Lot of us are willing to buy an app for ad-free browsing

It is clear that there many people do not like ads on the web pages we browse on our iOS devices. Apps which provides ad-free browsing experience are always in top 10 paid app list.  The iOS9 release included “Content Blocker API” made it possible to create such apps.

iPhone top 10

As you can see, “Crystal” and “Purify Blocker” apps are still in the list.  Marco Arment though decided to pull his app Peace from the store.  For 36 hours, “Peace” was at the  number 1 position in the top paid app category.

Is this just a fad? Or is there a clear message for content creators who depend on ad revenue to figure out another model? What you think?

iPad top 10

How do you know quality of software in a car?

When did you purchase your car? In last 5-7 years? How would you describe your car purchase? A car with some advanced software or advanced software with a car?

Car manufacturer’s of hybrid and electric cars are the leaders in using software to provide more functionality and value to the customer. For that matter Tesla and other electric cars can be aptly described as a computer with wheels, steering, electric motor, and a giant battery.

So how much of the car we buy today is software? I could not get a list of Electronic Control Unit (ECU – microprocessor unit which runs software) and the function of each unit from car manufacturer’s web site. However I noticed a nice IEEE Spectrum article which has a table for functionality delivered by software. Also there is a list of ECU’s shared on Priuschat forum. Take a look at the table below which is based on information from these two resources. It is clear that not just hybrid and electric cars, almost all cars today have more software controls than ever.

Car ECU

If software is everything in a car then how do you and I know quality of the software? How can I compare software from Toyota with say software from Honda?

Consumer Reports reports on 17 trouble spots and J. D. Power study looks at 177 specific problem symptoms grouped into eight major vehicle categories. See table below to know these trouble spots and problem categories.

ConsumerReport & J.D.Power

Both survey depends on users like you and I to report the problems. As you will notice there is no category called “software”. May be because software is everywhere hence cannot be a category on its own or may be because when we report on say transmission issue car manufacturer knows it is actually a software issue.

What about publications like “Car and Drivers” where they conduct various tests and publish comparison report? See below list of parameters on which cars are compared against each other.

  • Power train
  • Chassis
  • Acceleration
  • Driving experience

Here also there is no mention of software as one of the parameter for comparing cars.

Should we as a consumer start demanding software specifications and test results? Do we care enough to ask for better quality software? Considering various recalls recently due to software issues for Prius, Ford Fiesta and Focus, Honda Acura MDX/RLXHyundai Santa Fe, GM Cadillac XTS and Impala I just don’t see how we can ignore the problem. I think acknowledging and understanding complexity will be the first step in the right direction.


PS:
1. Yes I am aware that crashes attributed to vehicle issues are tiny (~2%) compare to crashes due to driver error (~94%) according to NHTSA crash stats and data referred in wikipedia article. Per NHTSA crash stats that translates to ~44’000 crashes out of ~2 million estimated crashes for the period 3 July 2005 through 31 December 2007.
2. I am sure you have heard about several software issues with Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner and just two weeks before Airbus A400M military transport aircraft crashed probably due to a software glitch killing four crew members on board. Issue is certainly not unique to cars alone.

Saturated fat is back?

Saturated fat in meat and dairy products is seen as a villain responsible for increasing risk of heart disease since late 1970. US dietary guidelines asked reducing saturated fat from the meals since their first guideline published in 1980. Though research now suggest that relationship between fat and increased risk of heart disease is inconclusive.

What struck me most from article in NPR is how message to lower saturated fat while increasing carb translated in to increasing carbs which are harmful. Mark Bittman shared similar thoughts on misinterpretation of guidelines and how food industry created low fat food market in response. Why would anyone take such guidelines to extreme? Should we be more talking about basics like quantity and quality of food we eat? I think we should.

Discussion and debate like these reminds me of my grandfather. He was a doctor who very well understood importance of balanced diet. He used to recommend diet which consists of good quality fresh food. All around diet rich with nutrients we need. Here is what I and my dad remember about his diet suggestions:

Soup and dal from various lentils and sprouted lentils,
Rice,
Bread from sorghum, finger millet, wheat, and pearl millet,
Clarified butter and or peanut oil for sautéing vegetables
Yogurt and buttermilk,
and of course lots of fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Vegetarian meal

 

Today also we try and follow his recommendations. I do believe our good health so far is because of such balanced diet. Of course it helps that Mrunal is a wonderful cook who ensures we eat fresh home cook meal everyday.

PS: Folks always ask if we eat vegetarian meal most of the times how do we get required proteins. Lentils and sprouted lentils provides us much needed proteins.

Keynote 6.x – Has Apple lost focus on their user base?

More than a year after first release and couple updates, I still don’t like new Keynote. I thought features like similar look and feel between OSX and iOS, new transitions, and iCloud support will win me over but…It is clear that in order to simplify this time around Apple actually added more steps for a user like me to get job done. Let’s look at simple example to understand what I mean by additional steps.

Consider changing color of an object on the chart. In Keynote 09 color tool was right there in the top menu bar, just one click away. See screen capture below:

Keynote 09

In Keynote 6.1 same tool is at least two clicks away. One for expositing the “Format” side bar from right, second to expand “Fill” menu so as to click on color tool.

Keynote 6.x

Of course one need to remember simply clicking on color shown next to “Fill” menu only exposes predefined colors and gradients based on template you are using. Which means you must expand “Fill” menu to access color wheel.

Interface is same on iOS and OSX but this is coming at cost of adding more steps for simple task like one I described above. Why would Apple do something like that?

  • Common UI is more important than fewer steps to complete a task
  • Appropriate defaults will make novice users productive quickly

First reason is really against Apple’s design principles. Second reason may be true but works only if your goal is to please novice users. BTW these novice users may realize these additional steps sooner than later as they get comfortable with the software. Quickly turning in to an annoyed user like me.

I always appreciated Keynote’s design compared to PowerPoint. Simple things like how ruler work, aligning of objects and text on a chart, and many more such features shows thoughtful design. Not just me but others who suggested Keynote over PowerPoint probably did so because of thoughtful design. Has Apple lost focus on their user base who appreciated this thoughtfulness? Or this is new Apple who is more worried about monetizing hardware than providing the best tool to get job done? We will see. As much as I like their hardware which is still the best in the industry, software (free software 😉 is bothering me a lot lately.

Microsoft’s user base is different

Last week I received an email from our IT team to ensure I am not running Windows XP and if yes then to remind that I must update to Windows 7 ASAP. After 12 years of supporting Windows XP, Microsoft decided to stop supporting the OS after April 8, 2014.

On a positive note it is admirable to support what you created for 12 years straight. What we have seen all these years is the pressure on Microsoft to maintain the support. So as much it is about Microsoft caring for customer more it is about their customer detecting terms for them. It is no secret that in spite of some successful consumer products like Xbox, Microsoft paying users are Big Enterprises. Microsoft’s financial results for 2013 reiterates which segments are bringing revenue and profit. See below chart for Revenue and Gross margin per segments. Note: Total Revenue was ($77.85 billions) and Gross Margin was ($57.60 billions)

Microsoft revenue & growth margin

 

Source: Microsoft Investor Dataset

Clearly 75% of the revenue and 93% of the gross margin is from “Commercial Licensing” and “D&C Licensing” segments which includes basically Windows OS and MS Office, see following definitions from Microsoft segment information.

Commercial Licensing: server products, including Windows Server, Microsoft SQL Server, Visual Studio, and System Center; Windows Embedded; volume licensing of the Windows operating system, excluding academic (“Commercial Windows”); Microsoft Office for business, including Office, Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync (“Commercial Office”); Client Access Licenses, which provide access rights to certain server products (“CAL”); Microsoft Dynamics business solutions, excluding Dynamics CRM Online; and Skype;

D&C Licensing: Windows, including all OEM licensing (“Windows OEM”) and other non-volume licensing and academic volume licensing of the Windows operating system and related software (collectively, “Consumer Windows”); non-volume licensing of Microsoft Office, comprising the core Office product set, for consumers (“Consumer Office”); Windows Phone, including related patent licensing; and certain other patent licensing revenue;

It is interesting to see Microsoft trying hard in last few years to woo CONSUMERS like you and I. Of course big enterprises are becoming more demanding in terms of price and support but they are here and are the reason why Microsoft is still making money and will make money for foreseeable future. If Windows OS revenue and profits are declining what is replacing that is server business. Again Enterprise customer not consumer. See below chart for revenue from these two segments from 2009 to 2013 explaining this trend.

All sales in $ millions

Microsoft revenue: Windows & Server and tools

I think any initiative to be a cool consumer company is not in the DNA of Microsoft, they have not done that in years and their existing user base won’t let them. That’s why Microsoft continued supporting windows XP for 12 years. Can Microsoft turn in to a consumer company even at the cost of annoying their enterprise customers? May be for Microsoft to win they don’t have to be Consumer and Enterprise company at the same time. We will see, hope to see some changes from new CEO Satya Nadella soon.

PS: As “Windows 8.1 Update 1” is almost here, there are reports that “Metro” UI takes a backseat allowing desktop to boot as traditional Windows desktop. Even though Metro had some issues but it was step forward in right direction for touch UI and now back to classic seems step backward under pressure from “Existing” customers.

Technology companies growing fruits now

Lenovo is a member company of Legend Holdings who also owns a global fruit-sourcing company called Joyvio since August 2012. Not to be left behind another company in the Asia region Sharp recently announced that they are growing Strawberry’s. This is an interesting trend where technology companies are planning to use technology and reach to customers who are willing to pay for good quality food. Here is what Legend Holding’s chairman Liu said,

Since more and more consumers, in particular, are willing to pay for safe and quality food, we firmly believe that we can definitely make money from modern agriculture, and share the fruits of labor with the partners of industry chain.

I wonder if it is too much of diversification for these companies. May be technology companies are trying to satisfy users who work in technology field and have shown great interest in locally produced good quality organic food. You can definitely see a trend in silicon valley where Venture Capitalists are investing in food industry. It will be interesting to see how these ventures unfold and offer benefits if any to you and me.

Evernote Market – Selling software alone is not enough?

On 26th September 2013, Evernote launched Evernote Market continuing the transformation from just software company to merchandising complementary products like scanners to now selling backpacks, socks, etc. Is this because money alone from software is not enough or is this to cash in till you are popular move?

Phil Libin in 2012 explained how Evernote’s 1 billion dollar valuation is based on hope to make money in future. His words were “Evernote is not valued at $1 billion because our current business is worth a billion dollars today but because there is a good chance that it will be worth $100 billion in a few years.”

Evernote today is used by 50 million users. Let’s say ratio of paying customers to users increased from 4% in 2012 to 6% in 2013 suggesting 3 million paying customers today. They each pay $45 per year translating in to revenue of $135 millions, way shy of billion dollar revenue per valuation. Remains to be seen if merchandising can help realize revenue as expected by investors.

Scary thing is how quickly software is loosing its value forcing companies to use it as a bait rather than leading with it. Is this trend going to continue even further?

There is a cost for free

Nikos Moraitakis of Workable recently shared his thoughts about why they dropped free plan from service plans they offer. Read the article for details. To me summary is simple, free is not a sustainable business model. I am sure others have shared similar thoughts but it is important we highlight them as they are rare.

I keep going back to Malcolm Gladwell’s classic review of Chris Anderson’s book Free. Malcolm is spot on describing why making product and services free is not that simple. In Malcolm’s words

There are four strands of argument here: a technological claim (digital infrastructure is effectively Free), a psychological claim (consumers love Free), a procedural claim (Free means never having to make a judgment), and a commercial claim (the market created by the technological Free and the psychological Free can make you a lot of money).

I am sure you will agree that there is a cost to invent / create product and or service. Then there is cost of acquiring millions of users . Of course even though digital infrastructure is getting cheaper but for millions of users, cost cannot be simply rounded to zero. Add all this and we know well that there is a cost for free. Free is interesting and can draw initial attention no doubt. However I think if not impossible, free product and or service is very difficult to sustain.

++++
PS: Even Chris in his response could not actually defend all the questions Malcolm raised. See some of the comments on his response as well.

Agricultural policies, food prices and home cooking – Part 3

This post is third and concluding part of the three part series on agricultural policies, food prices, and cooking at home. Part one was about agricultural policies and its impact if any on food prices. In part two there was a comparison between eating out and cooking at home. In part three I am sharing my personal experience with home cooking.

My first job was in a big metro city, Delhi far away from my home town. I was leaving in a shared apartment with my friends. There were many restaurants and fast food places close to our apartment. Travel in and around Delhi was part of the job and thus I was exposed to lot of good eat out places. No wonder I was not thinking about cooking at home. As I look back now, my reasons not to cook were similar to comments on Mark Bittman’s article. I don’t have tools, time, and skills required for cooking.

My decision to eat out sounded well thought and tasty till one of us started getting sick often. We wondered what could be the root cause? Few visits to doctor’s office clarified things. My friend was advised to eat healthy fresh food rather than deep fried food we all were devouring. Seeing impact on our friends’s health, we all questioned our eat out decision. Best we could think in order to follow the  doctors advice was to cook at home, easier said than done.

We bought some pots and pans, nothing fancy just basics. Then a cooking gas cylinder. We were ready to cook, except we didn’t know how to cook. Thank god, mom helpline is always there in times of need. I called my mom asked her some recipes. Considering our skill level, learning to make rice and lentils first was no brainer. We thought how hard it could be to cook rice and lentils. As it turned out we either undercooked lentils or rice many times. We somehow learned how to cook rice and lentils in about two weeks or so.

But then eating rice daily is tough, we were missing nice warm bread, veggies, and other morsels. Enough is enough, we decided to try making a bread. Good that we decided to try it on Sunday afternoon. We wrestled with making dough for two hours or so. We had no clue about the right proportion. Flour was too much initially so we added more water. Then dough was runny so we added flour which helped but then we were not able to knead the dough properly so we added water again. You get the story now. After an hour or so we got the dough we could use. Bread tasted so well after all that labour as well supply lasted for more than a week : -)

We thought some hand holding through proper simple to follow cooking instructions would have helped the situation. Nonetheless in few weeks we started cooking decent meals and had fun while cooking.

From this experience I can certainly say that it was cheaper also to cook at home, yes even including cost of pots, pans, and gas used for cooking. With little bit of planning and cooperation from all, we were even saving time also by cooking at home. We realized how much time we used to spend driving to and from the food joint, waiting for food etc. Lot more than time it takes to cook and even clean afterwards. Of course huge benefit was knowing that we were using good ingredients and preparation was more healthy. My friend’s health improved and to me that was a good testimony of heathy eating.

Fast forward to present. I am fortunate to have a wonderful wife, Mrunal. She really knows how to cook tasty meals. Mrunal is also very eager to share her recipes and cooking experience with friends and family. We eat out sometimes but home cook meal is what we enjoy daily.