Cloud Four Blog

Technical notes, War stories and anecdotes

2009 Speaking Engagements

Our 2009 conference schedule and speaking engagements are starting to fill up. We’ll announce them here as they are finalized.

Here’s what we’ve got scheduled so far:

Web 2.0 Expo
Location: San Francisco
When: April 2nd
Topic: Future of Mobile: Native Apps vs. Mobile Web vs. Hybrid Apps
Format: Presentation
Speaker(s): Jason Grigsby

WebVisions, May 20th, Portland
When: May 20th
Topic: Performance Optimization for Web and Mobile Applications
Format: Workshop
Speaker(s): Jason Grigsby, John Keith

There are a few more speaking opportunities in the works. We’ll be sure to post them here. If you are interested in having one of us speak at your event, please contact us.


Convergence is one of the buzz words that I hate.

I think it started with multimedia computers in the early 90s. From that point forward, every so often you would get a new wave of articles proclaiming how all of the disparate electronics we own were going to merge into a single device.

It was all hype.

That’s why I was surprised to find such a compelling example of convergence in the second chapter of Tomi Ahonen’s new book.

Tomi lists three technologies that have been overwhelmed by mobile phones.

  • PDAs — In 2000, there were 10 million PDAs sold. Today, PDAs sell less than 10 million per year while smartphones sell more than 120 million annually.
  • Digital Cameras — In 2006, there were 450 million cameraphones sold compared to almost 90 million standalone cameras.
  • MP3 Players — “At the end of 2004, Apple’s iPod had held an 80% market share of the global MP3 player market.” In 2005, handset manufacturers got serious about adding music to their phones. By 2006, musicphone sales of 309 million dwarfed iPod sales of 46 million units.

In each case you have a promising new technology subsumed by mobile phones in just a very short time after technology is integrated into the mobile devices.

If ever there was a compelling example of convergence, this would be it.

But somehow, it feels less like convergence to me and more like the Borg. I mean, how perspective altering is it to realize that more cameraphones were sold in 2005 than the total number of standalone cameras ever made.

So what technology is next on the list to be assimilated?

  • GPS devices — I suspect they are already out numbered by phones with GPS
  • Digital TV Tuners — This is starting to happen in Asia. I wonder how long it will be before the number of phones that can receive digital TV outnumber the TVs that can.
  • Radio, Satellite Radio — Seems likely as well.

I’m sure there are others that I’m not thinking of at the moment. But whatever it is, I’m sure it will quickly find its way into the next generation of mobile devices.

iPhone App Store Gold Rush

How do you know when a gold rush is happening? I’m sure economists have scientific measures, but I prefer to use my dinner party test.

During the boom days of the Internet, I hated telling people what I did at dinner parties. As soon as someone knew I developed web sites, I would spend the rest of the evening answering questions about how their business should go online, listening to their ideas for Internet startups, and what stocks they should invest in.

Shortly before the Internet bubble burst, my wife became a real estate agent. A couple years later, we would go to dinner parties and people would ask what we did.

I would say, “Web development.”

To which they would reply, “Oh that’s nice,” in the same tone that someone might might describe something as quaint.

My wife would tell them she was a Realtor. A large portion of the evening would then be spent talking about the local real estate market.

After the Obama iPhone application launched, the iPhone App Store officially passed my dinner party test.

In fact, it more than passed my dinner party test. Not only was I asked about iPhone applications at dinner parties, but I had people telling me their iPhone application ideas at basketball games, social gatherings, and even during a Sabbath meal.

For nearly two weeks after the Obama iPhone application launched, I had conversations on a daily basis with a new person who had an idea for an iPhone application and was looking for a way to create it.

Unfortunately, like the previous gold rushes, a lot of these ideas were not well thought out. The business plans rarely had more detail than:

  1. Build an iPhone application
  2. Publish it on the App Store
  3. Make lots of money

Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of good applications being built based on solid business plans. And after evangelizing mobile for so long, I’m pleased that people are excited about the possibilities.

It’s just important to recognize that it is a gold rush. During a gold rush, there is a lot of money to be made.

But the part that makes it a rush is the irrational exuberance of the chase.

iPhone App Store: The Surprise of 2008

I realize it’s a little late for end of year retrospectives, but the story of the iPhone App Store and what it meant for mobile in 2008 is something worth revisiting.

There is no denying that the App Store has been a huge success. Apple recently announced that there have been 500 million application downloads.

At this point, it seems like a no-brainer that the iPhone App Store would be successful. But if you think back to early 2008, the success of the iPhone App Store doesn’t seem so intuitive.

And even if you thought the App Store would be successful, it would have been hard to predict the gold rush mentality that has developed.

Part of the reason I’m surprised by the gold rush mentality is because in many ways the iPhone App Store flies in the face of the preceding technology trends.

Think back to the way technology was being covered before the App Store launched. It was rare that you would see a desktop application covered by sites like TechCrunch. The release of a new version of Photoshop would pass without notice.

In fact, if you search TechCrunch for Photoshop, you will find the coverage dominated by talk of online Photoshop alternatives and the release of Adobe’s own online photo editing application.

The point is that the trend was away from desktop applications—in other words, native applications—towards online applications. The question for developers of desktop applications was how were they going to compete with web-based alternatives. How was Microsoft going to compete with Google Docs and Spreadsheet?

Let’s look at some of the specific trends from Tim O’Reilly’s definition of Web 2.0:

  • The Web As Platform — Building complex software designed to run in the browser and taking advantage of network characteristics.
  • Harnessing Collective Intelligence — “Network effects from user contributions are the key to market dominance in the Web 2.0 era.”
  • End of the Software Release Cycle — “One of the defining characteristics of internet era software is that it is delivered as a service, not as a product.”
  • Software Above the Level of a Single Device — “One other feature of Web 2.0 that deserves mention is the fact that it’s no longer limited to the PC platform.”
  • Rich User Experiences — “Web based applications with rich user interfaces and PC-equivalent interactivity.”

For the most part, these are trends that iPhone applications ignore.

The platform isn’t web-based. There isn’t much collective intelligence in a 99-cent fart application. Software cycles are back and longer due to the App Store review process. The software only runs on Apple hardware. And while iPhone applications obviously provide rich experiences, the trend O’Reilly identified was that web-based applications were competing with native applications for rich experiences.

The definition of Web 2.0 is somewhat dated. If I were to go back to the beginning of 2008 and create a list of the current technology trends, the list would look something like this:

  • Social networking and social graphs — Who can forget 2007’s near obsession with Facebook?
  • Web services and mashups — Interesting services were being built by combining web services from places like Flickr and Google Maps to present information in a new way.
  • Software as a service business models — Inspired by the success of Salesforce on the high-end and 37Signals on the low end, businesses looked for ways to sell subscriptions to web software as a way to fund continued development and ensure recurring revenue.
  • Cloud computing — Offerings like Amazon Web Services, Google App Engine, and Sales Force Platform as a Service promised to decrease operating and development costs for web applications.
  • Mobile web — The early results from iPhone usage showed huge increases in mobile web usage prompting some to declare native mobile applications a dead business model.

Again if you go down the list, how many of these trends apply to the iPhone App Store? Sure there are examples of applications that utilize some of these trends, but overall iPhone applications have more in common with desktop applications than they do with the web-based technology that dominated 2007 and early 2008.

So with that historical context in mind, isn’t the success of the iPhone App Store astounding?

And perhaps a better question to ask is: Does the success of the iPhone App Store invalidate those previous trends?