Slow Progress is Killing Firefox OS’s Small Opportunity

About a year ago, I discussed (mostly in Japanese) the possibility that Firefox could succeed if they successfully targeted the opening in the Smartphone market at the low-end.

At that time, Android did not have a solution for low-end smartphones. As a results, vendors were not using the latest OS but using Android 2.3 in the products instead. I stated that if Firefox OS worked smoothly on low-spec devices, it might be able to successfully enter the market.

That hasn’t been what has happened.

Just yesterday, Mozilla announce they are accepting preorders for Firefox Flame, a mid-tier reference Firefox OS device. It has a 1.2 GHz dual-core processor and a 4.5-inch screen. This is not a low-end device. In this market tier, it will be extremely difficult to compete with Androids.

I am pretty disappointed with the progress that Firefox OS has made. In a year, instead of focusing on the low-end, they seem to have moved up-market. Maybe Firefox OS didn’t work well on low-end devices. If so, then it would be an engineering problem.

The way I see it, Firefox OS has lost the ability to compete in the market where it could have been relevant. As Moore’s law progresses, the low-end smartphone market will be filled with higher spec phones which can run the latest version of Android. This will effectively close the small opening that existed temporarily.

Notes on the Capitalist’s Dilemma

Clayton Christensen, the author of “The Innovator’s Dilemma” has been working on the idea that capitalism is having trouble in investing in the types of innovation that really count. Instead investing in those that are actually detrimental to the economy.

Coming from the most influential thinker on innovation, this idea should not be taken lightly. Harvard Business Review has recently published a summary of his work, and it is very much worth reading (the article is divided into many pages, so if that troubles you, I recommend the page optimized for printing.).

I’ll just jot down some things that I consider to be the key points;

  1. “The Capitalist’s Dilemma” is the reason why major economies around the world are experiencing “jobless recoveries” where the economy grows, but jobs are not being created.
  2. Not all innovations are equal. In fact, the majority of the innovations that are happening today are detrimental to economic growth. The authors dissect “Innovation” into three separate categories and argue that the one that create jobs (market-creating innovations) is currently being de-emphasized, while the one that eliminates jobs (efficiency innovations) is being highlighted.
  3. The reason that the wrong category of innovation is being pursued is because the approach to finance that is taught is wrong. Business schools are teaching students to focus on the wrong metrics for evaluating corporate strategy, and as these people end up running banks or businesses, this is hurting the economy.

As the authors’ work illustrates, we have very little understanding of what drives economic growth and the role that innovation plays in it. No wonder we are in this mess.

There’s Still Time Left for Microsoft Tablets

Nine months ago, back when the flattening of iPad sales had not yet become obvious and when the majority of analysts were predicting tablets to soon imminently replace notebooks, I wrote quite a bit about Microsoft (in Japanese).

In summary, I wrote;

破壊的イノベーションが成功するかしないかの最大のポイントは、既存のトップ企業が、まだ間に合ううちに反撃に出るかどうかです。間に合うかどうかというのは、新興の企業・製品が十分に既存製品を代替できるところまで進化しているかどうかにかかっています。つまりスマートフォンとTabletが十分にパソコンを代替できるかどうかです。十分に代替できるところまで来ていれば、Microsoftは反撃のしようが無くなります。しかしそうでなければ反撃が効きます。

The largest factor determining whether a disruption succeeds or not is whether the incumbents respond in time. “In time” is defined by whether the entrant product has evolved to the point where it can fully replace the incumbent. In the context of Microsoft, it is defined by whether the combination of a smartphone and a tablet can replace a PC. If the answer is yes, then Microsoft cannot retaliate. Otherwise, a counterattack will still be effective.

Tabletについては、まだまだパソコンを代替できていません。特にAndroidは7インチに偏っていて、娯楽に完全にフォーカスしています。Tablet市場がパソコンを使って仕事をする方向に向かっていません。これではなかなかパソコンは代替しないでしょう。

Tablet still cannot replace PCs. In particular, Android tablets are skewing towards 7-inches and are focusing on entertainment. The tablet market is not moving towards doing work. Hence, tablets are unlikely to replace PCs.

反撃にいったん出れば、既存のトップ企業はそうそう負けるものではありません。Microsoftの場合、まだ間に合う気がします。

Because of the vast resources they can deploy, incumbents rarely lose once they retaliate in time. In the case of Microsoft, I think they still have time.

Apple has released their sales figures for 1Q2014 and the sales of the iPad have clearly flattened. Although iPad sales volumes (~ 20 million units) are still very impressive, at this level, it does not look like they are on a trajectory to replacing PCs.

So Microsoft still has time.

In fact, the new Surface Pro 3 clearly shows that Microsoft understands this. Instead of launching a hastened response to the iPad which was the original Surface RT, they have launched a product that attacks from their dominant strength in PCs and office productivity software. They have realized that laptops are not going to be replaced by tablets any time soon, and that sales of Windows laptops will continue to surpass the sales of iPad-like productivity tablets. Hence their dominant power, although weakened, will still be a formidable asset for the foreseeable future.

So instead of starting afresh, they are playing their strengths and using their resources wisely. Instead of attacking tablets head on, their plan seems to be to embrace and to internalize tablets into their laptop products.

This clearly makes sense.

Of course, it will take time. But Microsoft has realized that it has time.

Peak Netbook vs. Current Chromebook

I thought it would be interesting to note the peak sales of Netbooks compared to the current sales of Chromebooks.

I don’t have a very good source for peak sales of Netbooks but I think it is 35 million units in 2010. And that was achieved in a mere three years after the first Netbook was introduced (late 2007).

As for Chromebooks, IDC estimates that 2.5 million Chromebook units were sold in 2013. Chromebooks were introduced in June 2011. They have also been with us for nearly three years.

So the real question is not whether Chromebooks will follow the same fate as Netbooks. It is whether Chromebooks will ever be as successful as Netbooks.

Chromebook = Netbook revisited

Almost a year and a half ago, I stated (in Japanese) that it is plainly obvious that Chromebooks will follow the fate of Netbooks.

I outlined how Microsoft would respond if they ever perceived Chromebooks to be a threat.

したがって今回は、もしMicrosoftが反撃を開始するとすれば、Acerなどの低スペックモデルに割安でWindows 8を供給し、そしてSkyDriveの無料使用分を追加する形で反撃することが十分に予想されます。Google Docsの対抗製品であるWindows 365の無料使用分を付ける可能性もあります。

This time, if Microsoft decides to fight back, they would start providing Windows 8 cheaply to low-spec models like the Acer. They would also add free SkyDrive capacity. It is also likely that they would include free Office 365 to compete with Google Docs.

That seems to be exactly what Microsoft has started to do with Windows Bing. Computer makers will start announcing PCs shortly so we should see how these will be priced. I expect prices to be very similar to Chromebook prices.

So far so good.

We can now sit back and wait for the next chapter:
“Interest in Chromebooks wane.”

Update

It is interesting to note that since Microsoft now has a cloud-based subscription revenue model in Office 365, it will be more willing to reduce the cost of Windows. According to this report, Windows 8.1 usually costs $50 per license but Microsoft is offering it for $15 on low-cost devices.

Office 365 Personal is $6.99 per month or $69.99 per year. Add the fact that all these low cost PCs will come with Bing as their default search engine, hence generating ad revenue for Microsoft, and you can see that this strategy makes sense for Microsoft even without a threat from Chromebooks.

Funny Phablets

Phablets are a very funny product category. Nobody, at least in the west, seems to quite understand what they are.

I don’t either. I’m just observing that the information that we have is difficult to understand, and the common theories aren’t logically consistent.

Here is an example of a bullish prediction for phablets.

“Are Phablets Signaling a Butterfly Effect for Mobile Devices?”

While I have a large issue with how “butterfly effect” is being used in this article, that is beside the point. The point of the article is to illustrate how phablets might lead to significant changes in the mobile space.

In this article, the benefits of a larger screen are given as follows;

  1. “Bigger screens are becoming essential for browsing. They make it a lot more attractive – you can fit more information into a single screen.”
  2. “Email gets easier on a big screen too.”

Now compare this with a report by Opera Mediaworks “Phablets are no passing phad”.

What they find in terms of phablet usage is;

  1. Social networking is by far the top category (53.8% of total impressions served), far outpacing social site usage from phones and tablets.
  2. Phablet users are far less likely to use News & Information sites than phone users and fall well short of tablet users in their interest in Gaming, and Music, Video & Media.

So it seems that phablet users are less prone to browsing the web, and are more inclined to use their device for social networking.

What kind of social networking?

We can’t be sure, but if it is a lot of WhatsApp, then we can be sure that large screens aren’t making too much of a different. The same can be said for Twitter.

This doesn’t match the phablet benefits given above.

My feeling is that nobody really seems to know what the real appeal of Phablets are on purchase and how they are actually being used. Much less whether their success will be confined to Asia or whether they will penetrate other markets.

Design And The Lack Of Intent

I read a great post today by John Moran about Intent within Apple’s designs.

Overarching intent is easy. The hard part is driving that conscious decision-making throughout every little choice in the creative process. Good designers have a clear sense of the overall purpose of their creation; great designers can say, “This is why we made that decision” about a thousand details.

When Jony Ive, Apple’s newly titled SVP of Design, criticizes a material selection or feature decision, “he’s known to use ‘arbitrary’ as a term of abuse.”

John goes to outline the “Three Design Evasions”; what most companies do instead of employing Intent.

  1. Preserving the past.
  2. Copy first without making the Intent your own.
  3. Delegating design decisions to your customers.

The question is, what is holding good design back? Do we lack good designers or are corporations ruining them?

I don’t know the answer. I’m quite sure that a lot of designers are aware of Intent and consciously try hard. The problem is, I tend to find most of the celebrated designers lacking it the most. Instead, I often find good Intent and good design in kitchen utensils and other everyday tools that are not “appearance” driven.

For example, architecture. Widely acclaimed architecture is more often praised based on its appearance. Of course critics will note Intent and usability benefits. However, as an actual user of these buildings, I have never found myself appreciating the designers’ decisions. In fact, we more often tend to loath the strangely designed rooftops that invariable leak rain, and the unconventional hallway orientations that make you feel lost.

On the other hand, I marvel at the curves of my kitchen cutting knife or scissors which are truly designed to fit your hand. I wonder at the small details on the metal knife embedded in the box of my food wrap which allow me to efficiently cut the film with the minimum of strength and without it tearing in unwanted places.

Even Jony Ive’s designs used to have annoying flaws. I hated the trackpad buttons on the Powerbook G3s which looked nice, but had a very badly designed clicking mechanism. The flimsy hinge on the Titanium Powerbook easily fractured and came off. And it’s really hard to justify the design of the “toilet-seat” iBooks. There was very little Intent in those designs.

In my opinion, it was only after the aluminum Powerbooks which had very minimal ornamentation that Jony’s designs started to blend form and function.

Designing with Intent is probably really really hard. Even for Apple and Jony Ive.

Kamishibai vs. Server-generated Javascript Responses

We’re writing some new capabilities for our Kamishibai.js Javascript library that powers our Ponzu conference system.

I haven’t documented Kamishibai.js, and at this point, it’s not even an independent library. Still, I just wanted to note a few things that crossed my mind recently.

Enough with the JavaScript Already!

A well written slide stack by Nicholas C. Zakas.

After consulting with several companies on performance related issues, it became clear that one of the biggest performance issues facing websites today is the sheer amount of JavaScript needed to power the page. The demand for more interactive and responsive applications has driven JavaScript usage through the roof. It’s quite common for large sites to end up with over 1 MB of JavaScript code on their page even after minification. But do today’s web applications really need that much JavaScript?

The answer in my opinion is no. Not nearly. Kamishibai.js is less than 50KB minified without HTML templates. It is smaller than the jquery.min.js file.

Server-generated JavaScript Responses

Written by David Heinemeir Hansson on the Signal v. Noise blog.

The essence of Server-generated JavaScript Responses (SJR) is as follows;

  1. Form is submitted via a XMLHttpRequest-powered form.
  2. Server creates or updates a model object.
  3. Server generates a JavaScript response that includes the updated HTML template for the model.
  4. Client evaluates the JavaScript returned by the server, which then updates the DOM.

I totally agree to this approach. In Kamishibai.js, we extend it in the following ways;

Instead of returning a Javascript response in 3, we usually send a simple HTML fragment. The Kamishibai.js library looks at our HTML fragment and searches it to see if any of the top level element ids are already present in the DOM. If so, then Kamishbai.js replaces the content of the DOM with the content in the HTML fragment. This allows us to do common DOM-replacements without any Javascript. If you want to add animations, you can do this declaratively through HTML data-attributes in the HTML fragment.

Another extension is the use of JSON. We totally agree that returning HTML is better than JSON if performance or readability of your code is your main issue. However in Kamishibai, we cache responses in localStorage which is very limited in capacity. Since JSON can be made many times more compact than HTML, we use JSON for the responses that we need to store a lot in localStorage.

In Kamishibai.js, we take a progressive approach to Javascript HTML templates. We start by returning HTML fragments. When we think we want to send a view with JSON, we write a Javascript HTML template and a JSON response for that view. Kamishibai.js can automatically determine if the response is an HTML fragment or JSON which should be used with a template. If it is JSON, then it summons the appropriate template and converted the JSON to an HTML fragment. That HTML fragment is further processed to be inserted into the DOM.

Summary

Kamishibai.js uses Javascript to generate pages, but the code is small and simple. We just expand on some concepts by those who eschew complex Javascript libraries, and provide the Javascript to make these approaches easier to follow.

I hope to write more on Kamishibai.js in the future.

Moto G Sales Figures

A quick note as I try to gauge the success of the Moto G.

Total Smartphone Shipments in 2014Q1 were 281.5 million according to IDC and 279.4 million according to Canalys.

Motorola has not disclosed how many Moto Gs they shipped, but they tweeted that they shipped a total of 6.5 million devices in Q1. They didn’t make profits, but neither do most other players.

Of the 6.5 million devices, we know that Moto X isn’t a significant portion. Maybe 0.5-1.0 million.Moto X Sales

Kantar has reported that Moto G sold well in the UK. Moto G 6% in UK Kantar Moto G report

Nokia hasn’t reported on how many they shipped in 2014Q1, but it seems like somewhere between 5.6-8.1 million. Nokia Lumia sales

For some perspective on how other manufacturers are doing, IDC has a report. Samsung sold 85.0 million and Apple sold 43.7 million. Even LG sold 12.3 million.

I would say that for an Android phone that had very strong reviews, the Moto G sold in Nexus-like numbers. That means that it didn’t sell well relative to the big players, but would be significant to a player like LG which makes the Nexus 4 and Nexus 5 smartphones. In many ways, the Moto G is a Nexus device.

It is possible that Motorola could continue to grow upon the success of the Moto G. That is not however what happened for the Nexus devices. At this point, I expect Motorola to remain in their current position at best. As the association with Google disappears, it is more likely that it will actually go downhill.

Testing jQuery Evaluation Times

In our Ponzu conference system, we don’t use jQuery but instead our vanilla Javascript library. The main reason was that jQuery was slow on some mobile devices.

There hasn’t been too much discussion on the web about this, but I found this article rather interesting. I’m including the test code in the following links.

  1. jQuery 2.0.0 evaluation from CDN.
  2. jQuery 1.11.0 evaluation from CDN.

Some things to note;

The times in this test (not the original one on the post) may include network access. I found that in Safari 7, pushing the reload button or using the shortcut (command + r) forced a request to the CDN. On the other hand, if we placed the text cursor in the location toolbar and then pressed enter, it would use the cached Javascript code and would not send a request to the CDN. When comparing browsers, we have to make sure that network requests to the CDN are not firing.