May 17, 2016 brianradio2016

Across the world, Android smartphones handily outsell Apple iPhones by wide margins — yet Android devices rarely have significant presence within enterprise environments. Even in the United States, where the market share for the two smartphones is roughly equal, iPhones account for about 70 to 90 percent of enterprise smartphones in use, according to various surveys.

The latest incarnation of Android — version 6.0 Marshmallow — has made significant improvements around security and management, and the leading Android device maker (Samsung) offers enterprise-quality smartphones like the Galaxy S7, as well as a strong security platform that has gained federal approval. But enterprise mobility is still very much an iPhone and iPad phenomenon.

Speaking of the iPad, when it comes to tablets, it’s iPad or nothing at most enterprises. Android tablets have almost no presence among business users, and if anything seems likely to get adoption beyond the iPad, it’s Microsoft’s Windows 10-based Surface Pro.

Today, enterprises can adopt Android as a near-equal to iOS. Why haven’t they? There are three basic reasons, all of which can be overcome if the Android industry decides to do so.

May 16, 2016 brianradio2016

No matter how much of a force a company might seem, all good things must come to an end. That’s not to say that today’s juggernauts will vanish overnight, but the tech world is littered with the corpses of powerful, even massive companies that failed to adapt to changing times and were either marginalized or became the dust of ages — Wang, DEC, Tandy, SGI, Compaq. More recently we witnessed the collapse of Sun into the murky depths of Larry Ellison’s ego. No matter how significant a corporation might become, it is not immortal.

A few have more staying power and diversified well enough that they have a (possibly) longer lifespan than most. IBM, Intel, Microsoft, and Apple appear to be in this category.

Apple in particular has been riding a seemingly endless wave of innovation and success, coupled with shrewd business practices that have made it all but unassailable. It’s unlikely that its position would be unseated by a direct competitor in mobile and high-end laptop and desktop sales solely due to the prowess of that rival — Apple would have to screw up repeatedly with major missteps to help that process along.

That may be happening right now. The recent slip in iPhone sales and precipitous market drop is one indicator, as is the symbolism of Apple’s market capitalization dipping below Google’s. Apple is no longer the largest company in the world.

May 9, 2016 brianradio2016

As you may have noticed, I’ve been ruminating a lot about communications recently, specifically messaging and email. I’m not done.

Messaging and email are the most ubiquitous methods of personal communication that humans use today. We send more text messages, instant messages, and emails than we make phone calls. Many of us use these systems more often than we speak face-to-face with our friends and family. And we do so despite the fact that each is fairly broken in its own way, though SMS is probably the most robust of all the methods.

In fact, SMS is now possibly the most reliable way to send small messages to another person — assuming, of course, the person has a mobile phone. Messaging through one or more of the cornucopia of popular apps can easily result in unread notices if the recipient doesn’t have the app installed and running. Sending an email should work, unless it gets trapped in a spam filter or another all-too-common pitfall on the way to the recipient, but text messages generally get to their destination unimpeded.

Except when they don’t. I was recently in Norway, where I discovered my phone would work with data services from Telenor, and I could make outbound calls and send texts, but incoming calls and texts simply didn’t reach me. When I landed in London a few days later, I received all 42 text messages and voicemail notifications I had missed. Technically, SMS succeeded in delivering the message, but a bit late.

May 2, 2016 brianradio2016

We live in a constantly connected world. We can contact anyone on or off the planet in a matter of seconds. We communicate using a wide variety of mediums, from blind broadcasts to specific one-to-one messaging that moves to and from smartphones, computers, tablets, or any other device capable of an Internet connection — my watch, for example.

It’s not always easy. The Internet has brought us amazing possibilities, but it has also brought us massive fragmentation in new areas of communication. The proliferation of instant messaging applications is unlike anything we’ve seen before. Not only are there no universal standards, sometimes there aren’t even standards within the fragments themselves.

Occasionally we’ll discover that newer versions of one messaging app can’t talk to older versions of the same app. Addresses or usernames have no standardization. You might be able to use a third-party client for some services, but not others. You might need to sign up for some massively overbuilt framework simply to send the equivalent of a text message to someone else who happens to use that framework. You might find that your messaging needs require you to have accounts at a dozen different services, with your contacts scattered among them. You may actually have to remember that you talk to one person with XYZ app and another with ABC app. It’s the Tower of Babel.

This is a new development. Historically, we have been able to settle on a single standard for any given form of communication, generally because there was no viable alternative, and the barriers to entry were substantial.

April 25, 2016 brianradio2016

Five years ago, I wrote a column about how the fax machine refuses to die. Five years is a long time in terms of technology, but only a short time in terms of fax machines. Depending on how you define the point of origin of the first method of distributing images or photographs over an electrical wire, the fax machine may date back to 1843.

There was a telefax service in operation between Paris and Lyon, France, in 1865. Transmission of images over wireless radio networks was routinely conducted throughout the early 20th century. The modern facsimile machine as we know it was introduced in the United States in 1964.

Of all of the computing or digital technologies commercially available in 1964, you probably won’t find any of them in a Staples today — except the fax machine. We don’t use dot-matrix printers anymore or CRT monitors or televisions. We’ve largely migrated from landlines to cellphones, and even our landlines are digital in most places these days. The technologies from that era are all museum pieces now, with the glaring exception of this ancient document transmission system that continues on like a zombie, devouring forests of paper and screaming 14,400bps modem tones.

This was brought back into stark contrast to me the other day when I was forced to spend hours on the phone with several health care companies to clear up a problem related to a garbled fax transmission of a prescription renewal.

April 19, 2016 brianradio2016

Apple has had a string of promising technologies lately that have been slow to get real-world takeup. CarPlay, announced in 2012 as iOS in the Car, is only this year seriously showing up in cars’ infotainment systems. Handoff, which debuted in 2014, has gained very little third-party developer adoption and has seen little use even by Apple outside of handling texts and calls across devices. Maybe Microsoft’s new take on Handoff will fare better.

Then there’s the iBeacons protocol that lets a smartphone app get local information on demand by reading the ID of devices called beacons. Each beacon has a unique ID, which an app maps to a database that tells it the beacon’s location or other information specific to it.

iBeacons was supposed to revolutionize retailing, by letting customers get more product details and order the displayed items in their sizes or preferences, as well as allowing retailers to track and engage with customers as they moved about a store. Beacons’ uses transcend retail, of course — beacons could also provide info on museum artifacts, transit options, where vegetables in a store bin were grown, and so on when engaging the real world.

Apple didn’t invent beacons, but its iBeacons protocol opened up a common technology that app developers and those deploying beacons could use. Before iBeacons, a particular vendor’s beacons worked with only that vendor’s software. With iBeacons, manufacturers quickly adopted the Apple standard, even if they also offered their own “enhanced” protocol.

April 18, 2016 brianradio2016

Setting universal standards has never been easy. Over the centuries, the world hasn’t agreed on much of anything, from power outlets to politics. We must manufacture cars that have both left-hand and right-hand drive. Much of the world uses 220-volt power systems, but North America runs 110. Let’s not even get started on imperial versus metric measurements.

One common element to these disparities: They generally stem from a time when global communication was either nonexistent or was characterized by latency measured in years. Solutions were developed in one area and became standards well before the locals knew of similar efforts in distant lands.

They also generally come from a time when standards were set ad hoc, not by conscious thought. A good and omnipresent example of this would be the QWERTY keyboard.

But that’s no longer the norm. Not only has computing brought us substantially lower-latency communication, but we had to develop strong global standards in order for that to be possible. The communications system that allows you to read these words is based on international standards. The only reason you can be anywhere on or off the planet and access this column is due to the computing world working together for decades to develop, maintain, and adhere to strong standards.

April 12, 2016 brianradio2016

The dot-com “new economy” thinking is back — again. Everything you know and do is wrong and must be disrupted, transformed, and greenfielded. The past belongs to the dinosaurs, and only the IT leaders who see the future will be around to live it. 

Perhaps now that the Great Recession is firmly in the rearview mirror, but without heady growth replacing it, that cultish thinking has the right environment to thrive again — at risk of wasting millions of dollars and untold hours of corporate efforts. The mini-messiahs of tech have made digital transformation their new religion, though you still see strains of older cults, such as around social business and citizen developers, preaching to IT and business leaders.

Here is a smattering of the kinds of broad, hollow comments from such techno-preachers:

  • “Being a truly native digital business requires a complete rethinking of what’s possible.”
  • “Digital transformation is the necessary response to changing consumer and market behaviors.”
  • “We need to rethink everything, including the business models that have driven success in the past.”
  • “The New CIO has a real chance to grab the reins and lead toward a digital business  — tar pit for the rest.”
  • “I’ve concluded that IT can no longer deliver tech change in sufficient scale … nor should it.”
  • “Communities for learning are changing everything about how we prepare for the future.”
  • “If they are not a community-oriented company … they’re not going to win.”
  • “Often the CIO is where old IT goes to die. New and exciting tech projects go to the CDO and CMO.”

If you’ve been around IT for a decade or more, you’ve heard such statements before from consultants, vendors, and media pundits. Many of the core technologies cited — analytics, mobile, and cloud, particularly — have also been around for years, though they’ve all progressed and continue to do so. There’s nothing fundamentally new today being preached, only the usual advances that become the examples to inspire action or fear (and gain big speaking and consulting fees).

April 11, 2016 brianradio2016

At least Hillary Clinton’s backward stance on encryption is somewhat in line with her actions. After all, it appears that she wasn’t using encryption on her email server for at least a few months, not to mention that the server was wildly insecure in other ways, including wide-open RDP and VNC services. Talk about bush league — but this was the secretary of state.

Meanwhile, we have the Panama Papers, which is a scandal unlike any the world has ever seen. I think we’ve only begun to scratch the surface, but one of the ruefully amusing aspects was Edward Snowden pointing out the utter hypocrisy of British PM David Cameron, who appears to support security and privacy only when it benefits him.

As tired as we may be of hearing about it, the fact remains that many powerful politicians do not understand encryption, security, or even privacy. You might think that the first requirement by a Secretary of State would be secure email. If she wanted to set up her own email server, security should have been the first, second, and third concern. Instead, it apparently was completely absent from the conversation.

Within tech circles, promoting the demise of encryption is an absurdity. Even trying to understand how anyone could think otherwise is a gymnastic mental exercise because we’re too close to the issue. We know how these things work, and we know exactly what happens when security is compromised. It’s never pretty. Poor information security destroys livesbankrupts companies, and routinely causes headaches for millions of people.