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November 27, 2011 / teknolog

Meet me at the Mean Old Mountains

I’m moving this seldom updated blog to Tumblr, under the name Mean Old Mountains. The name is a very obscure quote from The Simpsons, which obviously suits me very well.

See y’all there!

May 22, 2011 / teknolog

A rolling stone gathers no moss

This was an exciting week: I accepted an offer to be Senior Platform Engineer with Zimride in San Francisco, where I will start up their mobile development. Zimride provides a “ride sharing” service, mainly for universities and corporations in the US. TechCrunch wrote a flattering article about them that explains the concept and business model.

I wouldn’t have though that I was to go work for a company that helps organize carpools, but now I’m very excited about the opportunity. A friend recommended me to them, and after a number of interviews and a very exhausting 24 hour programming challenge they gave me an offer I was happy to accept. They’re a great group of people with a good vision, and I like the thought of joining a startup.

I start pretty much immediately, but I will work from London until the visa kicks in, which should be October 1st if all goes well. So my time in London seems to be limited to two years, but I’m pretty sure I will return one day.

April 17, 2011 / teknolog

UX London

I spent the last 3 days attending the UX London conference. For people unfamiliar with this relatively recent term, UX stands for User eXperience. In fact, it is so recent that people in the field still don’t quite seem to know what UX is.

People in the field seem to agree that UX largely overlaps at least:

  • user interface design
  • interaction design
  • service design

One of the keynotes alluded to UX being a sub category of the latter – service design. I quite like this way of thinking. It goes well with the general servicefication of products that we are seeing. But there seemed to be a lot of resistance to this among the conference attendants.

This uncertain view on what UX is was reflected in the professional makeup of the conference. Most attendants were designers of various sorts, which was disappointing and shows how far we still have to go. Clearly designers are key to creating excellent user experiences, but if UX is treated as a topic for designers alone and is only handled by the design department, we have little hope of producing great user experiences.

So to the topics. Apart from the first day’s keynotes, I attended four workshops:

I was quite happy with the first two sessions. Simplifying is a core skill of UX design, and we did some good exercises. A/B testing is a good way to make gradual improvements to designs, but as I pointed out in the session you risk getting stuck in a local maximum from which only a leap of faith can take you.

But even though I liked these two sessions the most, I still wasn’t very impressed. The topics were covered at a shallow, almost superficial level, and the exercises were few and quite trivial. There just wasn’t the depth I was looking for. I would have liked to see faster paced sessions, more insightful presenters, more case studies, interesting show cases and radical thinking.

So sadly, in general I must deem UX London to be a very mediocre event.  I left the conference with one new insight, which came over lunch from the Dutch lady sitting across from me (whose name I can sadly not remember), that the user experience lives inside the user’s head. It is not something we can control or design, the best we can do is try to influence it.

Maybe that’s obvious to other people, but it hasn’t been to me.

April 5, 2011 / teknolog

Selling Podcatcher in the Ovi store

Late last fall when Nokia finally decided to subsidise signing of Symbian apps and drop the sign up cost for selling in the Ovi store to €50 (since dropped yet again to €1), I took the plunge and decided to try to sell my apps that I had previously been giving away for free, most importantly my premier app Podcatcher.

My reasons for doing this was as much from curiosity as anything else. Over the last two years we’ve heard about amazing success stories from the Apple App Store (TM!), and I was interested to see how well apps can do in the Ovi store.

While Podcatcher has been around a long time and has a reasonable large user base, it has always been given away for free. In fact, it is still available for free at Forum Nokia Projects, where it is doing about 1 000 downloads a month.

It took me quite a while to get Podcatcher ready for the Ovi store, but at the end of February this year Podcatcher was accepted and published. This means that I have now had the entire month of March to collect sales data, which I will share here.

So let’s cut to the chase. Below is the statistics provided by the Ovi Publisher tool.

Let’s start with total sales and income. As seen at the top of the report, throughout March I sold 1 201 copies of Podcatcher, and earned €638.48. The graph also shows daily sales and cumulative sales, as well as the most popular markets and devices.

Let’s look at some of the interesting data points:

  • Average weekly sales seem to be pretty stable over this month, so cumulative sales are rising pretty smoothly.
  • Sales vary a lot day to day.
  • Top 5 days in falling order were 11th, 15th, 17th, 16th and 28th.
  • Europe is the strong market for Symbian, which we knew.
  • But there are surprisingly sales in the US.

I’ve been trying to do som archaeology to figure out what the surges may correspond to, but so far I’ve not been successful. Interstingly, the media coverage I know of don’t show up at all. For instance, the Ovi Daily App blog on March 30th seemed to have no impact on sales. Also being featured in LadyGeekTV on the 3rd had no measurable impact. If anyone can point out what happened particularly on March 11th that sent sales through the roof, I’d be very glad to hear of it through comments or a tweet to @teknolog.

Going back to the money, I had no particular sales expectations when I submitted Podcatcher to the Ovi store. I do develop apps for a living, but for other people (remembering that it was primarily the shovel makers and Levi Strauss who got rich off the California gold rush). However, I must say I have been surprised at the sales rate.

Selling 1 201 copies of anything is nothing to sneeze at. However, since I charge only €1, this doesn’t exactly translate into a fortune. As the report states, the net income after taxes and operator charges and other things I am not sure of, this comes to €648.38. On top of this, I must pay UK income tax.

As a mentioned at the top of the post, about 1 000 copies of Podcatcher were downloaded for free from Forum Nokia Projects. So more people bought the app than downloaded it for free. This shows how important the smooth app store experience is for users. Downloading and installing Podcatcher from Forum Nokia is a bit of a hassle, and people are willing to pay a small amount for convenience. (How is that for an argument against the music industry morons who say they can’t compete with piracy).

To sum up: selling an app like Podcatcher in the Ovi store is by itself no path to riches (and hence I will continue selling shovels). I have easily invested hundreds of hours into developing Podcatcher, so the hourly rate would not be very high.

On the other hands, in terms of beer money it goes quite far. I earned €648.38 more than I would have if I had not submitted Podcatcher to the Ovi store. I’m very happy with the outcome of the experiment, and I am publishing more apps to try the waters.

I’ll blog more about my experiences making and selling Symbian apps going forward.

April 1, 2011 / teknolog

You win some, you lose some

T-MobileI previously wrote about and lauded T-Mobile and their sensible and consumer appealing pricing structure for data in Poland.

Turns out I should not have been so optimistic about the T-Mobile brand. I recently spent two weeks in America, skiing and noodling about in NYC. Upon entering the land of the free, having my fingerprints taken and enjoying the extended pat-down, I was greeted by T-Mobile informing me that phone calls are £1.20 per minute, SMS £0.40, and most shockingly, data came at the very unreasonable rate of £7.50 per megabyte.

£7.50 per megabyte! That means I can’t even keep my emails and tweets going, never mind browsing the web!

Way to price yourself outside the market, T-Morons!

February 6, 2011 / teknolog

Reading magazines on the iPad

Wired on the iPad

It wasn’t love at first sight for me. In fact, it took at least 3 months before I really started using the iPad. From the day it was announced, about a year ago, the moniker “oversized iPod” stuck with me, and I honestly didn’t see the potential.

But now I am a believer. The iPad is excellent for reading long form content. In fact, itis better than the Kindle! The beautiful colours and proper LED backlit whiteness are joys for the eye, and after years of non-stop computer use it seems my eyes can take hours of LCD reading (though we all wish for a high res screen on the iPad2).

These are still early days, however, and in many ways it shows. It seems everybody develops their own reader software, each of which works a bit differently, and not all of them equally well.

My two favorite iPad magazines are Wired and The Economist. I was a keen Wired reader about 10 years ago, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the iPad version. You get the same glorious graphics, and the text content is obviously the same as the print version. There are a number of shortcomings, however. Navigation is a bit particular, with distinct articles being laid out horizontally, while the pages that make up the article are laid out vertically. Also, text can not be re-formatted at all, and the portrait and landscape orientations typically have entirely different content, which is confusing. But as I said, these are early days, and kudos to Wired for trying to push the medium.

The Economist, being a bit more conservative and not as dependent on glitzy formatting, has a much more fluid reader. Text and pictures are automatically reformatted when you switch between portrait and landscape, and pinching allows you to resize the text. Very smooth. Navigating the magazine is very intuitive, because it works just like a print magazine, and it properly remembers the last article you read so that you can get back to it.

Wired is trying to push the medium a bit more than does The Economist, however this doesn’t always work well. 360 degree photographs are great, video content is fun, and tappable information boxes and diagrams with more information is neat. But sometimes it is hard to know where one can tap, and the sheer amount of user instructions embedded in the text, while needed, is annoying. Also, the touch controls are not great and the app regularly confuses tapping and swiping.

To some extent, Magazines on the iPad remind me of the CD-ROM productions of yesteryear. The medium is young, and we have far from understood its potential yet. But the potential is there! I’m confident that in a year’s time, tablet magazine reading will be an even more enjoyable experience.

January 26, 2011 / teknolog

When T-Mobile got it right

T-MobileI recently had a very pleasant experience with a mobile phone operator. Yes, you heard that right. Generally, I tend to be the grumpy old man who believes (rightly), that operators can’t get anything right and are mostly out to screw me.

But this time it was different. People who follow my Twitter feed have surely heard about my switching from Vodafone to T-Mobile. I did this somewhat reluctantly, as T-Mobile recently decided to drop their data caps to a paltry 500 MB per month. On the other hand, they have a pretty good deal for prepay customers.

I spent last weekend in Poland. When I arrived there and turned on my Nexus One, I received a text message from T-Mobile saying that in order to use data, I must buy a package.

Epic win #1 – don’t let the customer shoot themselves in the foot!

Even better, the prices were not too outrageous. 3MB/24 hours for £1, 20MB/7 days for £5 or 50MB/30 days for £10. Obviously, you won’t be browsing Youtube with caps like that, but for keeping the phone synced and running Google maps, it is sufficient. Now I am a pretty cheap guy, who would normally just disable data roaming and suffer the pain of being offline, but I really needed the maps and I thought that a few quid was a fair price to pay. So I went with the £5 package.

Epic win #2 – predictable cost make the customer at ease.

See what just happened there? I willingly gave T-Mobile £5 they would not otherwise have gotten. And this, simply because they gave me clear options with predictable pricing.

So, T-Mobile, here is an important tip: Don’t cap your customers data, just make the cost structure clear and predictable.