The Prevailing Technology Trap

Digital book readers have the possibles to improve books in innovative ways.

(Apple iPad picture found on

Apple last week released its version of a tablet, the iPad. While it looks like an elegant device, it is similar to other hand-held screen computers. Like with the iPod, the real innovations will likely be the associated software services like the bookstore introduced. This confirms my belief that printed books are about the get disrupted by digital books. Apple’s e-reader software takes experience of reading paper books to the digital format. While it is clever to take a familiar model people know and replicate it on-line, it can restrict innovative use of new technology.

Technology cramming is when products that were invented with one technology get crammed into new technology. There are many examples of technology cramming. The first cars looked like stagecoaches, the first online newspapers looked like printed newspapers. And now digital books in ereaders look like printed books.

The reason for this is what I call The Prevailing Technology Trap. Current and dominant technology will highly influence new innovation, and can even restrict them. Innovators are so influenced by the current technologies that they will try to work according to them, including their limitations.

Even Alexander Bell was not trying to invent the telephone. He was trying to improve the telegraph, the prevailing communication technology at the time.

The digital e-readers with the on-line Internet services have many possibilities to improve books. Books are traditionally linear stream of text. Some books have media items like still pictures. With digital books these restrictions don’t apply. Textbooks for example can have hyperlinks to further explanations, embedded videos, and cross-references. Many Internet news stories have links directly to their sources.

With digital books, text can even be in different sizes and depth, for differentiated learning. Consider a textbook that is in a compact mode. It will have a short and concise text with all major points. In expanded mode it will contain more explanations and examples, and in elaborate mode it might have several case studies to explain concepts in more depth. Students can choose which version to read. A quick review for an exam might for example favor the compact mode. Stories can also be more flexible in storytelling. What if you could read a book in different paths? Or digress into another story or a subplot before continuing with the main story.

With digital books, new possibilities emerge. As the new digital format of books matures we will see books escape the limitations of the printed format and truly become a new experience.

Game Development in an Distributed Environment

Recently I did a presentation on software development in distributed environment. Since Betware has six offices around the world with twelve teams we need to manage distributed teams. Our PMO has good experience in dealing with teams where the members are located in different offices and timezones. We have found out what works and what doesn’t. But, at the end of the day, the best rule is this: don’t distribute your teams.

In the era of constant connectivity you might think that its ridiculous to worry about management of distributed teams. In fact, we exchange information in real-time. We can have text, audio and video in real-time. And that is exactly what we do. We deploy an IP phone station that links every employee’s computer (with speaker headset) within the company. Meeting rooms have speakerphones and cameras. With Microsoft Communicator or TeamView we can share desktops.

But in the end nothing works better than just sitting down with your coworkers and going over the details. Face to face communications. If you think about agile software methodologies the key is high communication bandwidth. Indeed, the important thing about development is the communications. This is the same with software architectures: don’t distribute you objects. Network latency will kill performance. For teams the same applies for communication.

Of course for practical reasons, it is not always possible to stick with a team in one location. There might be expertise required that is not possessed within the team in one location. The team in one place might not be enough and more team members from other locations need to help. Whatever the reasons, we always have some distribution and remote communication. Just like with distributed architecture, you need to choose your boundaries carefully. What we try to do at Betware is to define “project silos” that are subprojects with in projects. By defining the subproject carefully you can control the communication boundaries.

Communication technologies will improve, and more importantly people’s comfort level of remote communication will rise. Eventually remote or virtual communication will become better then the real world. Until then, don’t distribute your team.

Attack of the Androids

android_power_w500This month we have seen number of new Android phones enter the market. Android is Google’s new operating system for mobile phones. Android is entering the open-application phone market which is dominated by Apple’s iPhone. Comparing Android phones with the sophisticated and well-designed iPhone with it’s successful App Store, has caused people to dismiss Android as a serious threat to the iPhone. However, Android has one advantage that can makes it powerful: it is open platform. And open platforms tend to win.

Some may argue that Apple is open platform. Sure, anyone can put their applications in the Apple App Store, and thus the Apple model is more open then the walled garden models of the past. Still, the iPhone OS is tied to one handset manufacturer that uses one carrier. Android is available to any handset manufacturer and carrier. In this sense it is similar to the early PC model where any PC manufactures could build IBM PC compatibles and any program written for the IBM PC would work. The open model won over the closed model pushed by Apple.

For independent developers, the Apple platform is not entirely open. Apple has to approve your app. Granted, the process is painless and relatively quick and Apple tends to approve anything that is not offensive or that might upset Apple or it’s partner AT&T. Then even if you’re app gets approved it will get lost in the sea of 85.000 apps. And if you want to sell your app from your own App Store, that’s not possible.

iPhone developers, when asked about their interest in Andriod, will laugh and ask back if I have seen the Android phones. I admit I have never seen one, but there is a funny thing working here: it’s called sustainable innovation. With sustainable innovation products get improved gradually and only by comparing with old models you see the difference. Android phones will be just as cool as the iPhone.

With its introduction of iPhone, Apple disrupted the Telecoms industry in a major way. However, Apple adopted the closed proprietary model. This model is successful for the Mac brand and for iPhone, but if history of the PC can tell us anything, Android might become more important in the long run.