Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Candy Crush Saga Would Fail on Windows Phone

Several sites including pocketgamer.fr and WMPowerUser are reporting that King has decided to not bring it’s popular Candy Crush Saga game to the Windows Phone ecosystem.  (It’s “on hold indefinitely”.)  I suspect Disney and Mojang have much more to do with this than Windows Phone’s market share.

Most sites reporting King’s changed stance cite poor growth of the Windows Phone ecosystem as the reason for putting Candy Crush for Windows Phone on hold.  I don’t believe them.

The news, of late, ironically, has been loudly about two things.  1)  after a lull while Nokia was absorbed by Microsoft, Windows Phone has significantly improved its market share in the past quarter or so.  2)  Microsoft bought Mojang.

The more likely reason:  (and I would love for King to prove me wrong, but…) I’m reasonably certain that if King released Candy Crush Saga for Windows Phone right now, it would fail… and I bet they know that.

I speculate that King has been holding their Candy Crush Saga app hostage from the Windows Phone ecosystem for some time, possibly hoping Microsoft would buy King in… a Mojang/Minecraft-like multi-billion dollar play. 

Clearly, Microsoft buying Mojang was a smart choice, since Minecraft has almost become a gaming platform of its own. There is a Minecraft community and ecosystem with many vendors producing products and supporting it for their own continued success.  I suspect that for those vendors, Microsoft buying Mojang will multiply Minecraft’s ecosystem success;  the ecosystem will be more broadly and more consistently available to more players.

King, on the other hand, is a one-hit wonder who’s core titles are fading as all titles do.

Candy Crush Saga’s fading brand isn’t the reason the title would fail on Windows Phone, however.  

The reason Candy Crush Saga would fail on Windows Phone is because Windows Phone has developed its own ecosystem, and King’s niche in that ecosystem has been filled by an even bigger fish…  namely Disney. 

Yes, Candy Crush Saga would have to compete with the likes of titles such as Frozen Free Fall and Maleficent Free Fall, which are both magnificent implementations of switch/match games that even I have burned some measurable amounts of time and real cash in.

To me, the message is clear.  King has made its bed. How embarrassing would it be for King to release it’s flagship titles to Windows Phone only to be shrugged off by the Windows Phone app market for the effort?  Especially after trying to leverage its brand to strong-arm Windows Phone.  Frankly, a failure like that could put King’s position in the iPhone and Android ecosystems at risk… which would bring potential value down in the eyes of, say, Apple or Google.

I suspect there are other app publishers facing similar choices.  Perhaps they have likewise made their beds. I believe the Windows Unified platform is the platform that successful iPhone and Android publishers can’t afford to fail on.  Such publishers have two choices 1) get in before a competitor fills their niche, (and succeed), or 2) watch and miss out while realizing in ever more clear hindsight over next decade that Windows Unified was the opportunity they wish they hadn’t written off.

[Edit:  1/8/2015 – So King has published Candy Crush Saga to Windows Phone 8, now, and I’m very pleased to see it… it’s one less reason for folks to avoid the Windows Phone platform deciding to make the switch or not.   Will the Windows Phone edition be successful?   By many measures of an app on a platform, it already is.   Will it be the success it was on other platforms in reasonable comparison?   That remains to be seen, and I still think my analysis is correct, but I think that King still held out for Microsoft to offer up some form of subsidy…  I notice that Microsoft has been shelling out for ads for Minecraft, and in those same ad spaces are lots of ads for Candy Crush, as well.]

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Net Neutrality and the Return of AOL

For cable TV customers, there’s something oddly familiar about the idea of channel providers.  Trading off television channels by switching cable TV providers has long been commonplace in regions where there’s more than one cable TV provider, and long been the envy of those who don’t live in such regions.  If Time-Warner wants to cut off CBS over contract issues, and you live in a place where you only have Time-Warner, you don’t get your NCIS fix.

Flashback to a couple decades ago…  America Online, GEnie, and CompuServe WERE the “Internet”.  If you wanted IN on the “online craze” you had to go to one or more of these companies and buy your seat at their table.  Companies didn’t advertise their web URLs.  They advertised their AOL keywords.  CompuServe had great educational content providers, but AOL was king of chat at a time when chat was king.  Most companies flocked to AOL as a result, and so AOL wasn’t just an ISP, it was THE digital content channel provider.

The channel model died with the rise in popularity of the Internet.   Suddenly, all you needed to connect content to customers was the same thing that everyone needed.  A connection.  Thanks to a convention called “Net Neutrality”, the channel model built by services such as AOL & CompuServe were walls that were knocked down.  Your connection was every “channel”, simultaneously, all the time, with no bundling.  As a business, wanting to publish and contribute your content as a channel, you had only to invest in your own connection, and a little technical infrastructure, and you were in.

Facebook has taken serious shots at bringing the channel model back.  If you want to play certain online games or see some online content, you must join Facebook… and content/gaming providers who want to participate in that must come to agreements with Facebook, of course. 

Yet, with the breakdown of Net Neutrality, the pendulum is swinging solidly back to the channel provider model.  Your ISP now has the right to decide what traffic they carry over their networks and/or throttle performance from different content significantly…  if they want to cut back on Netflix… they can.  If they want to nix Google services, whatever.

Clearly this happened almost instantly with recent judicial rulings…  The jinni is already out of the bottle.  Verizon has decided to effectively drop the “Netflix channel” by cutting Netflix’ bandwidth down to reportedly unusable levels.  This means if you’re on Verizon and were using Netflix, you either have to find a new video streaming service, or you have to find a new channel service provider. 

How long will it be before this impacts every Internet service provider (and even cellular network providers, since VOIP services are reducing them to ISPs as well)?  

Here’s some fictitious quotes from a not so hard to see future (roughly within the next decade):

  • “I left Verizon for Time-Warner because Verizon charges too much for the Office 365 and Facebook channels.  Comcast is tempting, though, because they have Google Hangouts and enhanced YouTube in their HD package.” 
  • “I wish Verizon had the same educational channels as T-Mobile or Sprint, though, cause my kids could use that for school.”  
  • “Thankfully my channel provider and my folks across the country both have enhanced Skype.  I can’t Skype my sister at all, though.”
  • “I had to switch banks when I switched carriers.  AT&T hasn’t come to an agreement with my old bank, so I couldn’t use their online services.”
  • “Amazon’s gone bust since they failed to become a viable channel provider, and every other channel provider decided to compete against them.”
  • “Google is the new AOL.  Most folks can’t even get online except thru Google Fiber. Your business does not have an online presence unless it’s thru them.  It’s too bad your competitors already have exclusive agreements with them.”

ISPs love this, because as cable TV providers will tell you, there’s a lot of pricing power in being a channel provider, but not so much is being a connection provider. 

Businesses will struggle with this, however, because getting your website on the Internet will become a much more complicated proposition.  Sure, you’ll be able to get online the same, but your content won’t be carried the same.   Essentially, small business content will be at the whim of “local access channels” provided by each channel provider.  They’ll all have their own rules and regulations, and even more importantly, their own fees.  Is your audience growing?  You’ll have to hammer out deals with each channel provider to make sure your content gets to all your customers.

Further, how long will it be before we start having a resurgence in custom network interface hardware to the point of ending Wi-Fi and Ethernet as we know it?  We’ve already seen netbooks and tablets that have wireless Internet service tied to specific cellular carriers.  I’d be willing to bet that as channel providers gain hold and start to flex their newfound muscles, a breakdown in connectivity standards will take hold.

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

What’s Hiding Behind "Low Resolution" Metrics?

100 data points

I’m a software application developer, but I get this.  Metrics are the photographs of business. 

While I’m at it, here’s another classic cliché for ya…  “A picture’s worth a thousand words.” 

What if your picture has been reduced to a small number of data points? 

You get something like the image on the left…  there’s actually 100 data points in that image:  the resolution has been reduce to a very small number of pixels, each expressed as a block of color.  (The image it was originally reduced from is about 40,000 data points.)  

Anyway, this is what metrics are to a business… data points that, when taken collectively, become the model or picture of the state of the company.

Standard GAAP accounting is supposed to provide a meaningful definition of metrics for any company, of any size, and for some purposes this may be sufficient.

Problems generally come in with the specialization of a company… the metrics it measures its own processes and performance by. 

Too many metrics, and it can’t all be taken in… like getting a close up of the whisker I missed when I shaved.  (From the “be careful of what you wish for” department.)  Thankfully that doesn’t happen very often;  it’s hard to imagine justifying the expense of that kind of metric “resolution”. 

It’s far more likely there are too few metrics. 

Imagine what it would look like if we reduced the resolution of the picture further… say to one data point.

Imagine, for example, if you only considered the price of a share of common stock in trying to get an idea of how well a company is performing.   Indeed, that’s definitely a “single pixel” view, and it really won’t tell you anything about the stock or the company attached to it.

Now take this, again, to internal processes.  Let’s imagine a bank that measures its loan officers only by their average ROI on loans. 

Ok… so that’s a silly extreme, but let’s just run with it for a moment…

Imagine trying to provide a bonus-impacting performance review of a loan officer when the only metric you had was the ROI on their loans. The average interest rate of the loan may be a valuable metric, but only when taken with other metrics. 

It won’t be long before all the loan officers are writing a few extremely short term loans for a penny at hundreds to thousands of percent interest.  Hey, for $99.99, ROI on the penny just netted someone another $10k in bonuses, right?  Again, a goofy extreme example, but you get the point.

This is a problem that’s plagued more than just a few business units… more than a few businesses, corporations, conglomerates.  Really, it’s impacted more than just a region, and even the nation.  Poor metrics beget poor metrics. In the global economy, poor metrics, taken collectively, have hidden a great number of sins that contributed significantly to the global downturn referred to as “The Great Recession”.   (Who wants to know where they’re going when they don’t like the answer, I guess, huh?)

No one, from your boss, to world governing bodies, can point the ship in the right direction without a clear picture of where we’re at.

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

D11: What’s Wrong with Devices Everywhere?

Reports coming back from D11 indicate that most companies are focusing on (according to a report attributed to Mary Meeker)  “Wearables, Drivables, Flyables, Scannables”.

Simply put, I tend to disagree still. 

While all these brilliant minds are gathering, I think the feedback leaking out feels as out of touch as the iPhone…  I’m not sure it even sounds different anymore.

With respect to wearables, I believe the pre-backlash against Google Glass is telling, and has more to do with the fact that people are very comfortable with their smartphones… and not so comfortable with the Borg-like assimilation of them.  

I think Apple will run into the same sorts of issues with the iWatch.  I’d rather put an iPhone on an arm- or wrist- band than have both an iPhone and an iWatch…  that makes two devices to manage the care & feeding of…  this goes directly against the premise of the SmartPhone… the idea that *one* device is your buddy and your complete “away-mission” kit.

The idea of drivables is similar.  Computers in cars is one thing.  I don’t want to have another computer interface in my car. 

Blame it on R2-D2 and the Borg.

No one wants to be assimilated. 

Further, why carry an X-Wing (or Y-Wing or B-Wing) fighter around when you can have your astromech (smartphone) follow you from fighter to fighter?

While I fully agree…  any company worth their salt should be looking at making everything have a well connected computer in it,  they should not, necessarily, be looking at having a human interface on those devices.  These should be control & reporting processors built into devices, not redundant smartphones built into devices.

Let the interface be our beloved astromech… I mean smartphone.

I love where some auto manufacturers are going with things like Ford SYNC.

The ten year cycle on the smartphone is only just beginning, and wearables, drivables, flyables and scannables probably won’t work as stand-alone products, but as extensions of the smartphone era.

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Virtual Gambit

What a pain.

A few weeks ago I posted a bit about how Windows 8 is not killing the PC market.

I’ll now take that a step further and argue about the one thing in Windows 8 that is really making me regret not having new hardware…  an actual compelling reason to really think about a new PC, for me.

Around the time I wrote the original post, I was looking at taking advantage of Windows 8 Pro / Hyper-V on my home PC…  mostly because emulators for devices such as Surface and Windows Phone 8 make use of it.  I have Hyper-V on my work system, and it’s fantastic for a variety of reasons.

I’d all but forgotten that my home PC didn’t have a processor that supported VT-x technology, meaning no Virtual Machines… so when I went to add the Hyper-V role, I was somewhat disappointed to discover it was a no-go.  

“Maybe it’s time to upgrade something,” I thought.   I could get a new machine… but it’s pretty hard to justify the chunk of change based on this one feature.  (Never mind that it’s not so easy to liberate that kind of money from the budget.)  “I’ll order a new processor that supports Virtual Machines.”  VT-x.

So I dropped the $200, instead…. placed an order for a dated, but still more feature-rich chip.  I waited for the thing to arrive, and finally sat down, lifted the old CPU out, and dropped in the new one.

After the successful screw-top surgery, I pulled up the dialog to add Hyper-V only to discover that…  the new CPU doesn’t have the guts to run Hyper-V on Windows 8 either.

Seriously miffed, (because I know VM technology is older than Hyper-V, and I just burned $200 for 2-3 more FPS in WoW) I started looking into what the deal was.  Turns out Hyper-V on Windows 8 requires an additional virtualization technology in the processor called SLAT.  

None of the processors that fit my home PC support SLAT. 

If I want Hyper-V, (which is highly desirable for coders like myself who want to use Microsoft tools for the latest MS platforms) I *must* replace the vast majority of my PC’s components… but, really… economically speaking…. I need a new PC.

So it’s an interesting conundrum that I can’t help think was designed around boosting hardware sales….  Seriously…  I can do a lot with Virtual Box and VMware Player in terms of running VMs.  I could even install Windows Server 2012 and run Hyper-V from the server OS (without SLAT) on the very same hardware.  (Only Windows 8 Pro Hyper-V requires it.)

I can’t buy a new PC for less than $2k that will outperform my current system…  so, when it comes down to it, the ONLY reason I can think of to upgrade would be for Hyper-V… what a pain.

Here’s a comparison between my PC (Hyper-V no-workey) and a much more modern i7 (Hyper-V workey)…  note that the i7 is an Intel i7-720M, but it’s processor score (6.9) in the Windows Experience Index is less than the experience index of my older Yorkfield Core 2 Quad-Q9400 (7.2).   (both systems are hobbled by their disk platters).

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Cloud or Windows 8 Killing the PC Market?

Everyone’s busy scratching their heads as of late, and then pointing.  Who’s killing the PC market?  

Slashdotters are loving the idea that it’s Windows 8 ( http://tech.slashdot.org/story/13/04/11/002200/windows-8-killing-pc-sales ).

…but I fully call BS on that.  (Thankfully, Slashdot corrected itself to some extent.)

Then I came across this article by ZD Net blaming the cloud:
http://www.zdnet.com/whos-killing-the-pc-blame-the-cloud-7000013954/#postComment

The CLOUD?

That’s kind of like saying the Boeing 787 is killing the auto industry.

The cloud may be killing the server market, but that’s not the PC market…  the server market is busy supporting the cloud providers, though, so I don’t think they’re too bad off. 

If Windows 8 is holding the PC market back, it’s this:   I have upgraded every PC I touch (and then some) to the latest Windows 8 Pro, with no need for additional hardware, (because you were ill advised (or unadvised) if you’re a Windows user who didn’t take advantage of the $40 PRO edition upgrade offer from MS while you could.)

What’s killing the PC market is rooted in applications… especially games, on a couple levels:

1)  the fact that there’s only ever been one reason to have heavy iron at home:  games.  Games have gotten to the point that spending a few thousand dollars on a new machine won’t significantly improve your desktop gaming experience… so… unless you have that kind of scratch to waste, why bother?

2)  The games people want to play are on mobile devices.  As much as I love my desktop games, there actually have been a few mobile titles that have been engaging enough that I have taken time off from raiding to play them.

There is also the fact that the economy in general sucks, and while older PCs can continue to function, newer PCs are discretionary purchases that can (or must) wait.  

I can say from example, I’m aware of someone who has a laptop that, through what appears to be planned obsolescence, has broken in a couple of “expensive” ways… the display and keyboard are both dead.   Rather than pay a grand or more for repairs that would cost more than a new machine, or even pay the money for the new machine, the solution was to pick up a USB keyboard, and a cheap monitor… it now serves quite adequately as a desktop…  (and it was also upgraded to Windows 8).  (In any case, I’ll never waste money on that brand of laptop again.  🙂  )

If the hardware market wants me to spend, they’ve got to do something that will get me to feel like I’m not burning bucks for 10 additional frames per second, or… change their model… radically. 

Or… show me my favorite desktop title with an improved experience through touch screen…  but even this can be overcome with something like a LEAP Motion sensor for less than $100.

Bottom line… I think what we’re seeing is, for the first time, honest to goodness inflation hitting the PC market, and it’s choking on it.

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Hedging Against The Risk of Becoming A Monopoly

First Microsoft with their late entry into the mobile market (and flubs leading up to it)… then Apple… now Facebook…  anyone notice that they kinda suck lately?  

Apple, clearly getting bored with it’s iPhone, is now turning its attention to it’s iWatch… which doesn’t make much sense to me;  I purposely gave up all other devices, including a wristwatch, in favor of a single unified mobile device.  It will take a lot to convince me to add a wristwatch back in, and I’m sure having to pay for it will be a deterring factor.   (Next thing you know, they’ll add electroshock notifications, and make it so that authorities will have the ability to lock it to the wearer’s wrist and cause it to electromagnetically bind to the nearest metal object in order to detain people… (but that’s another whole story)).

I’m always toying with social media, so when I ran across a Facebook post from an entrepreneurial acquaintance recently, wondering if his content was being suppressed, I had to check it out.   As an experiment, he posted a really cute puppy, and it picked up a fair number of responses.  His concern was that his regular posts were not getting the response he’d grown accustomed to.  To add yet more anecdote, there was recently a post on the New York Times’ blog about similar observations, tied to tweaks Facebook has made recently.  It seems posts that are engaging or paid for are prioritized, and posts that are not quite as popular are at best “deprioritized”.  It seems likely that even engaging posts tied to commercial products are likely suppressed unless paid for.  Anyone who dabbles in trying to build an audience through Facebook must pay or make sure their content is very engaging.   I like knowing about the books friends of mine are publishing.  I like knowing about their small mom & pop shop.  These posts are getting hidden from my newsfeed.  It’s not the most engaging stuff, but it’s part of what I use Facebook for.  Having this stuff drop off my radar makes Facebook start to suck more.  Yes, they want to make money, but I think there may be even more to it.

I digress.

But I have to ask…  with all the Big Data that companies like Apple, Intel, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Facebook, Google, and the rest have…  and rest assured, they have it… the analytics.  How can they really not recognize the things that are hurting their business? 

Is it intentional?

If modern history has shown us anything, it’s that free markets do not tolerate monopolies.  In every case, any time a company takes advantage of its own strength in the market, the market has pushed back, forcing one of a number of “bad” things upon the company.  Just about every global company has seen this.  I recall hearing about the Rockefeller oil breakup, but in our time, it was the Microsoft / Internet Explorer shakedown…. and there have been many others.

I long suspected the reason Linux existed and was not thoroughly stomped on by the powers that be (Microsoft) was to allow Linux to be a “competitor” in the market… something that would never have a unified corporate focus that could actually unseat Microsoft.  I know that Microsoft even supported some Linux components, which anecdotally supports my theory.  I’m sure they supported it as much as they felt they necessary in order to make sure Linux was a viable competitor.

When it became clear that Linux’s strength was flagging, a more corporate competitor became necessary.  It seems Apple filled that gap very nicely in the PC market for some time.

While Apple began to dominate the mobile market, Google stepped up to become a competitor there, partially because Microsoft wasn’t committed to the market space.  (It wasn’t enough of a threat to the PC market.)  Android has the same problems as Linux… too decentralized to be a lasting threat, so while Apple had it’s heyday and now lets itself slip in the market, Microsoft will target Google.  Eventually, I predict Apple and Microsoft will take turns with market dominance with Google there to provide another safety net.

So back to Facebook…  It seems like Twitter has become a haven for market bots, but not much more of real use to the average person.  Facebook’s power grew to near monopolistic levels over 2012, but I predict that Facebook will actually allow this unhappy situation to persist for entrepreneurial folks, encouraging them to explore Google+.  This leadership transference to Google+ will bolster Google+ as a competitor, enabling Facebook to remain free of  the shackles of being a monopoly.  I suspect they’ll both start taking turns with market dominance, but despite the market competition, I bet both will claim better results in their marketing campaigns, thus leading to higher advertising prices on both.

The nasty part, here, is that the reason for preventing and sanctioning monopolies is to prevent them from strong arming their markets.  Unfortunately, what it seems like we’re getting instead is very small oligarchies taking turns to be the dominant, but not quite monopolistic force in the market.  They take advantage of each other to develop brand loyalty which improves their profit margins and gives them near monopolistic power among their followers, yet they maintain their monopoly-free, unsanctioned status.