Thursday, April 10, 2008

Microsoft Clearflow as an example of over-engineering

Microsoft announced plans to launch Clearflow, a web service that incorporates complex software models to help users avoid traffic jams. Read about it in various places, including the New York Times. My first thought when reading about it wasn't that it sounds like a cool technology, it was that it sounds like a ridiculously over-engineered solution to a problem.

The problem:

Commuters don't have accurate data regarding current traffic situations on main and side streets.

The artificial intelligence researchers' solution:

Form a team and spend 5 years building a predictive model for current traffic conditions based on four years of data and 16,500 trips covering 125,000 miles. The end result means that Clearflow combines live traffic data based on data from traffic sensors and combines that with predicted traffic events based on variables such as time of day, weather, current sporting events.

End result:

Probably more accurate traffic information, but largely based on intelligent guesses.

My solution (I'm not an artificial intelligence researcher):

Use real data, not predictive models. My GPS knows which road I'm on, the speed limit of that road, where the next intersection is, and how fast I'm traveling. Because my GPS knows that, the GPS satellite knows that. Because the GPS satellite knows that about me, it also knows it about other drivers on that same road or other roads. So, let's use all of that data to determine how fast traffic is actually moving on a particular road (relative to the speed limits and intersections) and therefore determine whether traffic problems exist on that road right now. Next step: automatically update the display on my GPS to suggest alternate routes that do not currently have similar traffic problems.

End result:

Extremely accurate traffic information, using actual current data and no guesses.

Perhaps I'm missing something obvious. Or perhaps this is an example of the adage, "to the man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail". Thoughts? Counter-arguments? Anyone?

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Connect the dots

I alluded to The Usual Suspects' flashback sequence previously, and I noted that the mainstream press haven't grasped the significance of this yet, but I didn't lay out how I see the dots connecting. And I'm not going to draw a map here. But think of how this all relates to the breakthrough mobile device and see if you can connect them yourself:

Mac OS X. XCode. Cocoa. Core Data. Core Audio. Core Video. Core Animation.

Yellow Box, Intel,

iPod, iTunes, Apple TV, media distribution.

PDA, Apple PDA (lack thereof), game console, portable gaming device (PSP), games.

Apple stores, AT&T, Best Buy, Starbucks.

Microsoft, Exchange, SQL, cloud computing.

If that sounded like a random string of SEO buzzwords, then we don't connect the dots the same way. Or you don't follow Apple and/or the computer industry closely enough to know what some of those things mean. Or maybe I'm full of crap.

I do know that if I had money to invest, I'd put it into AAPL now before everyone else connects the dots. Or, maybe they'll never connect the dots and AAPL won't explode until 1-2 quarters after June. We'll see. I'm betting on one or two analysts announcing a $225 or so target price this week and AAPL will accelerate. But I wouldn't put too much faith in analysts...

Apple and The Usual Suspects

You know that scene at the end of The Usual Suspects when elements of the plot that were right in front of you the whole time are suddenly revealed right in front of you? That's how I felt when I watched Apple's iPhone SDK roadmap announcement on Thursday. As the event unfolded, I could suddenly see why Apple has been making the choices it has made for the past several years. I could suddenly see the strategy of this secretive company laid out perfectly clearly. Everything suddenly made sense.

I haven't seen anything in the mainstream press yet to indicate that any publications or analysts understand what happened. There are a few bloggers who seem to get it. And most of the posters in this thread at Google Finance seem to understand. I'm not sure where the big boys are right now, but they seem utterly clueless. Maybe because they truly are clueless about Apple; how anyone could follow Apple closely over the past five years or so and still come to the conclusion that the announcement was about iPhone software is beyond me. It defies belief. Some of the follow-up stories such as RIM, Apple borrow from each other's playbook are almost embarrassing in their lack of understanding.

The one comment I've seen that perfectly sums it up is from "Ozman" at Fake Steve's site: That sound you just heard was over half the valley realizing that there pants are around their ankles, and Steve is already in his car on his way home.

Remember that the iPhone SDK is not just for the iPhone, but the iPod (Touch) as well. Remember too that the iPhone is not a phone. It is a mobile computer that happens to have an "always on" data connection and it happens to be able to make and receive phone calls. You also need to understand that the iPhone/iPod Touch run the proven Mac OS X -- a computer platform. And that they are mobile computers. In your pocket. Did you hear John Doerr say that this will be a bigger platform than the personal computer?

Apple has put in motion what may prove to be an unstoppable circular, recursive business model. This SDK was the missing piece (or at least one of the missing pieces because there may be more to come).

If you don't know what I'm talking about, let me lay out some of it for you. Because it's recursive, I can start anywhere in my description. But it's getting late and I'll do that tomorrow. Sorry!