Cooking Capsules

A blog about the evolution of Cooking Capsules.

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Name: Mary Ann
Location: San Francisco, CA, United States

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Android is a volcano.

On August 15th, I replied to a TechCrunch article entitled:
T-Mobile Is Dreaming Of Android Riches. And It Might Have To Keep Dreaming.

It got good reactions from people, so I thought I'd re-post it here (slightly edited and sans some of the typos I later found). I like it myself because it explains a lot about how much has been happening both with the industry and Cooking Capsules.

Mary Ann - August 15th, 2008 at 11:27 am PDT

Here is a story, and it is just my story, but I believe it reveals a great deal about the massive wave of change unfolding in the U.S. mobile industry.

I had an idea that had been brewing for a while- one that I thought could provide much needed simplicity to a certain core element of daily life: cooking. A light bulb went off in February, that what I had been envisioning and brainstorming with friends would be best made into a mobile application. My experience in the mobile space was limited to some graphics I’d designed for a couple of clients’ mobile applications, but I knew about user experience and interface design from my web career, so I drew up a wireframe and some rough screen designs, showed them to a friend with a mobile games company to see what he thought and began to research what would be involved in getting such a product developed and distributed. This became a full-time pursuit.

Since I was new to the industry and had a lot to learn, I talked with and heard about many who had been through the trenches. I went to an SDForum event where the panel was so grim about opportunities for developers that one developer asked “Well what the hell would you suggest we do?” All drew a blank except one mobile software executive who said, “You have to weigh if the U.S. market is worth it”. His company’s primary markets: Japan, China and Italy.

So here we were, in the heart of Silicon Valley, and it is being recommended that we skip the U.S. and develop for Europe and Asia. And it actually made sense. I was relieved he’d said that. Who wants to hassle with this bureaucratic environment, when there are much more innovative and open markets globally?

The only other hopeful thing I heard that day was when a Nokia guy stood up and said that Nokia is interested in distribution and if they liked an app, then a licensing deal could be done within a couple of weeks, not the usual months it took with carriers.

I took away from that panel the pain that the seasoned developers had been feeling for so long, but also basked in the rays of a few bits of freshman optimism- these were that I could:

A. Go global until the U.S. came around.
B. Approach Nokia in the future with my app.

Android was scarcely mentioned at the SDForum, but just one week before, on the advice of a friend, I had found someone on the Android message boards who would make my application wireframes and design into a functioning application and we would enter the Android Developer’s Challenge.

I began to read about and think about Android and it’s promise, all the while refining the app and working with my Challenge partner to make it work on the Android emulator.

As the weeks of work continued, it became apparent that the open vision of Android was quietly changing the entire nature of the U.S. mobile market, and this contest was very representative of the shift towards valuing the offerings of developers and ultimately giving them a reasonable variety of paths to entry into the market. As my awareness grew, I would breathlessly explain Android to people and what it would mean to the industry- sometimes to dull eyes, sometimes to a hint of interest.

In March, Steve Jobs announced the $100 million iFund and also that, to the delight of many, they would open the iPhone SDK. Blackberry announced the $150 million Blackberry fund shortly thereafter. Open was the new black.

March was also the Android Challenge deadline, and we submitted our entry. We were later notified that we were among the Top 50 out of the 1,788 submitted apps, and we split the $25,000 prize. We added several more international teammates for the second phase and got to work to refine and augment the app to compete against the other 49 for Top 10 or 20 status. We are awaiting the results.

Being in the top 50 has afforded us great viral publicity, which felt a bit awkward when we were still in our alpha stages and yet to test on a device (we are still yet to test on a non-emulator), but it was also extremely validating. We’ve had mentions in (among others) Smart Money, TechCrunch, AndroidGuys, Nikkei (Japan), even two separate pieces in (UK men’s magazine). I’ve been invited to speak on several occasions about my thoughts about the future of mobile.

In July, a screenshot and description of our app, Cooking Capsules, appeared in Wired magazine- the first listed of their four top picks of indie apps for Android. Also that month the Apple App Store opened it’s virtual doors and people, despite the economic times, stood in long lines to get their hands on a 3G iPhone and began downloading apps at a pace that could only be described as unbelievable.

What a shift from the grim recent history reports from developers a few months before at the SDForum panel! When else in history had developers had any real mention, much less extreme recognition? Developers with good ideas have been around a while- they just haven’t had an industry that supported indie players and innovation until now. The barriers were too great.

Perhaps I lack what you would consider an objective opinion as one of the Android Top 50, but frankly, I am as in the dark as most (Top 50 and otherwise) about the nuts and bolts about how exactly this will all play out. I too, very much, want much more light shed. But I am fueled by excitement about the massive and disruptive changes that the very whisper of Android has so swiftly perpetuated throughout the industry. And all of this, while, like the apps, it still has yet to even launch on the first of many handsets.

I was on the Mobile Web Wars Roundtable (ahem- raising my hand high when you asked who cares about Android), and let me state once again, and more strongly (and uninterrupted) for the record:

To say that I am excited about Android would be a considerable understatement. Android is a volcano. Not the kind that erupts suddenly like fireworks, but the kind that slowly releases molten lava that changes the entire landscape in such an unpredictable yet enduring way that no one realizes the impact until they look back at a snap shot from a few months or a year back to find the old way unrecognizable.

While anticipating the first phone is exciting, and we all have high hopes, Android isn’t about the first physical gPhone to come to market. Android is about affecting positive change throughout an entire market that has been crying out for openness for years. Android has impacted the opening up of the industry and they are getting ready now to begin to compete with those already enjoying the fruits of the very landscape they have so greatly influenced.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Techcrunch "Mobile Wars" Roundtable

I had a great time yesterday at the Techcrunch Roundtable and party.

It should be said that I would do a few things differently if I could do it again- namely, be on time. I arrived a little late (post introductions) and had to navigate where on the panel I was to sit. I'm not gonna lie. I felt bad and was quite embarrassed. I waited it out a bit in the audience until I could sneak up and claim my seat (once I could spot where it was, which was a task). Once I achieved that and began to decompress, I managed to get a few words in edgewise.

This panel definitely dispelled any myth that women talk too much (although this post might not). I probably should have been prepared for the Hardball style format, as the name of the thing was "Mobile Wars". I can't help but wonder if it were a panel of 19 women and one man (if there was a way to find 19 female mobile industry execs) how it would have been different. Firstly it might have been called "The New Mobile Landscape or Ecosystem" and perhaps it would have been a more nuanced discussion, rather than the framing some of the panelists put around it with statements like "Nokia is irrelevant" and "I need Android like a hole in the head". The responses I have to those statements: "Nokia is by no means irrelevant" and "Maybe you don't need Android, but the industry does."

That said, it was an incredibly impressive roster of people on the panel, and the opinionated shop banter was very entertaining. Squeezed (quite literally) in between a Yahoo exec. and the CEO of Loopt, I think it's safe to say I was the newest to the industry on the roundtable.

As a sef-titled "Overnight CEO", I'm admittedly not too practiced at public speaking- it is a fear I am facing and a skill I will need to develop, as I am increasingly being asked to speak. I did alright. I said a few things (besides umm). Here are some things I said followed by some I would have said if...umm... I'd pursued the airtime/possessed the finely honed interrupting skills of some of my distinguished colleagues:

Here I would have elaborated on Android and the other platforms.

I said on the panel, "it is hard to know where it (Android) is going". This is true, but should have been paired with: Android (which hasn't even come out yet) is changing the mobile landscape and creating a domino effect of companies opening up the industry. This is no small task (so cut them some slack), and while it remains to be defined what 'open' will mean, since there are many players with many interests, Android will run through multiple carriers on multiple handsets. This is extremely significant. It is very akin to what Microsoft did with Windows, that Apple didn't do (But of course I view Android as becoming a superior OS to Windows).

Apple is extremely successful, even if they are only a fraction of the market, so for them tying software with only their own (brilliantly designed) hardware made sense. Apple tying themselves exclusively to one carrier (ATT) in the U.S., well, that only made sense in the context of a closed environment, which it was. This closed environment is only now shifting- and again, the shift to a more reasonable and open environment, it seems, is being spearheaded by Google, the O.H.A., LiMo, and now Nokia with Symbian. Not to be ignored or flippantly disregarded is the global market share and importance of Nokia, and it is extremely interesting this move they've made recently to buy Symbian.

Even Apple's app store, or at least the timing of it, seems to me to be a reaction to Android. Greater openness is the promise of all of these companies and alliances, but there are undoubtedly many layers of politics, there is bandwidth ownership, there are carriers who are going to have to take an immediate creative and progressive approach if they hope to remain relevant, and there are a ton of companies who want to get in on distribution. Who will win? Whomever is the most realistic, flexible, forward thinking, strategic and progressive.

Okay so I would have said some of that and maybe more. If I could have. But there Was. No. Way.

Also I would have addressed Robert Scoble's comment (which I didn't at all, but it's posted below) on the missing apps and opportunities. Political and travel were two he mentioned. He's so right. There are loads of lifestyle utilities missing from the space now. It is saturated with certain categories, and there is room for so much innovation. I wonder where all of the useful utilities are? That is why I came up with Cooking Capsules. People eat. People are confronted with the question of what to eat. Everyday. People are busy. People would cook more if it was made easier. Games can make life fun, but good mobile utilities will make life fun and easier. I agree, Robert! Where are the useful apps? There are a few out there, but they are still missing, as Robert says, from many wide open categories.

And when that question from Twitter came in, and Erick re-phrased it to be essentially the question he asked of a VC on the panel before (What is missing? What categories aren't people thinking about that they should be?), I answered it with four words. These I would not change. They were the most interesting set of words I'd said all day. And given the audience reaction, I guess they agreed.
(for context see the minute from 2:20-3:20 in the below clip)

I stand by it.

It's true.

Erick Schonfeld will cook with his phone.

Big thanks to Erick, Techcrunch and the event sponsors.

It was an honor and a blast.

-Mary Ann

ps- Next time, should there be one, I will be annoyingly early, speak up more (read: interrupt), and will undoubtedly have more to say about Android and the industry (since a lot happens in mobile in a week, month and year).

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