NOTE: This has been edited to correct the spelling for Safra Catz’ name and to remove a ‘not’ that completely misled my meaning.
I was going to write a post about Larry Ellison leaving Oracle after he announced his retirement on Thursday but it is probably pre-mature. Ellison will become the executive chairman while Safra Catz and Mark Hurd run the shop as co-CEO’s and I have a lot of doubts.
It’s not that Safra and Mark are competent executives because each has held down significant positions for a long time. Recall Hurd was CEO of HP a while ago and Catz has had significant responsibilities at Oracle. But two things strike me. First Larry isn’t going anywhere. If he said he was going sailing or going to live on the island he bought in the Hawaiian Islands that would be a good indication for retirement. But as executive chairman, Ellison will still be heavily involved in the day-to-day operations so I am not sure what if any difference this will mean.
Second, I am leery of two riders on the same horse, which is what you have with co-CEOs. It’s not a good idea — heck sometimes one CEO is too many. By keeping Catz and Hurd in the same relative positions they were in when Larry was CEO we run the risk of losing steam, credibility, innovation, and creativity.
I see this situation as an analog to Microsoft. When Bill Gates retired, Steve Ballmer was waiting in the wings. He was one of the original team and he was a continuation of Gates possibly without Gates’ smarts. In the event, Ballmer stayed the course, rewriting Windows every few years and living off the cash cows and that was exactly what Microsoft didn’t need.
The list of markets that Microsoft plays in but does not lead as a result of a drowsy decade of following Ballmer’s script include cloud computing, phones and tablets, and CRM. We’ll see about the Internet of Things (IoT). I fear that something similar could happen to Oracle. The company has bought a lot of other companies recently and knitting them together is a big job that has to be done but I am not sure that constitutes a vision of where business computing should go and I am not sure the new team has that vision.
Perhaps the vision exists in some of the people who came into the company from the acquisitions, an iffy proposition to be sure. Very often when a company gets bought, the founders and lead talent make enough money to leave. They work through a transition period and then depart for some beach to contemplate their next moves. Some stay. Anthony Lye was a great case in point. He came with the Siebel acquisition and turned Oracle’s CRM group into a real money maker. But he’s gone along with many others.
So the question is what’s next. How long will the transition of Larry all the way out of the organization take? The answer will manifest itself when Larry really does retire and more visibly when we see some new blood in the corner office driving a new vision of Oracle.
The wearables market heated up last week with Apple’s introduction of its Watch and payment processing service and the implications for CRM are interesting. First off the announcement shows how very young the wearables marketplace is and how far it has to go. Second, even though wearables are by nature devices intimately connected to us and our motivations, they are still devices, which should concern us. Why? Because they have the potential of buying things for us that we might not realize. First thing first.
Samsung and other Asian manufacturers are not wasting any time waiting for California to invent wearables that it will later copy and manufacture. They have a handful of wearable devices, Google one, Apple one, and Salesforce has a developer’s kit for all of them. Moreover, a host of new companies are trying to make a mark with their devices as well. But we’re already hearing a lot about killer apps or their absence. Last week the New York Times published an article that seemed to make lemonade out of lemons when it reported that while Apple was releasing a software developer kit (SDK) it was assuming the market would innovate toward the next killer app.
That’s certainly true but we didn’t have to wait for a use case or killer app for the iPhone or iPad; those devices arrived with their reasons for being well documented. So introducing a watch is somewhat risky and somewhat ho-hum for Apple. It’s risky because they didn’t introduce anything else in a family of devices, like glasses, and because the market is awash in digital watches and it’s ho-hum for the same reason. It will be hard to differentiate from there. You really want to believe that the company is working on another wearable device that will come with a more eureka moment.
This brings up more questions like how many of these gizmos will we really need? The iPhone consolidated a lot of things like phone, camera, music device, email/Internet access device all into a single manageable handful. Are we about to go in the opposite direction needing one device for recording video, another to get us into the building, another to track our health, and still another to tell the world we’re in the building? What would Elvis do?
So it seems to me that the wearables wars, and there will be more than one, will first be about form factor and functionality and then maybe about apps ecosystems — and we haven’t even gotten to killer applications yet. So watch this space, it’s going to be interesting around here for a while.
Devices as part of the IoT
The prospect of devices doing our bidding has one major concern which is what happens if the device gets a little carried away and the cost of its help turns out to be large? As a nation we’ve been digging ourselves out of a debt hole ever since the housing crisis in 2008. As many people get their heads above water again, will devices suddenly submerge us all over?
Like it or not we’re entering an era when customers own consumers and consumers have credit card numbers and a certain amount of autonomy to make purchases on behalf of the customer. Teaming up the consumer with Apple Pay or any other payment service will drain more than one bank account before we get it right. And what about hacking?
The last time I saw so much technology and potential was when SaaS got its act together. Definitions were everywhere and there were few standards to guide us. The world of wearables and the IoT present the same challenges. Eventually it all gets sorted out but in the interim, there’s plenty of opportunity for innovators and charlatans.
I am usually a best of breed guy provided there are adequate bridges between technologies, but the wearables revolution is going to need to come with bridging to be credible. Fortunately most vendors have reached that conclusion and there are some good products on the market already. Nonetheless, I am at the moment coming down on the side of the platform that can seamlessly generate apps for the new devices complete with well-behaved integration.
I hate to repeat myself, but we haven’t even identified the/a killer app yet. This thing is in the very early stages and it will consume a big chunk of one’s career.
Due to the high demand, I’d appreciate it if you’d CALL for appointments to meet at Dreamforce, Oracle OpenWorld and any other event you might be attending.
A second article in the Times (following up on yesterday’s reporting on Apple’s smart Watch) says Apple has been oh-so-smart to produce a developer’s kit so that the market can decide the killer app for the device. Killer app here is code for justifying the product’s purchase in the first place.
All hardware goes through a period where we wonder what its utility really is and it took word processing and spread sheets to justify PCs, graphics packages to do the same for laptops and email kind of knitted everything together. When the smart phone came along (i.e. iPhone), it was already a Swiss Army Knife of a sort being able to make calls, check email, play music, and take pictures. The application ecosystems that followed were largely frosting on the cake.
And when Steve Jobs introduced iPad, he vaguely referred to it as a content consumption device, which it is despite the fact that users tried heroically to link wireless keypads to it. As it turns out tablets spawned a market for light and detachable laptops though many vendors like Microsoft and HP are still trying to convince us that their keypadded devices are really tablets.
Wearables are different because they present us with a 2D matrix to figure out. The platform is amorphous, first off, meaning there are wearables for your face and eyes (Glass and its kin), your wrist (various watches), and your pocket/neck (pendant-like things). Each will have, I think, a different killer app though I can easily see spillover. For example a watch could also identify you entering a building and emit your location to your nanny but so could a pocket device. And every device maker worth its patents wants to be the next Fitbit. However, I think the face appliances that capture and show video will be in a class by themselves.
So the point isn’t that there needs to be a killer app, it is that each device type could do with one or risk being eliminated by other more versatile solutions. We’ve seen this before for instance when the smart phone replaced the candy bar model and the flip phone — it wasn’t because call quality could only improve with a handheld, it was because for the same money you got so much more.
Apple is not the only vendor in the wearables space with a developer’s kit and you could argue that its kit might not even be the best if all it does is generate apps for a single device or device type. For more robust developer functionality you need to look at something like the Salesforce Wear developer’s kit, or whatever it’s being called. Just last week the company announced significant momentum in its wearables initiative nearly doubling its core developer partner group to eleven. And yes, this includes multiple device types.
Salesforce Wear can generate apps for all of the major device types including watches, glasses, and pendant or pocket thingies. In this early market that appears to be a superior approach because it gives the market a voice in determining not only the killer app but also the killer device or more precisely the killer device for a particular circumstance. You can’t separate those two converging needs.
So good luck to Apple on launching the Watch, the company picked a safe platform compared to Google and its Glass unit, though in retrospect Glass seems an inspired idea. Apple should have the wind at its back due to its reputation, its huge developer ecosystem, and its choice. As the market heats and consolidates, it would not be surprising to see Apple and Salesforce battling for app supremacy but right now I don’t think Apple is in the catbird seat. Apple is still a hardware maker while Salesforce has been down this road of providing developer resources for many platforms several times already.
I can’t be sure if Apple jumped the shark yesterday or not. Introducing the long awaited iPhone 6 and Watch wearable device made me do a lot of thinking. First the iPhone.
They obviously need some better naming conventions to describe the bigger and biggest iPhones and ideally the naming should come from the suitability the devices exhibit for particular purposes. Then again I’ll take anything besides “Plus.” “Plus” is not a naming decision or convention in the same way that black is not a color and no decision is not one. What’s next? Ultra? Titanium? Competitors would probably like unobtanium but I digress. The iPhones and iOS8 have many cool features and new capabilities that would make Dick Tracy swoon.
The larger “6 Plus” with its biggest HD screen might be a videographer’s tool kit, not powerful enough to replace anything but certainly what’s needed for a rough draft sketch of a video scene or news gathering at your favorite revolution. If it didn’t need charging it would be a great device to take on extended outdoor adventures.
I’ve been saying for some time now that wearable solar cells capable of charging our devices (or actually, just a general purpose Lithium battery) really have to become standards and Apple’s announcements tell me that the need for extended power supply will surface as a big thing soon if we’re to continue making these devices part of our lives.
Speaking of being part of our lives, am I the only person on the planet to notice the incongruity of a watch from the company that did the most to make conventional watches obsolete? I am still waiting for a good reason for wearable computing because I really, really don’t want you to know where I am all the time. Mom didn’t care as long as I was home when the streetlights went on and I think that’s a good heuristic.
I know, I know, it’s the new, new thing (Oh no, I’m saying everything twice!) and cool apps are coming. But the idea of a watch that will do so much to track daily physiological functions — exercise committed even while walking up a flight of stairs at work, for example — makes me think of all those people we used to see at shopping malls wearing tracksuits. Very quickly tracksuits got a bad name as they were repurposed to non-track activities by obviously non-athletes. The same is happening today with Spandex yoga pants or whatever they are for those of us who clearly do not work out.
At any rate, Apple needs to manage the Watch very carefully lest it become the track suit of technology and data encryption and security measures won’t do. Personally, I don’t think there is very much if any data that you can store on a wearable device (other than the video of that B&E you were in over the weekend just for kicks) that very many people would care about. Your steps, calories, weight aren’t going to show up on the black market anytime soon even if the wearables had a security paradigm called “screen door.” Any health related data that’s worth knowing needs wet chemistry and a blood sample and we ain’t there yet. So I am not saying that security isn’t important just that we might be just a tad over doing it. So tell me again, why do I need a wearable device?
As I re-read this I find it amazing that I am a seriously committed Apple user and I am being so skeptical of the latest announcements, but there it is. Let’s talk about Apple Pay for just a sec. How many payment systems does the world need and why do we need yet another? It would have been nice to see Apple decide to partner with some of the payment processors in a big announcement rather than produce another walled garden. But I guess that’s Apple’s DNA, do it yourself, depend on as few outsiders as possible. It was Steve Jobs’ DNA too. While I get all that there comes a time in every market when standards descend on us for the sake of ease of use and ubiquity. Apple is tres, tres late to this party and so it would not have hurt them a bit to play nice in somebody else’s sandbox.
Increasingly we’re seeing that it’s easy to make hardware and even software. The growth area in this market is services, which is partly the reason I think Apple Pay is coming out. Beyond that, if the Watch is not destined to become a latter day tracksuit it will be services and not apps that keep it relevant. The health-oriented apps will be most useful when connected to your doctor, personal trainer, coach, or other person that can help turn the collected data into knowledge that can be applied to improve our lives. Those services people won’t be automatically loyal to Apple or any device maker and for that reason, I suggest that Apple begin recruiting and certifying experts who can incorporate their devices into must have life sustaining or improvement programs.