Amazon is Adding More Cute Robotic Workers

From the Wired Business Conference comes a video showing 'A Day in the Life of a Kiva Robot'.

This isn't the first time that Amazon has shown us a video about the Kiva robots. This video, however, goes more in depth as to how the robots operate in Amazon's warehouses.

Folks, this is the wave of the future.

My Podcast Playlist

I'm often asked about the podcasts that I listen to on a regular basis. The combination of a long commute and self-training to be able to listen to podcasts at 3x speed means that I have quite a lengthy list. Without further ado:

#PaxEx Podcast - An excellent podcast from the Runway Girl Network that covers topics related to the airline passenger experience.

Accidental Tech Podcast - A fun tech podcast starring John Siracusa, Marco Arment, and Casey Liss. I enjoy listening to their wildly different views on the latest topics in tech.

The Adam and Dr. Drew Show - This is a comedy/self-help show starring the folks from Loveline.

All About Android - Even though I'm an iOS developer and not an Android developer, I like to keep in the loop on what is going on in that world. Starring the wonderful Gina Trapani and some other people not named Gina Trapani.

Amplified - One of the funnier podcasts out there related to Apple news. Hosted by Dan Benjamin of 5by5 fame and Jim Dalrymple the Editor in Chief of The Loop. Jim's sometimes a bit rough on certain companies (e.g. Samsung, Google) but his belly laugh makes things memorable. I honestly don't listen to the part of the show related to music topics.

The Broad Experience - A show about women and the workplace. If you liked Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In, then you will likely appreciate this podcast.

CMD+Space - This interview-based show can be wildly inconsistent, depending on the particular guest that is being interviewed. I generally only listen to the episodes that cover topics I care about or involve people that I find interesting.

CocoaRadio - This show by the current developer of Glassboard, Justin (Not Bieber) Williams, is also interview-based. The consistently excellent selection of guests and Apple-related topics keeps me interested.

Core Intuition - This show is usually about the Apple ecosystem, but often veers into topics of general interest to indie software developers. The friendship between Daniel Jalkut and Manton Reece, coupled with the short episode lengths, keeps this show well-paced.

The Critical Path - If you want to dig deep into business topics or are a budding financial analyst, then this show is for you. Horace Dediu's excellent analysis of the different strategies employed by companies is usually spot-on. This is perfect material to debunk the general crackpottery infesting the tech and financial media.

Debug - Another interview show about tech topics. Can be somewhat inconsistent (though interview-based shows often are at the mercy of the guests).

Developing Perspective - A quick (15-minutes) show hosted by David Smith, an indie iOS and Mac developer. The topics, while based on the perspective of a developer immersed in the Apple ecosystem, are applicable to many situations that a developer may encounter.

DLC - A show about videogames and tabletop games. The call-in segment is interesting. I never listen to the tabletop segment, though.

The Frequency - This podcast is great because of the fun banter between Dan Benjamin and Haddie Cooke as they cover news topics ranging from the technology to oddities.

The Games Cast - A show about videogames from a British perspective. Very British.

How Did This Get Made? - This comedy show starring actors from the sitcom The League is great because it skewers many of the terrible movies that you love and hate.

iDeveloper - Another indie iOS and Mac development podcast. Worth a listen for the critical perspective on the Apple ecosystem.

iMore Show - Apple topics (generally news) covered by Rene Ritchie and Pete Cohen (formerly of the Angry Mac Bastards podcast).

In Beta - I'm of two minds about this one. I loved this show when it was hosted by Gina Trapani and Kevin Purdy and covered tech culture topics. Ever since Gina left the show, I've found the topics to not be to my particular tastes. Still has a gem now and then.

The Incomparable - A loveably geeky show about movies, comic books, television shows, and novels. Usually good for more than a few witty observations about geek topics.

IRL Talk - This podcast hosted by Faith Korpi and Jason Seifer (the former hosts of Geek Friday on 5by5) also covers geek topics. The interplay between Jason and Faith is great, especially when Jason is trolling Faith or when Faith has never heard of a particular geek topic.

Isometric - Brand new at the time of this writing, but I already love this show. Hosted by Brianna Wu (head of development at Giant Spacekat), Steve Lubitz, Maddy Myers, and Georgia Dow. This show provides a refreshing perspective on videogame news, development, and culture. I appreciate the fact that each episode has a sense of focus that is often lacking from videogame podcasts. I also appreciate hearing the feminine perspective on topics generally covered by men.

Iterate - A show about crafting the user experience for apps. As someone who only dabbles in the UX world, this show can be somewhat hit-or-miss for me.

MacBreak Weekly - This show about news in the Apple ecosystem is something that I usually have on in the background while I'm performing some sort of task. Somewhat difficult to recommend to others based on the personalities and viewpoints of the hosts, but I've gotten used to it and sometimes get an interesting perspective on topics.

Ray Wenderlich Podcast - This podcast from the tutorial website, raywenderlich.com, covers topics related to app and game development. I usually pick up a nifty tip or two per episode.

Release Notes - A show about indie development in the iOS and Mac world. Each episode is relatively short as far as podcasts go, and the pace is brisk.

Super Best Friendcast - I love this podcast from the Best Friends Play zaibatsu. That shouldn't be much of a surprise since I'm a fan of their YouTube channel (Two Best Friends Play, Best Friends Play). Listening to this show reminds me of all the conversations I've had with gamers as a wee lad.

Support Driven - This interview-based show dives into the world of customer support. Usually has some nuggets for how to make customer support a key part of the user experience (and a competitive advantage) rather than just a 'necessary cost'.

The Talk Show - If you're in the Apple world, it's difficult to avoid running into people that listen to this show and follow John Gruber's analysis. Leans in the 'Apple Apologist' direction, but generally has well-thought out topics and discussion. Oh yes, and baseball.

This Week in Google - Another podcast starring Gina Trapani and people not named Gina Trapani. This show is a good way to keep up to date on what is going on in the world of Google and cloud computing.

Unprofessional - This podcast hosted by Dave Wiskus and Jaimee Newberry is one of my favorites because it usually involves some sort of crazy situation. Also, Circus Circus and Taco Bell.

What the Tech - a show covering tech topics hosted by Andrew Zarian and Paul Thurott (the Bizarro World version of Marco Arment) from Super Site for Windows. I find it somewhat difficult to agree with Andrew's take on things, but he's usually kept in check by Paul.

Windows Weekly - This is probably the best show to keep up to date with the latest news in the Microsoft world. Paul Thurott's sometimes curmudgeonly nature is balanced by the fabulous Mary Jo Foley of All About Microsoft. Favorite bits include Mary Jo's codename pick of the week and beer pick of the week.

...

Folks, podcasts are the tech generation's replacement for radio. If you have any additional shows that you love, drop me a line on Twitter or ADN.

Vinyl Records and Microsoft Azure

As a follow-up to a previous post about Microsoft needing to be everywhere, I thought it would be appropriate to describe a recent interaction I had at a developer event.

As it so happens, I met a Microsoft employee and we started talking about what we do. The topic naturally turned to my job as an iOS developer for my current employer. Upon hearing that I developed iOS apps, the Microsoft employee asked me why I don't develop apps for Windows Phone. I responded that while Windows Phone is a technically solid platform, it just wasn't enough of a factor in the industry (e.g. installed user base) for me to jump onboard. I told this person that, if anything, I would probably look to Android as my second platform of choice. They seemed satisfied by my answer.

As is common in these types of meetups, we later exchanged contact information. Since neither of us carried business cards, we exchanged phone numbers. Later that evening, I received a 'Nice to meet you!' message on my phone. I went to the Messages app to respond, and was taken aback by something I noticed. It didn't say 'Text Message' at the top. It said 'iMessage'. This Microsoft employee who had asked me about my hesitance in developing for Windows Phone was in fact an iPhone user.

...

Back to the question of me getting involved with developing for Microsoft's platforms: would I actually do it as either my 9-to-5 job or as a side project? Honestly, probably not. I suppose that I might be convinced, in a fit of hipsterism, to develop a Windows Phone app while listening to vinyl records, waxing my mustache, and munching on artisanal cheeses, but it just seems unlikely. However, based on the renewed vigor of Azure (and some trepidation with Facebook owning Parse), I could easily see myself using something like Azure Mobile Services to power an app.

...

The purpose of this anecdote is to illustrate the difficulty that Microsoft has had and will likely continue to have in convincing people to use and develop for its platform. Despite an initiative to provide its employees with free Windows Phone devices, clearly Microsoft has not been able to capture the hearts and minds of its own employees with its platform. Likewise, Microsoft has a difficult road ahead of it trying to convince developers to support its platforms.

Folks, this is why Microsoft needs to focus on providing Azure-based services to the entire world. It's their best chance to stay relevant.

For Microsoft to Win, It Must Be Everywhere

We have to let go of this notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose.

-- Steve Jobs

Those words were uttered by Steve Jobs at Macworld Boston in 1997 as he described the groundbreaking deal between Apple and Microsoft.

That announcement set the stage for one of the greatest corporate turnarounds of all time. While it may seem foreign to those who came of age in the era of web apps and smartphones, at the time of this announcement, Microsoft was an unstoppable behemoth and Apple was a staggering challenger. Since that historic moment, Apple has become one of the most powerful companies in the world and Microsoft has seen its influence on the industry diminish.

How did we get here? As it has been said, Microsoft lost the API war. But it's more than just that; Microsoft twice failed to quickly adapt to major shifts in the industry. First, it was late to the shift to the World Wide Web. More recently, it was late to the shift to the latest wave of multitouch-enabled mobile devices. With each successive failure to adapt quickly, Microsoft lost more and more of its grip on the industry.

You can't show up late to the party and expect everything to be the same as it was at the beginning of the party.

Microsoft reacted to the rise of the WWW by attempting to put a stranglehold on it (Internet Explorer and ActiveX, anyone?). Microsoft saw the web--and applications that ran on the web--as a danger to its monopoly. It stubbornly refused to participate openly in this fundamental change in the industry and was left behind.

Similarly, Microsoft failed to quickly adapt to the rise of multitouch-enabled mobile devices. Instead, it stuck its head in the sand and didn't realize that the game had changed and its products in the mobile space were no longer good enough. (As an aside, this same fate befell the other juggernaut in the space, BlackBerry. Google, however, was wise enough to scrap the BlackBerry-ish design that Android had at the time and started from scratch.)

What, then, can Microsoft do to regain prominence in the industry? Simply put: For Microsoft to win, it must be everywhere.

What exactly does this mean? Wasn't Microsoft everywhere to begin with? Actually, no. Microsoft was where everybody had been but wasn't where everybody was going. The Microsoft of old was 'everywhere' by having Windows on everybody's desktop. For Microsoft to move forward, it must look further back into its past, at a time when it made software for darn near every platform out there. If you had a platform, chances were good that Microsoft wrote software for it.

It's not about apps, though. Certainly, apps help but Microsoft isn't going to be able to win the hearts and minds of developers and consumers with apps alone. Instead, Microsoft is going to have to be 'everywhere' with services.

Services are the new frontier. It's an area where its competitors are weak and Microsoft is strong (even if it isn't the strongest). Microsoft might not be able to convince developers to hop onto its Windows 8, Windows RT, and Windows Phone platforms, but if it can convince longtime Apple champions like John Gruber and Brent Simmons to jump onto Azure, then it can convince anybody to join. Likewise, consumers may not be all that jazzed about Microsoft's platforms, but they sure do love Xbox Live. The Office 365-based apps aren't doing too shabby, either.

Folks, Microsoft may not be able make a dent in the mobile space (or the upcoming wearables space), but it stands a good chance of making a huge splash in the services that power those experiences.

Hiring for 'Culture Fit' is Absolute Garbage...and Absolutely Important

Perhaps one of the most irritating terms to arise during the current tech renaissance is 'culture fit'. What, pray tell, does the term mean?

Ostensibly, 'culture fit' is intended to mean that a potential job candidate will immediately 'gel' with the existing team. Once critical 'culture fit' has been achieved, a company will reap the benefits as the Borg-ified development team bangs out line after line of beautiful, scalable, and coherent code. Launch parties ensue, followed shortly thereafter by an IPO. Investors cheer. The team eventually celebrates being flush with success and cash by sipping Mai Tais on a tropical beach.

Unfortunately, that isn't the reality. In the best case, the team suffers from a lack of diversity and is held back from achieving great results as it becomes mired in groupthink. In the worst case, 'culture fit' is a means by which a team can turn into a members-only club that keeps out individuals who are deemed different (for example, by being women).

'Culture fit' is a terrible thing, right? Something that should inspire us all to grab our pitchforks every time the foul utterance escapes some fool's lips?

Actually, no.

Why? If for no other reason, because no one wants to work with a jerk. Making sure that someone isn't going to turn into a team cancer or a morale-killing psychopath is important. The workplace isn't meant to be an episode of Game of Thrones, folks.

Development teams shouldn't be looking for a candidate's 'culture fit' if by doing so they are only evaluating the rather shallow layer that can be quickly and easily perceived. Does this person look similar to me? Does this person have the same background? Does this person have the same interests? These questions aren't important.

What is important? A person's 'culture fit' in terms of their values. Specifically, the values that matter for the company's success. Take, for example, Atlassian's stated values. That company places an emphasis on being honest with its employees and customers. The best way to evaluate a candidate's 'culture fit' for Atlassian is to determine if the candidate shares the same emphasis on honesty.

Folks, you should evaluate potential job candidates on their competencies and their ability to embrace the company's values. Don't use 'culture fit' as an excuse to exclude people who are 'different'.

Doing Free to Play the Wrong Way...and the Right Way

The folks at Extra Credits produce some of the most thoughtful and insightful videos on game design, gaming culture, and the game industry. In this latest video, they cover the topic of free to play games (aka 'freemium') and the ways that many companies create poorly designed freemium experiences that not only aren't engaging for players but also hurt the bottom line. As it turns out, though, it is possible to create a freemium game that provides a great experience for players and encourages players to pay for that experience.

I, Too, Have Fixed My Loved One's Wi-Fi

If you work with computers (or in some cases, even touch a computer) then surely you know the responsibility and dread of acting as IT support for your family members. This fun animated short tells the tale of an individual who was called upon to fix his girlfriend's grandparents' Wi-Fi.

BTW, if you enjoy the TV shows Archer or Bob's Burgers, then you'll recognize H. Jon Benjamin's voice as the narrator of this fine story.

People Just Want to Have Fun (and Access to Content)

Ivo Jansch, in a post on his site:

So I watched the Blu-ray disk. Once. It took ages to load and it featured un-skippable FBI warnings treating me as a potential criminal. I ended up going back to my illegal download of Inception which is stored in my digital library. Quality is lower than the blu-ray, but at least I can watch it conveniently when and wherever I can and it doesn't treat me like a criminal.

I've had several conversations with friends in the tech industry about the problems surrounding access to content such as movies, television, and music. There really aren't any technical problems that need to be overcome. We do in fact have the technology for people to easily find content, pay for it, and enjoy it. Why, then, is consuming content so darn difficult? Business reasons.

Quite simply, the media companies haven't been willing to offer content the way that people want to pay for and consume content.

As Jansch notes in his personal account, the music industry is far ahead of the movie and television industries with respect to offering convenience and selection for consumers. We can largely attribute this to Apple's involvement in getting content available for the iTunes music store. Now consumers can easily purchase music or (as is becoming more and more common) stream content via services such as Pandora and Spotify.

The television industry is in an odd state. Netflix has done a lot to help bring content as an 'all-you-can-eat' model that has served consumers well when they want to binge watch old episodes of Star Trek or the latest season of House of Cards. Unfortunately, there still remain many roadblocks on the path to television nirvana. It's not surprising that Game of Thrones is consistently the most pirated television show. HBO just isn't making things easy for consumers. It isn't possible for a consumer to purchase access to a single television series. Additionally, it's generally not possible to get HBO without also having a cable television subscription. The hurdles that a consumer has to overcome to get legitimate access to a television series should not be greater than the comparatively few hurdles that have to be overcome to pirate a television series.

What can be said of the movie industry? This is by far the industry that just doesn't 'get it'. Redbox and the aforementioned Netflix did much to make accessing movie content more convenient. Unfortunately, the movie industry has done everything it can to stymie and undermine both Redbox and Netflix in order to protect old business models. Redbox often does not have access to the latest movie releases until 28 days after the movie has been available on DVD/Blu-ray. Netflix has seen its movie library chipped away bit by bit by ever increasing licensing fees (spurring Netflix to create its own award-winning content). There is no 'all-you-can-eat' movie viewing experience. 'Purchasing' movies via most services (e.g. Amazon Instant Video) is an exercise in pain. It's surprising that movie studios think a digital 'who-knows-if-I-will-have-access-to-this-next-year' copy is worth the same amount of money as a DVD/Blu-ray disc that can be held onto for years to come or be sold to finance future content purchases.

Why was Napster so popular? A small part of that popularity was because users didn't have to pay, but by far the biggest reason that Napster was so popular is because it was so darn convenient.

Folks, people just want to have fast, simple, safe access to content. Provide it, and people will pay for it.

Stop Being So Pushy

David Smith in a post on his blog:

I have just sorted through the App Store and settled on trying out your app. I open it up and you immediately ask if you can send me Push Notifications? I have no context about what these are going to be used for or why they might be useful to me.

I haven’t even seen your app yet!

I agree with Smith's sentiments. The marketing angle is something that Apple has not specifically enforced, but one never knows how the app review winds will blow.

Unfortunately, Apple's own documentation for remote push notifications (specifically, the code sample) implies that a developer should immediately register for remote push notifications once an app has launched. I can only imagine that the lack of clear direction from Apple must be a significant factor in the way apps request permission for push notifications.