Aakash: A Disruptive Innovation in the Truest Sense

Much has been, and will be, written about the Aakash tablet.

[With apologies for the situational monsoonal imagery …] As I awash myself in Aakash, I am particularly taken by:

  • The order of magnitude reduction in price point. With a stated cost of about $50, marked-up prices are still close to an order of magnitude more affordable than the incumbent offerings (e.g., the iPad, Android-based tablets, etc.). Even Amazon’s Kindle Fire is 2-3 times more expensive.
  • The adoption of Android as the innovation platform. I take this as yet another data point (YADP) in firmly establishing Android as the leading future proofed platform for innovation in the mobile-computing space. As Aakash solidly demonstrates, it’s about the all-inclusive collaboration that can occur when organizational boundaries are made redundant through use of an open platform for innovation. These dynamics just aren’t the same as those that would be achieved by embracing proprietary platforms (e.g., Apple’s iOS, RIM QNX-based O/S, etc.).
  • The Indian origin. It took MIT Being Digital, in the meatspace personage of Nicholas Negroponte, to hatch the One Laptop Per Child initiative. In the case of Aakash, this is grass-roots innovation that has Grameen Bank like possibilities.
While some get distracted comparing/contrasting tech specs, the significant impact of Aakash is that it is a disruptive innovation in the truest sense:
“An innovation that is disruptive allows a whole new population of consumers access to a product or service that was historically only accessible to consumers with a lot of money or a lot of skill.  Characteristics of disruptive businesses, at least in their initial stages, can include:  lower gross margins, smaller target markets, and simpler products and services that may not appear as attractive as existing solutions when compared against traditional performance metrics.”
I am certainly looking forward to seeing this evolve!

Disclaimers:
  • Like Aakash, I am of Indian origin. My Indian origin, however, is somewhat diluted by some English origin – making me an Anglo-Indian. Regardless, my own origin may play some role in my gushing exuberance for Aakash – and hence the need for this disclaimer.
  • I am the owner of a Motorola Xoom, but not an iPad. This may mean I am somewhat predisposed towards the Android platform.
Feel free to chime in with your thoughts on Aakash by commenting on this post.

Is Desktop Software Dead?

When was the last time you were impressed by desktop software?

Really impressed?

After seeing (in chronological order) Steve Jobs, Al Gore and Tim Bray make use of Apple Keynote, I absolutely had to give it a try. And impressed I was – and to some extent, still am. For me, this revelation happened about a year ago. I cannot recall the previous instance – i.e., the time I was truly impressed by desktop software.

Although I may be premature, I can’t help but ask: Is desktop software dead?
A few data points:
  • Wikipedia states: “There is no page titled “desktop software”.” What?! I suppose you could argue I’m hedging my bets by choosing an obscure phrase (not!), but seriously, it is remarkable that there is no Wikipedia entry for “desktop software”!
  • Microsoft, easily the leading purveyor of desktop software, is apparently in trouble. Although Gartner’s recent observations target Microsoft Windows Vista, this indirectly spells trouble for all Windows applications as they rely heavily on the platform provided by Vista.
  • There’s an innovation’s hiatus. And that’s diplomatically generous! Who really cares about the feature/functionality improvements in, e.g., Microsoft Office? When was the last time a whole new desktop software category appeared? Even in the Apple Keynote example I shared above, I was impressed by Apple’s spin on presentation software. Although Keynote required me to unlearn habits developed through years of use Microsoft PowerPoint, I was under no delusions of having entered some new genre of desktop software.
  • Thin is in! The bloatware that is modern desktop software is crumbling under its own weight. It must be nothing short of embarrassing to see this proven on a daily basis by the likes of Google Docs. Hardware vendors must be crying in their beers as well, as for years consumers have been forced to upgrade their desktops to accommodate the latest revs of their favorite desktop OS and apps. And of course, this became a negatively reinforcing cycle, as the hardware upgrades masked the inefficiencies inherent in the bloated desktop software. Thin is in! And thin, these days, doesn’t necessarily translate to a penalty in performance.
  • Desktop software is reaching out to the network. Despite efforts like Microsoft Office Online, the lacklustre results speak for themselves. It’s 2008, and Microsoft is still playing catch up with upstarts like Google. Even desktop software behemoth Adobe has shown better signs of getting it (network-wise) with recent entres such as Adobe Air. (And of course, with the arrival of Google Gears, providers of networked software are reaching out to the desktop.)

The figure below attempts to graphically represent some of the data points I’ve ranted about above.

In addition to providing a summary, the figure suggests:

  • An opportunity for networked, Open Source software. AFAIK, that upper-right quadrant is completely open. I haven’t done an exhaustive search, so any input would be appreciated.
  • A new battle ground. Going forward, the battle will be less about commercial versus Open Source software. The battle will be more about desktop versus networked software.

So: Is desktop software dead?

Feel free to chime in!

To Do for Microsoft: Create a Wikipedia entry for “desktop software”.

My Next-Gen Mobile Platform: A Plain Old Cell Phone Plus Jott Plus flipMail?

In April, I stated that my next-gen mobile platform could just be a Plain Old Cell Phone (POCP) with Jott’s solution for “Mobile Note Taking and Hands-Free Messaging”.

In so suggesting, I thumbed my nose at the BlackBerry (my existing mobile platform) and the highly anticipated iPhone.

I’m not down on the BlackBerry or the iPhone, I’m just impressed by the Lowest Common Denominator (LCD) effect of the POCP when combined with Jott. (Please see the Aside below for more on this LCD effect.)

Even though it’s only been a few months, my next-gen mobile platform has just improved significantly – and I haven’t lifted a finger or spent a $!

Enter flipMail from TeleFlip:

The Teleflip beta story At Teleflip, we love creating exciting and innovative services for our customers. Three years ago we introduced our original service that allowed you to send an email to a cell phone as a text message. That service is now called flipOut. Since we first introduced the service, millions of flipOuts have been sent.

We’re very excited to launch our new service called flipMail beta. flipMail allows you to get your email on your cell phone for free.* No new software, no downloads, no new phone necessary. It’s that simple. Because we’re in beta, we invite you to share your ideas, suggestions, and feedback about how we can make this new service even better.

* SMS charges may apply – this, of course, depends on your plan.

This means I have email on my POCP. It could even be a Jott-generated email!

Because this is an SMS-based offering on the POCP, SMS-based limitations do apply:

What is a fliplette?A fliplette is a text version of your email that we flip to your phone. fliplettes are limited to 120 characters each. When an email is longer than 120 characters, you receive a series of fliplettes.

On my BlackBerry, I have the native BlackBerry email client. In my case, this client is integrated with The University’s enterprise messaging platform (IBM LotusNotes). I also have a native client for GMail on my BlackBerry.

So, even on my BlackBerry, I can see the value in making use of flipMail for email services that are not available natively for the BlackBerry.

Aside on the LCD Effect

Nicholas Negroponte’s USD 100 laptop is an excellent example of an attempt to raise the bar of the LCD in developing countries.

Whereas this laptop is intended to “… revolutionize how we educate the world’s children …”, the POCP plus Jott and flipMail embraces and extends the connectivity possibilities for those that already have cell phones:

The international implications for the service are even more impactful, as Teleflip solves a significant issue by providing e-mail access to millions of cell phone users in emerging e-mail-developing countries. As many as 70 percent of the world’s current 2.5+ billion mobile phone users do not have access to the Internet or e-mail. By establishing a flipMail account through Teleflip, this large population will now have instant access to send and receive worldwide e-mails on their regular cell phones, and again, without any new software downloads, special mobile Internet plans, or any new hardware or devices. So their existing cell phone number will be their onramp to the worldwide e-mail network.

While such a platform could have an impact in developing nations, where cell-phone usage often eclipses land-line usage, the POCP++ platform may have a broader global impact.

And although the USD 100 laptop has WiFi (including wireless mesh) capabilities, it may also benefit from cellular-based connectivity. Such a possibility could be enabled by, for example, adding a Bluetooth capability to the laptop’s already impressive array of technical specifications. In other words, with Bluetooth on both the laptop and cell phone, there exists an alternate vehicle for minimizing the connectivity gap.

Negroponte’s vision for the USD 100 laptop is compelling.

POCP++ could be a part of it – or some other humanitarian effort.