Are patents and law suits holding the mobile market back?

It seems that we are constantly barraged with information on law suits wars in the world of the mobile. This week alone we have seen Apple granted a patent on unlocking a Smartphone or tablet using a touchscreen gesture and Amazon reveal that 11 companies have filed patent lawsuits against it since the start of the year. Whilst Motorola. Nokia, HTC, Apple, Google, Research in Motion and Samsung are all involved in lawsuits relating to their mobile offerings. The list of who is suing who is extensive, the BBC recently produced a great clickable image which showed the extent of the litigation, below is a shot of who Apple are at war with but if you click any of the other company names you can see they are all in some way at war with one another.

The litigious nature of the mobile marketplace may all stem from the 2007 launch of the iPhone when Steve Jobs set his stall out saying “We’ve been pushing the state-of-the-art in every facet of design… We’ve been innovating like crazy for the last few years on this and we’ve filed for over 200 patents for all of the inventions in iPhone. And we intend to protect them.” At an initial glance this patent war can seem to be limited to the mobile giants waging war on one another, however this litigation is now dripping down to small development houses, there are companies out there who specifically buy up patents in order to pursue those who infringe them. These non practising entities (NPE) or “patent trolls” make their living from patent related lawsuits and small development houses across the globe are finding themselves faced with hefty legal documents every day.

But what effect is all this litigation having on the market? Are developers becoming too frightened to develop new and innovative applications? Is the patent system which is designed to protect really hindering? Patents were originally designed to protect creativity and to ensure those that invested in new and innovative designs could reap the rewards of those developments, this enabled companies to justify and protect investments in R&D. The addition of the NPE’s to the market has changed all that as they now look to reap the rewards from patents they have simply bought up.

The biggest issue around patents, as I see it, is the sheer volume of legal jargon involved and the wide sweeping nature of some of the patents which have been awarded in the past, these in turn lead to confusion in the market and the constant legal battles we have seen. However, we should not forget the original purpose of the patent and the fact that all these law suits simply prove how important and valuable truly innovative design can be. Put simply if the big boys are willing to fight over every detail of a patent this simply proves their worth. I would argue that patents are not stifling creativity, that they do indeed protect those who have innovated and that development houses should carry on in their innovation and reap the rewards from that innovation.

I would suggest that if you are a development house and are thinking of developing mobile applications now is the time to consider if it is really worth the trouble of developing native applications for each different platform. All the press coverage around issues such as the patent wars, to my mind, simply highlight just how complex and potentially dangerous such decisions can be. Add to this the stresses of keeping up with the pace of operating system innovation and the other risks of gambling on the success of one platform over another and it seems like a very risky path to choose. To me all these issues seem to scream out for the obvious solution of choosing a mobile application platform which is device independent and allows you to simply write your application once and deploy to any device, legacy or future.

Let’s leave the litigation to the big boys and carry on with the business of developing.

It would be great to hear from any developers out there, how is litigation affecting your business?

How Apple changed the world

Regular readers of my blog will know that I am an Apple lover, I have made no bones about the fact that more and more every day I rely on both my iPad and my iPhone. With the premature recent passing of Steve Jobs I really started to think about the influence that he, and Apple, had on the world today.  Apple is no longer just a company or a brand, Job’s worked tirelessly to see it become the most influential company in the world today. Why do I say this? Well to put it quite simply Apple has changed the buying and consumption habits of millions of people around the world and is in turn, changing all of our business models.

It is undoubtedly true that Apple’s financial results really have improved hugely year on year, announcing revenues $28.27 billion in their quarter ending September 2011 compared to revenue of $20.34 billion, in the same quarter the year before, but I would argue this doesn’t go anywhere near explaining the influence they have had on the market. To understand this we must look at the three ways Apple have changed the way we consume;

1)      Apple made us all technophiles. If I look at my own family I can see this in practice. My parents traditionally shied away from technology and would never “risk,” as they saw it, using their credit card online. Then along came the iPad, now my parents browse the web like experts and happily clock up a small fortune on their iTunes account, which is of course linked to their credit card. Then at the opposite end of the age spectrum there are my nieces and nephews who seem almost perplexed by any phone or device which is not touch enabled, so used are they to the iPad and iPhone technology. This is where Apple have succeeded where others have failed they have broadened their market from the IT savvy few, to everyone. This acceptance by young and old has to be seen as a result of the amazing job Apple have done in building the ‘i’ brand which has become such a must-have that without fail you can see an iPad or iPhone on the table of every coffee shop in every country.

2)      Apple broke the strangle hold of the ‘open’ Internet. If I think about how I consumed online information before my iPhone it has changed significantly. Three years ago if I was looking for anything, say a restaurant, I would quickly jump on Google and do a quick search, now however there is “an app for that” and for everything, and I like many millions of Apple customers am happy to trust that app to help me make my choice. Apple has usurped the power of the internet and has introduced us to the power of the dedicated app. What is interesting is that everything on the app store is controlled and vetted by Apple and as such is a very closed paradigm. The genius of Jobs lay in realising people will give up anything for convenience including their hard earned cash, and day by day he has been proved correct as customers happily pay for these apps which provide information that could be found for free elsewhere.

3)      Apple made mobility as must for the enterprise. Before the huge success of the iPhone those of us in the world of business were happy just to receive our emails on our mobile device. However along came the iPhone which made us realise how much more is possible. This set us to thinking what could be achieved if everything we do at the office could be done on our phone as David Goldschlag VP Mobile Technology McAfee noted  “The iPhone changed the whole world, because all of a sudden the people within the enterprise were demanding that the iPhone be used.  And then it became the CFO’s job or the CIO’s job to say yes, rather than to say no.” This is the challenge we are all now faced with making our enterprise truly mobile, allowing our key staff to have the information they need at their finger tips when they need it.

I could go on and on about the very many ways Apple have changed the way the world of business and online consumption work but I think you see where I am coming from. Apple have laid down the gauntlet and the other mobile giants including RIM and Google now need to play catch up. The war of the mobile giants will rage for many years and who will win is anyone’s guess. What is clear however is that now we in the enterprise need to grasp mobility and take it for all the competitive advantage it can bring.

For more on mobile feel free to join Magic Software and Forrester’s free seminar entitled   The Best Way to Mobilize your Business Applications on November 8th.

 

Computing video – Enterprise use of mobile mash up

Just a quick update to let you know the video, which I mentioned a few weeks ago,of my interview with Stuart Sumner at Computing is now live on their website. The video shows Magic Software’s Mobile offering being used to pull information from both Salesforce.com and Oracle’s JD Edwards onto a mobile device where it is then presented on one screen. Any changes made to this mission-critical data are then automatically and in real-time applied to each system, which ultimately saves on manpower, strongly reducing the possibility of human error and giving better business insight.

Hope you find this useful, would love to hear your feedback.

My thanks to Stuart and the team at Computing for their hard work on pulling this together.


 

Three indicators we are on course to a technology bubble!

Very recently I had a long chat with a fellow tweeter on the subject of technology bubbles, and whether we are entering a new one or not. This subject has received a lot of press coverage recently but I wanted to share with you my thoughts and what I believe to be the three key indicators that we are entering, or are already in, a technology bubble.

1)      Lack of a single pervading paradigm

What do I mean by this? For many, many years Microsoft was the incumbent technology in the vast majority of organisations, and to be honest their competitors were seen as specialist, it was Microsoft, Java or Open Source. What we have started seeing over the last two years is the emergence of two new competitors Apple and Google. Here is where the sense of confusion begins as most people are learning more than one paradigm right now, as no one knows which will pervade. Both of course offer new ways for people to collaborate the main difference being that Apple works with all documents via a central hub, iTunes, of course Microsoft are not ready to accept defeat and so are launching some innovations around their Live offerings and acquisition of Skype. This has all lead us to a situation where we see three competing paradigms around the basics. This was unheard of 4 or 5 years ago everyone simply used excel or word and maybe  Hotmail or gmail to send personal mails, you wouldn’t use Key Note for PowerPoint similarly you wouldn’t use Open Office for spreadsheets etc.

Everyone is exposed to this break from one paradigm in the basic software they use everyday such as word processing and spreadsheets, messaging, emailing and so on. With Apple and Google users can choose to utilise one paradigm for one medium and another for another, such as Apple on their phone and Google on their tablet. Therefore we are starting to see multiple dominant paradigms in the market with everyone easily swapping between them. There is no longer one standard way of doing things. This confusion in the market for me is reminiscent of the confusion which existed around ecommerce standards during the dot com bubble and is the first key indicator of a technical bubble. No one knows which way the market will go and what will happen in two years time.

2)      Market confusion

Regular readers will know I participate in a lot of events and talk to a lot of CTO and CIOS, at the same time I see a lot of vendors pitching. One of the overriding things I have noted at the events, I attended this year, is that, it seems, every technology company wants to attach the word cloud or mobile to themselves as a sales tool. This in turn creates market hype and confusion. There is undoubtedly a shift from on premise to out of premise via cloud and mobile however, when I see a company that does hosting providing the end user technology via terminal server calling themselves a cloud company and people actually believe that, it tells me there is hype in the market as terminal server is the polar opposite of cloud technology. With mobile I see companies with the ability to work on HTML claiming they are multi platform which simply isn’t true. People are trading on semantics and jumping on the band wagon they cannot support cameras, they cannot support GPS. This in turn means companies cannot see through the mire to what needs to be done and provides to me the perfect environment for a bubble to develop.

3)      Financial indicators

Startups- For me this may be the key indicator that we are immersed in a tech bubble when we look at how much money right now is going into IPOs and investment you can see a lot of Venture Capitalists investing in small companies irrespective of their offering. Take for instance the Start Fund, backed by Yuri Milner, which recently offered to a blanket investment to every Y Combinator startup in the most recent batch, some 40 start ups.  Back in September Intel Capital Managing Director for Asia Pacific Suresh Kumar Kuppam noted “valuations of local tech start-ups have reached a ‘bubble level’ due to too much capital chasing too few quality opportunities”.

Scramble for patents- Coupled with this we see a lot of companies buying up patents, the FT have gone so far as to christen this ‘the Great Patent Bubble of 2011’ “Extracting value from patent holdings is becoming a game of chicken in which the stakes have been rising fast”. this may have been the driver behind Google’s purchase of Motorola .

The exit market- Exits obviously happen all the time in the world of business however it is key to begin to note what the big players are investing in and what they are exiting from. If I look at the market recently I really see a big drive in investment toward any company which has pinned its hat on with a cloud or mobile moniker. The New York Times recently claimed people are “Investing Like its 1999”.

This all leads me to conclude that this model is not sustainable and that we are thus on our way to a bubble.

Why is this important? If you are looking into a cloud or mobile vendor right now to stay ahead of the competition, to avoid the pitfalls of the dot com burst we need to go back to fundamentals. By this I mean look at key indicators around the supplier such as global coverage, heritage, what the company has already been doing and what is the roadmap for the future, how do they understand the technology. All of this enables companies to jump on board the wrong wagon. Similarly if you are an investor looking to invest a bubble can be a great thing and can make you a lot of money but it can also blow up in your face. I advise looking into the same analysis taking into account how solid a company is, what their debt to revenue ratio is, what their p/e ratio is. Don’t just value a company’s propositions on what could be done, as we already know that doesn’t really hold water. Value things from a tangible point of view, don’t be afraid to ask can I see a demo? Is there a dividend strategy? We would all like to benefit from the bubble but you need to make sure not to lose yourself inside the whirlpool.

 

Update from the Blackberry Innovation Forum- London

I was a very nervous man this morning when I boarded the 6am train to London en-route to the Blackberry Innovation Forum. The source of my nerves was, of course, the issues that RIM and Blackberry have been having over the past few days with downtime. As you know the problems persist a fact that was confirmed by a very apologetic opening speech but RIM promise this will soon be addressed, we at Magic have made the most of it and soldiered on with our own demonstrations. Despite the circumstances the event itself is very busy with Blackberry Enterprise customers all keen to learn how to use the devices more effectively.

For me the fact that the event has been so well attended, with the 600 tickets selling out back in September, really highlights the fact that Enterprise Mobility is a key concern for businesses today and is seen as representing a significant competitive advantage in 2012. Within the past few months I have noticed a change in the conversations I have been having with customers and prospects around the topic of mobility. This has been born out today, no longer are the key concerns centred on whether to mobilise or not, but around how best to ensure entire business processes are mobilised and that employees can access key information at the point of decision. This is where our solution of process reengineering through enterprise mobile mash-up comes in and the attendees have been keen to have a look at our live demo. Regular readers will know I am just waiting for Computing to release the video the created a few weeks ago of the live demo but I will release this here as soon as possible.

However I would say that the demo which by far drew the most attention and struck a cord with the attendees was the one with a mash up of Salesforce.com, SAP, JD Edwards and Google Maps. In this scenario a salesman has an appointment cancelled last minute, to ensure that his time and journey is not a wasted effort, a search is carried out to see which customers nearby have contracts for renewal. While on the move the salesman enters his current location and the process begins, after retrieving the relevant information from various systems the results are presented back to the salesman to arrange another appointment.

Magic Software are exhibiting at booths 8 and 10 so if you are at the event feel free to pop by and meet with the team, if you missed us don’t worry we are exhibiting at lot more events this year and next year including the JD Edwards Oracle User Group, the SAP UK and Ireland User Group and the IBM common event.