After an early wave of magazine-apps when the iPad was launched we’ve now been mostly left to mediocre or down right bad user experiences in these types of apps. No wonder they haven’t been successful. The example I’ll expand on here is the Harvard Business Review (HBR).

Let’s get the first point straight: I love the HBR content. Occasionally they fall victim to latest an hippest management fad, but many of the articles are thought provoking and are sometimes directly applicable to my work. But boy is the iPad app bad!

It starts with registering your subscirption with the HBR app. If you didn’t buy the subscription through the Apple App Store you’ll have to enter your login credentials from the website. Nothing earth shattering here, the registration flow is just ugly and complicated. But much worse: when you’ve logged in and authenticated in the app, it still wants you to subscribe to HBR with the App Store’s in-app purchase.

Wait: I’ve already paid, I’ve already registered my subscription and I’m logged in! Why can’t this whole area where the app asks my to either buy a subscription or sync it with my subscription bought through just disappear? No idea…

But you might say, just get used to and ignore it. But it doesn’t stop there, obviously. Next up: try downloading an issue, more precisely download several issues at once. Not possible. Oh, you want to download an issue (or several of them) in the background while you do something more useful on than watching the progression of the download progress bar? Out of luck, background download not supported.

Surely once you’ve downloaded an issue and you start to read, it gets better, right? No way, we’re just getting started in the magazine-app from hell. The worst problem with the app is, that it doesn’t remember where you stopped last time you’ve been reading in the digital magazine. Imagine the following very common situation: in the morning during your commute to work you read an interesting HBR-article. Your train arrives to the station, you get to work and on the ride back in the evening you’d like to continue reading exactly where you’ve left in the morning. HBR doesn’t think you should be able to. The app restarts from scratch – especially if you’ve been using a bunch of other apps during the day – and you find yourself on the “home” tab, a collection of the latest online content from HBR. The following steps are then necessary:

  • Navigate to the library
  • Open the right issue
  • Find the article you were reading
  • Scroll to the position where you’ve stopped reading in the morning

As a bonus all of this is achieved with quite some lag between each step because the app is sooo slooow. And this is still not it. Below you’ll find a short and certainly not exhaustive list of further shortcomings:

  • The app is slow to load issues and each page seems to be rendered from an image
  • Each page being an image has some more drawbacks:
      • No way to adjust size of the font
      • No night reading mode
      • No way to higlight text or add comments to interesting passages in the content – something that the Kindle or iBooks app allow you to do by default

In short: this app has all the shortcomings of an app that follows the print process instead of being a real digital issue. You can feel that the app is an afterthought in the process of producing the print magazine. Somebody just threw a plugin into the print layout software that automagically converts the print issue into a supposedly “digital” issue with little to no advantage compared to a simple & dumb pdf-file.

Digital magazines have to die in their current form and need to morph into a more digitally native format.

There are others though doing it right. Funnily one of them is nothing more than a marketing vehicle for the best known strategy consultancy: The McKinsey Insights iPad app. It’s a light weight app that delights the user with smooth animations when swiping from page to page and which makes the online content available offline with a reading list featurethat is available for each article individually. Snippets of the articles can be copied to the digital notebook of your choice and the font sizes can be adjusted. No highlighting and comments yet – but given the regular updates I’m confidentn that this will come at some point, too.

Digital magazines have to die in their current form and need to morph into a more digitally native format. It’s better to take the content from the online site into a nicely and dynamically presented app than having mostly static issues in a magazine app that is an afterthought of the print process. The redesigned and responsive website is a first step. But alas, it comes with its own challenges. But that’s a post for another day.

Less is more is a powerful notion. But it’s deeper than that. Redefining an experience in a unique way is how you beat the market leader.

Bijan Sabet, VC @ Spark Capital, Boston

84iMac - Balloons_27iMac-Balloons_PRINT.png?hash=d86b9da2ff82ad03169a82866155fe14

A bit late for birthday wishes – but anyway: HAPPY 30th BIRTHDAY MACINTOSH! And it’s the best opportunity for at least the next 10 years to tell the story of how I met the Mac – the biggest technology love of my life.

It’s 1986, I’m nine years old and at my uncle’s home I see a computer for the first time in my life. And not just any computer – it’s a Macintosh 512k, also known as the “Fat Mac” because it had so much memory! I remember how I first had to switch on the electrical transformer and then the Mac, because my uncle had brought the machine back to Switzerland after having spent a year studying at UC Berkeley.

And then the Macintosh woke up, beeped, asked for the startup floppy disk and once found the smiling Macintosh icon appears and the computer started. While reading from the floppy disk, the machine made this weird but still familiar sound between bip bip and krrr krr – watching this video I feel thrown back to that very moment in my childhood.


No idea what I thought when I saw this machine running for the very first time. Above all I was very curious and wanted to try it out. During a short introduction my uncle showed me how to use a mouse – magic: you can lift it and the pointer stays where it is! And then he started SuperPaint and showed me some of its tools: the paint stroke, the pencil, the eraser and the paint bucket. During this intro I also learned my first English word (without knowing it…): “Undo”. A very important command indeed! Especially if you tried to fill an area with the paint bucket tool and the shape was not entirely closed – bam, and the entire drawing canvas would be filled with a brick pattern.

During that weekend at my uncle’s I spent hours and hours drawing lots and lots of stuff: houses, cars, planes, trains. And it’s not so easy, the mouse as a freehand drawing tool produces quite wacky lines and I hadn’t yet discovered the straight line and other tools. But the zoom functionality was great: you could go down to the tiniest details and see individual pixels!

And obviously I wanted to print my works of art and my uncle had just the right tool for that: the Apple ImageWriter dot matrix printer. Maybe the drawings are still somewhere in my parents attic.

Apple ImageWriter

Apple ImageWriter

Needless to say: I was in love with this piece of technology and what I could do with it. I figured the rest of the Mac out by myself by trying, clicking, opening, exploring programs on other floppy disks and later I played simple games like bricks, StuntCopter and some sort of space invaders type of thingy. Oh and another one of my favourites: writing stuff in MacWrite and changing the font to Zapf Dingbats? Amazing!

That same weekend I also met one of my uncle’s neighbours who was a computer scientist, I believe. And there I saw my first non-Mac computer: an IBM PC with a black screen and green blinking signs. I though: what is this? Really, is this a computer, too? No way!


During the last couple of days one theme has been coming up so often, that it can’t be a coincidence: a successful business is nothing more and nothing less than one possible solution to a complex maths problem. Random data points are no mathematical proof, but here you go with two exhibits – not counting the recent conversation with Silicon Valley veteran Mark Zawacki – to illustrate the point.

Exhibit Nr. 1: “Combinatorial Innovation”

The Economist runs the story “A Cambrian Moment” this week as an intro to its issue about tech startups. Hal Varian, Google’s Chief Economist, is quoted of calling startups and presumably their tech and business model innovation as “combinatorial innovation”.

Now is this just throwing overcooked spaghetti at a wall and seeing what sticks? It sometimes looks like that. However one might argue that the really successful startups are going at it in a much more deliberate, calculated and mathematical way. They hire the best computer science and maths wizards or are being run by one. They set their eyes on a problem and iterate their product until they get it right – almost like a Monte Carlo simulation searching for some equilibrium state of a wildly complex problem. And: they collect data until a pattern emerges that delivers value.

Exhibit Nr. 2: “A Business Model is a Profit Algorithm”

Another analogy to maths comes from Horace Dediu, the analyst and blogger famous for the blog. He claims “a business model is a profit algorithm”. Again, here business is just another mathematical problem. And the analogy is striking indeed. The best algorithms are governed by simple rules, are adaptable and converge to the right solution quickly while at the same time using their resources efficiently. A business with these qualities must definitely be profitable!

So then, looks like I should just go back to my maths and physics textbooks in the basement!

In a brief burst of nostalgia after Microsoft announced they are going to buy Nokia, I thought of all the beloved Nokia phones I’ve owned. I searched them all on the web and put together this list.

  1. 1999 – Nokia 3210
  2. 2003 – Nokia 6210 black
  3. 2003 – Nokia 6310i silver
  4. 2005 – Nokia 6320 black
  5. 2005 – XDA II mini Microsoft Windows Mobile 2003 SE PocketPC
  6. 2006 – Nokia 6280 black
  7. 2007 – Nokia N95

For each of the there is a little story. Let’s start with my first mobile phone.

My first mobile phone

nokia-3210Before getting my first mobile phone I belonged to the people who were offended by those who needed to be reachable wherever they go. I was convinced it was rude that they’d be talking on their phone in a bar, on the street, wherever that wasn’t a good old phone booth or their cosy home.

But then I moved to Stockholm for my exchange year and the mobile phone suddenly seemed like a great idea. Sweden was way ahead of Switzerland in mobile phone adoption (there was a cell phone network in the underground in 1999!) and Ericsson was one of the leading mobile phone manufacturers and network technology providers.

But phone-wise I preferred the Finns. I walked into one of those mobile phone shops and saw all these things with the ugly antennas peeking out from the top. All but one: the Nokia 3210 – no visible antenna, one of the first phones with a T9 dictionary for predictive texting and the software was really intuitive and easy to use.

I was sold, especially on the design. It seems I wasn’t the only one! This phone went on the become the number two most sold mobile phone in the world with 160 million phones sold. Wow! And boy was it sturdy: innumerable drops survived and thousands of texts written later I only abandoned it when my first employer gave me a business phone in 2003.

Entering business life

Entering business life brought about a real business phone. At first a temporary device, the Nokia 6210, that had been owned by a consultant before me. Since neither he nor the IT department had cleaned up the device, the phone was full of old texts to and from his girlfriend. Talk about privacy! I had this phone just for a couple of months, while I was waiting for my new communication companion for many years: the business brick, the never out-of-battery-power and indestructible Nokia 6310i.

Nokia 6310i

If flying to the moon with a mobile phone made sense, you’d be flying to the moon with the Nokia 6310i – the Omega Speedmaster of the mobile phones. In 2003 I already hooked up my laptop and my Palm to the internet with this phone. Over an infrared connection, mind you, because laptops didn’t do Bluetooth yet.

If flying to the moon with a mobile phone made sense, you’d be flying to the moon with the Nokia 6310i – the Omega Speedmaster of the mobile phones.

But the most incredible feature? Unf***ingbelievable 7 days of battery power! The comparison to an automatic watch still holds: never out of power. Who dares to go out of home without a phone charger for more than 12 hours nowadays? No problem in 2003.

Smaller, Color Screen and a Camera

Next up the Nokia 6230. Another nice phone, not as beloved as the 6310i and in my memory its battery already didn’t hold up as well. But, huge but (!): it had a camera. It was incredibly crappy, a VGA 640×480 pixel camera. But camera it was. And as consultants some of my colleagues had to leave their phones with camera outside of the offices, especially while working for clients like Porsche, with secret design work going on in the offices.

So for real pictures one still needed to carry a point and shoot camera, something that just started to be trendy in those days. By 2004 I was the proud owner of an Pentax Optio S4i camera. Thus the mobile travellers gadget park in my case included: a 20 GB 2nd generation iPod, my Nokia 6230, a Palm Zire 71 and my camera – alongside with my work laptop or iBook or both. Time for convergence!

Gadget Convergence

When I first read about the XDA II mini in 2005, I thought: this is it! This will merge my Palm and my phone and I’ll even be able to listen to some music. The big screen will be perfect and it even kinda looks cute.

XDA Mini

But boy, was the software a pain! I don’t know how I put up with this thing as long as I did. The stylus-type input was slow as hell – slower than on the palm – and you’d always have to close apps because otherwise the phone would crash because of a lack of memory. Oh yes, there were apps, but you had to find and download them on some shady websites and you had to install them by jumping through a loop twice and performing a pirouette after that.

I did get rid of my Palm, but with nowhere as smooth an experience. And this thing was definitely not made for calling – actually it wasn’t made for anything especially well. It just did everything – sort of. But still, I had bought it for a leg and an arm on eBay, because it was not available in Switzerland, and so I kept it for quite a while.

Back to Nokia

Back to Nokia it was after this painful experience and again my generous employer got me a fine phone: the Nokia 6280 (how did they think up all this numbers anyway, no logic whatsoever, me thinks…)! It certainly wasn’t top of the line and not a dedicated business phone. But a very nice product nonetheless. And here the internet on the phone for the first time started to make sense, at least a little bit. For example you could get the Gmail app for Nokia which was very well designed for the tiny screens of the time and still heavily leaned on Gmail’s conversation paradigm. For instance I remember constantly checking my Gmail on the road while waiting for news from the London Business School admissions team…

Mister N.

By this time, we’re now in 2007, the iPhone had been announced. And I remember the announcement like it was yesterday. The 2007 Macworld keynote was available as a live-stream and as any true Apple devotee I was watching it life. When Steve Jobs announced “a phone, an iPod, an internet communicator – a phone, an iPod, an internet communicator. Are you getting it? These are not three devices, this is one device […] and we are calling it the iPhone” I almost jumped up in front of my Mac and delivered my own private little standing ovation.2469062e48244271e421b74cc86bc15a

But alas, the iPhone was not going to be available in Switzerland and I was ready to give up all my savings to attend business school, e.g. my budget didn’t really allow for a device of that price. Luckily one day I filled out a little survey for getting a Nokia N95 test device with some fun things I would do, if I’d get one. Some weeks later I get an email telling me that I’d receive a Nokia N95, if I was willing to blog about my first steps with it – Social Media marketing in its early days! Sure! Getting the top of the line Nokia multimedia device for free and just having to write a bout it? Sign me up!

When Steve Jobs announced “a phone, an iPod, an internet communicator – a phone, an iPod, an internet communicator. Are you getting it? These are not three devices, this is one device […] and we are calling it the iPhone” I almost jumped up in front of my Mac and delivered my own private little standing ovation.

I have to say that the Nokia N95 was a nice device, but only in a technophile-nerdy way: A multiplication of navigation buttons compared to my Nokia 6280, a screen font that almost looked like the Chicago font from the first Mac and two different and inconsistent user interfaces, depending on whether you’d slide out the keyboard part of the phone to the right or to the left. My first days and some general thoughts about it (in German) are still up on the blog I had to write as part of the deal.

Although the camera was great and the multimedia capabilities were quite impressive for the time, I never really warmed up to my last finnish phone. It had the crappy battery life of today’s smartphones without the benefits, a clunky interface, no touch screen and generally felt worse than the decidedly lower profile Nokia 6280 I had grown to like before. So I sold it, went back to my old Nokia and in the end bought an US-iPhone by the end of 2007. And since that day I’ve never looked back.

For me Nokia has been history since the unsatisfactory N95 and my switch to the first iPhone. Now, sadly, it’ll soon be gone as a smartphone brand for everyone else, too.


Microsoft logo history (copyright

So today Microsoft announced a huge reorganization and you can find this gem in the memo about the move:

Going forward, our strategy will focus on creating a family of devices and services for individuals and businesses that empower people around the globe at home, at work and on the go, for the activities they value most.

So lets take this apart with the trusted “who, what, how” of business strategy 101:

  • who: who is our target group? Microsoft says: “individuals and businesses” and “at home, at work and on the go”. If we translate that it’s: whoever, wherever and whatever they just try to do. Basically 7 billion people, nobody left behind. Is this making choices? Strategy is about saying no, about not trying to be everything to everybody. example: the one Windows 8 to rule PCs and tablets is failing exactly at that.
  • what: what are we helping our target customers to do? Microsoft: “the activities they value most” – again: whatever, no limitation, no trade-off, no choice.
  • how: how will we achieve this, what’s our added value? Microsoft: “creating a family of devices and services” – that means: building stuff. Whatever we are already doing and more. Just more of it and services – will it soon be Microservices and not Microsoft?

So this is the new “one Microsoft” – is it too big to be one? Was it really so bad, when every product or product line could define its own distinct strategy and target segment? What we have now is a fluffy sentence that isn’t defining a clear strategic positioning at all.

This is a beautiful and powerful statement what Apple is trying to do.

The new unified messaging app by Google: Hangouts (Copyright The Verge)

The new unified messaging app by Google: Hangouts (Copyright The Verge)

The Google I/O keynote has just ended and although the Verge’s verdict is “The moonshots, it seems, will have to wait“, I think they’ve presented some great new and updated products. Even though they left Gmail and Docs out, their product refresh feels pretty much like Apple redoing their entire hardware lineup (which they almost did last autumn):

  • Google Maps gets a major update with a completely new user interface for desktop and mobile apps
  • Google Search can be piloted with your voice in a conversational way and seems to become what Siri should be and it’s “don’t even ask me what you want to know because I already know your question”-sibling Google Now gets more functionality
  • Google+ has been totally redesigned and continues on the route of becoming what Flickr could have been, if Yahoo had done it right: the best social photography network. Now Google+ automatically enhances your photos and choses the best ones based on algorithms that even know regionally specific tastes of what makes a good photo
  • With Google Hangouts they launched a product unifying all their messaging apps into one seemingly very slick package including some very nice looking flat design
  • They’ve go even a Music subscription service up their sleeves that rivals Spotify and the similar service Apple is rumored to work on but seems to have difficulties closing a deal on

Not too bad, I’d say. And it shows one thing: Google is not slowing down with what they know best – building great web services. At the same time they’re flexing their muscles in hardware design and seem to have built a great looking and great feeling machine with the Google Pixel.

In the meantime Apple’s web services haven’t really shined. Some streets and bridges seem to be made of molasses in the Maps app (if they are at the right spot at all), iCloud document syncing is really limited – no sharing across apps, across people and (obviously) beyond the Apple ecosystem – and seems to be buggy and a nightmare to develop for. Siri is still a hit or miss for me and anyway I don’t use it much – although I’m sure it has a lot of potential. Pando Daily commented the Google I/O announcements with “Google is keeping iCloud’s promises”

In John Gruber’s words: “Google is getting better at what Apple does best faster than Apple is getting better at what Google does best.”

Please Apple, can we reverse this trend at WWDC? I want to see some updates to Apple’s web services that knock me out, some real magical and “just works” iCloud syncing (and why not finally buy Dropbox…?) and Siri features that are so bloody useful that I wouldn’t mind any more that I’m chatting with a robot in my phone.

But that’s a tough call: Google has shown today that while they’re getting better at Apple’s design game they’re not slowing down in the web services game. And running faster than the leader after having stumbled a few times is going to be hard for Apple.

Apple I Computer

The more I hear the expression the less appropriate the term “post-PC” seems to me. Post-PC only makes sense in a historical view in which the Personal Computer (PC – and here including Macs) is defined as the computer as we know it: our desktop computer or laptop of choice.

“Personal” in this context mostly only makes sense as the revolutionary step that made computers available to normal people, made them personal. The revolution was to make these machines affordable enough to be bought and usable enough to be understood by a regular person. And obviously both of these aspects have improved tremendously since the first build-it-yourself PC-kits were sold by Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs.

But all of this doesn’t make the PC truly personal. The only actual personal computer you own is your smartphone.

How personal is a traditional PC in the actual sense of the word? How much does a PC belong to you as a person or reflect who you are? The longer you use it, the more of your personal data it stores: your photos, your emails, your thoughts expressed in whatever written word you create and even your DNA through your hair that falls between the cracks into its keyboard. It knows about your contacts and your calendar and about the work you do.

However all of this doesn’t make the PC truly personal. The only actual personal computer you own is your smartphone: it knows where you are, what caught your interest just now when you’re taking a photo, what you’re thinking right know when you send out a spontaneous tweet and even when you take a dump, since many of us (myself included) take it with us to the bathroom. The smartphone again may be replaced by some even more personal computer in the form of a wearable computing devices in the near or not so near future.

We are not moving beyond the Personal Computer as the term post-PC evokes. We are actually evolving towards ever more personal computers until one day they may literally be part of who and what we are.


Recently the FT took a critical look at what apparently is being derided as “innovation tourism”: these organized tours of company executives spending a week in Silicon Valley and hoping to bring something useful back home.

I plead guilty: Working for a media company mostly stuck in the analog world? Check. Staying for just a short week and expecting some sort of enlightenment? Check. Hitting the hard wall of reality when I got back? Check…

Still my trip to the Silicon Valley this March was enlightening, like taking a glimpse at a not so distant future. Last time I have been in the area was in 2008: Apple had not released a way to develop apps for the iPhone yet, the iPad was two years away, Android smartphones were being tested in some secret Google lab and Twitter hadn’t really gone mainstream yet.

A lot has changed since! The evening I arrived, I took three cabs and two of them took my credit card with a Square-dongle attached to their smartphone. I communicated with the group I was about to meet through Twitter. Anything I wanted to find, was a tap away on my smartphone: the way to my Airbnb accomodation, great restaurants in the area with many and actually helpful reviews and finding a cab where none was around with uber.

In Switzerland I’m an avid foursquare-user, just for the fun of it. But have I ever had an actual benefit from giving my location in Switzerland to some random startup company? Not really. In the Bay Area foursquare actually works as it’s supposed to: there are specials in many cafés and a department store even asks you how you enjoyed it a day after you shopped there (a little bit creepy, I agree – but then again: I decided to check in…).

you need to think about the short term because the long term implications of the digital and mobile disruption are at most a gut feeling

How is all of this relevant to my employer? Will we launch our own social-mobile-local network? No way. The most relevant and also the hardest part to bring back home is the mindset:

  • You don’t have to figure out everything at the start. It’s more important to just start and figure out the next step as you go – hard to implement within an organization that requires business plans that have to hold true all the way to Judgement Day.
  • In Europe and especially in Switzerland everything is built to last forever. But maybe it’s ok to build a product or even a business for the short term. Definitely that’s the way digital businesses work: you need to think about the short term because the long term implications are at most a feeling. Nobody knows for example how the digital disruption is going to play out for media businesses, but if we don’t try, we’ll never find out.
  • Personal freedom seems to be much more important and respected in Silicon Valley. Maybe this is why some companies go way out of the usual ways to create fancy offices with sofas, bean bags, great cafeterias, and so on: everybody should be able to work the way they like, use the tools they are most efficient with and divide their workday in the way that suits them – as long as they deliver.
  • Technology and design are at the core of the most successful businesses coming from Silicon Valley. Only after applying some design thinking did Airbnb turn into the success it is today and only with technology being the other driving force in product design, can you create a truly great online business.

This Silicon Valley reality is to a large extent theory in most corporate environments. So how can we bring about change? Those might be some steps to create more of a startup or Valley-feeling even in the most rusty corporate environment:

  • You think you have a better way of doing a certain task or an idea about developing a new business within your corporation? Start doing it at a small scale, don’t ask for permission. If it works, great. Show it to others and ask for help and funding to develop it further. If it doesn’t work, you’ll figure it out soon enough and you won’t have done any harm. Not trying would probably be worse.
  • Don’t build everything for eternity. Start with a hack and refine it at the next iteration.
  • Evangelize about how important design and user experience is for any business. Make your management understand that many of the successful businesses are successful because they think about the user first. Don’t be intimidated by legacy IT systems that apparently ask for some user interfaces that are impossible to understand by mere mortals (think: checkout processes, forms that need to be filled out, etc.).
  • Let people use the tools they feel most comfortable with. This probably means opening up IT: allow for “bring your own device” and for using cloud apps like Dropbox, Evernote (they even have a business product) and other online collaboration tools. Employees will be more efficient and creative and the IT department can focus on core infrastructure, managing the risks of 3rd party applications like the above and training people to make the best and most secure use of them.

But most of all: start taking risks and reward success as well as failure, if failure means trying something new and learning from it. Be more daring, get out of your comfort zone and build something new instead of finding all the reasons why your idea won’t work anyway. Don’t listen to the naysayers, go out and do. This is what we can learn from startups all over the world and especially from the Valley: go out and build something new – not trying is the worst failure of all.