Category Archives: Business

That’s So Finnish

Nokia used to be a Finnish icon. Torchbearer of innovation, engineering and design.

Then, in 2007, Apple released the iPhone and denied Nokia the opportunities to be innovative, continue to create iconic designs or even engineer decent phones. If there’s anyone to blame for Nokia’s misfortune, slide in profits and marketshare, in the recent years, it has got to be the iPhone, Apple and their creator, Steve Jobs. Right? If only Nokia had invented the iPhone, all would be well.


Too many newspaper and magazine articles in Finland about Apple are blaming them for single handedly reducing Nokia from being one of the largest companies in the world to one which future as an independent company is no longer certain. (Microsoft could have bought them twice over with their cash holdings.)

Here’s David J. Cord for Helsinki Times: “[Steve] Jobs has probably been directly responsible for thousands of Finns losing their careers at Nokia or its subcontractors”.

Here’s another quote from Kauppalehti (to call them Financial Times of Finland is giving them too much credit but for the sake of familiarity, that’s the role they play there): “It is widely assumed that the [24th October] release date of Steve Jobs’ biography is timed to take press coverage away from Nokia World [which was on 26th Oct in London]”

Both quotes, I believe, represents the populist views that the press in Finland are eager to imbue. It’s easy to blame Nokias misfortunes to an outside force rather than be critical of the Finnish icon.

What’s worst in this is that this misguided view is mostly only held by the press and some of the public. Nokia management knew the ship was going to run ground unless the course was changed. They tried to change it but were not able to.

One personality trait that Finns have is a fear of failure. When you’re biggest fear is to fail it becomes near impossible to talk about it and accept it when you have failed. Nokia has been much more than just another company to Finns.

But that was in 2007. Now, in 2011, it’s high time for the press in Finland to grow up and 1) report on lessons that can be found in what went wrong with Nokia and 2) give a fair treatment to innovation that comes from outside the borders.

Uncertain Future of Polar

My running computer of choice is the Polar RS200 SD, which includes a wrist watch, a heart rate monitor (HRM) and a foot-pod which accurately measures my speed and distance traveled. I’ve been using it for almost a year now and can’t imagine running without it. I’ve ran more or less 1500 km with it so far.

With the way things are going, it looks like it’ll be my last Polar. They have stopped innovating outside their watches. My 7-year-old model of a watch already does 100% of what I want from it during a run but even the newer models do little for me after a run.

This post is a about things I think are necessary for them to do so they can survive.

1. Embrace the Mac

Polar customer support when I asked them about their plans for developing an app for the Mac:

“We’re following the Mac market share closely but so far don’t think it’s big enough for us to concentrate on.”

Concentrate or take notice of?

Market share illusion

I know many of the few PC-using readers of mine will think “here we go again, another Mac fanboy upset his Mac wont run something”. And it’s true, I am upset. It’s a real shame Polar doesn’t make a Mac application. It’s a shame for me as a runner and it’s a shame for Polar. They will end up loosing me as a customer because of it.

The Mac has about 9% market share of personal computers and it’s growing. But market share is a cold statistic that doesn’t take into count either the actual human or the computer behind the number. In June this year in the US, Apple’s share of over $1000 computers was a massive 91%. Those are sold to people who care about the quality of the product they’re buying and are willing to pay more for it. They have more disposable income.

My last argument to shatter the market share illusion comes from a games developer:

Consider this:

  • Out of the several hundred thousand downloads of Tribal Trouble. the Mac is responsible for 23%!
  • Out of all sales of Tribal Trouble, the Mac is responsible for 47%!

[Oddlabs Blog]

This is after they decided to port their popular PC game to the Mac. There is less choice in games and software on the Mac but this should not be seen as an obstacle but rather as an opportunity.

Competition

The four leaders in the market of running computers are Polar, Suunto, Garmin and Nike with their Nike+ product.

Neither Polar or Suunto make a Mac app. Garmin does and it looks pretty decent. Nike+ syncs with nikeplus.com using iTunes on a Mac or a PC. On top these there’s a slew of apps for the iPhone (just search for ‘running’ in iTunes store and find out for yourself).

(Out of the iPhone apps I’ve only used RunKeeper. For free you’ll get duration, distance, pace, speed, total rise, elevation versus speed and path on map and if you pay a little – £5.99 – you’ll get some extra social features. RunKeeper still, in my experience, has it’s downfalls but I’m sure those will be fixed one day.)

Talking about the iPhone, it has been seen as, like iPods, a ‘gateway drug’ that often leads into buying a Mac. People get used to the easy user interface and the fact that ‘it just works’ and end up buying a Mac as a result. Apple has sold 40 million iPhones and most of them are not Mac users. Yet.

I recently went to few specialised running shops here in London and asked what customers are buying and why. Result; Polar is popular but more and more people are buying Garmin ‘because it supports the Mac’.

I also did a quick survey amongst 13 friends of mine who are active runners. 9 out 13 are Mac users! That’s 70%.

So what should Polar do about this?

I’m not suggesting that they should necessarily go ahead and build a Mac app. It would be nice but at the same time they’d be splitting their resources (all though, in reality it would mean hiring Mac developers or another company to build it). And it could end up being like killing half a bird with one stone.

I believe they should build a very good web app along with little helper apps on both Windows and Mac that transfer data between the Internet and the exercise computer. This takes the pressure off of keeping two different complex apps current on two different platforms. It saves money and it saves time. And it makes a lot of sense.

2. Socialize

Not just because it’s hip. Running is a solitary sport. Roll it in flour, have a running club or run with a friend; in the end of the day, you stamp those kilometres all by yourself.

How much effort is Polar putting into it’s polarpersonaltrainer.com website? Although they change the copyright notice in beginning of the year to 2010 from 2008, not much has changed in a while.

Queue PolarSocial.com

Polar should extend their existing online service so that you can share your results and experiences with other runners you know and find new friends who are local to you. I would love to be able find other Finnish runners in South East London to run with. People are already doing this on other social networks and Polar themselves are in the prime position to, not create, but facilitate the community that already exists around their products.

“I’m not a runner. I’m a Polar runner.”

It’s not about reinventing the wheel. It’s really about taking their existing online services few – or few dozen – levels up. On top of it being the destination to store you past exercises and plan for future ones, you can share this data with other likeminded runners.

There are lots of running groups on Facebook, Yahoo Groups and other forums as well as there are dedicated social networks for runners; like Strands.com. From these, it’s easy to see that there is demand for this.

3. Open Up.

Polar is a hardware company. They make physical objects athletes can wear while exercising. Then, why do they tie you up to their platform when your exercise is over? Why can’t you click a button at polarpersonaltrainer.com that says ‘export my data’?

Is it because they they think closedness is good? It scares me to load my data into a place that I can’t bring it with me if I wish to leave. That’s why my exercise calendar is on Google Docs. No, it’s not a completely open platform but at least I can export my data in various different formats as a backup. Or edit it on my desktop.

There’s two things Polar needs to do when it comes to openness.

First, they have to build an SDK and example apps around their platform(s) to enable third-party developers to build on top it. Perhaps not as far as running software on the watches themselves but desktop applications that will lead the way in innovation. Think of how well the iPhone has done after allowing third party apps. Apple sells a lot more of their devices as a result of supporting a large amount of applications.

Second. The data held at PolarSocial network they should build ought to be open. API and widgets, fire hoses of data that developers can use to build other services around. For example, look at Twitter. 80% tweets come from other platforms that their own website.


What’s my point? This is the same struggle many other companies are going through. The paradigm has changed and you either change with it or you die.

Polar, if you’re listening, get in touch. I have tons more ideas on how all this should be done and I’d really love to help. I’m in the market for a new running watch and I’d like it to be a Polar.

Price of Bits

End of last week Amazon pulled all of Macmillans books off their website and the Kindle store to try and bully the book publisher to let them sell ebooks at a lower price of $9.99. Moments later, they caved and all the books were back, some with higher prices.

Macmillan’s argument was that they should be able to sell bits – as in ones and zeros – at the same price as they sell hardbacks.

Amazon’s argument, I presume, was that they – both Amazon and Macmillan – can make more money by selling the ebook version at a lower price. Shifting physical goods costs money, shifting bits across the Internet doesn’t.

There are three loser in the case when Amazon makes a decision to sell bits for cheaper:

1. The company who prints the book and later has to collect unsold copies of books and pulp them.

2. Climate chance deniers are angry at less trees being torn down.

3. And book publishers autonomy suffers.

Of course, Macmillan only cares about the latter. They want to feel like they’re in charge. They don’t want the bookstore to have the control over what they themselves used to be able to control.

As a bystander, it looks a lot like when Tesco/Asda/Sainsbury’s dictate milk producers at what price they’ll need to sell them milk. Undercutting their actual cost-of-production prices thus making it necessary for governments and the EU to subsidise farming.

Only that… the difference here is that book publisher don’t write books, they publish them. Writers write books. And at no point in this argument between Macmillan and Amazon is anyone asking ‘what do the authors think of this’. Why? Because they’ve been messed about for long enough and they don’t have a voice when it comes to Big Business.

Sure, the top 10 authors make a fair bit of money. The rest don’t. If John Graham-Cumming makes $1.30 per copy of The Geek Atlas sold, all you can think of is to ask where does the rest disappear. It’s the same thing with artists and bands, they make about 6 per cent of the selling price of a CD or a song. No wonder why piracy is rife. Or was, until some figured out that people want easy access to music and that can be paid for with advertising and gigs.

Interestingly, John also says in his tweet that he makes $1.96 per sold ebook. For maths illiterates amongst my readers, whom there are none, that’s more than the hard copy.

(I’m only using him as an example as I knew the numbers. You should run and buy his book, it’s great. I’ve bought a copy for myself and two to give as gifts. By the way, that link is an affiliate link, if you use it, I’ll make a bit of money. In fact, I’ll probably make more than John does from that purchase. That’s how strange the whole setup is.)

OK. I’ve been rambling on a bit without a clear goal.

Why can’t Macmillan allow Amazon to set the price? I’ve got a hunch that, they, Amazon, know far better what sells and at what price than anyone in the room.

They are scared and insulted. That’s probably why.

Selling bits

There is a lot that has to be said for perceived value of a product. Just ask people reading newspapers; paper copy of the same news is valued at £1, digital copy is valued at zero pounds.

When watching the iPad announcement, I made an argument that the average price for an iPad app is going to be more than the average price of an iPhone app. Let’s pull couple of numbers out of the hat: average price of indie software for Apple platforms:

Macintosh: $20
iPad: $5 (for apps that are made to work on just that platform)
iPhone: $1

My reasoning behind this is that it’s easier for a consumer to justify paying more for a product that runs on a faster, larger device. Perceived value.

By far, most ebooks (that are NOT in public domain and many of the ones that are) are DRM protected, therefore can only be viewed on the device they were bought for and cannot be lent to friend. Yes, you can only read a book on the paper it was printed on (pretty good DRM) but no-one is going to tell you not to lend it to your friend.

As I’m limited in this way when buying a book, I don’t think I should be paying as much for an ebook as I pay for a hardcopy. I value the art that has gone into writing the book as much, but as a product, an ebook offers a lower value* because of the limitations it imposes on me.

So, what changed. I’m pretty sure Amazon is quite anxious of what Apple is going to do with their iBook Store. Biggest reason for them to worry about is whether Apple is actually going to pull Amazon’s Kindle app for the iPhone of of the App Store and thus no longer be able tosell books for that device. I think this would be classed as anticompetitive behaviour and it wouldn’t go down well with the courts, from Apples point of view. Amazon would win, but everyone would suffer. I also think that we’re close to seeing whether Apple still thinks it’s in the hardware business rather than starting to show signs of wanting to make money with software and content.

Amazon, on the other hand, should concentrate on it’s ‘we’re a bookstore’ business. Not to forget about Kindle completely but to make sure they stay competitive in the ebooks market. I have no doubt they wouldn’t, this case with Macmillan just shows it. They’re not selling quite that many Kindle’s that they could stop selling lots of books to read on them.

Book publishers, like record companies, will need to find ways of staying relevant as more and more books are being published with out them. They need to find and nurture talent.

Most of all, this is an interesting time for authors. There’s a million ways for a book to be published. It used to be that the hardest part was to get noticed by a publisher, now, if you can get noticed by your audience, you can actually make it. I predict that with in a few months, there’s going to be iPhone OS (for both iPhone and iPad) developers who have a plug’n play – or plug’n publish – solution for you to sell your book on these devices. In my previous post I mentioned iSites, that allows you to publish your social media content and blog through an app. It’s trivial to do this for a book. Just wait and be ready.

Ending note

This was a bit of a brain dump. So many companies have vested interests and legacy to hold on to that it really annoys me when I feel that progress is being stifled or slowed down. The paradigm has changed a long time ago but many still feel like holding on to the past. Everybody needs to really think ‘what business am I in’ and not try to have foot in the door to other contradicting areas. I guess I need to keep that in mind myself as well. What am I good at, get better at it and do it.

* Must be said that in many cases, especially for textbooks and manuals, an ebook can offer more value with it’s lower footprint and the fact that I can read it on-screen with the work I’m doing.

Printer Manufacturers Bring Sorrow And Sadness To Consumers Thinking They Can Use Their New Printer With a Computer Straight From the Box

Briefly,

To all you budding lawyers/solicitors who want to get rich quickly. Buy a printer, any consumer inkjet printer will do. Go home and start setting it up. In the process, you’ll find that no USB cable is included. Be very annoyed about this. Raise a class action lawsuit (or what ever it might be called here in Britain) against all major printer manufacturers who do this. Hire me to show up in the court as expert witness. I’m pretty cheap at £4500/day. Win the case.

The result:

  • You’ll be a hero to millions of those similarly angered by printer manufacturers
  • You’ll have changed the course of history
  • You’ll have started my career as an expert witness; something I never thought I’d do but can’t see why I wouldn’t
  • and

  • You’ll be a millionaire

–kristian

Three Men Were In a Pub

So these three men were in a pub, having a quiet pint after a hard and stressful week.

Man 1: “I’ve had the worst week ever. My dog died.”

Man 2: “No, mine’s been even worse. My dog, cat and goldfish died. All in one day.”

Man 3: “That’s pretty terrible guys, but mine’s been even worse: I’ve spent six and half hours on hold to BT.”

–kristian

Type 25 Returned

So the bag is safely at home now. Had to get it back ‘manually’ -as my brother would say- they wouldn’t bring it back apparently I hadn’t complained early enough. The idiots, who surely are nice people but are suppressed by an evil corporation they work for, hadn’t been capable of neither reading my contact details from my business card or look me up with the details on the tag. No can do, sir.

The bag is also badly damaged. I will need to seek for refund. And damn sure I’ll have them pay postage for the letter to Ireland.

I guess I wouldn’t be this pissed of with them if they truly were a cheap airliner. After paying €180 for return to Finland, you can expect some level of service and respect.

BTW, if you google ‘smelly ryanair’, my previous blog post comes on the top. Cool.

Take care,

kristian

Reverse Ode To Ryanair

Getting a bag from place A to place B is not rocket science. Brain science is rocket science. My bag was lost tonight en route from Tampere to London. Now, ok, bags do get lost once in a while (this was a first for me) but taking that this flight was the ONLY flight to depart from Tampere, it’s pretty damn hard to put it in a wrong plane. This was on top of, again, very very bad service they had. I’m not going to bore you with details other that details of what was lost:

– Jeans. The ones I always wear and almost my only jeans.
– a shirt
– three pairs of Muji pants (dirty)
– Fake Steve Jobs t-shirt (ouch)
– random set of cables, couple of firewires, power adapter for my external HD, camcorder and digital compact, a phone charger
– Manfrotto mono pod and its head
– 2 packs of Hiillos sausages and one of Camping sausages
– 1 kg of Fazer salty licorice chocolate. The girlfriend said I’m not to return home without it

So basically everything is pretty easily replaceable but it still does hurt. A lot.

I wrote the following song on the plane before this happened. It describes the feelings I have for that company. I had to edit it a bit because the original used such bad language that it wasn’t suitable even for internet. And it suggested things that should not be said.

(to be sang in the melody of ‘Smelly Cat’ by Phoebe Buffay)

Ryanair, o Ryanair
Why do you hate me?

Ryanair o Ryanair,
O’ why do you hate me so much right now?

Ryanair o Ryanair,
Why do you spit on my face when fly with you?

Ryanair, o Ryanair,
O’ Why do you spit on my face after I paid a small fortune to eat one of you smelly dog burgers?

Ryanair, o Ryanair,
I hope you get investigated by the EC

Ryanair, o Ryanair,
O’ I hope you get investigated by the EC and are put out of business.

Ryanair, o Ryanair,
Why do you hate me?

Ryanair, o Ryanair,
O’ Why do you hate me and my family?

Copyright notice: Anyone is free to sing, record or perform ‘Reverse Ode To Ryanair’ (the song) but 5% of all profits made from ‘the song’ must be donated to RSPCA. Also, the copyright holder, Kristian Tapaninaho, must be notified of any use of ‘the song’, including humming. Copyright holder takes no responsibility over infringement of Phoebe Buffay’s melody or if content of ‘the song’ causes nausea and anxiety which might result in depression.

Kristian

[update] After reading Michael O’Leary’s (CEO of Ryanair) profile in the Guardian Online, I should maybe change the song back to it’s original state. He is a bit of a*.

*Insert the c word here (not cabbage). No matter how much I want write the word i’m not going to.

BBC On-Demand Windows Only: This Must Be Stopped!

Friends, we must act now and stop BBC from making their forthcoming on-demand service Windows only.

>>>Please see their open consultation here.

If you don’t fancy reading all of the 121 pages of “Public Value Assessment:
BBC On-demand Service Proposal”,
see the parts where the word “Microsoft” is mentioned:

“The technology required to use this streaming service is expected to be a minimum of
Windows 98 and Microsoft Windows Media Player 9 or RealPlayer.”

What! Minimum Windows 98? I don’t mean to be snobby but if you run Windows 98 you haven’t even heard the word ‘on-demand’…

“This means the service would be unavailable to a minority of consumers who either do not use Microsoft or do not have an up-to-date Microsoft operating system.”

Yes, I guess under 5% is a minority. But so is Finland’s Swedish speaking population and yet we all embrace this by learning Swedish (not always by choice, must be added).

We also note that the Microsoft-based strategy for rights management will limit usage. Normally, we would expect BBC services to be universally available, as universal access to
BBC services is in the public interest. However, as set out above, other mainstream
technology platforms do not currently provide the appropriate security.

Do they not? If they’re really worried about someone watching and storing their programs, maybe they should stop broadcasting them on TV!
Next 6 “Microsoft” mentions in the document basically repeat these point again.

If you want to take part in the consultation, and I suggest you do, you don’t have to answer all the questions. Here’s the most important ones and what I answered on them:

Question 1:

“Do you agree with the BBC Trust’s proposal to approve the new BBC on-demand services, subject to the modifications outlined in the Trust’s report of its provisional conclusions?”

Answer 1:

“There should be an on-demand service, but it should absolutely be available cross platform, not just Windows.”

Question 2:

“In a market in which most broadcasters are expected to be offering on-demand services, would you agree that it is a priority for the BBC to be investing in this area?”

Answer 2:

“Yes”

Question 3:

“The BBC Trust has proposed setting a limit of 30 days as the amount of time that programmes can be stored on a computer before being viewed. As this is a nascent market, there is currently no clear standard on the length of the storage window. On balance, the Trust thinks 30 days is the right length of time. How long do you think consumers should be able to store BBC programmes on their computers before viewing them?”

Answer 3:

“Consumers are paying TV license fees, which is used to pay for BBC programming. Therefore, the consumer should be able to store the program on their computer for unlimited time. There is no restriction on recording programs on VHS, DVD or DVR devices, there should also be no restriction on using and storing the files that have been downloaded.”

Question 5:

“How important is it that the proposed seven-day catch-up service over the internet is available to consumers who are not using Microsoft software?”

Answer 5:

“It is very important that people using other operating systems are not discriminated.”

I can’t stress enough how important this is. Have you ever tried to watch BBC’s streaming on their website? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to do that on a Mac? This is also related to what I was writing earlier. In theory, I don’t have anything against Microsoft, if someone wants to use their products, it’s not my problem. Just don’t make me use them. But I can see that if this was Windows only, I would be using Windows on my MacBook more often than I want to. Let’s stop this non-sense!

kristian

(via: Daring Fireball and BoingBoing)