Subject to Change

adaptivepath-subject-to-changeI picked up a copy of Subject To Change: Creating Great Products & Services for an Uncertain World by my Adaptive Path friends Peter Merholz, Todd Wilkens, Brandon Schauer, and David Verba. The book presents a toolset for a “flexible design process” to embrace user behaviours and motivations and an ever changing, unpredictable environment.

Instead of approaching new product development from the inside out, companies have to begin by looking at the process from the outside in, beginning with the customer experience. It’s a new way of thinking-and working-that can transform companies struggling to adapt to today’s environment into innovative, agile, and commercially successful organizations.

The process reminded me of the outstanding work on Charmr – A Design Concept for Diabetes Management Devices. Charmr is Adaptive Path’s response to an Open Letter to Steve Jobs from Amy Tenderich asking for some of that Jonathan Ive magic to redesign insulin pumps. The Charmr Project was a 9 week long project completed by an Adaptive Path team including: Dan Saffer, Rachel Hinman, Alexa Andrzejewski, Rae Brune, Sebastian Heyke and Jamin Hegemin.

The process and timeline:

The most interesting part is that before the concepting and design work, is the creation of the six primary design principles:

    1. Wear it during sex. Make the product elegant, discreet, and comfortable.
    2. Make better use of data. Have the product use the data that is generated (blood glucose levels, amount of insulin dosed, trends) in smarter ways.
    3. Easy to learn and teach/No numbers. A broad cross-section of diabetics will use this product, so it cannot be overly complicated, nor difficult to teach. And while numbers are important, we didn’t want to solely rely on those for indicating status and trending.
    4. Less stuff. Diabetics have to carry around a lot of stuff. We wanted to be sure that whatever we created wasn’t just one more thing to carry around.
    5. Keep diabetics in control. The people we spoke to weren’t interested in automatic pumps for the most part. They wanted to retain control of their insulin dosing.
    6. Keep diabetics motivated. Diabetes is a difficult disease to have. Diabetics, in the words of someone we talked to, “never get a day off,” so keeping motivated is a challenge. We wanted our product to help diabetics set goals and be so easy to use it helped keep them on track.

The principles themselves aren’t interesting beyond diabetics. But that they were derived from the observations and interviews with patients and experts. How often to we discount the basic user research and analysis?

nikeplus

In moving beyond the features and functionality, and looking at behaviour and experiences companies are able to build compelling solutions like Nike+. Amazing, runners listen to music when they are out pounding the pavement. Understanding the experience has let Nike partner with Apple to build a great experience.

Nike Plus “combines the physical world with the digital world. We put a sensor in the shoe that speaks to the iPod, and you can hear how far you went, how long you went and how many calories you’ve burned, pretty simple thoughts. And then, when you dock it, you have a world of information at your fingertips. You get to see all that you’ve done, all your runs stored in a very simple, intuitive web experience where you can set goals for yourself.  – Trevor Edwards, VP Global Brand & Category Management, Nike

Nike+ is also really interesting because it is software above the level of a single device. Using the iPod, Nike shoes, iTunes, and the web to create a community to share playlists, running trails, and maps, Nike has successfully created an enduring, engaging brand experience.

Both Charmr and Nike+ are great examples of building products based on understanding and analyzing behaviour. Check out Subject To Change: Creating Great Products & Services for an Uncertain World for a toolkit for using “customer experiences to inform and shape the product development process”.

The Platform is the Core

livemeshdesktop

Live Mesh was launched yesterday at Web2Expo in San Francisco.

Our design goals for Live Mesh are to have…

  • …your devices work together
  • …your data and applications available from anywhere
  • …the people you need to connect with just a few clicks away for sharing and collaborating
  • … the information you need to stay up-to-date and always be available

I’m really excited about Live Mesh as a platform. It really is one of the first services above the level of a single device. The integration of experiences across devices is really interesting and important. I started to realize the power of creating a device mesh when I switched from my Blackberry to a Windows Mobile device and Microsoft Exchange. I am able to access my email service using my Palm 750, my Mac Book Pro running Entourage, my new Dell m1330 or my old Thinkpad x60 running Outlook, or when I’m connected over the web running Outlook Web Access. The devices are really irrelevant to me, what is most important is my data. My contacts. My calendar. My email.

Live Mesh is an early platform that allows the abstraction of data and data synchronization with applications, the web, and the cloud. It is a platform for developers to begin building the next generation of applications for the web, devices, rich clients, gaming platforms, media devices, etc.

  • Services Are the Core of the Platform – the Live Mesh platform exposes a number of core services including some Live Services that can all be accessed using the Live Mesh API; these include Storage (online and offline), Membership, Sync, Peer-to-Peer Communication and Newsfeed.
  • Same API on Clients and in the Cloud – the programming model is the same for the cloud and all connected devices, which means a Live Mesh application works exactly the same regardless of whether it’s running in the cloud, in a browser, on a desktop, or on a mobile device.
  • Open, Extendable Data Model – a basic data model is provided for the most common tasks needed for a Live Mesh application; developers can also customize and extend the data model in any fashion that is needed for a specific application.
  • Flexible Application Model – developers can choose what application developer model best fits their needs. .

Mike Zintel, from the Live Mesh team, describes the locus of control is with end users. People are given a platform where they have the control over the devices, the communication, the storage and the membership to the network.

The mesh is the foundation for a model where customers will ultimately license applications to their mesh, as opposed to an instantiation of Windows, Mac or a mobile account or a web site.  Such applications will be seamlessly installed and run from their mesh and application settings persisted across their mesh. The device ring inside of the Live Desktop is a simple visualization of the mesh, and provides a view of all devices and current device availability. The Live Mesh platform provides the ability for applications to connect to any other device, regardless of network topology (network transparency), within the mesh. This infrastructure enables the Live Mesh Remote Desktop experience today.

It is a great way to start to build above the level of a single device. Being able to abstract devices, membership lists, connections between devices, and then an underlying pub/sub infrastructure for awareness and sync is a very empowering framework. I can’t wait to start enabling more of my personal data between my devices (namely music, videos and photos shared between my laptops and music players, and if I’m lucky my TiVO because I can already share from my Mac to my XBox360 via Rivet or Connect360). Ewan Spence covers the hackable power of the underlying “RSS and XML derived data exchange”. This looks like a really good first direction for a Software+Services platform that enables developers beyond the context of a single device.

As Live Mesh is a limited Technology Preview, but it is a great start to building cloud connected applications.

For more information, go to LiveMesh.com. For more Live Mesh coverage:

Reach and Rich

Nikhil Kothari has a great post about Silverlight versus Ajax. It’s a view of the front-end technology stack, including Silverlight, WPF, Flash, Ajax, Gears and AIR. I guess the only thing it’s really missing is Mozilla’s XUL stack that’s been used to build Skype and Joost (and JavaFX and OpenLaszlo for RIAs). It’s a very honest look at the types of applications and the islands of functionality, aka the sweet spots, that are starting to develop.

AppContinuum

Interesting thinking about what are the sweet spots for the users of particular applications. Funny that, it comes back to understand people and their environment. There are tradeoffs and benefits to moving along the axis.

Applications have distinct scenarios and correspondingly gravitate toward a sweet spot. Some apps lie squarely on the left, with the need to first and foremost prioritize universal reach. At the same time, some apps have experience or functionality as the high order bit, where it is necessary to leverage a more capable platform, even if it means somewhat reduced reach. Still, the best apps will probably be those that leverage multiple front-end options to follow the user, with a common back-end (sort of a software and a service model). 

Building RESTful applications on the server can enable the creation of really powerful, customer-driven tools. Understanding the people using the tool and the context of how they are using it build better applications. Blogging provides a simple example, WordPress 2.5 has a fantastic Ajax admin UI, but requires that the user has a live network connection. This does not alway make sense, just imagine writing blog posts on an airplane without network connectivity. Tools like Windows LiveWriter or MarsEdit enable richer experiences and offline editing of blog posts (among other features like plugins for creating hCalendar microformat events).

The Web is rapidly transitioning from being the “second screen“, to being the primary screen as the number of hours and the consideration of the web as the primary source of information and news has steadily risen to eclipse television watching (IBM Institute for Business Value – The end of advertising as we know it [PDF – 303kb]. The Web is the hub. Ray Ozzie described the web as the “hub of our social experiences, our social mesh, the hub of our technology experiences, our device mesh”. Your devices, your data, your applications all need to be connected to the web. It means that great applications will be loosely coupled systems built on interoperability and open-standards.

Corporate Brand <> User Experience

Front-end development technologies are becoming increasingly important. Understanding what is possible, i.e., the sweet spot and the limitations, helps makes it easier to start building applications that match usage patterns and device capabilities. The user experience will continue to evolve to span of mesh of Web-connected devices increases. Tim O’Reilly introduced me to the concept of software above the level of a single device, where software becomes more valueable as manages and mediates access to local resources and the internet cloud.

It’s about looking for tools, design patterns and methods that allow you to create connected experiences. Building reach applications is the first step, but it’s the rich applications that are memorable and have the power to change the human condition.

Discovery08

theblackswan OCE is hosting it’s Discovery conference again. I’m looking forward to hearing Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. The rest of the schedule looks entertaining and includes Michael Raynor, author of The Strategy Paradox: Why committing to success leads to failure (and what to do about it) and The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth.

List on the Discovery08 web is:

New for 2008: Experience Discovery like never before. Test your pitch on venture capitalists and other business experts. Participate in exciting team challenges that pit your innovation skills against real-world problems. Take advantage of our expanded networking environment. See and hear what’s hot in Ontario’s critical sectors like Cleantech, Energy, Life Sciences, Digital Media and Manufacturing. And connect with some of the world’s best selling authors and pundits at keynote sessions.

The one thing I’m finding strange these days is the number of people mostly from government that are talking about an “innovation sector” and pitting your “innovation skills against real-world problems”. What the hell is the innovation sector? Aren’t companies typically innovative in the previously mentioned sectors (Cleantech, Energy, Life Sciences, Digital Media and Manufacturing)?

What is innovation? Dictionary.com has 6 definitions including “something new or different introduced; the act of innovating; introduction of new things or methods”. I just confused by the marketing speak used by the OCE team in promoting Discovery08. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised when I read the gibberish on the Ministry of Research & Innovation web site:

Places that invest in innovation, that stroke the creativity of people, that market their ideas most effectively will become the home to the most rewarding jobs, to the strongest economies and to the best quality of life. We want Ontario to be that place where innovation is inevitable.

While government involvement in my life is a series of tradeoffs, it’s great to know that at a provincial level there is support for the creation and commercialization of new technologies and business models. MRI supports MaRS, OCE and other organizations that support entrepreneurs, researchers and students with awareness, funding and policy.

What: Discovery08
How do you ride a curve that is yet to emerge? Or prepare for risks that have no name? Or create the next big thing when nothing is certain? Find out at OCE’s Discovery 2008, Canada’s premiere innovation and commercialization event. Be inspired, challenged and emboldened by influential thought leaders, daring visionaries, and over 1,500 delegates from every aspect of the innovation sector.
When: Monday, May 12, 2008 5:00 PM to Tuesday, May 13, 2008 4:00 PM
Where: Metro Toronto Convention Centre

255 Front Street West
Toronto, Ontario M5V 2W6 Canada

Finance Innovation Contest Winners

Paul Hounshell screenshot

Daniel Chait announced the winners to the Lab49 WPF in Finance Innovation Contest. All of the finalists applications are available on his SkyDrive account and can be installed on a Windows box (running .NET 3.0).   I’m impressed with the different designs and the implementations in WPF.

I didn’t see a submission among the finalists from Oculus. Which probably means they were busy working on other things, because their financial visualizations and WPF skills are among the best in the world. Mike Peters has agreed to present at a future DemoCamp and show some of the visualizations using both DirectX or WPF.

I’d really like to see a similar contest for building visualizations and experiences in Silverlight using Deep Zoom. (Lee says that you can do the same stuff in Flash, and Lee is a rockstar and there is no reason to disagree with his assessment). I love the the resurgence of visualization methods as RIAs and their development tools are maturing. Infosthetics and the Period Table of Visualization Methods are great starting points for visualization techniques.

Deep Zoom

There’s the really interesting to create a shared community around data sets and visualizations called Many Eyes. The goal is to "democratize" visualization and to enable a new social kind of data analysis. The efforts to build a shared space and shared tools for building new visualizations. Along with the efforts from Digg Labs, Google, and Microsoft LiveLabs.

What are you’re favourite visualization?

Rogers and the iPhone

davidcrow kissing his iPhone

Jay Goldman and I picked up iPhones while at Mix08 and SxSWi. I think we have different experiences with the phones, but generally both are very positive and the key differentiator between a great experience and a good experience appears to be your dependency on Exchange support. Basically Jay runs iCal, Mail.app to connect to IMAP accounts and Google Calenders. I work at Microsoft and I rely on Exchange Server 2007 on my PCs, my Macs with Office 2008 and Entourage and on my Palm 750 on Rogers.

The question continues to come up as to why we haven’t seen the iPhone picked up by one of the Canadian carriers. The conversation can focus on the third world have cheaper data than Canada. It can be about the pricing of contracts or devices in Canada. It comes down to some very simple business considerations:

  • Cell phone market penetration is high
  • High fees and high ARPU
    • Canadians cell bills are double that of Americans
    • ARPU = Average Revenue Per User
    • Canadian Wireless providers in 2007 had an ARPU of $56 which is high when compared to other countries
  • Apple’s outrageous (good on ‘em) ARPU share
    • The relationship between AT&T and Apple has been described as an ”$18/month ARPU share)
    • Canadian non-voice ARPU is currently less than 10% of existing ARPU meaning Canadian wireless providers see this as an opportunity to increase the ARPU
    • Canadian non-voice services at 10% of ARPU is lower than the US non-voice ARPU which has been reported in the low to mid teens
  • AT&T plans are lower than most Canadian plans
    • AT&T plans start at $59.99/month and work up to a true unlimited plan at $119.99/month
    • As an example, my current Windows Mobile plan on Rogers is $80 for 500Mb + $25 for 250 minutes + $8 Every Call Value Pack includes Voice Mail and Call Display + $6.95 systems access fee = $119.95/month + taxes. And this doesn’t cover long distance across Canada, and it certainly doesn’t cover roaming or roaming data when I’m in the US.
    • Given the Canadian dollar is at parity, I’m paying approximately double for less service than the $59.99/month AT&T plan

So the market is saturated, or at least very close to being saturated in urban centres. Let’s make some assumptions that all of the high value long time customers already have data plans and long-term contracts. These users switch phones on a regular basis because they derive status from the latest, greatest device. They probably don’t need or want to switch carriers. Coupled with the ARPU is the highest in North America. Data and non-voice services are currently less than 10% of the ARPU number and expected to grow. What advantage would Rogers have for negotiating a deal with Apple?

Unlike AT&T with aggressive rates to entice and retain existing customer, Rogers and other Canadian carriers are entrenched. Churn rates are around 2% and I wonder what churn looks like in higher value, higher spend customers. Canadian carriers have the highest ARPU around. Apple has been insistent on changing the wireless model by removing hardware subsidies and driving rates down on necessary data services. What part makes you think that Rogers, Telus or Bell is going to give up $10-18/month of ARPU and drive the overall service costs down?

Particularly when people like me and Jay Goldman are just buying iPhones in the US and running ZiPhone and upping our plans to handle more data. Well we might see an iPhone in Canada, but it won’t be for a while, after the carriers have milked additional ARPU out of the current set of non-voice services.

It makes me wonder where the CRTC is in all of this?