Product Management Lessons from an Android User

Android vs. Alien

My views on why Samsung/Android sucks drew some fun reactions. Here I summarize my understanding of how to build products, based on the horrible experience I have had with my Samsung Galaxy S2. I will try to keep emotions out of the way here btw.

Spec is not the product

The map is not the territory and the spec is not the product. It is possible to manufacture an alluring product which sucks when used..whether in usability, reliability, utility and more. For example, the Galaxy S2 has a beautiful display, dual-core chip, extensible memory and Google’s Android..yet when its all put together we get a strange concoction instead of a smooth martini we were expecting. Engineers need supervision by artists. And please don’t get lawyers anywhere close.

Design for use not just for selling

A big factor in how customers buy products is by checking a bunch of features, it is human to maximize what we get for our cash. It is the same process an enterprise goes through when it tries to procure a product. But if your design is driven by specs that will get attention of customer then you are not doing something right. Attention is just the first step, engagement is next. Design for use. Design for day to day experience.

Take Samsung/Android’s claim of being a multi-tasking mobile OS, what did it lead to? Piss-poor battery life. Side effects? Well, the display has to be switched off to conserve battery. When reading a long text the UI goes off. Samsung fixed this in Galaxy S3(check Smart Stay), guess how? Well, they put an algorithm to figure out you are staring at the device by using the camera. So the problem(display going off to conserve battery) caused by a feature(multi-tasking), required a feature(camera based recognition if you are using device) that will aggravate problem(poor battery life/power management) further.

See how Microsoft pitches its Windows Phone by asking people to do common tasks, that shows attention to detail and not trying to sugarcoat junk. And btw, if I had not spent money on Galaxy S2, would have gladly bought the Nokia Lumia 800 or 900..I tried it out and its sheer joy to use. Windows Phone has original UI design and fantastic developer support.

Step back, dig in constantly

See the big picture of how a customer would perceive your product. Then get into details of how it is implemented and the implications. Do this constantly, for every thing you do. Good products are good through out because people who built it actually cared about details. It is not enough if the hardware is awesome, the apps are the ‘Smart’ in a ‘SmartPhone’. Your default apps are crucial. They need to be awesome. If awesome is not your style, then be fair and allow the customer to do what she wants with the device she paid for..allow to uninstall those apps without having to jailbreak.

Every customer touchpoint is the product

To a customer anything that carries your logo is you. Whether its an utility you provide(Samsung Kies 2.0), or associated help(online help from Samsung/Android), or any upgrade process(say the OS!), everything reflects on you. The attention to detail shown for how the device looks does not extend to software and every other aspect of Samsung/Android. It is as if Jekyll designed hardware and Hyde took over for software and all related services.

Don’t sell anything customers will buy

Not all customers are smart. As a product vendor you might only care about who can afford your product. But money is not everything over the long run. Vendors can choose to do the right thing and do what is best for the customer, even if the product or service is opinionated. Its easy to fool customers, especially the non-technical ones in the short-run. Do the right thing, it always pays off in the long run.

Photo Credit: JD Hancock via Compfight

Org Charts – Truth as strange as fiction

Am sure you all have seen Valve’s Employee Handbook that floated around online last week. Read the whole thing its worth your time. What drew my attention was the org chart, as envisioned by Valve’s employees.

Valve OrgChart - Envisioned by Employees

Funny as it is, read through the handbook to see how this seeming chaos is actually implemented. The audacity of Valve’s leadership to conceive, and attempt to realize, such a culture is commendable. This reminded me of another series of mock/humorous Org Charts that was on the Internet few months ago.

Apple Google Org Charts Manu

See the irony? The above picture is an external observer’s humorous take on how these companies(Microsoft, Apple, Amazon etc.) are structured. And the Valve example has a similar clustering/connectedness profile. Truth, gentlemen, is at least as strange as fiction!

Design vs Engineer = Apple vs Microsoft

I have always wondered why Apple apps, especially on the iPhone, all had beautiful UI. Boy Genius completely nailed the reason in a recent blog post reviewing the Google Android. The relevant quote is below.

Here’s another issue on why for the foreseeable future Android won’t be anything like what Apple or another company can offer: coders aren’t designers….That’s why Apple’s entire developer ecosystem is different, because believe it or not, Apple’s developers are amazing designers that make beautiful things, and they happen to know how to code. That’s entirely different from someone who’s the best coder in the world and trying to create something that looks, works, and feels great.

And herein lies the tale, as they say.

If you are still not convinced, hear Jonathan Ive, Chief Designer at Apple, talk about the design philosophy he lives by.

To justify the title, this is what distinguishes Apple from Microsoft. The latter builds and caters for engineers, while the former focuses on the intangibles of taste and design, but somehow magically ends up out engineering Microsoft in the process.

All said, the inspiration for folks like us in how we could emulate this rigor in building our products or services.

The attention to detail, the passion for excellence and the honesty in being able to question fundamental assumptions, all are basic traits that will influence what we stand for.

Microsoft’s Vision of Live Mesh in 1:49 Mins..Wow!

Microsoft’s Live Mesh. We wish someone had chosen a more inspiring name but like all things Microsoft, guess it was named by a committee.

Anyway watch this video, it makes more sense than a ton of press material.

Note, at one point data is being shared with a Mac, a XBox, a Zune, BB etc.

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Thomson Reuters Sues Zotero

[Disclaimer: This is strictly my personal opinion on this matter]

lotragstgset

This is like the eternal conflict between Gollum and Smeagol, perhaps this pair exists in each individual and organization!

TR giveth with one hand and taketh away with another! In suing Zotero TR takes a step backwards, I feel its good moves with OpenCalais has been diluted somehow.

The time of proprietary file formats, with locked in data, is over.

Even the mighty Microsoft has opened up file formats, server protocols, source code for a ton of their products.

To be honest I know little of what the original terms were, but of course licensing terms can made to be whatever the software vendor wants. But this does not seem right. Regardless of what the precedents were in similar situations.

What if a bunch of Amazon Mechanical Turks had done this task of reading from EndNote file format and converted to Zotero format? Assuming they had EndNote licenses of course. What if an Offshore service provider had used EndNote and coverts them for a fee to Zotero? One time translation and dependency on End Note can vanish in no time.

Vendor lock-in assumes many forms, the most insidious of which is the one where the customer’s data is locked into a proprietary file-formats.

All said, I do understand the challenges of monetizing IP that a company holds but still…

Also, can’t help but note the ironic ring to the name of the product ‘EndNote’!

Would be interesting to watch this. What is your take on this?

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PC kicks Apple’s rear

The ‘I am a PC’ campaign from Microsoft. It is cool to be a wisecrack but the real world has work to be done.

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Shakespeare in a River Of Tweets

The weekend was dull. Amongst the teeming conversations in the blogosphere nothing made me pause. It was the same thing over and over. Yahoo this, Google that, Microsoft sucks and so on. Sometimes reality resembles a junkyard. Debris in various stages of preparation.

Me needed a little poetry. And all I had in hand was the blackberry. I checked twitter on GTalk and it was shorter versions of the same debris.

Thats when I realised, on GTalk there is no option to watch the public feed. Not always of course, but just to take a peek now and then.

I wanted something with sap. Something that made the barrenness inside a little moist. On a whim I tracked the word eternal. It was my digital ear to the ground listening to a single word.

All was silent the whole of yesterday. And today it arrived, without context, a lofty arrangement of words..

Would be eternal in our triumph: go

I obviously wondered who would have crafted this! It did have the rhythm of a master poet, but not being familiar with the particular work I was not too sure. And then I saw who had sent the tweet. Billionmonkeys was the user. A whois revealed the following

…typing out the complete works of shakespeare

I started following the user. And what delight. I don’t read every tweet. Don’t have the time to read enough to get the drift of the plot. I take a handful from the river of tweets that passes by and drink every refreshing gulp. I did stop to think why this user would do it. But then thought why the hell bother. One does not question the motive of a blooming flower.

One understands the depth of a Master poet. Every sentence is crafted! Every sentence even without the scaffolding of a plot stands as a monument!

All I could remember was the phrase “accelerated serendipity” that I had come across in this blog post. The phrase itself is supposed to be by Tara Hunt.

Life is not structured. The greatest impact is left behind by that which was not anticipated. The web 2.0 type apps in aggregating the many seem to bring together the un-anticipated. In doing so make the process of “happy discovery” easier.

Oh, I need to thank Billionmonkeys and twitter for making this happen.

Is this the far-seeing eye of Shiva?!

Shiva, it is said, has a third eye, one which could penetrate the soul of existence and perceive its singular essence. This was the all-perceiving eye of the Chief Ascetic. One which could see all triple projections of time, the ‘trikala dhrishti’ – the eternal now, the receeding past and the impending future. To gain some measure of insight into the workings of Time would make a mortal even as one of the Gods.

But technology, that great democratizing power, knows no Yoga, nor penance, nor asceticism. It lays no claim on eternity, unlike religion, but is forever the skeptic. Abandoning one half-truth in preference to a fresher half-truth. But it atleast upgrades itself unlike religion!

Science in its most candid moments touches a little of our eternity. When that happens, the method of reaching out ceases to be relevant. It is the touch that counts.

The WorldWideTelescope is one such expression of who we all are. It is a brief glimpse of the eternity to which we shall return, at least as dust. There is something about the TED presentation here. Could be the invention, could be the AWESOMENESS of it, could be the uncorrupted intent of the iventor or the speaker..could be some other alchemy that escapes our understanding.

But I loved it, every second of what I saw.

The interviews on the site seek to guess its utility once released. But I think this is a big mistake. Things of such beauty should not need to justify their existence.

I can perfectly understand Scoble’s reaction on seeing this.

I dont remember seeing a software application that made me confront and remember what I am as a human being.

No untruth was proved false. No hidden connection was revealed. No forgotten secret laid bare. This was an epiphany, of who we all are, masquerading as science and software.

Authoring tools and Semantics – Possibilties that outrun imagination!

Nitin K asks “Where are the meaning-enabled authoring tools?” on ReadWriteWeb. Though the article asks the right questions, the conclusions it derives, that authoring applications have not yet learnt to capture ‘semantic knowledge’ and that their XML creation capabilities are severely limited.

Now I don’t know how much research Nitin has done on this, or if its a case of selective dissonance,  but Microsoft Word since version 2003 has had really decent support for XML, which has reached maturity in the XML standards for Word 2007 with the new file formats.

If we interpret Nitin’s definition of “meaning-enabled” applications as those that can mark out any specific element of content with an XML tag, with all of the tags adhering to an XML Schema, then Word already does it.

Nitin concludes after coversations with a variety of folks that there is no intrerest in semantic authoring tools. Adding semantics for the sake of adding it does not add any value to the user, which leads to comments that question the usefulness of such an exercise.

I believe any application that seeks to be successfull and useful to consumers should strive to give minimal indication that the user is working for the collective good. This is one of the reasons why tagging works so well on the web, at least in my opinion. Because self-interest trumps collective good anyday. A user applying a bunch of tags does so in the interest of being able to recollect the tagged thing by labelling it with associated ideas and words. The fact that such tags are being viewed with a multi-dimensional lens to mine insights is something that always escapes the cognitive process of the individual.

In fact I manage a product, Word-based add-in, that does just this. Users perform actions as they would in a plain-vanilla Word document and all tagging is done by us behind the scenes. Users gain all the benefits of richly marked up content without any additional cost. The key to our approach is the seamless user experience.

But this seamlessness comes with a cost. Any user defined modification to the tags are possible only if the developer has catered for it explicitly. We allow the user to overcome this by allowing them to define additional/custom metadata before handing off the document to the next stage in the workflow process.

The Semantic Web movement gains momentum with all the attention its been getting lately. But we need to remember that apps like Word, with their support for XML, have enabled content + metadata to co-exist for a long time and that live production apps have been successfully built on top of it.

That said I recognize the benefits of RDF and RDFa, or even Microformats. The ability to run inference rules on top of a forest of triples connected to each other is rife with possibilities that would outrun my wildest imagination in a mere wink! But we need to observe and gather the lessons of the past.

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Tips for any takeover!

Found these tips for a takeover or merger from Valleywag comments.

The tips are in the specific context of Microsoft’s bid for Yahoo! But the advice is so universal it can be applied to any situation. Here is a little sample to whet your appetite – “Buy a competing company, like AOL while you’re at it…Then pin each company against each other. Better yet, get a General Manager from AOL and have it oversee BOTH the AOL and Yahoo acquisition, ensuring the GM from AOL says ‘I will be impartial’.

Sheer genius!

I have been through some of these. The company I worked for last was bought over. Its been an 1+years since and all noise I hear from the ground indicate a failed exercise. Its a different issue that this news gets a positive spin depending on who you hear the status from!

Organizations, in my humble opinion, don’t give sufficient attention to the work cultures of the entities involved. What should be a no brainer in terms of the extent of incompatibility somehow gets muddled when discussing PE ratios I guess.

I like to think of this as the initial curiosity( or lust!) of a dating couple. All is nice, all is tempting..the chemistry is just unbelievable. Add to it the music of corporate hype and you have the perfect mating dance. The veils though are off a little while later- the buxom beauty is a padded waif, the chivalrous knight turns out to be a conflict mired dwarf.

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