October 20, 2003

Mobius Redmond 2003

Finally I've found a bit of time to write something about this trip. I'm not going to reprise everything. That's been done by some much better writers than me (see in particular geek.com and jenneth.info). Rather I want to tell you about my general impressions and talk about what I enjoyed. Beware this is a stream of consciousness post.

I was somewhat stressed leading into the event having just been to the of my grandfather funeral to whom I was very close. I also missed the term as a result of the start of the trip so there were some loose ends to tie up before I went.

I managed to get hold of an N-Gage just before I went, which was great as it would actually give me some time to play with it on the flight. Since it shares a battery with the 3650 I was able to use this as a backup - in the end I didn't need it until the evening (battery lasted for a 15 hour journey of which about 6-7 hours was playing games).

Having arrived in Seattle the smooth organization began to tell - met at the airport, no problem checking in to hotel etc..... etc. I had about an hour to collect myself (the old need to sleep feeling was getting quite strong at this point) before the evening reception. It was great to meet old friends and new and some of the devices available to play with were very nice (The T3 Palm sticks in the mind in particular). In the end I stayed up far too late catching up with people.

The next morning I rolled out of bed into the elevator and into a shuttle bus at 7:30 am - ughh. The drive to the Redmond campus was fascinating. Driving through an American city is something I always find a refreshing change. You see real transitions in the Burgess concentric ring model which you dont tend to get so much in the UK. The views over Puget Sound (sp?) were stunning too in the early morning light. The actual Redmond Corporate campus was like any other - low box buildings. A bit like Butlins in a way.

That day was spent in the Consumer Experience Center (basically a Microsoft Ideal Home). MS products everywhere of course, but the concept is of course the main point. I wouldn't mind some of the kit! One of the items was a wide screen TV linked to an X-Box with Halo - first time I ever seen something like that so it was fun to play with Andy (from Smartphone Thoughts). Unfortunately he cheated was very sneaky with a sniper rifle. I had to resort to running him over in a Jeep. That was satisfying. :)

The presentations on the first day were good. Ranging from stuff about Smartphone to Pocket PC, software, GPS, and more. Its interesting for me because it gives a comprehensive over view of the Microsoft mobility strategy. The over riding impression I got this time was that things were starting to happen for Microsoft. I think a lot of people in the Symbian world have grown complacent, and have forgotten the competition that Microsoft represents. With the SPV e200 you'll effectively have hardware parity. It raises the stakes a certain amount for Series 60 especially.

On of the interesting talks was from a Handmark Exceutive. I'd only vaguely heard of them before. Mainly because they are US centred (and focusing on PocketPC and Palm). I don't think it will be long before we see Symbian products from them. The more interesting thing was their strategy of building a mobile software brand and selling off the back of that using liscensing agreements for famous names (Oxford Dictionaries). They also sell in the real world as much as they do online. They charge a premium for the software (30), but it seems to work for them. They are the market leader by a long way and have the development, publication and distribution of mobile software down very well (one to watch I think).

That evening we were taken out to a Karting place which was fun. Almost as fun was watching the competitive spirit at work. I really wouldn't want to cross the street with some of these mobile webmasters on the road (you know who you are). I also learnt that Norwegians are scarily good at Air Hockey.

The next day was spent in the old Visio Offices down on the waterfront near the centre of town (just a few blocks from the hotel). We saw some stuff of the Media Centre PC (not for me thanks), and more up my street Tablets. These things look seriously nice. However I think I'd still choose a powerful laptop over these at the moment. Another years though and a lot of laptops will be tablets (I like the OS and the touchscreen, it just the power factor at the moment). We also heard from Handango. I passed on the concerns that many have expressed to me about Symbian being a poor sister on the Handango site (they do now thankfully differentiate between device categories, and have done so for a while). Handango are committed to Symbian as much as any other platform.

The day ended with a feedback session which raised some of the most interesting discussion of the entire event. There was a comparison of the 'pick up and use' characteristic of Smartphone vs S60, with the general consensus being S60 was easier to give to a first timer to get things done. In the end many thought the home screen complicated things. You can of course just start dialing (and the smart dial feature on Smartphone is oh so nice), but people dont always realise this. You get similar issues through out the OS. Series 60 just seems better at being intuitive, its not that its more simple (if anything it has more functions), but they are hidden in such a way that the basic user can ignore them but the higher level user can get at them easily. There was also a contrast drawn between Series 60 being a mass user phone and Smartphone being a corporate and high end phone. I think this is going to be typical of the smartphone story over the next few years. Microsoft will do well at the corporate level in the US because there are synergies with the desktop. On the other hand the consumer market is more open. I saw 3650 everywhere while in the US for example. I think Symbian / Series 60 has Europe for now. Perhaps the most telling market will be the Far East. Symbian will continue to do well in the consumer market not just because of the software issues outlined above, but also because the phones will remain sexy (they're from Nokia, Siemens, etc). Motorola phones are sexy in the US (unlike Europe), which will be good for MS in Europe.

As you can see the feedback session gave me a lot to think about. Bringing together knowledgeable people like that certainly creates a lively debate.

In fact that meeting of people represents what is best about Mobius. Its not the conference as such but rather the contact with individuals that make it a fun and worth while event to attend. Microsoft I'm sure are glad to show of their products and certainly get positive PR back from it. Its in their interest to keep mobile device webmasters happy, but at the same time the people organising it genuinely want to have a good time and seem to enjoy it as much as we did. With conference over it really was just a bunch of friends. While I know some people reading this are not fond of Microsoft all I can say is that for me Mobius was a very positive experience and Microsoft deserve credit for organising a great event. I got so much out of it being able to see how they thought, how other mobile people thought, and what the future might hold. On top of that I can't think of a group of people I would rather spend time with.

One of the main things I saw from the conference is that the divide between Europe and the US will remain. Its going to change. The US is catching up technology wise, but user preferences, the OS they use, and styles of usage are going to be great dividers. In technology terms the gap will be small but the software and services will make for a wider than ever gap. Companies are going to have to realize that if they wish to capture both markets. I'll hopefully write something on this later.

After the conference I got to spend a day and half in Seattle wandering around. I learnt some important things. N-Gage games are nearly half the price that they are in the UK. Some webmasters are amazing at Dance, Dance, Revolution (the arcade game), and Seattle is a great city to walk around and an even better place to be with an international group of friends (watching the epxressions on servers as 4 different accents came from a group of 5 was great).

One final memory - going up in an elevator in the hotel and spotting a P900. The poor bloke holding it mumbled something incoherent as a bunch if mobile geeks nearly jumped him!

Please note Microsoft pay for flights and accommodation to Seattle (as well as generally looking after us exceptionally well). They also gave us a goodie bag. Highlights were a bluetooth GPS, IPAQ 1940, really nice bag, WiFI Sido card.

Posted by Rafe at 06:03 PM | TrackBack

Still feeling awful

Still feeling a bit low. The good news is I've started to draft up some stuff which I hope to get posted later.

Thanks for the get well e-mails. They are appreciated.

Posted by Rafe at 04:22 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

October 17, 2003

Back and catching up...

I'm back from the States and am doing my very best to catch up. I'll post some of my thougths about the trip here shortly.

Its been a bit hetic here as I get into a new term. Worse I've been ill - I really hate being ill. Laid up in bed in between crawling to lectures Ughh. Havne;t answered any e-mail, done any work outside the essentails. Starting to feel better now, but now have even more to catch up on.

Posted by Rafe at 03:16 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

October 09, 2003

Calling from Seattle

I'm now in Seattle at the Microsoft Mobius conference. This is an invite only event where webmasters and bloggers of mobile related websites get together to both have information presented to them and discuss recent and future trends in mobile devices. Microsoft pay for the flights and the accomodation for most of those involved. Since a lot of what gets discussed isn't Symbian related I thought I put a record of the bits that interested me here rather than on AAS.

The flight here was fine (long-ish at 9.5 hours thought), but since people come in from down under and the Far East I can't really complain. We had a reception last night. It reminded what is so good about this sort of thing - meeting the other people involved. Despite the fact we all have different interests within mobile devices the common ground means there always plenty to discuss. It's always very friendly, and having been to the last event in Paris it was great to see some familiar faces.

There were a lot of nice devices about - plenty of N-Gages (even if I was one of the few people expressing positive sentiments!), and the new Smartphone with a keyboard which has some clever software on board which means entry is on the whole quite intelligent.

More soon...

Posted by Rafe at 03:33 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack