that stringent, is any system really secure enough? As we’ve seen in the last year hacker groups like LulzSec and Anonymous have shown how easy it is to get into law enforcement computer systems.

LulzSec attacked the CIA computers in the middle of June and one week later went after the UK’s Serious Organized Crime Agency. Would these sites have passed the City of Los Angeles guidelines? I would like to think so (although I can’t say for sure), but one thing I can say is that being behind a firewall didn’t seem to help these agencies.

I can understand why LA might want to tread carefully here and make certain that the version of GMail they are getting is secure and passes any guidelines set by the federal government. FierceGovernmentIT reported last year that the General Services Administration adopted GMail at great cost savings to the tax payers, but that the US Army chose to use a cloud email solution developed by the Defense Information Systems Agency. Obviously the two agencies serve very different purposes and had different requirements.

It may be that the general city government goes with the Google solutions and the police decide like the army to find a separate, more secure solution (at least one that seems more secure), but I think officials need to be realistic in terms of what’s possible regarding security at this juncture.

Perhaps no systems exists that will ever be secure enough, and LA officials have to balance budget considerations with security requirements — no easy task, I’m sure.

For now, it leaves Google, and cloud vendors in general, left to once again answer the cloud security question and nobody, least of all Google, can be happy about that outcome.

December 14, 2011  2:29 PM

Nokia and Microsoft Struggle to Find Clear Mobile Message

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller
In a recent interview, a Nokia official tried to make the argument that young people were sick of iPhones and didn’t trust Androids. While it was a valiant effort, it also showed more than a bit of desperation.

In an interview on the Pocket Lint blog, Niels Munksgaard, director of Portfolio, Product Marketing & Sales at Nokia Entertainment Global had this to say about the current market:

“What we see is that youth are pretty much fed up with iPhones. Everyone has the iPhone,” he said. “Also, many are not happy with the complexity of Android and the lack of security. So we do increasingly see that the youth that wants to be on the cutting edge and try something new are turning to the Windows phone platform.”

Oh really? Is that what they see? I think you can file that under “wishful thinking,” but Nokia will have a chance to put up or shut up soon enough when it releases its new line of Lumia phones running Windows Phone 7.

And what do they choose to launch first? Instead of coming out of the gate strong with an iPhone/Android killer, Nokia shot low and released the Lumia 710 on T-Mobile USA (of all places). If you want some launch buzz, how about showing us the best you got on the biggest carriers — Verizon and AT&T.

Instead, as Businessweek reports, they released a $50 phone on the weakest carrier in the country. PC Mag reports, that Nokia officials said they did this because “The biggest green field market out there is the feature phone user base.” Maybe so, but you would think these guys would be swinging for the fences instead of settling for bloop singles.

Meanwhile, Microsoft’s mobile confusion continued this week as Microsoft replaced its mobile phone chief. Joe Wilcox at Beta News was wondering if this was a promotion or demotion, but just that fact showed more confusion around Microsoft’s mobile strategy.

If you want proof just how far Microsoft has fallen in the mobile market, consider that since 2007, Microsoft has gone from controlling 42 percent of all cell phone sales to a paltry 5 percent. That’s just a horrible Mobile record. Only RIM which has similarly dropped from a high of 44 percent in 2009 to just 10 percent this year is has seen a comparable drop.

Nokia’s Symbian OS, by the way, accounted for 9 percent of sales in 2006 and just one percent this year.

All in all it hasn’t been a stellar mobile performance by either company, which now have decided to join forces to decide their collective mobile fates. Given what’s at stake, it seems odd to me that Nokia didn’t bring out its best phone, and come out with it in time for the holiday shopping season instead of releasing it after the first of the year.

None of this suggests a company that has clear vision and definitive plan, and if Nokia is going to save the Microsoft mobile brand, and itself, it’s going to take more than this to get it done.

Unfortunately for Nokia, I don’t believe anyone has had enough of iPhone or Android, and it’s going to take some very good phones, some excellent selling and marketing and some great deals to turn the tide.

If you want to get those young people talking, release the best you got and see if you can make some magic happen. Otherwise, you might as well not show up.

December 12, 2011  7:45 AM

HP Leaves webOS Wounded, Not Even Dead

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller
But they wind up wounded,
Not even dead
Tonight In Jungle Land
~Bruce Springsteen, Jungle Land

HP didn’t take an axe to webOS on Friday when it announced it was releasing webOS to open source. Instead, it’s killing it by degrees by releasing it to a community without any real hardware company backing and few prospects of finding any.

Unless, HP decides to build devices running webOS, it’s hard to imagine anyone else will either, especially after HP killed any positive webOS vibes with its on again/off again/on again strategy.

Just last week, Adobe announced it was open sourcing Flex, its way of kicking their Flash programming environment to the curb, leaving it in the hands of the community to support from this point forth. As one commenter pointed out on dZone, it was less cruel than killing it altogether, but wasn’t exactly an optimal situation.

webOS is the next technology to be open sourced. As Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols wrote on ZDNet, there are precious few details about how this is supposed to work. We only know that it’s going to be open source in some form.

But Lance Ulanoff writing on Mashable reports that his sources indicate (these are unamed) that this will be a tightly controlled open source implementation, more like Red Hat Linux than Android with its many forks.

But to what end really? Vaughan-Nichols optimistically pointed to manufacturers looking for a third option — where Windows hasn’t worked (at least so far) and RIM is fading fast–that might take a look at webOS, but I can’t imagine how they can take this whole thing seriously at this point.

Let’s not forget that HP bought Palm with much promise. There was the Leo Apotecher speech about putting webOS on every device, even printers. The developer community got stoked. HP started making plans for phones and tablets, and then just as fast as they launched, they quickly pulled the plug.

That leaves HP with an OS that isn’t even running on HP devices (at least for now). So it’s open source, but what does that really buy anyone? Without a group of committed developers — and anyone who was developing for webOS is probably not feeling warm and fuzzy about it right about now- — or a big hardware manufacturer, where can this go?

Android is open source too and it’s very popular. Not to say there isn’t room for more than one open source mobile OS because I’m sure the market would be happy to have something in place to put a check on Google, but I’m having a really hard time picturing how this is going to end even reasonably well for webOS.

So we have an open source mobile operating system that with apologies to Bruce Springsteen, HP has left wounded, not even dead, and very little hope that someone is going to come along and resuscitate it. I just don’t see how this is adds up.

December 9, 2011  12:26 PM

Gartner Prediction Underestimates Cloud Security Concerns

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller
Ah, it’s that quaint time of year where our minds drift to holiday planning, family gatherings, and oh yes, year-end predictions.  Gartner takes this a step further looking at 5 broad cloud trends over the next 4 or 5 years.

My colleague, George V. Hulme does an excellent job of laying out the trends and what they mean, so I’m not going to retrace his steps. Instead I’m going to focus on one trend in particular around cloud security demands from enterprises:

By 2016, 40 percent of enterprises will make proof of independent security testing a precondition for using any type of cloud service.

I looked at that figure and was taken aback, not because it’s so bold, but because it seems a bit conservative to me. Any time I’ve attended conferences over the last several years, all I hear is that security is the chief concern about adopting cloud computing.

In fact, I wrote about this very subject in this space last spring after attending a session on the cloud at CeBIT. In my post, Why is The Cloud Still Getting Special Treatment, I expressed some annoyance at hearing about security concerns yet again, feeling perhaps we should be further along after so much time.

And after attending conferences like the ARMA International Conference and Expo in October, the conference for record keepers, I found there was very little taste for storing records in the cloud, at least not without some serious reservations and making very sure that security and governance were up to snuff.

One speaker I saw suggested such a thorough examination of your cloud vendor’s data center, that it seemed to me it would negate any cost advantages associated with the cloud. That’s why there would be such value in having third-party oversight of security testing.

It’s clear that this is a major concern in many organizations and with increasingly stringent data protection laws in the EU, Canada and elsewhere, especially as it relates to the USA Patriot Act, companies are going to be looking for guidance on every cloud vendor’s security features.

And chances are they aren’t going to want to pay to send a contingent of their IT Staff to conduct a security audit of every vendor. It would be much more cost-effective to have some businesses or an industry group devoted to cloud security auditing where they audit once and cloud customers can have access to the independent analysis.

That’s why from a cloud vendor perspective, it would pay to have this type of service in place much sooner than later. If the cloud vendors could provide an accepted certification that would satisfy the concerns of most enterprise IT shops, then the conversation could get past the security issues and start comparing vendors on their merits.

Assuming the cloud industry could come up with a viable third-party certification system, I would be shocked, if by 2016, only 40 percent of enterprises would make independent security certification a precondition of buying a service. If such certification exists, it would likely be at the top of every requirements list in every IT shop in the world.

It seems that 40 percent is a low-ball figure for a requirement that we’ve seen is so important to so many inside large organizations. I would think the number would be closer to 90 percent (and then I would wonder what the other 10 percent were thinking).

December 6, 2011  10:02 AM

The Kindle Fire Ain’t No iPad

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller
There has been a lot written lately about how the Kindle Fire is going after iPad just because they both happen to be tablets, and while Amazon will no doubt sell lots of these devices — at $200 it’s a bargain — let’s not pretend we are comparing apples to apples (so to speak) when we compare the Kindle and the iPad.

Yes, both are tablets in name, but the comparison really ends there. The iPad is an all-purpose media viewing device designed from the ground up to have the software and hardware work together in beautiful harmony. The screen size is optimal. The touch screen is well designed and of course, being Apple, the resolution is beautiful.

The Fire on the other hand is a perfectly serviceable device, but it just doesn’t begin to approach the sophistication of the iPad. The screen is small, yet the device is heavy. The touch screen is not quite as reactive as the iPad and it just doesn’t feel as good in your hand.

Let’s look at it this way: The Honda Fit and the Audi A4 are both cars and share lots of common features, and while the Honda is a nice little vehicle, it doesn’t really compare in terms of performance and pizazz with the Audi. Lots of people will buy other cars. Lots of people will buy other tablets, but let’s not pretend all tablets are the same any more than all cars are, because they’re not.

Now many people won’t care that the Kindle Fire is a device designed by Amazon with the key goal of running Amazon content because, well they like Amazon content (I know I do). Nor will people care that Amazon skimped on the hardware to bring the cost down or that interface guru Jakob Nielsen found the Kindle Fire lacking in many ways.

After all, what do you want for $200? Your money back?

In a down economy where price matters, many people will buy the Kindle and be perfectly satisfied with it. I don’t want to be an Apple snob here. I just want to point out that you are not getting an iPad substitute for $300 less. You’re getting a lesser device.

And if you’re thinking about this as an enterprise device, I can tell you right now, the Kindle Fire is not going to be a business device. It’s designed to deliver Amazon content to consumers, and I’m guessing most people at Amazon wouldn’t see it as a business device. It’s for all intents and purposes, a higher end Kindle eReader.

iPad is simply the whole package. It can work as media consumption device, as work device, as game device and it has the power to do all of that.

Over the upcoming holiday season, I’m sure many people will unwrap a Kindle Fire and be thrilled. And why not? It’s a nice consumer device for the money, but don’t fool yourself that you’re buying an iPad substitute. You’re buying a device that happens to share a broad tablet category with Apple, but it’s not the same. It’s not even close.

Photo courtesy of

December 2, 2011  12:06 PM

Could the Cloud be Big Data’s Missing Link?

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller
Let me just start off by saying I dislike the term ‘Big Data,” and not just because it’s an empty marketing term — it absolutely is– but because I’ve yet to see anyone actually define how big, big is — and there I go sounding like Bill Clinton, for goodness sakes — and that’s the problem.

Scream all you want about the cloud as a term, but I can define that for you in simple or more complex terms, but Big Data? Well, it’s just a rough approximation involving a large (I mean we’re talking very big indeed) number. As one speaker said at the Gilbane Conference this past week in Boston — and he was joking — it’s humongous. Why yes it is. It’s bigger than small.

But for all of the hype and the lack of clarity around the term, I get that it is a real trend no matter how squishy the term itself may be. Just the very idea of big data has to send shivers down the spines of data center operators everywhere, wondering if they have the chops — the right kind of databases, the storage capacity, the servers — to deal with big data, however you define that.

And that’s where the cloud comes in because by its very nature the cloud could be the missing link for large data sets. It’s elastic, meaning it can scale up to meet demand. It’s cost-effective because instead of doing it all yourself, you’re buying services from someone who is spreading the cost among customers based on actual usage.

And it’s not just an infrastructure play, it’s also a way of buying and selling the data itself in big data sets, or in the case of governments, giving it away. Take for example. It’s a regular treasure trove of data. You don’t need to pull all that data in-house because the government is kind enough to host it for you, and allow you to put your data analysis tools to bear on it to find the data nuggets that are most valuable to you and your business requirements — and whatever question you are trying to answer. (not to be confused with the federal government’s site) is a site owned by, a company that knows a thing or two about cloud services. With, Salesforce is attempting to be your Big Data dealer. It cultivates, hosts and sells it by the pound (so to speak). You just have to ask the right questions and take advantage of its data.

Then there is the whole concept of Tim Berners Lee’s semantic web or as he likes to call it, a web of data. In this concept we share data sets much the same way we share documents via a hyperlink. Check it out his 2009 Ted Speech on this subject.

It’s been a couple of years and we’ve yet to achieve that vision, but if you could, you could imagine some pretty exciting things happening as scientists share their research around a particular problem like AIDS research or a cancer cure. It could accelerate our learning extremely quickly if it came to pass (big if I know).

But there are more services out there offering data, lots of data, dare I say big data — as a service in the cloud (or on the web or whatever you wish to call it) and the cloud could be the glue that holds this whole thing together. That’s because chances are, most companies — short of Google, Facebook or IBM — aren’t going to have the resources or computing power to do this alone.

And the cloud may be the answer to the problem — even if you don’t know you’re looking for a Big Data solution yet — or even what that entails or means.

November 27, 2011  1:13 PM

Could Apple’s Mobile Dominance Have Peaked?

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller
With the death of Steve Jobs in October, followed by news that iPhone sales that failed to meet market expectations, it was a rare rough quarter for Apple, but was it a blip or the beginning of the end of Apple’s mobile dominance?

Apple attributed the lower iPhone numbers to the persistent rumors of a new iPhone holding back sales of the existing one — a perfectly reasonable explanation — but when you combine this news with the death of company visionary Jobs, I’m wondering if Apple’s glory days are behind it and we don’t know it yet.

I can hear you moaning already, but bear with me for a moments and let’s look at another consumer electronics company that also had about decade of dominance before Apple stole its thunder. That would be Sony.

In the 90s I bought Sony everything. I had a Sony TV, DVD player, boom box and Vaio laptop. Sony was a killer brand and I was loyal…that is until I wasn’t anymore and my loyalty turned to Apple.

I don’t recall Sony doing anything particularly wrong to subvert its brand dominance. It’s just that Apple started making great products and it caught my attention. First it was a laptop, then a router, then a phone, then a tablet and before you knew it, I was comfortable with Apple’s quality and the way the products worked together.

But part of that product quality was due to the obsessive nature of CEO Jobs, who reportedly sweated small stuff and bullied engineers to get the exact design he could see in his head. He gave up on legacy technology like the disk drive and the CD/DVD drive long before his rivals did (or even his customers had caught up with his thinking).

If the iPad were to be released today, what are the odds, it wouldn’t run Flash and have a couple of USB drives. I can almost guarantee you it would because with Jobs gone, others voices are going to have an impact — for better or worse.

Without the creative genius of Jobs or his clear understanding of exactly what he wanted, the company will create products as most do on series of compromises. Engineers will say the screw placement is good enough. Marketers will want everything on the device Jobs would have insisted get left off and he won’t be there to say no.

And Apple has had a decade of dominance. Sony had theirs. Microsoft had theirs. These companies aren’t gone of course. They continue to roll along and will for the foreseeable future, still making money, occasionally hitting a home run, but for the most part they are not the brands people really lust for anymore.

So who will replace Apple? I’m guessing it will be Samsung, the South Korean mobile giant with its own parts manufacturing, its popular line of mobile phones and a tablet that scares Apple enough to go to court in Australia and Europe to force it off the store shelves.

I’m not suggesting this will be a precipitous drop by any means. It will proceed slowly, so slowly we won’t even probably know it’s happening — until the next big brand comes along to replace it and Apple is merely a good, but not great one that we remember fondly.

Maybe I’m wrong of course. Perhaps that drop in iPhone sales is just a blip. Maybe that rumor about iPad orders being down is wrong. It’s possible that Apple will continue to amaze and delight us, even without the genius of Jobs driving the company forward.

Apple has been a dominant brand for some time, but I can’t help but feel we are on the edge of a change, that the natural progression of things says Apple had its moment and now its time for a new company to step up and be *the* brand. Only time will tell if I’m right or not.

November 23, 2011  12:01 PM

HP Tablet Number 2 With a Bullet (To the Head)

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller
HP had some great news this week! The now-defunct HP TouchPad took the top spot in non-iPad tablet sales in the US for the first three quarters this year. The bad news was they had to cut the price to $99 and get out of the tablet business to achieve that.

But that’s some sales figures, eh? Number 2 in the US market without even trying. I’m sure new CEO Meg Whitman  is very proud.

According to a CNet article, the total numbers for non-iPad sales weren’t that great. iPad sold more than 11 million units in the first three quarters this year. Everyone else sold a paltry 1.2 million and of those, HP was the big winner taking in 17 percent of the non-iPad market.

The figures released by NPD showed a lackluster market for anyone not named Apple, but the folks who did buy competitor devices (and I use that term loosely) reportedly said they never even considered an iPad, apparently opting for a cheaper alternative.

The company actually still selling tablets  was Samsung which came in just a touch behind HP with 16 percent of the non-iPad market. Interestingly, it is Samsung that’s under legal attack in the EU and elsewhere, being accused by Apple of violating its tablet patents.

The good news for Samsung is that with HP out of the picture, it will take over its rightful place as the number two tablet maker in the world. The Motorloa Xoom and RIM Playbook, which came to market with some fanfare earlier this year, have barely registered. When all of these companies can barely even move a million units combined, that says a lot about Apple’s domination.

When HP comes in at number 2 by practically giving away their devices, it says even more. Would HP have sold these devices at the original price of $500? Probably not. They would likely have languished with the competitors.

So it seems the formula for success in the tablet market (if you’re not Apple) is to create your product, build a developer ecosystem, then abandon it shortly thereafter.

On second thought, there might be better strategies than this, but for this year, it really worked out great for HP and I’m sure they’re dancing in the halls at HP today — or maybe not.

November 22, 2011  9:36 AM

So Many Androids, So Little Income

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller
With 200 million Android devices in the world, you would think that would translate into a huge income stream for developers, but  one analyst says that’s not the case at all.

According to a CNet article, Google announced at its Google Music launch last week that there were 200 million activated Android devices in the world today. What’s more, Google claims another 550,000 are activated every single day.

If these numbers are accurate — and don’t forget, the late Steve Jobs accused Google of inflating its activation numbers, a charge Google later denied — it’s truly astonishing. That means more than a million new Android devices are being activated every two days, 22,916 are being activated every hour, 381 every minute.

Anyway, it’s a big number.

Apple isn’t exactly an also-ran here though. At its October press event, it announced that 250 million iOS devices had been sold since the launch of the first iPhone in 2007. That’s an impressive number until you look at the fact that reported that in May Google claimed 100 million active devices, and in just 6 months it activated 100 million more.

What’s more, Amazon wants to boost that figure a bit more this holiday season, announcing that every non-iPhone on Amazon is available for just a penny with a two-year activation contract.

So with all these Android devices flying out the door, that has to mean big profits for developers creating apps, right? Not so fast. Fortune blogger Phillip Elmer-Dewitt reported on a study by Piper Jaffrey analyst Gene Munster which found that Google had generated just 7 percent of the income of the Apple App Store.

While some people such as Todd Ogasawara at Inside Mobile Apps have questioned the basis for these numbers, it’s hard to argue with one data point in the Fortune post:

“Apple developers have made more than $3.4 billion since 2011, compared with less than $240 million for Google developers.”

And Ogasawara even acknowledges that the spirit of the report is true, even if he quibbles with some of the details. No matter how you count the income, the bottom line is Apple developers are making way more.

And Munster say that he expects Apple to maintain this kind of dominance for at least another 3-4 years.

If you’re a developer, you have to be looking at these numbers and shaking your head. You have this incredibly large market with an open environment and that has to be a lot more attractive to many in the technical community than Apple and its controlling, closed environment — but it’s hard to ignore the bottom line.

Let’s face it, the number of Android devices in the world is only going to continue to increase in leaps in bounds. That’s because there are multiple vendors selling Android devices of varying quality and price points around the world from high-end to very cheap low-end phones and tablets. There’s only one Apple selling iOS devices.

All things being equal, it seems most developers would go Android, but they aren’t equal as Munster’s report clearly indicates, and it creates a conundrum for developers on which platforms they should place their bets. For now, it’s clearly Apple, but Android’s shear size is hard to ignore.

Photo by Jemimus on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

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