ailon's DevBlog: Development related stuff in my life

Notes from a trip to Microsoft BUILD 2012

11/6/2012 7:59:48 PM

image

Yesterday I’ve returned from the Build conference in Redmond. The content was awesome, the swag was awesome and, most importantly, the people were awesome. But there were a few less than perfect things which can be reduced to one …

Location #1

This was my first visit to Microsoft’s campus, so it was really interesting in that regard. Other than that it’s hard to explain the choice of venue.

223609_10151458168044186_1722236813_n

Except for keynotes which were held in what is now known as BAT (big-ass-tent) the rest of the sessions were held in 2 buildings (Microsoft Building 33 and 92). As you can guess by the building numbers these are not particularly close. Here’s the map:

msft_campus

It takes at least 15 minutes to walk from one to the the other. Microsoft tried to mitigate this by running shuttle buses between the buildings. I’ve tried to use the bus once. Ended up waiting 10 minutes for the bus in the rain and then when I finally got to the other building the session I wanted to attend was already full. So from day two I decided to choose the first session of the day and based on that stay in the same building for the day.

Another consequence of this layout was the need to have 45 minute breaks between the sessions. I’m not sure I mind this since that left more time for networking which is the most valuable part of the conference anyway (especially considering online availability of the content). But it’s worth mentioning that all the content would easily fit into 3 days if it was in the same building with ~15 minute breaks. And we could’ve had more content on day 4 (I’ve heard some sessions didn’t fit in).

Location #2

One of the main selling points of doing the event on campus was supposed easy access to Microsoft employees. While I was told that we actually got more talks by real engineers (as opposed to evangelists) than we would if the event was held somewhere else, I’ve heard from multiple Microsoft employees that they were forbidden to get close to the conference. Add that to the fact that they have their own life in Seattle area (spouses, kids, hobbies) and they have to go home and you actually get less access to them than you would if they were on “workation” in Vegas.

Location #3

This is totally random. Sorry for mentioning it here. But on the day I arrived I wanted to get a beer. So I wiped out my Windows Phone, launched Local Scout and found the closest place to the hotel that served beer and burgers. It’s called Red Robin (a chain burger joint). So I went there and ordered a beer. Bartender asked me for my ID. (and no, I don’t look like I could be younger than 21).  I complied and gave her my European Union ID card. She was really genuinely sorry, but said that it wasn’t good enough and she needs a proper passport (which I left at the hotel). I was a little upset, but agreed to settle for a burger w/o beer. To my surprise she said that not only I’m not getting a beer, but can’t stay in the “bar area” of the establishment and non-bar (restaurant) area was full. Oh, well.

When I returned to the same restaurant on the last day of my trip with passport in my pocket no one seemed to care about my age.

I don’t know if this is a state of Washington thing or what. I wasn’t asked for passport in US (except at border control) never before and never after that accident.

Few notes on the hotels

WP_20121103_022
Night shot of my hotel taken with Nokia Lumia 920

Tim Heuer has a great post with hotel tips for PDC in 2010. I would add one thing though.

I’ve chosen Silver Cloud Inn Redmond based on proximity to the event and actually walked from and to it from the Microsoft campus. That’s great, but … There was a great and free shuttle service from/to all of the official conference hotels (there were 17 of them) so the proximity to Microsoft wasn’t that important. On the other hand I’ve been to 2 parties (including some drinking and late return to the hotel) in the Bellevue center, plus I went there for shopping and actually went to the airport on a public bus (yes, I’m cheap) with layover in Bellevue center.

So, if I had to choose again I would choose a hotel in downtown Bellevue, rather than close to Microsoft Campus.

It was great, really!

I know this post sounds sour, but lets write this off on the fact that I was born in USSR or am European or whatever. I’m having hard time praising the awesome things (they were awesome what’s there to talk about?) and would rather mention the things I didn’t like (things that can be improved on). That said //build/ was awesome and I would do it again without blinking.

See you at BUILD 2013!

Tags:

We Need More Windows 8 Devices Like Acer Iconia W700

10/22/2012 7:04:16 PM

I’ve blogged a couple of months ago about how I imagine my next PC. Windows 8 launch is just few days away and there’s only one device on the market that somewhat satisfies my criteria and it’s Acer Iconia W700.

It has things I’m looking for:

  • Reasonably powerful Intel Core i5 CPU
  • 4gb of RAM (could’ve been more, but most of the competing products come with 2, so I’d settle for 4 for now)
  • 128gb SSD (256 would be better but most tablets max out at 64 so 128 is already good)
  • 11.6” Full HD IPS screen (10” is too small for my intended second screen use)
  • Up to 9h battery life (I don’t buy it, but if it holds 6h+ I’d be happy)
  • Has a desk docking station
  • Doesn’t dock into a keyboard (mostly useless dust collector/space waster for my intended usage)

A few things I still miss:

  • A real docking station. This one acts only as a stand and USB hub to be honest. I’d like to have my external monitor and headphones hooked up to the dock so I don’t have to plug/unplug them every day. Plus this one is pretty ugly :)
  • A model with more than 4gb of RAM and 256gb SSD

Other than that it looks close to perfect (at least on paper) and I’m probably going to buy it. Even if to express my support for this form factor. Looks like it went ignored by other OEMs and I don’t like that.

Tags:

Ad Rotator (Gergely Orosz and Simon Jackson) on AppBizDev

10/15/2012 4:00:53 PM

If you monetize your Windows Phone (and Windows 8) apps with ads you probably know not to rely on a single ad network. Some do better in one region and have nothing to show in all others, some pay more in some countries but less in the others, etc. And the fill rate is never 100%. So to make sure you utilize your ad space to the max you use multiple ad providers.

It’s not too difficult to implement a system that will switch from one ad provider to some other when there’s no ad to show. But if you want to do it really well you’d probably need to have different defaults for different locales. And to make things more complicated performance of different ad networks changes regularly. So you don’t want to hard code any of these settings into your app and issue an update whenever market situation changes. You can still implement an intelligent system like that yourself, but why reinvent the wheel?

There’s an open source project called Ad Rotator which can do all of the above and more for you. We’ve interviewed lead contributors to the project – Gergely Orosz and Simon Jackson on the latest episode of AppBizDev podcast. Check it out and make sure you subscribe in Zune, iTunes or any other tool to get new episodes automatically.

And, btw, if you have some music skills in addition to your awesome dev skills, you can get a MILLION free ad impressions on AdDuplex network by contributing a theme music to the podcast. Check out more details here.

Tags: , , ,

The Last Act of App Gold Rush

10/11/2012 3:46:20 PM

Fotolia_27774128_M

App gold rush is over. Creating an app and going straight to refreshing your bank account is not a feasible plan anymore. Even if you are extremely naïve, it’s unlikely that you still think it’s possible.

There are more than 700,000 apps on iOS, almost 700,000 on Android and, even on Windows Phone, we have more than 100,000 apps. Yes, analysts still predict that the mobile app market will grow to $25 billion by 2015 and I don’t disagree with them. It’s just that the lions share of that grows will be collected by the likes of Electronic Arts, Zynga or Rovio. Not hundreds of “2-guys-in-the-garage” teams like it was possible just a few years ago.

So no, you won’t get a medal or a pile of cash just for posting an app into the store in 2012.

The app gold rush is over. Almost over. There’s only one act left.

More than 16 million people have tried pre-release versions of Windows 8. That’s more than iPad 1s ever sold. One of the early apps on the platform – Cocktail Flow – has already seen more than 100,000 downloads, even though the OS is not publicly available yet. Microsoft expects to sell about 400 million copies of Windows 8 in its first year.

And there are only 2,000 3,600 apps (the number is growing fast but it’s still very low) in the Windows Store at the moment. And the official public launch is only few weeks away.

So, the app gold rush is almost over, but there’s still one act left. And you are perfectly positioned to take advantage of this opportunity. Being there at launch means that you have great chances to be mentioned in early OS reviews across the web, get early adopters who will spread the word about you to their friends, low competition, etc., etc. This is a luxury that costs a lot of money and effort later on, but you can get it for free by acting fast.

I encourage you to jump on the bandwagon while it’s still hot. I’m pretty sure this is the last opportunity in this cycle and it won’t repeat until someone invents some new revolutionary concept. App stores are done for the small guys and this is the last launch that matters.

Tags: ,

Spotify-like App Stores

9/24/2012 3:03:52 PM

358790270_6de5c5db7f_o
Photo by ZeroOne

I’m the last person to say good things about iTunes, but there’s no denying it brought legal digital music to mainstream users. Same goes for iOS App Store. Geeks were buying Windows Mobile apps long before the App Store, but Apple made it easy for a regular person to buy apps for their smartphones. That said, buying MP3s-to-own sounds very old school in 2012 and I bet only the most devoted fans or those who have never heard of Spotify, Zune Pass, Rhapsody, etc. still do it.

But what about apps? All of the app stores still operate in the “classic” iTunes model. Even though it’s clear that paid 99 cent app model never really took off on Android, all Windows Phone success stories are ad based, and even on iOS free-to-play games reign supreme at this stage.

Yet, I think it should be way easier (from the legal standpoint) to introduce the subscription model to the app stores than it was (is) in the music world. Obviously not every smartphone user would like to pay a monthly fee for the app firehose and not every niche app maker would agree to get pennies for each download/use. But, in general, the 99 cent developer crowd should be happy and power users would happily pay $5/month for unlimited access to most of the app catalog. And it shouldn’t be just one or the other.

There’s no doubt it would take a lot of math, market testing, etc. to perfect the formula, but overall I think it’s a win-win solution and an obvious next evolutionary step in the app store history.

What do you think?

Tags: , ,

Should Google and Microsoft Pay OEMs to Use Their OSs?

9/18/2012 2:55:55 PM

These days no one seems to debate the cliché phrase that it’s no longer a war of operating systems or devices, but a war of ecosystems. And, since actual devices and operating systems are only enablers of these ecosystems, it’s quite obvious that one of the ways to move an ecosystem forward is to strip the profit margins of the devices completely. And Amazon is a perfect example of this.

Amazon_Bezos_use_devices
Photo credit Android Authority

Amazon is happy to sell you a Kindle with no margin, happy to exchange a broken one without grilling you too much about validity of your warranty claim. That’s not where they make money. But it’s where consumers buy into the ecosystem – “Look this tablet is awesome and it’s only $299!”

Apple has a seemingly opposite business model, but they can easily switch to the Amazon’s way of doing business if they choose or are forced to.

Google and Microsoft, on the other hand, are very dependent on the OEMs making the hardware and those OEMs in turn are dependent on having a reasonable margin on top of the costs of the hardware and OS. Google can make their “own” Nexus devices, and Microsoft can make their own Surfaces, but they are not free to compete on the hardware prices as long as they care about OEMs even a little. And I guess they have to care at least for now.

So, unless Google and Microsoft either somehow compensate OEMs for the lost profits on the hardware or let them in on the revenues from the ecosystem as a whole, it looks like it will be difficult to compete with Amazon and (possibly) Apple in the ecosystem play.

Luckily for Google, Amazon doesn’t make phones yet. Luckily for Microsoft they don’t make proper computers yet. Luckily for both, Amazon is still very US-centric in the content department. All of this can change any day, though.

Tags:

Introducing AppBizDev Podcast

9/4/2012 2:53:29 PM

logo_640x200

I’ve had this idea for a long time, but I know that I’m not the right person to do it. And then I thought the recruiting the right person would be much easier if I just do the pilot myself and set the bar really low ;) So here we go…

AppBizDev is a bi-weekly podcast about Windows Phone and Windows 8 app marketing, funding and monetization, and we are looking for a lead host! Are you interested in app development business? Is English your native language? (let’s be honest, people can’t stomach 2 hosts like me ;) Can you commit to spending an hour once every other week? If the answer is “yes”, then please get in touch at feedback@appbizdev.com

If hosting a podcast is not your cup of tea, but you are interested in creative ways to promote, monetize and fund your apps, subscribe to the podcast feed in your favorite podcast client and, please, do not hesitate to provide any feedback in the comments or via email or twitter.

Check out the first episode “The First and The Worst”.

Tags:

Why Every Sane Entrepreneur in Baltics and Nordics Should Apply To Startup Sauna Warmups

8/31/2012 2:26:04 PM

image

Yesterday we had BarCamp #15 in Vilnius and one of the VIP guests was Antti Ylimutka, former Wingman and current Captain of Startup Sauna. I must admit the Wingman title sounded cooler, but I guess Captain sounds #LikeABoss and it’s all that matters, right?

Anyway, I was contemplating saying a few words there, but being an introvert developer lagged. So my Sauna comrade Mawuna beat me to it and following his in vitro fertilization metaphor was kind of hard. So I stayed put and am spilling what I wanted to say here. And it has nothing to do with the fact that I prefer typing on my keyboard to talking to real people. So here goes…

A few months ago I've read an article in Forbes and it had a punchline that said "If you are accepted to an accelerator; you don’t need them." And the reasoning was that accelerators are not charities (even though Startup Sauna is as close as it gets to being a charity). They are basically investors and they pick the teams they believe have the biggest chance of succeeding ... with or without them.

So it got me thinking about the reasons why I applied to Startup Sauna Warmup in Kaunas about half a year ago? Well, I guess the answer is that I wanted some outside validation that what we are doing at AdDuplex is interesting to business minded people outside of our pretty closed developer community. Whether we were invited to the final program or not was secondary to hearing that feedback and being approved (or not) by people who have seen a fair share of startups.

This reminds me of my school/university years. I've been the king of mathematics in my pretty crappy school. Then I went on to study at the faculty of mathematics at the university and guess what? I was one of the dumbest students at math there. So it motivated me to work hard and get at least somewhat decent at it. Something that wasn’t possible without external powers showing me that I suck.

So what I'm getting at is that you can be a super fancy startup founder in your own sandbox, but only by stepping outside of it you can learn your own worth, get hard but important questions about your business and improve your pitching skills. And one of the most cost effective ways for a Lithuanian (or any Baltic/Nordic) startup to get that experience right now is to apply to Startup Sauna warmup in Riga (or any other city). And then if you manage to get an invitation to the final program you can decide if you want and can make the commitment.  Well, of course you do, you are not stupid, but think about the warmups first and the real value you are getting from that one single day trip to Riga.

And regarding that "you don't need it" phrase. Sure, you don't need it. "Need" is a desperate word, and you are not desperate, right? So you don't need it, you want it!

Apply now!

Tags:

The Killer Feature of Windows RT

8/27/2012 4:19:53 PM

Yes, it starts with M. No, it’s not the forbidden M-word (aka Metro). The word is multitenant and here’s why I think it’s the most important feature for me and hopefully for a lot of other consumers too.

image

I have a family of 3. We own one iPad. Technically it belongs to my wife, so it’s configured with her accounts. There’s no way I’m logging in and out of all the twitters, facebooks and googles of the world on every use. So I barely use that iPad. On the other hand, there’s no way I’m buying a $600 consumption device for every member of the household. And sub-$200 Android devices are either crap, or US-centric (Kindle Fire, Nexus 7) content-wise, or both.

Maybe I live in some bubble, but in my world 90%+ of the people I know can’t go by with just a consumption device. My daughter needs to create a lot of stuff for school, make music, videos and other teenager hobby stuff. My wife enjoys fine control of editing her photos, blogging, etc. They are not power users on any scale, but “post-PC era” is not ready for their basic needs just yet.

So we are going to have at the very least 2 PCs of some sort in our home in the foreseeable future. We all have smartphones for our “computing” needs on the go. So the best niche for a tablet in our household I can see is something you may call a second screen device – a companion for hanging on the sofa watching TV, or a vacation device, or “a coffee table” device – a replacement for a stack of magazines on a coffee table.

And for these uses one device is more than enough. It just has to support an effortless way of switching profiles for every one of it’s frequent users. And Windows RT (whether it’s on Microsoft Surface or some other slate) does just that perfectly (at least I assume it does ;)

Tags:

Searching for a perfect online CRM

8/2/2012 7:31:30 PM

I’ve spent today looking for a simple, reasonably priced (free to low double digits $/month) CRM. I didn’t expect to hit the wall where I’ve actually hit it pretty early in the process. That kind of simplified the process but basically resulted in me looking not at the features, UX and other stuff, but on the pure fact that the system can satisfy these simple requirements.

Litmus paper

So the set of my minimum viable test looks like this:

  1. Imports contacts and deals/leads (whatever you want to call them) from Excel or CSV
  2. Test case: shows a list of clients with more than one closed deal (valuable repeat customers) that didn’t buy anything in last 3 months (contact them to see what’s up)
  3. Isn’t overloaded with unnecessary concepts (leads, opportunities, whatever – “deals” is enough for my purpose)
  4. Isn’t a “Swiss army knife” (doesn’t do anything besides CRM – integration with other services that do other things is good though)
  5. Costs less than $30/month per user

#FAIL

Unfortunately I couldn’t find a system that satisfies all of the above.

I’ve dismissed all “Swiss army knives” right when I saw them.

Quite a lot of the CRMs I’ve tried can’t import anything besides contacts. Highrise, Capsule, OnePageCRM, Timetonote, KarmaCRM, Dashboard, iFreeTools CRM failed at this step. Now I might be stupid and a total CRM noob, but I really want to see previous deals for my clients. Doesn’t sound like it’s too much to ask, right? And who (apart from those really just starting up) doesn’t want to see that? So these were disqualified on the spot even though Capsule and Highrise looked pretty nice.

Insight.ly is so tightly integrated with Google Apps that I went into infinite loop trying to “install” it.

Nutshell – looks good, imports deals, but there’s no way to import deal value even though there’s a field for that. And it can’t filter my test case (#2).

Zoho CRM – free (for my case), imports stuff (even though it requires a pretty specific CSV format), but is way overloaded with concepts (too powerful?) for my taste. And it doesn’t seem that it can filter my test case either.

And the winner is …

image

Pipedrive – a fellow #balticmafia startup. Unfortunately they can’t filter my test case too, but I hope they are still small and lean and can accommodate this feature request. Right, guys? ;)

Other than that it’s pretty slick, fast and simple (some may find it too simple but that’s not me). It imports directly from Excel files too. One piece of feedback would be to do the field mapping the opposite way. Pipedrive shows you your data and allows you to match CRM fields to your fields. The other way around makes more sense, imho, but that’s easy to workaround and most likely a one time problem anyway.

So I’ll continue the Pipedrive trial for now. Will try to do some actual work with it and see how I like it. I’ll update this post if I have something to add after some time of usage.

P.S.: here’s a great post reviewing most of the CRMs listed here and some others that I used as my starting point.

Tags: ,

Copyright © 2003 - 2014 Alan Mendelevich
Powered by BlogEngine.NET 2.5.0.6