Focus, Focus, Focus on core value

In my Evangelism role I speak with developers and start ups all day, but when the start up is being run by an old friend, I listen carefully.  I’ve had the unique opportunity to observe my friends thoughts over a few years about developing a product or service based on his unique expertise and background over lunch or coffee.  During this time his thoughts evolved from a series of observations, to an idea, and now into a product that’s currently in development with a bunch of eager customers he and the team have already lined up.  What I’ve learned from him is another lesson of the power of focus.

Starting originally with observations of  classic  IT operational problems in big data centers,  my friend and his partners iterated through a bunch of product ideas, beginning with using streaming media and voice communications to monitor IT operations staff.  While doing this they came to a realization that they’d identified a powerful insight that’s driving their product’s core value: most problems they’d encountered are time based with location information and “who did what” being key data items.   Exactly the kind of information that a mobile phone can provide.

Turning a classic IT problem inside out, rather than using traditional data gathering  methods, they use the smartphone as the device that captures and encodes this information for their customers, turning what was a previously error prone and “after the fact” data collection problem into a real-time event creation captured using “point phone at thing (location, document, etc.), push button on UI, done”.  It’s a brilliant application of using the smartphone in a novel way.  By generalizing their observations after talking with a myriad of potential customers, they’ve actually moved to a different initial target market than IT operations.

He’s also applied some Evangelism principals we’ve discussed: like talking to customers early (evangelize early), he’s iterated rapidly on the core ideas (agile), he’s built a lean team (hire to your profile) and now he’s broadening the feedback loop (lunches with dudes like me…).

Looks like a success in progress, because the team is building an innovative product with a laser focus on maximizing via their core value.

iPhone prototype

Apple’s purported 2005 iPhone prototype

The interest in Apple’s reported iPhone prototype is understandable, folks hope to gain new insights into how Apple conceives of, designs and builds their products. My impression is that this system was a development system used to run and test early versions of the software, and indeed shows Apple’s thinking re: what became the iPhone platform definition.

Before, after and while at Microsoft I’ve worked on products that have bootstrapped on development systems that approximated the production units as much as possible, at times years before it’s intended launch. You select the processor/architecture family, memory footprint, I/O and make this prototype hardware platform definition as close to the silicon vendors projected availability of their new chip families in the supply chain at your release target date. You then design and build your OS software, drivers and any other hardware abstraction layers to target the core characteristics of the chip families selected. The more chip savvy of you will note this is why new processor features are often not exploited by the OS at initial release. So, indeed this system shows Apples selection of processor architecture and family, however, the screen used may have been a matter of convenience. It may not have been intended to be used at it’s full physical extent but probably was bounded by the target screen sizes Apple was testing. Also given the way the prototype is mounted on the stand it appears this setup was used to test input gestures as well.

So, how does this apply to the rest of the industry? Well, the good news is with off the shelf systems like Raspberry Pi readily available for intial prototyping, it’s an easy, low cost way for startups to prototype their ideas like Apple did using this custom engineered device. We’re seeing an explosion of new devices (not just smartphones) and new categories of devices being created daily for consumers and business. Many acquaintances and former colleagues of mine are now at start ups building devices who’s UI appears on a mobile device, the app is part of the overall solution and experience they’re building.

At BlackBerry we’re fortunate to have the experience of the QNX team who’ve worked on countless embedded implementations of their software. Together, we’re working to make the power of BlackBerry 10 and QNX available to build these new “solution devices” using the tools and platform we’ve shipped in BlackBerry 10.