Also on the BBC’s tech pages recently was this account of people’s homes being used by freelancers as workplaces. While the premise seems to be that there is scope for renting out an empty home during the day, if you watch the video report the cases depicted seem to be examples where the occupier of the home is around while freelancers are using it. In any case, it’s an interesting reflection on the changing barriers between work and home and on the sort of spaces in which people find it convenient to work.
Archive for the ‘Mobile services’ Category
This exercise carried out by the BBC is an interesting indication of how data can be used. It’s based on musical preferences, which are of course easily measurable given that downloading from the Internet has for many become the default channel for listening to recorded music. And in this case it’s based on use of the music recognition app Shazam, and I would speculate that using data collected through Spotify or iTunes might throw up somewhat different results. Intriguingly, London’s musical twin city is Kaiapoi in New Zealand (pop around 10,000). It’s a pity that for London at least the BBC’s data wasn’t able to identify musical tastes associated with particular areas and to generate more specific twin cities for these.
Given my interest in changes in the phone business, I should have seen Microsoft’s takeover of Nokia’s phone business coming – and I didn’t. Lots has been written about the move but I was struck by this piece on its significance for Finnish entrepreneurship.
Historically Microsoft hasn’t been a huge player in mobile devices: even in the days of personal digital assistants, the portable version of Windows was a much smaller player than, for example, the Palm operating system. I wonder if that will change following the recent news.
Browsing the BBC website for stories around mobile technology, it was good to see one which covers both the continuing use of more traditional mobile phones (feature phones to use the currently favoured term) and the role of technology in the developing world. When I first read about the bus-tracking service, I wondered whether part of the concept was to ‘crowdsource’ the determination of where each bus was, by asking users to report on the position of buses. But it turns out that GPS receivers are cheap enough, and presumably GPS coverage is good enough in Indian cities, that a simple GPS box in the bus can be used to provide data.
This piece about what BlackBerry’s CEO might or might not have said is interesting, both from a disruptive innovation viewpoint (my take is that BlackBerry is still searching around for a new product, and a business model, that will be as distinctive as its traditional offerings, and that despite heavy advertising its most recent products are likely to be perceived as ‘just another touch-screen phone) and for the discussion below the line, which ranges from reflections on the authenticity of the quote, to thoughts about the future of the sector (including a comparison with Digital Equipment in the 1970s, who didn’t think that personal computers would continue to be important)
Last week I had the opportunity to visit two very different virtual workspaces, close to each other in the west end of London. I’m contrasting them here, not to suggest that one is any better than the other, but to illustrate how two spaces with a rather similar set of requirements and starting points can nevertheless look and feel dramatically different.
180 Piccadilly is the home of the virtual office, and is part of a building that was originally the London office of French Railways, and still carries the word France in prominent capital letters along its frontage. What makes it into a virtual office, and not just a set of serviced offices, and what also explains the apparent paradox of the name ‘virtual office’ referring to a solid concrete building, is a mail room and a small call centre within the building. That means that businesses can create the illusion of being based in central London – right down to their mailing address and phone number – and offer meeting space in London, without their having any permanent physical presence there.
The call centre depends on a database which allows staff there to answer the phone in the most appropriate way for whichever of the virtual office’s clients they are representing. So the instructions, for a particular business, may be to route a call that’s intended for a manager to a mobile number, or to a voice mailbox if the manager is in a meeting. The building also includes short-term office space and meeting rooms.
If the virtual office in Piccadilly is a hotel for business – a description that its owners sometimes use themselves – the other virtual workspace that I visited, the Westminster Hub, is closer to a fashionable campsite, perhaps the place for the business equivalent of the curious early-21st century pastime of glamping.
By a strange coincidence, the hub is also in a building that was intially put up to represent a particular country – in this case New Zealand House in Haymarket. It’s laid out as a single open space, with no conventional small offices or meeting rooms, although there is an indoor greenhouse and, interestingly, a wikihouse, within it. Most areas of the space are almost self-consciously unconventional – even the coffee bar which sells the normal range of designer coffees, and also in a nod towards the open-source community, Ubuntu cola.
Most of the occupants of the hub at the time of my visit seemed to be small, mostly high-technology, businesses using this as office space, and out to benefit from a kind of cluster effect by sharing ideas with others who used the same space. No call centre here, as far as I could tell, but the telecoms infrastructure was all about having a fast wireless network.
As I said, two very different approaches and evidence that the nature of office space is still evolving
In the interests of balance, the BBC website has posted two contrasting opinion pieces about Apple’s launch of its iPhone 5: a favourable piece written by an editor from MacUser magazine, and a critical one from a writer and comedian who had at one time set up a blog satirising Steve Jobs. Curiously, both contributors agree that the latest iPhone is an evolutionary and not a revolutionary step; they differ on whether it’s really what Steve Jobs would have wished, and on how likely it is to maintain Apple’s commercial success.
I wouldn’t like to predict Apple’s prospects in the medium term, because it’s in the nature of working with new technology products that the biggest challenges are frequently about dealing with products and services which haven’t been invented yet. But I have noted before that Apple’s success has stemmed from being able both to launch completely new products, and from being able to handle evolutionary change very well.
So I would take issue with the critical post, because it simply focuses on one product announcement which, unsurprisingly, is evolutionary. Of course, there is some discussion of what revolutionary products Apple might be preparing to spring on the market, and the thought that the Apple television, for all its hype, looks unlikely to materialise (perhaps it’s the networked equivalent of the Dyson washing machine, which made few inroads into a very established market). Apple has managed to re-invent itself over the years, morphing from a computer company to a music distribution company to a phone hardware company.
The remark in the critical piece, that the iPhone was initially like a new top-of-the range car from BMW or Porsche doesn’t quite work. Apple and BMW actually have a lot in common with strong brands and a ‘mass affluent’ strategy. For BMW a central tenet could be summed up in a few words, to make products which are high enough up the scale to be perceived as exclusive, but are still at a level where they sell in large numbers. But to get the pricing, the publicity, and what I’ve heard described as the polish of the design right to achieve this positioning is really difficult. To sustain it over years or decades in which the market can change, in BMW’s case in a world where the city boys might have fallen out of love with glossy cars, is more difficult still.
That’s why I’m sure that Apple’s fundamental decision to make the latest iPhone an evolutionary step is a sound one. The decision to make it longer and thinner, to keep the user interface similar but to add a single extra line of apps, may not look like much. But it does have the mark of careful, evolutionary, design, of creating something that’s similar enough to attract existing Apple devotees and offering something new enough that Apple users will want to upgrade. Whether they have succeeded, I don’t know and this is an area where classic ideas around market research and usability testing don’t really work.
Finally, I’d remark that Apple’s engineers haven’t usually been original thinkers. They have been good at spotting innovations that have originated elsewhere and at bringing these to market, and if anything they did this best way back in the 1980s when the first Mac computers were launched. So the other thing that Apple-watchers should be looking at, is what innovations Apple might have seen elsewhere that they are looking to convert into products.
Nokia may have lost the dominance that it once had in the mobile phone market, and as I’ve remarked before the emergence of a different set of players as providers of smartphones is a pattern which marks the smartphone out as a disruptive innovation. But Nokia’s product launches still attract lots of attention from pundits, whether it’s to admire the technical finesse of their new phones or to bemoan the difficulties that the company has in ensuing its continuing success.
On the BBC website there’s an interesting roundup of a number of experts’ views. The remarks about cameras – where Nokia is clearly going for excellence – are noteworthy. Maybe there isn’t a demand for a smartphone with a great camera, as distinct for a good one, because users who want a great camera will still want to buy a device that has photography as its prime purpose. So a pocket phone with a camera that can rival digital single-lens-reflex (DSLR) products makes for an attractive product that lots of potential customers may want to look at. The question remains of whether many people will want to buy it, and on that I’m not optimistic for Nokia
TomTom is a fascinating business for several reasons. For a start, it’s an example of being successful through having the right product at the right time, and when the technology was available for that product to be saleable at the right cost – notably simple stand-alone satellite navigation devices in the early 2000s. It’s also an example of the effective use of open source, not just for the software but also for mapping data which can be kept up-to-date with the help of information provided by users. Perhaps most significantly, the same product which looked successful in the early 2000s is now starting to look dated.
It’s interesting, then. to see that TomTom has now made a deal with Apple to provide mapping and satellite navigation tools for iPhones – immediately bringing TomTom into the position of being a key player in the ‘ecosystem’ of hardware, application, and accessory providers that Apple has created. This cartoon from the Guardian’s Kipper Williams rather neatly sums up one aspect of the deal – that it could be seen as a significant snub for Google who would like to promote their own mapping and direction finding tools.