A few weeks ago, Microsoft asked me if I wanted to check out the Lumia 1520. Although I’m a long-time iPhone user, I thought, why not? It’s always good to see if there is something better out there.
Unfortunately, once I got the phone, it seemed like I never had the time to really put it through its paces. Luckily, my 20-year old son, Tyler McCabe (@tyccabe) who is entering his junior year as computer engineering major, was eager to take the Lumia on a weeklong test drive. Since he’s used both iPhones and Androids over the past few years, his take on the Lumia 1520 intrigues me and I hope to try it soon as well!
The phone is a sleek device that offers a 16.2×8.5cm screen while only weighing just over 200g. The size may be turn off for an iPhone user because it so much wider, but after carrying the phone around for a while, I felt that the trade off for a larger screen is worth the extra size.
The camera bulge on the backside was slightly annoying at first, but considering the impressive photo quality, I can deal with this annoyance. With 20 Megapixel resolution, the front camera produces staggeringly clear and detailed photos that very few smartphones I’ve seen can compete with.
Unlike the mid-resolution photos I get on the iPhone 5—which look good on a small phone screen but are grainy when viewed on a proper monitor—the Lumia’s front camera provides crisp, clean views of intricate images regardless of monitor size.
The camera program also offers amateur photographer helpful modes to help optimize picture-taking under different conditions. From bright sunny days to dark nightclubs, the Lumia’s easy to use tools helped me take great pictures to share with friends. The phone also has many built-in visual filters to make “post production” and editing on the fly easy to do well.
Integrated Circuitry and Storage
The Snapdragon processor in the Lumia 1520 excels at providing quick and responsive feedback when using applications on the phone. For example, when clocked next to an HTC Incredible II and iPhone 5 streaming podcasts over WiFi, the Lumia began playback long before the other two had finished loading. The phone also has exceptional battery life, with a lithium-ion cell that provides me with 24 hours of phone use without a recharge.
The only major hardware gripe I have is the SD/NanoSim slots, which require a Lumia 1520 specific tool to remove and replace these critical components in the phone. What if you lose it? It proved difficult to pry open with a paperclip. Though the unibody design benefits from this choice, the overall inconvenience isn’t worth it. This design lags behind many Android designs for the same function.
Though the original Windows 8.0 was the bane of desktop clients, Windows Phone 8 OS is well suited to smartphones. The Lumia 1520 comes with Windows Phone 8.1, and the user interface was surprisingly intuitive for me and I think would be even the most diehard Apple fans. Some specifics:
- Getting started with the phone and connected to the Internet over WiFi was easy enough, taking me about five minutes.
- The email application integrates with top email providers like Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo, and other services if the mail server information is known. Emails load quickly and the UI provides a good viewing experience.
- I was genuinely surprised to see how concise and user friend the Microsoft Office mobile app is. It’s easy to use and the touch screen enhances, instead of inhibits, document editing.
- You can use 3G or WiFi and the Skype app to make free calls and video calls, and to send IMs.
- The new mobile office really shines with integration of local phone documents with Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud service. This allows users to access their files from anywhere with wireless Internet. Though not a new concept, this feature will bring users of Microsoft’s desktop office suite into the new age of cloud-based and mobile services in an intuitive way.
- The Excel spreadsheet application offers most of the functionality of its desktop relative, giving users the ability to edit multiple cells dynamically with touch commands and analyze data with a variety of predefined and user-created functions. It also brings chart and graph creation and editing, a useful feature for those looking for quick and easy way to interpret data and share information on the go.
- One major drawback of the new Suite is the lack of live multi-user collaboration and revision. Unlike its free competitor Google Docs, Office mobile does not offer live editing of documents between coworker. Though document storage is a step in the right direction, many users will find the lack of collaborative features a turn off for the Lumia and Windows phones.
- A small problem with the ergonomics of the keyboard when typing on the phone in landscape mode is that due to its long body, reaching the inner row of keys can be a strain for those with smaller hands.
Social media is front and center on the dashboard of Windows Mobile 8.0. Unlike IOS or Android where social media apps are discrete and can only be loosely organized, the Windows main screen knits together all of your different social networks together, giving a unified and user-friendly way to manage your entire social presence with the touch of button.
Though work is a major focus for the Lumia, it also offers much in the way of kicking back, for example:
- The Game store and library on the phone integrates the Xbox Live network with your local library, allowing both diehard gamers and casual players alike to share content across platforms and with friends.
- The selection of touch-based games appeared to be quite good with favorites like Plants vs. Zombies, and Cut The Rope.
- Many streaming video options are available right out of the box like Hulu, and AT&T Mobile Video.
Though the size of the Lumia was initially a major hurdle for me to think that I would be able to use the phone as my main mobile device, the slim ergonomics design won me over. The phone continued to impress me by combining the ease of IOS and the customizability of an Android to produce a polished introductory experience. Further complementing my favorable first impression is the creative UI and graphic design that sent a message of innovation and not that of an old “dorky” business phone (think Blackberry).
Unlike its rivals from Google and Apple, the Lumia and Windows 8 Office suite allow for native support of common business formats like PowerPoint, Word, and Excel spreadsheets. The Lumia renders these files as you’d view them on a desktop with the original aspect ratio.
Though there are a few software tweaks, as discussed above, that could improve the Office suite, the Lumia is a good choice for business people who want a cloud and mobile first approach to applications.
Overall I was quite pleasantly surprised with the week I spent with the 1520, and would consider it a fitting, and possibly even superior option for anyone looking for a new approach in the smartphone market.
(Originally published on June 9, 2010, in Small Business Computing)
What is Hybrid Computing?
A hybrid computing platform lets customers connect the packaged small business software applications that they run on their own internal desktops or servers to applications that run in the cloud.
As discussed in What is Cloud Computing and Why Should You Care?, more software vendors are deciding to develop and deliver new applications as cloud-based, software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions. This model helps them reach a broader market and serve customers more efficiently and cost-effectively. And, because cloud computing can often provide significant cost, time and ease-of-use benefits, more companies are choosing to buy and deploy cloud computing solutions instead of conventional on-premise software as new solutions needs arise.
However, most companies will continue to use a combination of both traditional on-premise software and cloud-based SaaS solutions. Think about it: You are unlikely to get rid of an application you’re running in-house just to swap in a SaaS solution. But if you need a new solution, you’re likely to look a range of options, including SaaS applications, to fit the bill. In some newer areas — such as email marketing or social media management — this may be the only way solutions are even available. In cases where you have a choice, you may simply decide that the SaaS model makes more sense, or that traditional deployment will work better for your company.
Why Should You Care?
Many software vendors with a strong presence and customer base in the traditional packaged or “on-premise” software world are developing platforms that provide new SaaS solutions that extend and integrate with their traditional on-premise applications. Some vendors provide app stores or marketplaces to make it easier for you to find solutions that will work well with those you already have.
For instance, Intuit has developed a platform and Intuit’s Workplace App Center so that customers can find and try applications that work with QuickBooks and with each other. Microsoft’s Software + Service strategy is designed to connect a myriad of Microsoft’s traditional software applications to Web-based SaaS solutions.
Recently, Sage launched its Connected Services offerings, designed to connect users of its traditional packaged software offerings with online SaaS services. The Sage e-Marketing application, for example, connects ACT and SalesLogix users with online email marketing services, while many of Sage’s accounting solutions connect with its new Sage Exchange online payment processing.
These vendors realize that most companies will use a mix of on-premise and SaaS solutions for a very long time. While companies can get some value from using some point solutions in a standalone fashion, in many cases, you’ll need to integrate the new SaaS solution with an existing on-premise application — such as integrating payroll to accounting and HR, or social media management to contact or customer management application — to get the value and efficiencies you need.
From the standpoint of their own corporate interests, vendors can increase revenues and profitability by selling existing customers new SaaS services (either their own or those of their partners) to connect to and extend on-premise solutions they’re already using. Having a strong SaaS play that is integrated with their on-premise solutions also helps them protect against competitive SaaS-only vendors that could steadily encroach on their turf.
More altruistically, these vendors want to offer their customers the means to bridge between the on-premise and SaaS solution worlds more easily. After all, it can be very confusing to even sort through and differentiate between all the solutions in a given category, and expensive and time-consuming to integrate them so they work well and easily with what you’re already using.
What to Consider
Most small businesses run at least a couple of on-premise software applications that are critical to their business. For instance, it’s a good bet that accounting and financials are on this list. Other applications will vary depending on the business you’re in, but could include things such as solutions to manage contacts and customers, projects, human resources, logistics or a function specific to your industry.
As you identify and prioritize new requirements to streamline and automate additional tasks, think about the overlaps they’ll require with workflows in the core on-premise solutions and processes that you’re using. For instance, if you decide you want to streamline payments processing, does your accounting software vendor provide a payments processing service that can easily snap into the accounting application?
By taking advantage of the SaaS offerings available from a vendor’s hybrid computing platform, your new solution will generally be up, running and integrated with the core application much more quickly. However, keep in mind that as you snap more services into that core on-premise application, your reliance on that anchor application will grow — arguably making it harder to switch should your needs change.
Filed under: cloud computing, SMB, Software as a Service, Uncategorized | Tagged: cloud, collaboration, connected services, email marketing, hybrid, hybrid computing, Intuit, Microsoft, on demand, platform-as-a-service, QuickBooks, SaaS, Sage, small business, SMB, software + services | 4 Comments »
In a bold move to get traditional value-added resellers(VARs) off the SaaS fence, NetSuite announced its new Solution Provider (SP) 100 Program, which gives business application VARs 100% margin on the first year of license subscriptions they sell. The program requires a 2-year minimum license commitment from the customer, and after the first year, NetSuite pays VARs 10% margin on recurring annual license fees. Prior to this program, NetSuite had offered VARs 30% of annual license sales.
NetSuite’s SP 100 Program targets established mid-market and enterprise ERP and CRM VAR’s and consultants, including VARs selling Microsoft Dynamics, SAP, Sage, Epicor, Deltek, and others. The program is not exclusive—VARs can continue to sell their packaged business software offerings as well. NetSuite is also extending the program to it’s current solution provider partners, and it includes all other SP program perks, including sales and technical training, sales cycle assistance, and marketing support.
Since the model got off the ground over 10 years ago, SaaS vendors have argued that SaaS can open the door for VARs to create a recurring revenue stream, and free them up from low margin IT service chores to focus on generating higher value business.
But the case has evidently not been strong enough to entice the masses, for a few key reasons. First, the recurring revenue model is radically different to the conventional business applications model, where VARs earn a large upfront commission for selling a business solution, hardware and infrastructure software. Second, VARs have balked at not being able to generate income from services necessary to deploy and maintain business applications on customer premises. Third, whether real or perceived, many VARs don’t trust SaaS vendors. Deep down, they think that after they make the sale, SaaS vendors will take control of the account and soon disintermediate them entirely.
NetSuite’s SP 100 Program supplies VARs with the big upfront payment that they are accustomed to. NetSuite’s own side-by-side VAR revenue comparison to Microsoft Dynamics favors NetSuite of course, but VARs can try it and do their own math to see how it proves out without having to give up selling competitive packaged software. It’s an opportunity to get up to speed on SaaS, the cloud and recurring revenue models and develop their business consulting skills.
As important, it comes at a time when the SaaS model has proved its maturity and staying power, many VARs have lost deals to a SaaS vendor, and many customers are trying to avoid big upfront capital outlays. While some VARs will remain skittish, distrustful, or even just lethargic about adding a SaaS solution to their business management portfolio, I think NetSuite’s SP 100 will be big wake-up call for many VARs.
Last week, former Microsoft VP Dick Brass wrote a very
thought-provoking op-ed in the New York Times entitled Microsoft’s
Creative Destruction which sparked some interesting
commentary from media, industry insiders and observers, and so I
thought I’d toss my two cents into the mix as well. Where should I
begin? Since the dotcom boom, people have been predicting
Microsoft’s doom in almost every market that it’s in, from browsers
to search engines, smartphones to music players. Around 2002
or 2003, when I was an analyst at Summit Strategies, one of our
annual predictions was something along the lines of
“Microsoft–Still Relevant, But No Longer Dominant”. Okay, we
were probably a little ahead of our time. But I think that the
times have now caught up with this prediction, and it sums up
Microsoft’s market position fairly well today. As the Brass article
states, Microsoft’s biggest coup was to make desktop computing and
personal productivity software ubiquitous and affordable. But
in recent years, the company has not been an innovator. Like so
many other companies in our industry, Microsoft has found that it’s
original, game-changing innovation can be a tough act to follow.
Seibel Systems (which invented CRM), Digital Equipment (which
revolutionized the industry with mini-computers) and Wang
Laboratories (which invented word processing) leap to mind. In
each case, the paradigm shifted, but they were exceedingly
reluctant and slow to follow. Seibel didn’t believe customers would
ever buy CRM in a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model, but
eventually launched a SaaS offering after watching Salesforce.com
eat its lunch. Digital and Wang both resisted PCs–in the eyes of
their CEOs, no one would want a PC when they could have a dumb
terminal hooked up to a mini-computer, or a computer that just did
word processing. While I don’t think Microsoft is on a path to
extinction, it is does appear to be suffering from a similar
mindset that led to these dinosaurs’ eventual irrelevance and/or
demise. Over the years, I’ve observed a pattern that when other
companies build better mousetraps, Microsoft often dismisses their
relevance and importance until the market demands that it pay
attention. As a result, it has become more of an imitator than an
innovator, with companies like Google, Apple and Amazon beating it
to market to create the new categories that can really spike
growth. So far, Microsoft’s dominance in the operating system and
desktop productivity markets has funded it’s catch up game in new
areas, and it continues to hold a huge market share advantage in
these spaces. However, as profitable as these areas still are
for Microsoft, competitors are whittling away, even in these
strongholds. Not only are Linux, open source and Apple making
headway, but Google is intent on making the traditional desktop
operating system irrelevant for the average user. I agree with Dick
Brass–Microsoft has a lot of creative, talented people but has
lost much of its original, innovative spark. Is this due to
internal politics and bickering, as Brass contends? It’s probably
best left to Microsoft insiders to determine the exact cause. But
from the outside in, it looks to me like Microsoft needs some
new leadership that will change the current climate and re-orient
the business so that Microsoft can regain its creative edge and
start shaping the future with it’s own innovations.
Cloud platforms, or “platforms-as-a-service” (PaaS) are quickly becoming a key channel for application developers. By writing and publishing their applications to integrate with those of a major PaaS provider, such as Salesforce.com or Microsoft, smaller developers can gain instant access to a large installed base of customers.
With so many vendors creating their own clouds, however, it’s easy for software developers to get lost in them—or potentially, locked into in a cloud. After all, it takes a lot of time and effort to write an application that conforms to the requirements of a particular cloud platform. Smaller developers, without extensive resources, have to place their bets carefully, as they may not have the resources to rewrite their applications for different environments when a new or better opportunity arises.
But recently, Intuit unveiled a new capability called “Federated Applications”, which opens up the Intuit Partner Platform to developers that have existing software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications built on other cloud platforms, programming languages or databases. Instead of having to rewrite applications from scratch, developers can use basic XML integration to configure or “federate” their solutions with key integration points, including the user interface, billing, account management and permissions, data and single sign-on to ensure that their solutions integrate with QuickBooks and other solutions on the Intuit Workplace. For example, the partner solutions that Intuit announced at its launch—Expenseware, DimDim, Setster, Rypple and Vertical Response–are built on a wide range of different platforms.
Intuit also provides a wizard to help developers create their pricing plans, and checks each application to ensure that it meets Intuit security and privacy requirements. Once the process is complete, applications are published to the Intuit Workplace, where four million small businesses and their 25 million employees that use QuickBooks can access them.
With its Federated Applications model, and tremendous presence in the small business market, Intuit is poised to change the rules for cloud computing platforms, both for small business developers and customers, as well as rival PaaS vendors. Intuit’s model makes it much easier and faster for developers to leverage existing investments and reach a new market than for PaaS competitors without this capability. In turn, millions of Intuit customers get access to one-stop shopping, account management, connected data, and single sign-on for applications in the Intuit Workplace.
Intuit’s business model represents a dramatic shift from that of the current PaaS gorilla—Salesforce.com. In the Salesforce model, every user of any AppExchange solution must also pay a platform fee to salesforce.com, whether they need to use the Salesforce solution or not—a tax that many small business customers, in particular, are unwilling to pay. In comparison, Intuit charges Workplace developers a percentage fee (typically 14% to 20%, depending on volume) when they sell their solution on the Workplace. In return, developers get a sales channel, platform services, and a friction-free route to Intuit’s large installed base.
By lowering the bar to entry to its platform so significantly, Intuit’s federated approach makes it easy for developers to place a bet on the Intuit Workplace. Intuit customers, meanwhile, can look forward to a flood of new solutions that will work with QuickBooks. At the same time, its more likely that these solutions will be available on other cloud platforms, should the customer decide to move to another accounting solution. Seems like a win-win-win for Intuit, its partners and its customers—and a challenge to PaaS competitors with more proprietary models.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tagged: small business, SaaS, cloud, Microsoft, Intuit, on demand, QuickBooks, briefing, cloud computing, QuickBase, PaaS, platform-as-a-service, Salesforce.com, federated, federated applications, Intuit Partner Platform, Workplace | 4 Comments »