With Microsoft in the news recently (18,000 in layoffs!), we thought we’d check in with Skype 5.0, which launched last month for iPhone and will soon debut on Android. Skype used to be the name in messaging, but in today’s mobile world the venerable brand has become an afterthought to Whatsapp, LINE and even Google Hangouts. So how does Skype 5.0 fare?

The Skype team apparently rebuilt the app from scratch with a focus on speed. I’m glad to report the new version doesn’t feel slower than its competition. It looks good too. Microsoft wisely decided to stick to one common design (Windows Phone) and apply it everywhere. One nice upgrade is that if you use Skype for both desktop and iPhone, if a message is read on one it’s automatically marked as read on the other.

However, Skype remains as unusable as ever. Why? Contacts still works like it’s from the 90s. To message a new contact, I have to first search for her, hope the right person shows up and then manually add her. What makes it worse is that I haven’t used Skype in a long time, so most of the contacts in the “people” section are outdated.

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As a Duke alumnus, it’s weird to be excited about college football; but after last season’s phenomenal 10-2 run here I am hopping on the bandwagon.  Yesterday was media day for ACC football, and one of the topics ACC commissioner John Swofford talked about is showing ACC games nationally on digital.

Given the ACC’s attractive footprint, I can see the potential.  But I can’t help think there’s a huge, missed opportunity: international.

US college sports is classic long tail content.  It’s content meant for a very specific person: the die hard college sports fan — already niche in the US, miniscule outside it — and alumni from the two schools competing in any particular game.  I follow college basketball quite closely but even I don’t really care about Missouri playing Arizon State.  During the regular season it’s Duke first and foremost, and perhaps ACC games second.

Any business model predicated on showing me multiple “Missouri vs. Arizona State” type games for the occasional game I really want to watch are bound to fail.

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Ten years ago, when Microsoft had more than 90% control of the computer market, they were handcuffed in how they can innovate Windows due to anti-trust concerns.  Some things were already obvious even for Vista (at least to me while I was there): native security, centralized app store, collaboration, etc.

The reality today is that Microsoft has merely 14% share of the larger devices market.  So Microsoft was finally able to build in security and an app store into Windows 8.  They misfired on the latter however by making it unpleasant for those living in the desktop world to download and use Modern apps; an error they are fixing for Windows 9.

Windows is in danger of losing relevance in today’s mobile world.  The brain trust in Redmond is busy figuring out how to catch up with Windows Phone, but it would be a great mistake to put Windows into maintenance mode.  Windows is still one of Microsoft’s greatest assets, and instead of fighting losing battles, they should be building more strengths unique to Windows.  Especially now that they don’t have to answer to regulators.

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The narrative is that Chromebooks are disrupting Windows PCs.  Forbes: “Here’s why Microsoft is worried about Google Chromebooks.” The Verge: “The Chromebook is just a better device.” WSJ: “Google’s winning over some businesses.” The Street: “Why Google’s Chromebook is better than Windows, Mac and Android.”

Let’s run with the assumption that Chromebooks are doing well and compete with laptop PCs. Advocates claim non-tech savvy consumers choose Chromebooks for generally three reasons: 1) simplicity, 2) low maintenance and 3) easy usage in its fast start-up times. I disagree. People with low computing needs don’t buy Chromebooks because they are a better experience; they buy them because of PRICE.

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A story made the rounds a few days ago about Microsoft battling Chromebooks with two cheap Windows PCs. It’s good that Microsoft is taking Chromebooks seriously. It should. It’s a device people with low computing needs might deem good enough. It’s a capable device for mail, web browsing and light office work; and for most people, that’s all they ever need. All for $200 to $350.

But you know what else is excellent for low computing needs? Tablets, which have already been eating into the PC market for years for precisely that reason. If Chromebooks didn’t exist today, I suspect more tablets would have been sold in its place instead of Ultrabooks.

The only thing Chromebooks share with laptops is a keyboard. When your grandparents’ old creaky laptop dies, will you buy them a $200 Chromebook or a $24 keyboard to pair with the $500 iPad they already know how to use?

Phew!  Today was an intense day of travel and meetings.  I’ve been preparing a tirade about Chromebooks but lack the energy to complete the story for today.  So instead I’ll post a few thoughts about business development.

For most consumer-oriented start-ups, business development can be a complete waste of time.

Example #1: A major phone manufacturer promised to preload feecha on their flagship phone — to the point of sending us stuff to sign — but then overnight became totally unresponsive.  We later learned a certain telecom company had a similar app and suggested we get dropped… yep.

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Got a big deliverable tomorrow so today’s entry is going to be short.  Saw an article about this Android Wear app from Minuum that got me doing a face palm:

Nooooo!!  Talk about taking one step forward, two steps back.  Who will ever need to type on a tiny screen?  Use voice, it’s multiple times faster and probably nearly as accurate.  And if you’ve got something embarrassing and need to type — the 1 out of 100 times that happens — use your phone.

The easiest thing to do with a new medium is to apply what works in the old.  Unfortunately that’s rarely the path to greatness.

Oh Samsung.  Did you know the Korean giant has its own Android app store?  The friendly, local Samsung team asked us to put feecha on it and we were happy to oblige.  Just a few hundred downloads later over the next three months, we’ve been neglectful about uploading new version updates.

Perhaps our experience wasn’t the exception, because Samsung recently revamped its app store from the ground up.  It’s called Samsung Galaxy Apps now with a fresh coat of paint.  The cool thing about it supposedly is that it has “hundreds of apps” that are exclusive to Samsung Galaxy devices.

Guess how good those apps will be?  If you guessed “not very,” you’d be right.  The best Android apps won’t limit their potential market by being exclusive to a second-rate store; it’ll be on Google Play.

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Twitter has a new analytics tool that lets you see how many people actually saw your tweets.  Danny Sullivan of Marketing Land reported that of his 390,000 followers, only 1.85% saw (not even necessarily read) a random tweet.  Ouch!

When we started feecha, one of the early decisions was what data to show users.  To be like YouTube, where you can see how many viewed a video; or to be like Instagram, where you have no idea how many actually saw a photo.

We decided to go the Instagram route because content creators need to feel like they’re being read to continue; once that illusion is gone, only the most strong-willed can keep going.  In the beginning, and especially with all that’s out there, most new start-ups will struggle getting engagement from users.  When the crowd is sparse, no news is better than bad news.  It’s better to keep your users guessing on how many they’re actually speaking to.

So why did Twitter make this kind of analytics tool available?  Advertising. I find advertisers’ interest particularly ironic; if they only knew just how many really saw their ads on TV or print…  390,000 Twitter followers sounds amazing, but it’s the 7,215 that actually matters.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the 1.85% seen ratio applies to TV ratings and print circulation numbers too.

You’re the most valuable technology company in the world.  What do you do?

  1. Launch a fashion accessory
  2. Extend from your core competency to a new, adjacent category
  3. Neither

How many raised their hands for 1?  Yet, that’s what a lot of smart people seem to be advocating for Apple and the iWatch.  Anthony Kosner of Forbes is the latest to sing this chorus.

How do you convince the mass of consumers to consider an iWatch to be a necessary accessory for 21st century life? Make it a fashion-forward, celebrity-endorsed object of desire. Make it aspirational (to use the technical marketing term.) And then, once its value and exclusivity is established, transform it into an “attainable luxury,” much like the iPhone has become. From this perspective, Apple’s fashion executives have a lot to do. To start with Pruniaux, perhaps Apple now intends to sell the iWatch through the same retail channels as luxury watches like TAG Heuer—Tourneau and high-end department stores.

Hmm.  I don’t think anyone will deny that brand is a big part of Apple’s success; Apple products are desirable and aspirational.  However, while fashion is always a differentiating factor for Apple, it’s never been the point.

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