Nokia Morph’s Way Beyond iPhone

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I remember when the Apple iPhone came out. I had a deep sense that there was no way I’d buy a normal mobile phone ever again. I also started thinking: what comes next? Well it looks like I’ve found the answer over at Nokia HQ.

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In fact, if you are in New York you can go along and see the future of mobile phones right now at The Museum of Modern Art. Nokia Research Centre and the University of Cambridge’s Nanoscience Centre have launched Morph, a joint nanotech concept –

Morph is a concept that demonstrates how future mobile devices might be stretchable and flexible, allowing the user to transform their mobile device into radically different shapes. It demonstrates the ultimate functionality that nanotechnology might be capable of delivering: flexible materials, transparent electronics and self-cleaning surfaces.

Dr. Bob Iannucci, Chief Technology Officer, Nokia, commenting at the launch, said: “Nokia Research Center is looking at ways to reinvent the form and function of mobile devices; the Morph concept shows what might be possible.”

Don’t hold your breathe, though – elements of Morph may only find their way into handheld devices by 2015.

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Board Games: How to play

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Like venture guy Fred Wilson, I’ve spent a few years interacting with Boards of Directors – as Chairman, as Investor-appointed Director, as Founder, as Executive and as Legal Commentator. I’ve also interacted with Boards that presided over multinational conglomerates, public research institutes, venture firms and startups.

Perhaps this is why when I read Fred’s views on “Choosing Board Members” it really resonated. He sets out 10 thoughts on the topic and each and every one is worth repeating:

  • Avoid “big names”  For the most part, they are useless. [Hmm, Australian companies are particularly prone to this foible. There is a cabal of “names” that tend to crop up on so many boards – have a good look at the share price of Jumbuck and tell me if its ‘name’ has made a difference to its tumble. Similar situation over at Bluefreeway.  Oh well, I’ve offered to help both companies but that’s not for this discussion.]
  • Select people who will attend each and every meeting, who will pay close attention to the business [Totally agree – avoid pigeon directors who fly in, make a mess of the board papers and then fly out]
  • Select people who have an affinity for your business, who understand your challenges and your opportunities [ Oh how true – a property investment banker is highly unlikely to add value to your high tech business]
  • Avoid putting someone you can control on your board. In tough situations they will have a fiduciary duty to do what’s right and you won’t be able to control them when it matters most to you. [Besides the reason it may backfire, it will also get you into hot water with your corporate regulators and most likely get you sued – after your board has fired you, that is]
  • Don’t let conflicts get in the way of selecting the ideal board member. Conflicts will be disclosed and can be managed. Many times the people who will understand your business best are conflicted in some way. There are ways to deal with this problem.     [ this is true, but needs to be handled very delicately – I am currently watching a situation very closely where a board member of one company is also a formal adviser to a direct competitor…I’ll keep you in the loop as it unfolds]
  • Make sure to have an experienced accountant/auditor on your board and have them run the audit committee. That is no place for amateurs. [Indeed, but don’t let the beancounters get in the way of the business, unless you are playing a complete numbers game]
  • Make sure to have at least two or three CEOs of comparable companies on your board. Make sure they are on the comp committee. Compensation issues are best handled by people who understand the talent market. [Fred makes a good point here. They should also be of use when it comes time to discuss valuation multiples tied to a fundraising or exit]
  • Select people who have the time to do the job right. Being a board member is a job. It’s not a retirement perk. If someone cannot commit to attend each and every meeting and to spend at least several hours a week on your company, they are not the right choice. [Umm, this is a repeat of point two, but its important so it bears repeating]
  • Select people who will get along with each other. The very best boards I am on are friendly social active groups. Serious business doesn’t have to be stilted and formal. It can and should be fun. [Life is too short to seek acrimony. Friendly and social is good, but not at the expense of adding value to the business – remember, as CEO that is your core metric and reason for being – ask Jason Goldberg – see his first point on his learnings from being CEO at Jobster]
  • Above all else, look for great judgment and ethics. [When times get tough and decisions are not black or white — these points are golden]

[Picture courtesy of Baboon]

Australia At Forefront in 60GHz CMOS SOC

NICTA has announced the world’s first 60GHz CMOS System on a Chip. The significance being that CMOS is the most common and hence commoditised method of developing semiconductor chips.

It’s great to see results like this emanating from my previous place of play and I know that the project leader, Stan Skafidas, is one of those special people — full of passion, energy and an innate ability to get the seemingly impossible done when surrounded by naysayers – the world needs a lot more folks like him.

More coverage here and here.

Twofish: Plugging in Gameplay Economics

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Redwood City-based Twofish has announced a solution to one of the major headaches facing game developers: building an economic engine into their games.

Commerce engines have been around for a while now, but it is still no trivial matter to plug the following elements into a game:- microtransactions, asset tracking, account management, multicurrency systems, transaction flexibility and robust trust and security modules to name but a few.

Lee Crawford, CEO of Twofish, explains the value proposition of his product:

“Microtransactions are here and now. But they require a whole new level of sophistication for the games industry.”

“Developers understand storytelling and character development, but most lack experience with financial markets and retail optimization. Twofish Elements fills in the knowledge gap, giving developers a robust solution that they can implement in weeks, rather than spending a year and millions of dollars to develop a partial solution on their own.”

It will be interesting to track how the Twofish Economic Engine is deployed. While they’ve provided the tools, it is still very much up to individual game developers to determine the economic algorithm they want to introduce into their titles. Over time I am sure that a wealth of economic gameplay data will emerge.

At Facebook Value: Can an app developer IPO north of $2 billion?

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On the eve of over US$60 million in VC fundraisings by apps developers I found attendees at Sydney’s recent Facebook Developer Garage highly motivated to talk value.

I’ve covered the event in the NEXT section of the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age, but here are some additional notes that never made it to print.

Lee Lorenzen noted via video at the event that once acquired as a registered customer, between 50-80% of users will opt out of receiving email marketing from the website owner. This means there is little opportunity to engage in dialogue with these users who the website owner has paid to acquire. This situation is reversed on Facebook as application owners have multiple opportunities to converse with users.
Slide has approximately 74 million Facebook app installs. This gives them tremendous reach and allows them to touch a high percentage of the Facebook audience, some 5-6 million daily active users a day. Lee Lorenzen feels this is rationale for the US$550 million valuation they received recently when raising their fourth round of funding of US$50 million. In the United States, the Slide userbase by itself represents the third largest, app-centric, social network.
He believes that Slide, “anticipates an IPO within the next 12 months that will be north of US$2 billion.”

Echoing Lee Lorenzen’s views, the organiser of Silicon Valley Developer Garages, Stanley Wong said, “Social media applications are unlike any type of websites in the past mostly due to the fact that they are so viral. It is unheard of before for an application to have 5 million new application installs in 5 weeks starting from zero.”
“ As a result there is a lot of competition for the attention of Facebook users and a ton of developers are jumping into this fray. Developers are already building networks of apps around particular interests so consolidation is another factor that is happening.”
The value of a Facebook user is linked to their use of applications on the social network. In turn, the ability to monetise these applications and convert user value into real value comes down to the performance of these applications.

In the article I mention Slide’s daily active user rate of 12% as being an example of a higher engagement app (most apps range between 1-2% DAU). By contrast Creative Enclave’s massively multiplayer Facebook game, Imperial Galaxy, has achieved an average daily active user rate of circa 35% since launching the beta version just over a month ago.
One benefit of events such as the Facebook Developers Garage is that they form a key foundation stone for making connections, they are core building blocks for innovation and entrepreneurialism.
Look at Europe. Fifteen years ago the continent had little in the way of a solid pipeline for networking amongst technology professionals. Whereas today there is a relative plethora of events – Barcamp, VentureCamp, LeWeb3, Web 2.0 Berlin, the Plugg Conference and the list goes on.
Writing for well known technology blog, Techcrunch, Mike Butcher argues that these events have been a key reason for Europe coming of age as a technology investing arena. Events hardwire the network and once hardwired it becomes easier for professional investors to ply their trade.
As a result the continent has reached the maturation point where it has specialised investor capital available for each stage of a company’s development. From initial seed investors, through startup and expansion capital and on to growth equity and finally buyout. Europe now boasts a crop of successful VC-backed companies like MySQL, which progressed along the venture continuum and was recently acquired by Sun Microsystems.
Sriram Krishnan is one of the organisers of similar events in Singapore, where he has found there to a lot of demand from application developers and corporates interested in developing Facebook applications.
There is now a growing community of developers and the National University of Singapore (emulating the highly successful Stanford FB apps class run by BJ Fogg and Dave McClure) has set up a class focused on developing Facebook appliations. Mr Krishnan is keen to make his next event a simultaneous three-way between Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Stockholm.
As a web community software pundit for a decade, Londoner Toby Beresford was blown away by the Facebook platform when it launched in May 2007.
“The Facebook platform provides a socialised newsfeed, easy authentication, frictionless application install, instant social network and consistent user interface. Pretty hard to beat as a platform to release a new application on.”
He has been organising Facebook Developer Garages ever since and sees these events as a forum to discuss the latest changes on the platform. Like in other cities, developers have left the London events feeling inspired to write apps. For example the review of the Affiliate Window app at an event directly correlated into a spate of shopping apps.
Commenting after a Facebook Garage in Cape Town, Hannes Foulds said, “Right know I just want to sit down and create my killer Facebook application!”

Mr Beresford notes that, “Facebook is very popular in the United Kingdom, it’s hard to express how much it has entered the every day lives of millions of people. Amongst graduates and professionals, rarely a conversation goes by without the mention of Facebook. This is one technology that has crossed the chasm into the mainstream, developing applications for it is only good business sense.”