Recently Browsing 0 members
No registered users viewing this page.
By Hamza Jawad
Interview: Microsoft's Arun Ulag discusses updates to the Power Platform, and its future
by Hamza Jawad
Microsoft's Ignite conference this week was completely virtual, much like its Build 2020 developer conference and Inspire 2020 event held earlier this year. Among a flurry of announcements and unveilings regarding various Microsoft platforms and services, a bunch of updates for Power BI and the Power Platform as a whole were revealed as well.
Some of the major announcements for this event included the arrival of low-code updates in the Power Platform for Azure and GitHub, Power Automate Desktop and Power BI for Teams entering preview, and new Power BI Premium offerings being introduced. Following the Ignite sessions for Power BI, we got the chance to conduct an interview with Power BI CVP Arun Ulag, going over a brief history of Power BI and the Power Platform, insights into the latest announcements, and what the future holds for Microsoft's business intelligence platform.
Hamza: Could you start off by perhaps providing an overview of how exactly Power BI has evolved over the past few years?
Arun: So, the Power Platform is Microsoft's end-to-end low code development platform. And what we're really trying to do, Hamza, is help customers go from insight to action to automation, and empower everybody from citizen developers to professional developers. And in the Power Platform family, it began with Power BI. So, Power BI was the first of the power platform. And we launched it about five years ago, in July 2015. And since then, it's become a whole family. So you have Power Apps, you have Power Automate, you have Power Virtual Agent. My colleague, Charles Lamanda, runs the applications and automation platform, so Power Apps and Power Automate and Power Virtual Agent. That's kind of how we divide and conquer.
So, that's the Power Platform, and the Power Platform shares a bunch of things in common. We have a common design team, like, it's the same designers that work on my stuff and Charles's stuff. It's a common gateway back to on-premise systems. It's a common set of connectors. Power BI allows you to embed Power Apps into your Power BI report. So you can take an action from right there. You can embed a Power BI report into a Power App, you can bring a Power Automate flow into a Power App or into a Power BI report. All of them are designed together and they're designed to work together. A customer can go from insight to action to automation very, very quickly.
And all of the Power Platform is extensible to Azure. For example, you know, Power Apps, you build a Power App, you can call an Azure function. You use it using Power BI, you can call an Azure Machine Learning model. All of this is designed so that there are 'no cliffs'; it's all the high productivity of a low-code platform without the cliffs that prevent you from scaling out because you can always drop into code, you can always drop into Azure. That's the overall vision for the power platform. Let me see if you have any questions on the Power Platform before I double click on Power BI.
Hamza: I was actually reading your blog post that you published the other day. The term 'data culture' has been used around a lot whenever Power BI is mentioned. Could you comment on what exactly data culture is, and how driving a data culture has been of paramount importance to your platform?
Arun: So, even six months before we launched, we basically said, "Hey, our objective is to help our customers drive a data culture". And what we mean by that, Hamza, is that we are really trying to empower everyone to make every decision with data. Our objective is to really get Power BI in the hands of everybody on planet earth, but at least starting with the billion users of Office. You know that BI has been a very fragmented industry, right? So, if you look at any reasonable sized company, they have at least two, three, half a dozen, maybe even a dozen BI tools that they use within the organization.
In spite of having so many BI tools, if you look at the penetration of BI tools in the organization, it's only about 15 to 25% in most companies, even looking at the information worker population. It basically means that this industry has been in a place in which there's a profusion of BI tools and very few people have access. Our vision for Power BI is that we want to put it in the hands of everybody so that they can make every decision, not just the big ones, but the small ones, the medium ones as well - the sales person deciding which customer to call, the customer service person being able to diagnose the issue. We're really trying to help everybody from the CEO to the frontline worker make data-driven decisions. And it's influenced a lot of our thinking, like, literally every step of the way.
The fact that it's a global cloud service means that we talk about it as 'five seconds to sign up and five minutes to wow!', which is, "Hey, anybody should be able to sign up within seconds and get real business value within minutes." If you don't do that, then you're not going to serve a billion people. We made Power BI Desktop completely free, the authoring tool. It's not free for a period of time or a limited time. It's just completely free. And it was a shock to the industry when we did that, because I think at that point, the tools were like $2000 a license. And Power BI Desktop is completely free. Why? Because we wanted everybody to try it. And when you get value is when you share the insights that you find with others.
That's the point where you create value. And we said, at that point we will monetize Power BI. And by the way, when we monetize Power BI, we said, "Hey, we will pick a price point that, again, allows you to go drive everybody to use it." Which is why we started at $10 per user, per month. And then you get further discounts if you pay by through Office 365 E5 - which includes Power BI - or you want to distribute at scale, in which you buy Power BI premium and the price drops to maybe $4 per user per month. So really, its priced at a point in which you can truly drive a universal adoption.
The last thing I would say, Hamza, is that we care so much about our community, and yeah, it's actually unbelievable. And the community cares back. We started this thing very early on of having the community vote on ideas.powerbi.com. And that idea itself is not unusual. Some people do it, but what is unusual is how seriously we take the customer feedback. If you go into ideas.powerbi.com, you'll find 24,000 ideas that the community has voted on half a million times. Me and my team look at that list of features that they ask for every week, top to bottom; we pride ourselves on how many votes can we take off the table. We've covered 200,000 of the 500,000 votes so far, and we ship features every single week in the Power BI service and every month with Desktop, and we've been doing it for five years. So, the pace of innovation focused on what customers want is something that nobody saw in the BI industry and generally it's been the first for Microsoft as well. So that's kind of how we think about the data culture.
Hamza: So, the community is then very significant in terms of whatever sort of direction, or the decisions, that your team decides to make.
Arun: Absolutely, you'll see that we take the feedback very seriously. And if you go to ideas.powerbi.com and you sort by the top ideas, you will see 'under review, 'in development', 'shipped', etc. Each time we do this, it really creates a positive cycle because it says to the community that, "Hey, we take your feedback seriously. We ship regularly every week, every month." Which means that, it gives them incentive to engage more because then they see that Microsoft is listening, Power BI is listening, and we care and we pride ourselves.
I think one of our my most favorite examples is when a community member tweeted saying - this was a really small feature, to be honest - but they tweeted saying, "Hey, Power BI, can you get this done?" And a bunch of other people chimed on and our CTO, Amir Netz, chimed back in saying, "We're getting it done, it'll ship next month." And it was a brand new feature. It just shows that how much we care, and I think they love us back. So, if you see the passion on Twitter, you see the passion on our community, you'll see that this is just a positive self-reinforcing cycle.
GIF via Power BI blog Hamza: Jumping directly into the Ignite announcements regarding the Power Platform that have been unveiled so far, we've seen more low-code updates being introduced that directly link to other platforms. So, for example, Azure API management connectors can now be used to build Power Platform connectors. And then, of course, the Power Platform has been introduced to GitHub as well. With changes like these, is bridging the gap between the services, by introducing more connections between them, or more ways they can interact in, something that you all are focusing on?
Arun: Absolutely. I think if you think about how we're trying to help customers, let me take a Power BI perspective and then I'll expand to Power Platform overall. So, we think about three things, Hamza, one is, how do we empower every user?
There, we're really just trying to do two things. One is, we're trying to basically make Power BI Desktop PowerPoint for data. And why PowerPoint for data, because everybody knows how to use PowerPoint. So, things like making the ribbon the same ribbon, making sure the theming exactly matches PowerPoint, the way you do grouping, the way you move things around, all of those things exactly matching PowerPoint is because we can get everybody to learn how to use Power BI very quickly. The second part of empowering the user is the AI capabilities in Power BI; this is one place where we really had a breakthrough. Of the 150,000 customers that Power BI has, over 75,000 today use the AI capabilities in Power BI. Nobody else has this level of broad AI adoption. And that's really because we are able to lean on Microsoft Research - which does a lot of fundamental advancements in AI -, basically 'steal' their technology, and create business user and business analysts-focused experiences.
We have introduced two new capabilities in my Ignite blog. One is Smart Narratives, which automatically summarizes the insights. The second one is Anomaly Detection, which we demoed, but it's only coming later this calendar year. And it finds anomalies that you should be paying attention to. So that's the first area of investment, empowering every user.
The second area of investment is empowering every team. That's where a lot of our integrations come in. From a Power BI perspective, we start with Teams; it's probably number one for us, it's probably number one for the Power Platform overall. Hey, you and I are on Teams today, you know. Teams has over 75 million daily active users. And if I think about it from a BI perspective, BI is inherently a collaborative experience. The insights we share are more valuable than the insights we have.
What we've announced at Ignite is that Power BI now has an app that ships as part of Teams, where you can not only do your collaboration, but it's also your home for analytics and data. So, Teams is number one. The next one that we're investing in is Excel. It is the world's most widely-used tool for analysing data, for working with data. I think more customers use Excel today, then all of the other BI tools - including Power BI - combined. And there's probably an order of magnitude difference there. The challenge with Excel is that, because it's so easy, Excel tends to be everywhere with all kinds of data in it. And customers refer to this as 'Excel sprawl'. Everybody has a copy of the data, they're emailing it around, they're putting it on shares. And you don't know if the people in your organization are making your decisions based on the right data. Is it fresh? Has it gone stale? Are people making decisions based on data that they should even have access to? So, all of this ends up being a challenge for customers to use Excel effectively.
What we're doing with the Excel-Power BI integration is, firstly, Excel now just ships with Power BI. You don't have to install anything, you don't have to pay anything. Excel now has native PowerBI integration. What it means is, when you bring a data set into Power BI, it has a lot of security associated with only certain people having access. It has role level security, so what you see might be different from what I see. Like, I might see U.S. data, you might see Asia data; it has certification. I.T. can say, "Hey, this is certified." It's I.T.-approved. It also has MIP labels - Microsoft Information Protection labels. You can say this is highly confidential, in which case the data should always be encrypted. It's continuously refreshed, you know, 48 times a day or through Direct Query, etc. So we're saying Excel can now natively discover those datasets, without leaving Excel. Now, when people do that, you know that they're using the right data, you know the data is not stale, you know the data is secured based upon permission-based access and role-level security. And if the data has a MIP label like 'highly confidential' applied, Excel will inherit that label and encrypt that Excel file. This basically means that now you can solve Excel Sprawl, and everybody can use Excel with the right data. So, that's a major investment for us. This is again something nobody else has an industry. That's the second major integration.
The third one is about the Power Platform - so, across Power BI, Power Apps, and Power Automate. I didn't spend a lot of time on the blog on this one, but we are actually doing a lot of work to make sure that cross-solutions building all three work well together. That's the second point about empowering every team. And the third one is about empowering every organization. And this is really about all the capabilities that I.T. cares about. Large-scale semantic models, real-time data analytics, application lifecycle management, with GitHub and Azure DevOps. All of these capabilities that I.T. cares about, you can scale systems end to end, reach tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of users, those are the things that we are focused on.
And this week, we announced major improvements to trust, enhancements to Information Protection, but also deeper integration with Azure Synapse Analytics. Between Power BI and Synapse, it actually becomes a self-learning, self-tuning system. We'll work with data where ever it is, but if you happen to use Power BI with Synapse, the two systems will work together where they're constantly learning from the end-user usage patterns and then optimizing themselves to render the best performance. So, these are the major announcements for Power BI.
Image via Power BI blogHamza: I also had a specific question regarding Power BI premium. Basically, you guys introduced two new Premium offerings, and one of these was the Premium Per User capability. Interestingly, this is said to provide Premium features' access to only a select subset of users within an organization. So, how exactly does this differ from Power BI Pro, which already provides licensing to Power BI on a per-user basis?
Arun: Yeah, that's a really, really good question. So, we introduced Premium about three years ago. And it's grown like crazy because it gives two major capabilities, Hamza. One is, it allows unlimited distribution to consumers, as much as the capacity can support. And because you're paying for your own capacity, we allow you to run advanced workloads that potentially require a lot of compute: things like building Automated Machine Learning models, you know, things like Cognitive Services, so you can analyze text and images; things like pixel-perfect paginated reporting, or to be able to run really large data models - the 400GB data models -, or do large volume data preparation at scale on Azure Data Lake. We've introduced a whole bunch of premium capabilities that really have moved the state of the industry for BI forward.
However, the challenge has been that because it starts at $5,000 for P1, it's not been accessible to a lot of departments and a lot of small and medium customers. The ask has been, how can you get an entry point that is much, much more affordable? Which is why we're introducing Premium Per User. So Premium Per User will go to public preview before end of this calendar year and be completely free during the public preview period. Anybody can just sign up and experience all the capabilities of Premium: large models, 400GB data models, about four to eight terabytes of data in memory, Cognitive Services, Automated Machine Learning, all of that stuff on a per-user basis for free during the public preview period. And then once it gets to a GA, we will announce pricing and it will be very, very competitive in the industry. So, that's how we think about Premium Per User. I was surprised to see how much excitement there is for Premium Per User. I think that just because so many people wanted these capabilities, but the $5000 per month price point was just too expensive as a starting point, now this really unlocks a massive new market for us.
Hamza: Right, so basically it's providing a more affordable entry point.
Arun: For the capabilities that customers have had, but they haven't been able to get their hands on, yeah.
Hamza: Last year, Amir Netz, your CTO, mentioned how Azure targets more of the technical community - developers and the like -, while the Power Platform focuses more on serving the business user community - that may or may not be well-versed as far as the coding part is concerned. So, as a whole, are your objectives now as the CVP of Power BI still the same, or do you feel that you will expand a bit on the target community looking ahead.
Arun: Yeah, it's a really, really good question. And thank you for asking this. Our focus is primarily on serving business users and business analysts, right. And business users are business users, you know. They're trying to get their job done. All of the glories of Power BI are not that interesting to them. They really want to understand what's going on with their business. But this is analysts - we see a spectrum, Hamza. You know, we have folks that are very likely skilled, they're basically Excel users. And then on the higher end, we see folks that are, you know, pretty data savvy. They can build very advanced Excel Workbooks, they have a reasonable familiarity with data science. Some of them have probably done some R and Python coding. So, all of them are rock stars with Excel formulas and pivot tables.
We see that spectrum, but all of them, you wouldn't consider them as developers. And that is our primary audience. However, when we see a large customer using Power BI with the data stack underneath it, we do see a need for us to operate well with the data stack. There are data engineers or BI professionals that also use Power BI, but when they're using Power BI, they're typically not just serving businesses, they're building a large end to end system. There, the tools that they would primarily use would be, Azure Synapse Analytics, Azure Data Factory, Azure Machine Learning, you know, professional tools. What we're trying to do is saying, "Hey, while you're using those professional tools, you can also use Power BI and we've integrated our development environments." So, you can build a project into it. That is what we're focused on. We don't want to confuse customers by saying, "Well, if you're a pro data engineer, you start your job in Power BI," - you would start your job in Azure. But when you build systems end to end, we want to make it easy for you to build a full stack.
Now, when I expand beyond Power BI and look at the Power Platform, we actually see a lot of pro app developers who are looking for a high-productivity environment. But if you want to build an app within your enterprise and you want to have it run on your iPhone, and you want to run it on your Android, if you're gonna use the native APIs of iOS and Android and get each app for two different stores, that's a very expensive process, even for the pro developer, who knows what they're doing. Now, Power Apps really helps you there because it gives you a high-productivity environment. We are seeing a lot of pro developers who have started using Power Apps and Power Automate as a place to start. But, what's great about it is that because we have done a lot of the work with API Management and Azure integration, they can actually build both on Power Apps as well as in Azure Functions. It gives them the ability to build the whole system end to end using a high-productivity environment and a high-code environment.
Image via Power BI blogHamza: Thanks a lot, Arun, I'm just going to wrap this up. As far as the future of Power BI is concerned, what more is in the pipeline for the longer term, and how do you see the platform evolving, moving ahead - especially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic?
Arun: Yeah, that's a really, really good point. I would say three things, Hamza. One is, it starts with trust and security, right? Everybody's working from home these days. Corporate data is now living on so many machines that it never used to see before. Enabling customers to be able to work securely in a remote environment is paramount because often customers put their most precious information in to Power BI. That's why we have invested deeply in Microsoft Information Protection; that's where we invested in cloud app security, that's where we added 'bring your own key'. In terms of the security capabilities that Power BI has introduced, they really have been massive over the last 18 months. And it has really helped customers, especially when COVID has hit. That's why I would say security and trust are number one for us.
Number two is making sure that Power BI is just deeply integrated into your collaborative experiences. We really do see Teams as being the home for Power BI, where you can find your analytics, you can discuss your analytics, you can discuss your data, all of those things, just living together. Every team that's formed has a goal that they want to accomplish. Often the progress of that goal is tracked in Power BI. So, it's just such a natural fit.
The third area is really AI, you know, with the amount of data that's available, with the frequency at which it's changing and the volume, you cannot have humans figure this out anymore. You have to have machines help humans. So, AI is where we're making a lot of progress because we're able to do things like, "Hey, automatically find the influencers that drove an outcome; automatically decompose your KPIs into the dimensions that drove the results; automatically generate a natural language summary; automatically identify anomalies." All of these things, our vision for Power BI there is that, "Hey, we should be able to tell you what matters to you. You shouldn't have to go hunting around to discover it." That's the third area we are investing in.
Power BI has, no doubt, evolved into one of the premier business intelligence tools globally over the past five years. The focus on community-requested features has also been quite apparent in recent releases. Arun Ulag detailing how the platform currently functions, and how he sees it developing in the future under his role as its CVP certainly provided us with some unique insights. As to how the latest assortment of introductions is perceived by the business intelligence community moving ahead, only time will tell.
The transcription of the interview has been slightly edited for brevity and relevance.
Interview: HMD Global's Vijay Thangavelu lays out the future of Nokia smartphones
by Muhammad Jarir Kanji
In just the more than two years since HMD Global started selling phones under the Nokia brand, its already among the top 10 smartphone manufacturers in the world, with Nokia's strong brand recognition and HMD's insistence on a no-frills approach to Android spurring strong sales in many developing countries.
As HMD works on further expanding its presence in the world, it has made Asian markets one of the key areas of focus. I recently the chance to talk to HMD's country manager for Malaysia and Myanmar about how the company first started, and what direction it's planning on taking Nokia phones into the future.
Muhammad: Why don’t we start with some basic history? Please tell us a bit about the birth of HMD Global. How did it get started? Was using the Nokia brand always part of your plan?
Vijay: HMD Global was founded on 1st December 2016 in Espoo, Finland whereas HMD in Malaysia launched its first smartphones in June 2017. We are a Finnish start-up, and the home of Nokia mobile phones. In the spirit of most start-ups, we are a collective of passionate and experienced people responsible for product creation, design, and marketing of Nokia mobile phones.
The aim from the start was to create an improved and more personal user experience, so we joined forces with visionary industry leaders to share our ingenuity, experience, and expertise. By doing so, we found innovative ways to connect with our customers.
We are in the business of developing products that are integral in consumers’ daily lives, so we dove into research, development, and imagination; all with the aim to enhance the lives of our consumers, who we put in the centre of every step of our decision-making process.
Muhammad: A lot of people at HMD Global initially worked at Nokia. Given that shared DNA and heritage, how much do Nokia and HMD Global collaborate? Do they simply license their brand to you or is there more to the partnership?
Vijay: We operate using a strategic partnership model working with the very best in the field, as we believe in the spirit of collaboration. We partner with Google for instance, as our operating platform, and of course Nokia, the licensor of the Nokia brand for mobile phones and tablets, among others.
Muhammad: HMD Global/Nokia is the last of the big European phone makers of yesteryear that is still thriving. What would you attribute that success to and what are you doing right that the likes of Ericsson and others were not able to?
Vijay: We would say that this success is attributed to the legendary build quality of Nokia phones as well as our strategic partnership structure with the likes of ZEISS and Google.
These two pillars are crucial for us to deliver the ultimate mobile experience.
Part of our promise at HMD Global is to also deliver pure, secure, and up-to-date software updates to the Android One programme, which we believe is something our customers appreciate.
Muhammad: One of the things which we don't really hear much about, even though they are a large part of your business, are feature phones. How big of an effort is the feature phone business for you, and how successful is it?
Vijay: There have been several feature phones launched by HMD Global these past years that have managed to gain traction in the feature phone segment. In May of 2017, we launched a modern classic reimagined, the Nokia 3310 Dual SIM. In July last year, we launched the throwback phone Nokia 8110 4G or more popularly known as the banana phone, this time supporting the faster 4G.
We are proud to say that today, we are the leading feature phone player globally both in volume and value.
Muhammad: That brings us to the banana phone. What was the reasoning behind it? Just pure nostalgia or something more?
Vijay: Nokia 8110, the newest member of the Originals family, marks the return of the iconic curved slider design, inspired by the original Nokia 8110 - aka the ‘banana phone’. This phone gives you the chance to have fun and relax with the knowledge that all your smartphone essentials are there when you need them such as Google Assistant, Gmail, Outlook, Google Maps, and more.
Muhammad: HMD Global has a habit of releasing many of its more appealing products in China before the rest of the world, or even your native Finland. Why is that?
Vijay: We are a global company with fans all over the world. Hence, it is our consistent goal is to make sure every fan gets the right device that is suitable for them, which means that our phones are released at different times globally.
Muhammad: Nokia and Android One have almost become synonymous now. What motivated you to go with Android One for your phones, and what benefits do you think that provides to your customers?
Vijay: It is about providing what works best for our consumers. Our smartphones in the Android One family offer a high-quality software experience designed by Google. Each phone will stay fresh over time with the latest Google innovations and regular security updates, and our pure Android commitment means they do not come preloaded with any bloatware or unnecessary user interface and skin change.
Android One devices are first in line for software innovations, and are optimised for the best Google experience, making this latest AI technology smart. Android One devices are also among the most secure with monthly security updates for three years and Google Play Protect built-in, making it secure. High-quality hardware such as those of a Nokia smartphone combined with Google’s intuitive software promises a simply amazing experience.
In short, every Nokia smartphone with Android One will give consumers access to a high-quality hardware and a software experience which is smart, secure, and simply amazing.
Consumers are constantly connected through their mobile devices, so it is essential that we provide the very best to our fans through the performance of both hardware and software.
Muhammad: Do you think Android One is the way of the future, and could it be the answer to the infamous fragmentation problem of Android? Should all companies move to it or do you see value in differentiating a product with customised software?
Vijay: HMD Global is focused on providing the best user experience via the Android One programme. We can achieve that by delivering the latest Android features, bug fixes, and security updates quickly over-the-air.
Our commitment for our smartphones consists of monthly security updates for up to three years and Operating System upgrades of up to two versions. A very good example of this is the Nokia 7 Plus being one of the first to roll out Android 9 Pie in September, followed by Nokia 6.1, Nokia 6.1 Plus, and Nokia 8 and Nokia 8.1; and more this year.
At this point in time, we are confident that the Android One programme will continue delivering the best user experience on a Nokia smartphone.
Muhammad: HMD Global is facing some tough competition from Chinese brands like Xiaomi, Pocophone, Realme, and others in the budget segment. What would you say to a customer who believes those other brands provide a better bang for the buck than Nokia phones, especially in terms of specs? What is HMD Global's larger strategy for tackling these challenges?
Vijay: When releasing our devices, high standards of craftsmanship and improved user experience is what we strive to deliver to.
We are making a statement of intent in the local market with our commitment to finesse in our design, build, and overall user experience.
For example, with the Nokia 5.1 Plus and Nokia 6.1 Plus, the latest display innovation is interweaved with our design ethos as we bring maximum display size without compromising compactness.
The Nokia 7 Plus is another example of high craftsmanship, crowned Consumer Smartphone of the Year by the Expert Imaging and Sound Association (EISA) in August. It was praised for its perfect harmony between components and the Android One software platform.
The prices we offer come with promised quality and experience, so users know that what they are paying is worth the device they are getting.
Quality and experience will continue to be at the forefront of our craftsmanship to remain competitive in the smartphone segment. For the feature phone segment, we will carry on providing the latest technologies and features available.
In short, we are constantly focused on how we at HMD Global can do better for our consumers. There is, of course, a lot of competition in the market, but as long as we remain focused while keeping our consumers at the centre of everything that we do, we are positive in their response towards our product.
Muhammad: You also license the ZEISS brand. Tell us a little about your partnership with them, and how you decide which phone will carry the Zeiss brand. Some have criticised your inclusion of the brand on your lower-tier phones. How would you respond to that criticism?
Vijay: Our plan is to work together with ZEISS holistically to deliver the ultimate end-to-end imaging experience to consumers. This encompasses the software, services, screen quality, optics, and more – everything within the imaging ecosystem.
Muhammad: You recently acquired the PureView brand from Microsoft. Can you tell us about what you're planning to do with it?
Vijay: Stay tuned to upcoming updates.
Muhammad: Quad-camera phones have become a bit of a trend in the last year or so. Are you planning on one-upping them with the Nokia 9 - does it really have five cameras on the back?
Vijay: We do not comment on speculation or rumours, but do stay tuned to HMD Global to find out more in the coming months.
Muhammad: What can we expect to see from HMD Global in the future, and where do you see the company in the next 10 years?
Vijay: We want to make the brand one of the top brands in the region. Our Nokia smartphones are devices that get better over time with our key value proposition and promise of Android One – Pure, Secure & Always Up-to-date.
There is a strong growth market in the region, and we want to be a part of that growth story. Our vision for HMD Global as a whole is for the company to be the leader in innovation and user experience.
HMD has been able to carve out a good niche of the market for itself relying largely on the strength of the Nokia brand. However, as the novelty of the brand wears out and with Chinese competitors like Huawei and OPPO constantly pushing out newer innovations at a breakneck pace and often at cheaper prices, Nokia's ability to gain more ground in the already congested Asian markets remains to be seen.
The company does provide a unique value proposition with its strong software game, being almost unparalleled in the lower ends of the smartphone market, but it still remains to be seen whether consumers in price-conscious markets like India will prefer a 'pure, secure, and up-to-date' phone over one that's simply cheaper.
By Jay Bonggolto
Interview: Xiaomi's John Chen discusses the company's expansion plans and more
by Jay Bonggolto
Xiaomi, a Chinese electronics company best known for its budget phones with flagship specs and performance, recently announced its plan to expand beyond smartphones and invest in AIoT, a technology segment that combines artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. This week, the company also turned Redmi into a standalone brand and unveiled the first smartphone under that sub-brand: the Redmi Note 7.
Neowin got a chance to reach out to Xiaomi’s Regional Director for Southeast Asia, John Chen, who shared the company's expansion plans. Chen also revisited Xiaomi's strategies which helped to drive the company's success in the mobile device segment.
Jay: Xiaomi started as an e-commerce company, and now it has brick-and-mortar stores across many countries. Is the company seeing more success through online channels or do physical stores contribute more to its sales?
John: Online and offline channels are equally important in driving Xiaomi’s sales globally. E-commerce platforms help us reach more people all over the world. In the Philippines in particular, we were able to become the best-selling smartphone brand on both 11.11 and 12.12 sales events of Lazada and Shopee in 2018 (conducted during November 11 and December 12, 2018). On the other hand, brick-and-mortar stores help us provide a deeper customer experience. In Shenzhen, China, for example, our flagship Mi Store enables customers to experience how Xiaomi can give them a smart and connected lifestyle through its various products. Meanwhile, in India, we opened 500 stores all at once, setting a new Guinness World Record in the process, in an effort to bring the Xiaomi experience even to rural customers. In addition, Mi store openings in the Philippines drew long lines of people interested to learn about Xiaomi.
Jay: What are your plans in terms of expansion in the Philippines? Of course, Xiaomi recently opened as many as 500 stores in India. Do you also plan to launch several Mi stores in the country and in other parts of Asia?
John: Yes, Xiaomi is working on opening more retail stores across Asia and making its products more accessible to more people.
Jay: What future investments does the company plan on making?
John: We will expand our mobile and IoT line-up, enter more markets, and make innovation accessible for all.
Jay: While Xiaomi is best known for its smartphone products, the company also offers other electronic devices. How are these faring against the competition?
John: Xiaomi’s Mi Ecosystem products (smart home devices), such as the power banks and fitness bands, have become very popular among consumers and are helping drive the company’s success. We are looking forward to more success especially for our smart home products as Xiaomi has recently forged a partnership with global furniture retailer IKEA to connect their full range of smart lighting products to our IoT platform. A pioneer in AI and IoT, Xiaomi IoT platform has connected more than 132 million smart devices (excluding mobile phones and laptops), and has more than 20 million daily active devices in more than 200 countries and regions around the world, as of September 30, 2018.
Jay: Chinese companies such as Huawei and ZTE are facing tough challenges abroad as the U.S. is ramping up efforts to ban the sale of their technology in the West. Any thoughts from your end, since Xiaomi is also based in China?
John: The U.S. is a very attractive market. We kicked off our first Mi Fan event in the U.S. on December 8, 2018, entertaining hundreds of Mi Fans in New York City’s trendy SoHo district. We’ll keep everyone informed once we have any specific timelines to share.
Jay: Xiaomi is the fourth largest smartphone company in the world at present. What mainly contributes to this success?
John: Xiaomi has remained committed to our mission to relentlessly build amazing products with honest prices. In the third quarter of 2018, we successfully built on Xiaomi’s impressive heritage, opening up several new avenues on our journey to achieve significant breakthroughs. The strategies to which Xiaomi adheres, such as strengthening the performance of the high-end market, accelerating the development of new retail channels and focusing on AI development and application, all yielded remarkable results during the reporting period. Furthermore, Xiaomi’s new high-potential businesses, including the monetization of internet services apart from smartphones in China, the globalization of our IoT products and our entrance into the white goods market, have all showed promising beginnings.
Jay: Does Xiaomi see itself ahead of the competition three or five years from now?
John: Xiaomi today is already the world’s fourth-largest smartphone manufacturer and the biggest IoT platform globally. We will continue to build amazing products with honest prices to let everyone in the world enjoy a better life through innovative technology.
Since dual-screen devices seem to be the next big thing in the smartphone race - with Samsung and Vivo having already announced their respective bets - we also asked Chen whether Xiaomi plans to hop on the bandwagon. While he didn't confirm whether a dual-screen Xiaomi phone is in the offing, Chen expressed optimism about that possibility.
By Rich Woods
Interview: Qualcomm's Miguel Nunes talks about what's next for Windows on ARM
by Rich Woods
Last week was Qualcomm's Snapdragon Technology Summit, and if you're a fan of Windows on ARM, there was a lot of exciting news. The firm announced the Snapdragon 8cx Compute Platform, its first 7nm PC chip, meant to compete with a 15W Intel Core i5. It's also the first ARM chip to be supported by Windows 10 Enterprise, with Qualcomm also announcing a number of partners working on enterprise apps.
And while the Snapdragon 8cx tackles hardware performance, there was native software announced as well. Asphalt 9 is coming to native ARM64, but more importantly, Windows on ARM will get native support for browsers like Firefox and Chromium.
Following the keynote, I got a chance to sit down with Miguel Nunes, the senior director of product management that leads Qualcomm's Windows efforts. Nunes has a contagious enthusiasm for Windows on ARM, and the idea of bringing Windows 10 into a new era of mobility. Frankly, it was one of the most fun and engaging interviews I've ever done.
Rich: Is there anything that the Snapdragon 855 has that the 8cx does not?
Miguel: No. Well, we have different stuff. I can tell you what's different. Maybe that's the easiest way. On the 8cx, the CPUs are different, the memory is different. The memory interface is different so the memory controllers are completely different. The caches are different, the GPU is different, the I/O block is different, and then stuff like ISP is the same, DSP is the same, and the LTE modem is the same.
Rich: But what about 5G? That was a surprise. I looked the spec sheets over for both chipsets ahead of the event, and there was a lot of 5G mentioned for the 855, and there was no 5G mentioned for the 8cx.
Miguel: The reason we were a little lighter on 5G in our session is because we just leverage mobile, so they create the technology from a modem standpoint, we will take it as an option, but our primary driver…Like the modem, for us, isn't new. It's leveraging. The other stuff is new, and different. So for us, adding 5G to a PC is not a big deal.
Rich: Is it not a big deal?
Miguel: No. If I can put it in a phone, I can put it in a PC.
Rich: Right. I also noticed that when they showed the slide of 5G partners, Microsoft was not on there.
Miguel: Those were more device partners.
Rich: OK, that's fair. So, the 855 can have an integrated X50 modem or it could not.
Miguel: The X50 modem is separate.
Rich: It's separate, OK. They made it sound like there would be different SKUs.
Miguel: The integrated modem in the 855 is an LTE modem, and you attach a separate 5G modem.
Rich: So it's the same story with the 8cx then?
Miguel: It's exactly the same thing.
Rich: And then you could also use an X50 modem with an Intel chip?
Miguel: You would not easily be able to do that.
Rich: Not in the same way that you could with the X16 in the Surface Pro?
Miguel: You could…you could. Over time. There are a bunch of optimizations that go with the platform. So eventually, you will see 5G solutions for x86 as well, just like we do with the other modems. The X20, the X24. We create discrete modems too for that market.
Rich: Another thing I wanted to ask you about is Adobe. I feel like that's the last piece of the puzzle. You've got browsers now-
Miguel: They kind of have their own cycle of when they release new versions. They don't release new stuff very often.
Miguel: Except their cloud stuff
Rich: But it's all cloud stuff now, right?
Miguel: We have been having discussions with them, they have engaged. For them it's all about... they're just slow. The discussions are positive, but there's no hard commit date.
Rich: Also, these are lower powered machines. The 8cx was compared to a Core i5 U-series.
Miguel: True, and usually you need a ton of memory. If you want to use Adobe and you want a good experience, you can't put it on a 4GB machine.
Rich: It also depends on the app you're using though. You still wouldn't run Premiere Pro on the 8cx.
Miguel: That's fair.
Rich: And that brings me to my next question. Does Qualcomm aim to displace Intel completely in the PC market?
Miguel: No, I don't think so. A lot of people have asked me, why didn't we build an i7. Most people don't need an i7. Let's just be honest. We're looking at mobility and 95% of the market. 95% of the market needs the performance class of an 850 and an 8cx. We think that those two products are going to address the majority of the PC market's needs for mobile devices. We, at this stage - never say never - are not interested in going after desktops, we are not interested in going after big devices, gaming devices that have fans. That's just not our strength and it's honestly not where the volume is, and it's not where the mobility is going to resonate. Most of those devices are stationary. I'm not saying never. It's just not where we're strong today.
Rich: I could imagine Qualcomm disrupting the gaming PC market, because the gaming laptops we have now are very thick, they weigh about seven pounds, and Qualcomm could change that.
Miguel: That business for Intel is very profitable. It's not very high volume.
Rich: Obviously the U-series is the highest volume in premium.
Miguel: We've also seen the statistics on mobile gaming - did you see the statistics on day one or day two - mobile gaming is just flying. Mobile gaming is a $76B business. Mobile gaming. And so, I think you will see that mobile gaming is going to start to dominate because people are playing these casual games.
Rich: A lot of these mobile games aren't that casual anymore.
Miguel: They're not that casual anymore. They scale very well. Some of these guys, like we showed Asphalt 9, and they're like, "oh well Asphalt 9 runs on a phone". But it doesn't run the same. It's just like PUBG. You play PUBG on a phone vs on a PC, they're actually not the same. Same thing with any game. The game scales to the performance of the platform. So when you have higher performance, it's got better resolution, it's got higher frame rate, it's got more content, so these games are built to scale, even on a phone. If I put it on a low-end phone vs a high-end phone, it's not the same game. The game scales. The experience is much better on a high-performance machine. Even this mobile gaming stuff scales to these types of form factors. You're right. They're not that casual anymore. They’re full games.
Rich: Asphalt 9 was actually a surprise announcement today. What other games might we see come to Windows on ARM?
Miguel: Gaming is a little more complicated of a problem for us. The thing with games is that it's an ecosystem/timing problem. We had another partner that we were working with, very big gaming title, they weren't ready...yet. We'll get them soon.
Rich: Very big gaming title?
Miguel: Very big gaming engine. And games is a timing issue because gaming guys don't want to backport. You have to hit their cycle for the next game so they can get the native version. Go to a gaming guy and say you're going to port something, they move on. That's their business. Monetize and move on. A lot of them don't even maintain the old game anymore. So you have to hit the cycle of these games and when they refresh. So we think you'll see a lot more of these titles as the engines are ready; it's just the timing. It's not a complexity issue; it's all timing.
Rich: Another question that I have to ask - I don't really want to but I have to because people want to know - what about x64 emulation?
Miguel: You know, x64-
Rich: You could just say it's never going to happen.
Miguel: It's never going to happen. The reason is the performance would not be good. It's possible, but you wouldn't like the performance. And think about it. It's sort of counterintuitive, for the most part. If you want a 64-bit app, you usually want better performance. That's why you wrote the 64-bit app. Although sometimes that's not the case because some people write 64-bit apps and they don't do anything. But the primary reason for 64-bit apps like Adobe is because you want the memory, you want larger memory access, and you want the perf. So if the perf is going to be worse under emulation, then why do it? So we've focused on 64-bit true applications. We've got to get them more native, and it's really hard. The other thing is emulation, and I've been asked this as well, emulation has got this bad history. A lot of people have tried emulation and most of it has been terrible. Our emulation is actually not bad. The reason is because only the CPU is emulated. The GPU is not, and the rest of the system is 100% native. So when you access your storage, it's native. Those drivers run native. And so, less and less apps are becoming CPU-bound. When you run something, it really doesn't use the CPU as much anymore. Most of this stuff today is GPU-focused and GPU is native. It's not emulated.
Rich: For me personally, it's Chrome.
Miguel: The issue with Chrome, or any browser for that matter, is the way the emulation works, and Microsoft has a whole series on this on Channel 9. Emulation actually uses caching to speed things up. Browsers generate real-time content, so you can't cache a browser. And so basically you're dynamically fetching content all the time. Having said that though, I don't know if you've tried Chrome on this device [Lenovo Yoga C630]. Chrome on this device is a lot more usable than it was on the first-generation devices. There are some enhancements that we have done on the 850 to improve emulation.
Rich: What enhancements?
Miguel: Hardware enhancements. It's just the way the architecture works. The CPU architecture. But over time, people will hopefully go native. There will be a bunch of apps that are legacy apps
Rich: Browsers are the big ones.
Miguel: Browsers are the big ones. Most of the others and you can't really tell.
Rich: But I think most of us spend most of our time in the browser.
Miguel: Yea, that's why having Firefox and Chromium is gonna be great. And with Microsoft's announcement today, I guess that's the only two we need to worry about.
Rich: So does Chromium running on ARM64 automatically mean that Chrome ends up coming to ARM64 eventually?
Miguel: Yea. I mean, Google has a little bit of work to do on top of that, but it's not massive. Chrome does some stuff, and they change the color of the icon, but most of it is Chromium.
Rich: So what's next for Windows on ARM?
Miguel: I think you will see us focus heavily on trying to get products out. Channel diversification is important for us. OEM diversification is important for us. We have very active engagements from customers, not traditional PC OEMs, that can easily enter the PC space and introduce very attractive devices. They understand connectivity very well. They understand products very well. We will see a breadth of OEMs and portfolios, which is what we want.
Rich: So in Q3, when 8cx starts shipping, 850 devices will continue to come out. Do you anticipate one being more popular than the other?
Miguel: I think you will see them vary by price points.
Rich: And usually the lower price points are a little more popular?
Miguel: Not necessarily. I think you'll see different price points addressed in different markets. If you look at these devices, most of them have not penetrated emerging markets, because the price points aren’t there. An $800 device isn't gonna work in most of these markets. Most of them need sub-$500.
Rich: Is that what the 850 is aiming for? Sub-$500?
Miguel: We hope to enable sub-$500 devices across the board.
Rich: Are we going to see more tiers?
Miguel: You will see more tiers. You will definitely see more tiers.
Rich: I was a little curious as to why there wasn't like an 860. Rather than continuing with the 850, have an 855-based chip that ships at the same time.
Miguel: This market doesn't move that fast. On mobile, a phone can ship in six months. They can't ship a PC in less than a year. Their pace is slow. With new OEMs coming that move faster, maybe that pace will speed up. But the pace is slow, so we can't introduce too many things. And you know, the lifecycle of PCs is much longer. PCs survive for much longer than phones, typically about 18 months a SKU lives. And so we have to be careful not to cannibalize our own business.
Rich: How long do you think people will be able to use a Snapdragon PC? If I buy one today, can I keep this thing for five years like I can with an Intel PC?
Miguel: You could. I think you could. I think if anything, you'll see as more stuff starts to move to the cloud, you'll start to see your processing needs, even on a local device, start to diminish a bit.
Rich: I ask because usually, the cycle for buying a new PC is longer than with a phone.
Miguel: It is, and I think you're going to see that too. The reason people didn't upgrade their PC - I was one - is why? You're like, why do I care? Imagine if these form factors become cool, slick. People are going to want them. The new generation, they want everything connected, and it needs to look good. I actually think we will see a form factor evolution. I think it will take time, but I think the form factor that you think of as a PC today will change.
Rich: It has changed over the past five years since the Surface Pro was introduced.
Miguel: Yes, and I think you'll see more. I think you'll see more of that. And then you go, what is a PC? I almost sound like Apple.
Rich: Did you just quote Apple?
Miguel: I said PC! But I think the form factors will change.
Rich: What other form factors do you think we'll see?
Miguel: You know, I don't know. These dual-screen things are super interesting. I think they probably could come. You know, the challenge is I think you'll see two different products. I think you'll see products evolve like dual screens for a lot of content consumption. I think the challenge for dual screen type products is going to be input. The keyboard is what, 30 years old? And it's still the preferred method of input.
Rich: Do you think that changes though?
Miguel: I don't know. People have said voice is going to take over. I haven't seen that happen. I think there's a certain level of privacy. You don't want to talk to your devices and have everyone listen. Handwriting is interesting. Pens are interesting. I think pens could get to a level where it's actually your input device. If they get good enough, feeling like real paper, very accurate, and it feels natural. At some point, if this feels very natural to you, why do you need a keyboard? But it needs to get to the natural feeling where it feels like I can do everything with it. It's getting there. Pen can get there, but I don't think anything else can. Until then, I think keyboard is king.
Rich: Have you tried Lenovo's Yoga Book?
Miguel: I have. It's OK. I don't know. The only thing is I can't type on that thing. It just doesn't work for me. There's something about mechanical keys that you can't replace. It's just not the same. I think that taking an existing input and changing it slightly is going to be more difficult than using a new input method because you're always going to compare with what you had, and if it's a new input method, you're going to adapt, so I actually think that's going to be an easier transition. But still a difficult one, because people are stubborn and changing habits is difficult. I still see people walking around with one of these and a mouse. It's very common, just because it's what you're comfortable with. And then you think about it, like, hey you can touch the screen. You don't need a mouse! Just touch the screen where you want it to go! Because you're used to your device not having a touchscreen.
Rich: What's the next PC chip going to be called?
Miguel: We haven't figured it out yet-
Rich: 9cx? 8cy?
Miguel: Probably not.
Rich: 8cx Gen 2?
Miguel: Maybe. People ask why did we name it 8cx.
Rich: Yes, I think I've asked everybody that.
Miguel: We want people to know that this is different.
Rich: Without implying that it's better. The rumor was 1000, so if you called it that, the Android phone users would be like, "hey what the hell guys?"
Miguel: That's part of it. I'm just saying that we've settled as a company that 8 is premium. It's a company decision that 8 is premium. Within premium, you're going to get different products, right? So 8cx for us is the 8, which is premium, compute, extreme. If I did something else after 850 and it's on the 850, I'd probably call it 8c. It's not extreme. I just don't know what we'll do, to be honest. It may be a gen thing, we may rev something, but we want to state that 8 is premium, and if we went down a tier, you could see a 7c. We want the flexibility to say that we can go down in tiers and make sure that we let people know that this is a compute-focused product.
Qualcomm is doing a lot of exciting things right now, and it's moving fast. It's only been a year since the first Snapdragon 835 devices were introduced, and the Snapdragon 850 was announced six months later. Here we are six months after that and we're seeing the Snapdragon 8cx, its 7nm PC chipset.
After talking to Miguel Nunes, it's clear that there's a lot more to come. Key focuses moving forward will be getting more PCs out running ARM chipsets and getting native software to run on the platform. That includes a big gaming engine, which hasn't been revealed just yet.
One of the things I most wanted to ask was if Qualcomm wants to completely displace Intel. Now that it has a true competitor for a 15W U-series chip, what about a 45W H-series chip? What about desktop chips? As it turns out, Qualcomm isn't planning to take on those markets; it's just not their strong point. After all, a desktop doesn't need benefits like better battery life or 4G LTE.
There will be different tiers though. Moving forward, there are two tiers in the Snapdragon 850 and the 8cx. However, we can expect to see more going forward. Indeed, Qualcomm isn't done here, not by a long shot.
What's also interesting is that he hinted at non-traditional PC OEMs making PCs. Qualcomm's partners have historically included smartphone manufacturers, so bringing them on board in the PC market could change things up a bit.
When Nunes was presenting on stage, a friend texted me and compared his performance to that of Surface chief Panos Panay. One thing that both of them have in common is that there's a feeling that they genuinely care about what they're talking about, and that feeling is contagious. It's hard to sit down with Nunes and not get excited about the things he's talking about. Talking to Miguel was a pleasure, and I hope to do the same thing at next year's Snapdragon Technology Summit.
App Spotlight + Interview: Pocket Casts
by Sharath Ravishankar
My first smartphone was a twice-handed-down iPhone 3GS. It was a scuffed, scarred, plastic little thing, and for the 15 year-old nerd that held it, it was nothing short of mesmerizing. What followed shortly was my very first all-nighter, spent in utter juvenile excitement over the gadget, in an attempt to figure its ins and outs, and most importantly, to stuff it senseless with every application a boy that age would want to keep in the massive sixteen-gigabyte storage, a la Temple Run and the original Angry Birds, with its fifteen free-to-play levels before the IAPs kicked in.
I was better than my friends, embroiled in their daily struggles with their finicky Android Gingerbread-powered handsets, while I could lord my high-end Apple device over them as they did so.
Developing the itch to mess with phone software over time, I moved on to the Nexus 5 (the irony isn't lost on me), which, till today, remains my favorite smartphone. After its buttons gave out, I got my hands on a Nextbit Robin, and after that one gave up the ghost, I sit now, seven years after the iPhone failed to boot one last time, with my Xiaomi Mi A1.
Across these preposterous pubescent platitudes and the multiple smartphones that succumbed to my horrifying "experiments", one of my very first paid apps on the iPhone - Shifty Jelly's Pocket Casts - has stuck with me through and through, so I understandably have some attachment to it.
I discovered the appeal of podcasts, enjoying the often soft-spoken voices feeding me stories and tidbits of knowledge that somehow sat comfortably in the back of my head despite being, more often than not, a background activity.
In 2014, Shifty Jelly debuted a web player for Pocket Casts that synced with the mobile apps, while also functioning independent of them. Being fresh out of school, I still had the solid, full-featured smartphone app to work with, rendering the web app unnecessary for me at the time.
As a college student, the need for a podcatcher on my laptop for when my phone wasn't readily available became pressing. Having to switch between devices just to change volumes or skip ahead a bit in a track kicked me out of my workflow quite easily, so I caved and purchased access to the web player shortly after.
The web app worked as expected - it kept the same list of podcasts I'd subscribed to on my phone, kept tabs on the ones I'd already listened to and had the same sections for 'starred' and 'in progress' podcasts among others. Its UI was a little different, straightforward nonetheless. Work then began on a revamp of the web player in the form of an open beta, giving the interface a greater degree of familiarity to anyone used to the interface in the mobile apps.
This isn't to say it's a blown up version of an app made for small screens - the web player is not a Progressive Web App, and has been designed primarily for use on large screens, and won't play nice with your handset. It scales well with high-DPI displays, and barring the necessary padding, lacks the absurd, unused white space that one might find on certain other scaled-up software. I enjoyed using it a bit more, despite its lack of unique playback features currently present in its mobile counterparts, such as a sleep timer and automatic clipping of extended silence in a podcast.
One noticeably absent feature is offline listening. There's no way to download episodes to consume later while off the grid, unfortunately.
You might be wondering, at this point, why my focus so far has been on the beta web player and not the Windows app that was released recently. It's simple - the two are one and the same. The interface, and the feature-set are nearly indistinguishable.
There's a dark mode, too! There are, however, a few goodies Shifty Jelly has included in the Windows app, including native audio controls, alongside the system being furnished with basic playback information so you could tell which podcast was playing at a glance.
Pocket Casts for Windows is no Twitter PWA. It ticks nearly every box for me in terms of functionality, and from a visual standpoint, the typefaces and UI elements look fantastic. While I can live with not being able to download podcasts for later use, the lack of appealing transitions and animations are sorely missed, and make its existence as a web app a bit too obvious. It just feels a bit too static, especially compared to its exceptional sister apps on mobile.
That might be an unfair comparison. Perhaps I expect too much from apps devoted to media consumption. Pocket Casts goes almost all the way to being the perfect cross-platform experience, so I suspect it's a testament to my faith in Shifty Jelly's ability to shell out a quality experience that the "almost" bothers me so much.
Pros Cons Near-perfect usability. The lack of transitions make it a bit too website-like. Nails the balance between Pocket Casts' branding and Windows' aesthetics. Podcasts can't be downloaded for offline use. Doesn't look like a blown-up mobile phone app. -
I had the chance to have a one-to-one chat with Russell Ivanovic, a co-founder of Shifty Jelly, the little Australian company that made Pocket Casts (and something called Pocket Weather, available only for people living in Australia, unfortunately, so no App Spotlight on that one anytime soon).
Russell and I cover a good deal of material, including the future of web-based apps, and go on to talk about Twitter's recent foray into this field.
Having debuted Pocket Casts for Windows recently, what sort of a future do you foresee for web apps that leverage local API?
I think our desktop app might be a little different than most. Since launching our web app we have had non-stop customer requests for a friendlier desktop experience. Now, that means a lot of things to a lot of people, but the common thread seemed to be that a lot of people don't want to just open another tab in their browser to listen to podcasts. So when we redesigned the web app as part of our work on v2 of it - currently in beta - we made sure we made it as flexible as possible, so we could do more interesting things with it on the desktop.
As part of that experiment and to test the waters, we built a Mac app as a companion to the web app. The idea was not just to have the same interface, but also to do some things natively on a desktop to make the experience even better, like supporting media controls and publishing now playing info to the operating system so it can give you shortcuts and other niceties to use. It also led to a few other things like reading chapter information and displaying that, something that's not even possible in a web app for security reasons.
The experiment went really well. We found that re-using the web UI meant we could deploy rapid changes to it, and adding these little native touches meant that people felt like they were getting more than they could from a web app. Considering how well that went, and given that I use Windows 10 a lot in my personal life, I found myself wanting a Windows version too. So did our customers, seeing as how over 50% of our web users are running Windows.
So in my spare time, I worked on a Windows 10 UWP app just to see what we could do on the platform. It ended up being something I used a lot, so we decided to ship that. Just like the Mac app before it, the goals were the same - use a core web UI, and provide native touches to enhance it. It's early days yet, but people seem to have responded well to that approach.
On that note, do you believe relatively lightweight apps (unlike Photoshop and Premiere, for instance) have a future being coded with a strongly platform-specific approach?
I honestly don't think I'm qualified to answer that. I think in cases like ours, it was the right approach. We have a fully featured mobile app built around the idea of being in your pocket and traveling with you everywhere, and that doesn't make a huge amount of sense to run on a desktop, given you'd spend most of your time not fiddling with its UI. You'd have your headphones on you, or a car stereo, with your phone tucked away elsewhere.
So in our case, it made a lot of sense to build a different desktop experience. Should every app do that in the way we did? I know it sounds like a cop-out, but it really depends. I suspect apps like Photoshop are better served with native UI that gives you the absolute best performance and power possible. Podcast listening apps like ours can be built faster - and often better - if you mix in a bit of web technology.
I see. For a small team such as Shifty Jelly, it makes sense to have a web-based desktop interface, given the far lesser effort I'd imagine it'd take to maintain, when compared to individual, completely native apps. Plus, given the effort that's gone into making the design paradigm platform-agnostic in a way, this, in my view, would click with users better.
True. Our mobile apps are 100% native because that's how we get the best experience possible. On the desktop it feels slightly different. If we make one core web app and the build custom experiences around it you get great results with less overlap/effort.
Do you see this as a more compromise-heavy approach? Both as a developer and as a user of your own service.
There's compromises inherent to all development, and with any approach. On mobile, we trade much higher development effort for getting the exact results we want with pixel precision. On the desktop side, we compromise some native features, like downloading podcasts, for much faster development times, and a more agile approach to testing and adding new features.
Got it. On a somewhat less pleasant note, I'd done a piece on Twitter's PWA approach for Windows last week, and the general response to the app was, put kindly, mixed. While there were a number of people who liked that Twitter for Windows wasn't abandonware anymore, there were just as many who did not appreciate having Android UI elements like the FAB, among others, in a Windows app, and were very vocal about Twitter's lack of effort towards catering to individual platforms.
Do you think this is something that will eventually blow over, or do you think teams with far greater resources at their disposal are in some ways 'obliged' to make fully native apps?
I think Twitter is extremely lucky to still be as popular as it is. It rose to prominence with third-party apps and then killed them all, and didn't have the budget to pay a single Mac or windows developer? Makes no sense when the iOS team is 40+ people. Also - this is just my opinion - but their website is an abomination, which when wrapped in a PWA doesn't change that one bit. The way that company is run absolutely baffles me on so many levels.
So that's a long way of saying "no". I don't think the Twitter thing will blow over, and no, I don't think that just because we share technological similarities that there are product similarities.
That's certainly something you'll find vast numbers on the internet, myself included, agreeing with you on. The very last question I've got for you before signing off is something I'm sure you get very often:
How does it feel to be the worldwide industry leader, and possibly the only developer to provide both changelogs that are great fun to read and completely functional, with every update, no matter how minor?
Oh, you! I bet you say that to all the developers. I actually wanted to be a writer, so I feel totally vindicated when even one person appreciates our changelogs. It lets me know I totally would have made it as a writer and been bigger than JK Rowling, et all. See, I know Latin too!
Left: Pocket Casts Web v1 | Right: v2 Where you can get it
Pocket Casts' web app costs a one-time fee of $9 to use. V2 of the web app, which is currently in an open beta, will require no additional fee, either, and given the Windows and Mac apps are companion apps for it, the above fee will let you use these apps at no extra cost.
The app is available on the Microsoft Store and its Mac counterpart is downloadable from within the Pocket Casts v2.0 web app. Given this is still a beta, it's currently unlisted on the Microsoft Store - which means searching for it there won't help you - but using the link here will take you straight to the download page.
It's also available on Android ($4, but the price varies by location. In India, it's priced at ₹99, which is a bit under $2) and iOS devices ($4, worldwide). There's also a Windows 10 Mobile app, but it hasn't been updated in a while, and doesn't look like it's supported anymore.