Why does the UK and the EU lag behind the US in the “tech industry” ?

May 22nd, 2014 No comments

So a US friend now working in the UK asked: “Why does the UK and the EU lag behind the US in the ‘tech industry’ ?”.

The largest factor is market size. The EU is fragmented by language into separate markets for talent, ideas, funding and products. The US’s economic size and remoteness have made it a safe haven for money causing currency stability, pricing stability and fewer economic surprises than individual smaller economies. The lack of effective central decision making with the devolved states in the US has caused problems, but causes fewer regulatory shocks, and allows more workarounds for businesses.

The US federal focus on military development has been a significant factor. In the early days of the semiconductor industry 60% of semiconductor sales were to NASA and the remainder were for defense projects at IBM etc. This did cause large amounts of money to be brought into the silicon valley area over many years and that money was later reinvested as the Fairchild and other businesses devolved into the thriving civilian businesses that we know in the valley area today.

The cultural origins of an expanding US territory have led to a relaxed attitude about risk and investment as people were not comparing with stability. This expansion has been able to continue during the mid 20th century as overseas markets pulled in US goods post world war II, and later due to an expansive US foreign policy. That historical trend though is now over so sustaining growth has been a challenge for the last 30 years in the US. This leaves language barriers in Europe as the primary differentiator.

The short answer is that adopting a single European language is the only thing that, in the long run, will give the EU competitive market scale. The political changes and relationships that build a single market for products will follow from that.

Categories: Finance Tags:

Linkedin Offering Free Coffee in Union Square

March 31st, 2011 No comments

The ever continuing fun with marketing continues..

Linkedin offered very welcome free coffee in Union Square today.

Categories: Marketing Tags:

Visa is planning to launch a PayPal like service.

March 16th, 2011 No comments

Visa planning to launch a service that allows you to send money to a card number, or email address. The service has not yet launched. There is not timeline and there is no place to register an interest yet. Some of this will happen as institutions roll out the service but some consistency and information about the features of merchant interfaces would be very useful for developers. The service is apparently already available over Visa for some customers of institutions outside the US.

Bank customers of participating financial institutions will have the option to select a Visa account as the destination for funds when making a personal payment. By simply entering the recipient’s 16-digit Visa account, email address or mobile phone number, consumers can send funds directly from their bank account to a recipient’s Visa account. This makes sending money to a niece for her birthday or to a son in college simpler, faster, and more convenient than before.

Categories: Finance Tags:

We Pay for Distribution not Goods Themselves

January 5th, 2011 No comments

I was musing again today on the cost of distribution having shopped for a replacement cell phone battery. I found it both online and at the local Best Buy electrical store, but the price disparity was surprising. Online video camera and cell phone batteries quote a list price of $35 to $50 online but are discounted online down to $2.50 to $9.50. This is to accommodate the higher price that local stores want to charge as the recommended price.

Best Buy were of course charging $38 for the same battery that I just ordered one from Amazon for $1.38 and which will be delivered for below $4.50. We can fool ourselves with all the justifications used to explain the premium to us. Brand, Service etc. but in reality it was the availability and convenience at the end of the street that provided justification and the cost of running and stocking that store that needed to be paid for. Manhattan rent and staff to find things for us, as oppose to the online search and automated pick and ship warehouse in a cheap location with cheaper staff.

Twenty years ago I designed under contract a simple single chip circuit which a games vendor sold as a plugin component to a games console. The electronics trader in Hong Kong charged 50c per unit. The Chinese manufacturer probably received around 30c. The games vendor sold the units packaged at around $10 to a US distributor who sold them to Game Stop at below $20 who retailed them at $39.95 to the consumer. One could consider it to be a markup of ridiculous proportions but in reality it is the distribution and productization (Branding, selection, packaging, marketing, advertising, placement)  that is being paid for. I did make a mental note to myself to try to be the middle man next time around! Such a next time alas didn’t occur.

In rearranging my apartment recently I found myself selling books, DVDs and furniture that I had purchased at retail, or auction in the case of the furniture. The reality is that the value of these possessions when redistributed by me is negligible. Even worse the furniture has a negative value if I have to pay for it to be stored or removed as identifying a ready buyer is no mean trick even in a world of online markets. I have given up on letting Craigslist people visit the doorman.

All of these experiences remind me yet again that so much of the value is about where something is and identifying somebody who wants it. It is one thing for the shopper to be able to find the object on Amazon but quite another for the object to find a buyer. That is the side of the equation that most of the sales, advertising, brokers and agents work on. This is also the area that GroupOn attacks — being partly marketing to new customers and partly a method of clearing perishable supply. There is still plenty of money to be made in improving this life-cycle. Distribution to the right buyer, not the product itself, is what we are really buying. The distribution and not the product.


The New York Times iPad Application

April 6th, 2010 No comments

It is interesting to note that the user interface on the iPad is not as effective as in iFlex due to the limited range of control provided by the original iPhone gestures list. On the iPhone the swipe gesture was only used to spin through a list. As a result the only swipe gestures provided are either horizontal or vertical to spin through a displayed list. You can not swipe up and down in a list that is displayed as sequence of horizontal screens.

In the iFlex user interface the user moved within an article by using the arrow keys to scroll vertically and with the left and right keys to scroll to the next article in the section. This provided a great user experience as scrolling down within an article was natural and scrolling left to right to skim the above the fold view of each article provided ideal article surfing.

With the restriction to a single left right swipe for the scroll through a list, the developers have been forced to only allow scrolling through an individual article, and then forced the user to use a very awkward button to return to the front page. Pressing a button is not directional, so doesn’t allow the next or previous article to be selected, and interrupts the surfing experience with the need to press a small button instead of using a swipe.

In the absence of multi-dimensional swipe, the iPad has a drag gesture which would allow movement both vertically and horizontally with gestures. It isn’t clear if the iPad presentation layer would allow this to be used to flip to the next item rather than providing a location for a moved object but this may provide an interim solution. The long term solution would be to switch to a swipe gesture which allows movement in both dimensions and a return to an elegant surfing of the content.


iPad Launch

April 3rd, 2010 No comments
Apple Center, 86th and Lex

Apple Center, 86th and Lex

Apple Stores and every Best Buy with an Apple Center released a stock of iPads today, and as of 10am this morning some were still available for sale. There were 2 left at the 86th Street store in Manhattan.

The initial reaction from many was that they had imagined it being larger. The overall dimensions are just under 7.5 by 10 inches with the display area being smaller within that (9.7 inches diagonally). People seemed to have assumed that it would be letter sized (8.5 x 11 inches) and one can indeed imagine a larger display working well.

The general look and feel is the same familiar interface as the iPhone which somewhat undermines the newness of the experience but nevertheless it seemed to work extremely well. There was a snappy response to the touch screen, and the improved viewing area provided an excellent effect with Google maps and the fantastic photo pile representation in iPhoto allowing sorting of piles of photos.

The onscreen keyboard won accolades from the majority of people trying the iPad. Several commented that they had worried about the keyboard size and people seemed to be using the keyboard in landscape (Where it is significantly larger) and in portrait orientation without a problem.

On one 16GB model there appeared to be a recurring problem with the accelerometer not displaying applications in the correct orientation. The display models were one each of the 16GB, 32GB and 64GB models with all of them appearing to have equally excellent speed.

The iBooks feature was launched in the iTunes Store this morning and there is a free application to read them which can be downloaded (Presumably also on an iPhone), though it requires registration with an Apple account which prevented the iBooks feature from being demonstrable in the store this morning.

Video displayed smoothly without a jitter while streaming over WiFi. The display of video was nearly full screen in some cases but within a frame from others such as CNN. The 3G version of the iPad is not available until the end of April. Streaming video over 3G is likely to be more constrained by the network itself than the iPad.

Most of the purchasers had, of course, arrived when the store opened rather than being persuaded in the store. I have an idea that selling online in the same way as the Kindle is a better model than in store for some new devices as the actual usage, as in the case of the Nook, can give rise to further questions and indecision.

The iPad experience was definitely positive, with a lot of interest from random passers by. One visitor from Australia spent some time with the iPad but felt it wouldn’t be good for use in Australia because of the US branded applications for CNN and others that were installed. In reality the WiFi version should work well in any location and the promise is that the 3G version will not be locked to its SIM so would be usable with local SIMs when traveling.

Most people will probably have to imagine over several days how the device would fit into their lives. This ambiguity of purpose is likely to slow down sales and it isn’t clear how many people will want to put money down on the device if it doesn’t appear to be work or study related. In this respect devices like the Kindle have a simpler sales story as they have a single purpose. The experience for those who do purchase the device does deliver and we can definitely expect the models in stores this morning to be sold out by now.

Categories: Technology Tags: , ,

I Love TED

March 9th, 2010 1 comment

Some favorite TED bookmarks:

No message but you should watch these three humorous minutes by Renny Gleeson on social phone use; or some game theory regarding Iran; or even using house plants to provide air quality.

My all time favorite is the discussion of the developing world illuminated by some great graphics.

Categories: Technology, Video Tags: