New Amazon Kindle with WebKit browser and free 3G internet

Never mind the books. Amazon’s new Kindle reader is offering as an “experimental feature” a web browser based on WebKit – the same engine as Apple Safari and Google Chrome – that is free to use over 3G networks:

New WebKit-Based Browser
Kindle’s new web browser is based on WebKit to provide a better web browsing experience. Now it’s easier than ever to find the information you’re looking for right from your Kindle. Experimental web browsing is free to use over 3G or Wi-Fi.

Amazon pays for the 3G coverage which is available globally. OK, it is monochrome, but since the Kindle also has a neat little keyboard is this now a great deal for blogging, checking Google maps, and so on?


Maybe not. Here’s what the terms and conditions say:

Use of Wireless Connectivity. Your Kindle uses wireless connectivity to allow you to shop for and download Digital Content from the Kindle Store. In general, we do not charge you for this use of wireless connectivity … You may use the wireless connectivity provided by us only in connection with the Service. You may not use the wireless connectivity for any other purpose.

If you are like me you may feel there is some inconsistency between these two statements. Enough to say that from my point of view free global web browsing would be a big incentive to purchase a Kindle; but I suspect that if this is real and turns out to be a popular feature consuming significant data traffic, Amazon will soon find a way to charge for it or turn it off.

It is also interesting to see a smidgen of convergence between the Kindle and more general-purpose slate devices. I am not sure if the Kindle strictly counts as a slate since it has a keyboard, but it certainly has the slate look and feel.


Day Software: another strategic acquisition for Adobe

Adobe has acquired Day Software, a company which specialises in web content management. Its products include the CRX Java Content Repository and the CQ5 Web Content Management Platform. One of its distinctive features is an emphasis on interaction and collaboration. Day’s chief scientist is Roy Fielding, co-founder of the Apache Software Foundation and well-known for his work on REST (Representational State Transfer).

The acquisition gives Adobe a stronger presence in the open source community, and it will be interesting to see if it influences controversial issues like the fact that the Flash Player is closed source, or that some of Adobe’s open source projects are not as collaborative as they could be.

I suspect though that Adobe is mainly aiming to broaden its technology to encompass web content management and to tie it together with its rich client platform, Flash and AIR. It is a good fit, since it is Java based and should work nicely with the existing LiveCycle pieces. We might also expect integration with Omniture web analytics as well as with the content authoring tools in Creative Suite.

Looks like a sane acquisition to me.

Dropbox: file sync that works, something for Ray Ozzie to think about

It all started when I wanted to get a document onto an iPhone. Apple makes this absurdly difficult, so I installed Dropbox, which does cloud synch of up to 2 GB free, more with subscription, across multiple platforms and devices: Windows, Mac, Linux, iPhone, Android, iPad and soon Blackberry.

I mentioned this on Twitter:

installed dropbox – live mesh but cross-platform and without the hassles?

and got several responses:

Dropbox is brilliant, I sync allsorts with it and use it as main storage on my netbook!


love that service, I couldn’t even get live sync to sign in!


I just updated my dropbox to the 50GB plan. Now have all my stuff synched across 5 macs/pcs + available on my iPhone.  Amazing

Now, Microsoft’s Live Mesh appeared in April 2008 and was meant to synch files across Windows, Mac and mobile, though the mobile client never really appeared. It has now been replaced by Windows Live Sync. There’s still no mobile support, not even for Windows mobile.

Dropbox launched publicly in September 2008 and now has a team of 28 people according to the About page – including the very capable Adam Gross formerly of

It seems to be an example of Microsoft having a good idea but being unable to deliver. The reason I mentioned “without the hassle” in my tweet is that Live Mesh always required a reboot and occasionally caused problems afterwards in my experience. Dropbox did not.

Ray Ozzie is Microsoft’s Chief Software Architect and seemed to be a key driver behind Live Mesh when it was announced. At one time it seemed that the technology might play a fundamental role in Microsoft’s efforts to unite cloud and device.

You can sign up for Dropbox free here.

Windows Phone 7 briefing report: no enterprise app deployment at launch

I attended a Microsoft briefing on Windows Phone 7 (WP7) yesterday. Here’s a quick summary of what interested me.

It does appear to be a decent phone. Unfortunately I’ve not yet received a preview device, but there’s no doubt that the user experience is well ahead of that on previous Windows Mobile devices.

The user interface is distinctive as you have no doubt seen. Microsoft is building strong links with both Facebook and Windows Live, surfaced at various places, and hopes this will be the best phone for social networking. It also hooks into Xbox Live, though it does not enable real-time multiplayer games, only turn-by-turn.

It has Bing maps with GPS support, though I suspect it will not be the equal of Google Maps on iPhone or Android. However, at least Microsoft is not in Apple’s position where it relies on a competitor for this key application.

One significant aspect for both users and developers is Tile Notifications. Each installed app has a tile which the user can install on the Start (home) page. These tiles can display text and image notifications that can be customized for the user. For example, a travel app could show a red alert and a message if a plane was cancelled or delayed. A sports app could show the latest score for your favourite team. However, there is no multi-tasking, so most of the time the app is not even running. How does this work?

The answer is that Microsoft hosts a notification server through which app vendors can push notifications. The app vendor needs to store on its own server any user-specific data, such as which flight she has booked. The app vendor can then push notifications to the user via Microsoft’s service. A more detailed explanation is here.

I like this form of notification since it is non-intrusive for the user. If you do not want to see them at all, you can just remove the tile from the Start page.

Microsoft confirmed that in-browser Silverlight will not work on launch. This strikes me as surprising, since Silverlight is built into the OS. I guess it will come later.

I asked a few questions.

When will we get Windows Phone 7? Microsoft is only saying “for Christmas 2010”.

Will it support tethering? No comment at the moment.

Will there be any way to copy a file from your PC to the device? I thought this would get a straightforward answer, but it did not. I was told that the PC side of WP7 has not been announced yet. However, it will bear some relation to what has been done before for Zune – though the UK still might or might not get the Zune Pass subscription service. Prompted by this discussion, I downloaded the Zune software. It is nicer to use than Windows Media Player, for sure. Why does Microsoft have two free media players, a good one that is reserved for a small niche of US users, and a mediocre one that comes with every version of Windows? You tell me.


Will there be any way to deploy applications without going through the Marketplace? The answer is mostly “No”, though Microsoft knows this is necessary for corporate apps and says there will be an announcement on the subject later this year. That said, there is a developer portal, intended for testing your apps, where you can specify up to 5 or 10 users who can download and install an app. This is in effect a limited private deployment, though it is not intended for that purpose.

Deploying apps to Windows Phone 7 will be slightly more expensive than it is for Apple’s iPhone. The policies are explained here. You pay $99 to register, which gets you five free submissions, after which it is $19.99 per app. Each registration is limited to five free apps, but there is no limit on paid apps. There is a 70/30 revenue split. The idea is to limit the number of low quality apps. Not a bad thing considering the amount of junk in Apple’s App Store.

Lies, damn lies, and Apple’s antenna-gate

Apple’s iPhone 4 is still relatively new; and I when I pulled it out of my pocket at a social occasion last weekend someone said, “isn’t that the new iPhone?” and another, “isn’t that the one with the aerial fault?”

Another person then showed his iPhone 4, with shattered screen. His had been dropped, an expensive slip of the wrist.

So there we have it, the two worst features of Apple’s new phone – fragility, and a dodgy antenna – exposed to all.

I have first hand-evidence then that the antenna issue is well-known. But how much will it affect sales? I received an email today from Opinium Research. According to their survey of 2000 UK adults, 26% are less likely to get an iPhone 4 because of this widely reported fault.

Pretty bad for Apple then – a quarter of their market gone. Well, no. This is an example of “ask a silly question”. If you ask someone, “does the antenna issue make you more or less likely to buy an iPhone 4,” what do you expect them to say? In fact, 13% of them said it was a non-issue, while 57% said it was irrelevant because they are not in the market for an iPhone 4 anyway.

The right question would be: “Have you changed your mind about getting an iPhone 4 because of the reported fault with the antenna?” I expect many fewer would tick the yes box.

Useless survey then. In my view the phone is fine, the antenna issue is minor, and Apple’s free case offer will sort it for most people.

Going back to my social occasion, by the end of the party Apple had at least one more would-be customer, despite the antenna and despite the fragility; and given that the phone is still out of stock everywhere I don’t think the company need worry too much – though its reaction to this wave of bad publicity has been interesting to watch.

Incidentally, I also had a briefing on Windows Phone 7 today – more on that later.

Enterprise app development on Apple iPhone and iPad

Apple’s iPhone is still perceived as primarily marketed to individuals rather than corporates. However, I was interested to see how much Apple is doing to attract corporate developers. First, Apple now supports some basic enterprise-friendly features, such as Microsoft Exchange (with a few caveats), VPN, remote wipe, and the ability to lock down iTunes to some extent. Without these capabilities, the devices would not be acceptable in many environments, making it pointless to consider them for custom applications.

Unfortunately iTunes is still needed for activation, deploying software updates, and installing applications. It is silly that Apple requires business users to install a music library to use its phone, I guess reflecting the device’s history as a music player. It is also a somewhat intrusive application especially on Windows.

If you then want to develop internal applications, you sign up for the iPhone Developer Enterprise Program. At $299 per year this is more expensive than the more general equivalent, but no big deal. Then you have to get a digital certificate from Apple. Next, create one or more “provisioning profiles” that install onto the device and authorize it to run your applications. Applications you create must be signed with your digital certificate. Finally, you can add the signed applications to an iTunes library, and users can then drag them to their iPhone or iPad. It will only run on devices that have the matching provisioning profile installed. Organisations can also revoke applications by revoking the identity used to sign the provisioning profile.

As Adobe pointed out to me, since these apps do not go through Apple’s approval process, there is nothing to stop corporate developers using the Flash Packager for iPhone that is available in Creative Suite 5.

There is more detail on Apple’s iPhone in Business page.

HP will not do Android or Windows Phone 7 smartphones – but what chance for webOS?

HP’s Todd Bradley, Executive Vice President of Personal Systems and formerly CEO of Palm, was interviewed by Jon Fortt at CNBC. Fortt asks some great questions which mostly get woolly answers, but did get this statement from Bradley:

We will not do a Linux, Android phone. We won’t do a Microsoft Phone … we’ll deliver webOS phones.

I will be interested to see if HP sticks to this commitment. HP is Microsoft’s biggest customer and huge in business systems, but that does not necessarily mean it can make a success of a mobile platform on its own.

Mobile platforms stand (or fall) on several pillars: hardware, software, mobile operator partners, and apps. Apple is powering ahead with all of these. Google Android is as well, and has become the obvious choice for vendors (other than HP) who want to ride the wave of a successful platform. Windows Phone 7 faces obvious challenges, but at least in theory Microsoft can make it work though integration with Windows and by offering developers a familiar set of tools, as I’ve noted here.

RIM Blackberry is well entrenched in the Enterprise and succeeds by focusing on messaging and doing it well. Nokia and Intel will jostle for position with MeeGo.

It is obvious that not all these platforms can succeed. If we accept that Apple and Android will occupy the top two rungs of the ladder when it comes to attracting app developers, that means HP webOS cannot do better than third; and I’d speculate that it will be some way lower down than that.

You have to feel for HP, which has supported Microsoft’s failing mobile platform for many years – with the occasional lapse, remember when it became an OEM vendor for Apple’s iPods? – and now has decided it cannot rely on the company in this area. That is understandable. However, HP is heavily invested in Windows. It may be choosing just the wrong moment to abandon ship; or it may find that doing its own thing with webOS is no better. Google Android would have been a safer though less interesting choice.

The Genius of Elton John

I remember talking to a friend about Elton John when I was at school. We liked Bob Dylan, David Bowie, The Who, and of course, Elton John. We were convinced that artists like Dylan were for the ages. But Elton John? “Do you think he will last?” I asked. “Of course” was the reply.

My friend was right. The reason for my doubts were ill-founded; the verbal mystique of Dylan seemed to touch the soul, whereas Elton John seemed to be all pop. If you were a serious progressive music fan there was a trace of guilt in enjoying Elton John and his gift for melody.

Time has shown such distinctions to be artificial. There is equal artistry in easy melody.

As for Elton John, his musical talent is amazing and merits the genius word. The rumour is that he worked quickly, writing melodies for Bernie Taupin’s lyrics in short sessions at the piano. Back in the seventies the music poured out of him:

Elton John
Tumbleweed Connection

Friends (Soundtrack)
Madman across the water

Honky Chateau

Don’t Shoot me I’m only the piano player
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Double)


Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy
Rock of the Westies

I find myself still listening to these albums. Elton is a great performer; he plays with extraordinary fluidity, he sings with passion, and Taupin’s lyrics are at times intense and bold, sometimes dark.

Although Yellow Brick Road is magnificent, the albums I play these days are more likely to be Madman or Honky Chateau. Songs like Madman Across the Water and Rocket Man that speak of outsiders who see the world in a different way resonate with me.

I enjoy many of his later albums too though he has never matched that early burst of creativity. His voice is not as strong as it was. He is one of the greats though and has nothing to prove now.

BBC News app arrives on iPhone

Today the BBC received approval from the BBC Trust to create apps for mobile devices such as Apple iPhone/iPad and Google Android. Wasting no time, the corporation published a BBC News App on the App Store today.   

But what is the point? Is this really better than simply going to the web site:


It is worse in some ways, because there is a disconnect between content locked in an app, and content on the world web web where it can be linked and searched. There is also an argument over whether the publicly funded BBC creating apps for luxury mobile devices, instead of investing in more public content, though I’d imagine that the cost of creating the app is small relative to the cost of producing the content. The BBC no doubt feels under pressure to keep up with competitors such as Sky News, which already has an app available.

The BBC app becomes more interesting if you click the Live button, though you need a good connection, preferably wi-fi:


The app becomes a news-dedicated iPlayer for iPhone; a full iPlayer is also promised. A nice feature; though even this can be done on the web as long as you use Apple’s QuickTime format rather than not-invented-here Adobe Flash.

Microsoft cash cows alive and well, lame ducks still lame

Here is my quick summary of Microsoft’s just-announced quarterly results:

Quarter ending June 30th 2010 vs quarter ending June 30th 2009, $millions

Segment Revenue Change Profit Change
Client (Windows + Live) 4548 +1379 3063 +1134
Server and Tools inc. Azure 4012 +84 1546 +340
Online 565 +64 -696 -111
Business (Office) 5250 +683 3284 +578
Entertainment and devices 1600 +343 -172 -31

What’s notable about these figures? Well, the big-picture Microsoft question is how it is coping with industry transitions, in particular the transition from on-premise servers and desktop software to cloud services and mobile device clients. Of course you can debate the extent and speed of that transition, but I believe it to be real.

The story here is that Microsoft’s traditional products are still amazingly profitable, and that the effort invested in making Windows 7 a decent upgrade from Windows XP or Vista is paying off. Further, Microsoft Office sales actually exceed Windows sales. It does not really surprise me; despite the existence of capable cheaper or free alternatives, I rarely see business PCs that do not have Office installed; and Microsoft is busy locking in Enterprise customers with hooks between Office client and SharePoint server.

On the other hand, Microsoft’s progress in cloud and device looks amazingly bad. The figures are not all that easy to read, since Azure, Microsoft’s cloud platform, is part of the Server and Tools business; and BPOS, the cloud-based Exchange and SharePoint offering, probably sits there too. The “Online” business in the figures covers Bing and MSN, and earns its money primarily from advertising. This part of the business managed to turn in a loss greater than its revenue, which is remarkable considering how successful Google is with that same business model.

Entertainment and Devices is also hard to read. If you read the press release, it turns out that the reason revenue increased was not thanks to the success of Xbox or an unlikely rebound for Zune or Windows Mobile. Xbox actually declined, and so did Windows mobile, and the increase was thanks to increased sales of Windows Embedded:

Non-gaming revenue increased $35 million or 1% primarily reflecting increased sales of Windows Embedded device platforms, offset in part by decreased Zune and Windows Mobile revenue.

Windows Embedded is an interesting story. I don’t know how its figures break down, but I research things such as digital signage and point of service systems from time to time, and there is a lot happening in that space which deserves more attention from the technical press, especially as it directly touches our lives.

Despite the Embedded success, Entertainment and devices also turned in a substantial loss, though nothing like the horrors of Online.

Conclusions? One is not to write off Microsoft; it’s still a highly profitable giant. But the other is that the company desperately needs a big success outside Windows and Office to convince us that it really has a bright future. A sparkling launch for Windows Phone 7 would do nicely.