All this crazy tablet nonsense (talking about you Avaya, RIM, and Cisco)

Imitation is the highest form of flattery, but come on, this whole tablet craze has gone too far.

So Apple came out with the blockbuster iPad tablet, and now everyone and their dogs are making one. Yes, I’m talking about you, Avaya, RIM, and Cisco.

What I find funny is that the PC companies — namely Microsoft and HP — abandoned their tablet projects once the iPad was imminent and proved to be a huge success, but it’s the communications companies that have a hard time letting go.

I’m not saying that the iPad is the end-all of all tablet devices. No, let’s hope not. I do want to see competing devices from Microsoft and HP (especially using the recently acquired Palm webOS). These are the companies that have been in the computing business for decades and have a clue about these devices.

But for companies like Avaya, RIM, and Cisco to venture into the tablet alternate universe is not productive. In fact, I dare say that it’s more of a marketing ploy than anything else — generate buzz, ride the iPad’s coattails, show ’em we’re hip. After all, it’s not too hard to make one these days: source the cheap hardware from China, slap on the OS (be in Android, Windows, or Blackberry), and announce it to the world.

But guess what? There won’t be companies lining up to buy one of these babies.

You should know better, guys. And I’m not talking about not challenging Apple because you are targeting business users. I’m talking about your denial that communications today is more about applications than about the device. Leave the device to the likes of Apple, Microsoft, HP, and IBM to design and make. You are supposed to be leaders in the communications biz, but why am I still carrying an iPhone and a Blackberry and still staring at my ugly desk phone? Now you also want me to carry your tablet?

We’re all accustomed to the fact that audio capabilities aren’t limited to phones anymore. A lot of the emphasis on these new tablets are about video capabilities, but this is 2010 and we also know that smartphones have the horsepower for video, too. So really, is there the need for a business tablet?

So here’s my advice: Abandon your tablet projects and hire more developers and UI experts to focus on applications. If you insist on a tablet, then OEM it from somebody who knows it better than you. Partner with the tablet makers to ensure your app is well-designed for their device. But for the sake of business please stop it with the tablet business.

Alcatel-Lucent acquires ProgrammableWeb

I’ll give credit to Alcatel-Lucent for thinking outside the box in today’s acquisition of ProgrammableWeb, a site that catalogs Web APIs. ALU has been on an aggressive path of transformation into a Web API-centric telecom company as I’d written here before. Clearly it believes that the future of telecom is the Web, and its executive management team is doing something about it. The Web-focused strategy may just give ALU an advantage over its heavyweight competitors.

Official press release:

Paris June 29, 2010 – Alcatel-Lucent (Euronext Paris and NYSE: ALU) today announced that it has acquired ProgrammableWeb, the technology industry’s universal source for Web APIs (application programming interfaces) used by application developers to build web, mobile, and other connected applications that serve consumers and the workplace.  Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

Web APIs enable developers to create new applications leveraging various kinds of content and functionality.  Alcatel-Lucent’s acquisition of ProgrammableWeb will help bring together an ecosystem of service providers, enterprises, and developers to drive the creation of unique applications today and in the new world of broadband mobile through LTE.

ProgrammableWeb will continue to operate as a separate entity, maintaining its repository of over 2,000 Web APIs which are regularly accessed by a community of hundreds of thousands of developers, and continuing its role as the industry’s most comprehensive content source for Web services development.  Alcatel-Lucent will provide support and resources to promote the continued and robust growth of the API and developer ecosystem, and facilitate service providers’ participation within that ecosystem.

For Alcatel-Lucent this acquisition provides an important new channel to partner with the Web developer community – a dialog it has started with its Open API Service and Developer Platform.  It also gives Alcatel-Lucent access to general API usage patterns, allowing it to build highly relevant API bundles for its Open API Service. ProgrammableWeb’s API monitoring services, API trial services, and automated API updates will be integrated into Alcatel-Lucent’s Developer Platform. In addition, Alcatel-Lucent will be able to share its developer resources, such as its dashboard that helps developers track application monetization, with ProgrammableWeb’s developer community.

“If you look at any organization that launches an API, you quickly realize that the one thing the most successful APIs have in common is a vibrant developer ecosystem,” said Laura Merling, vice president of Alcatel-Lucent’s global developer strategy.  “Our goal is to protect the uniqueness and independence of ProgrammableWeb as an API repository and developer resource, while adding beneficial technologies and service provider relationships to the mix for everyone’s benefit.”

This move advances Alcatel-Lucent’s Application Enablement strategy, which is focused on combining the trusted and secure network capabilities of service providers with the speed and creativity of the Web to provide a richer end-user experience.

“ProgrammableWeb has always sought to put developers first, by giving them the most timely and comprehensive picture of everything related to APIs,” said John Musser, ProgrammableWeb founder who is moving to Alcatel-Lucent, but will continue to oversee the repository’s operation.  “That mission will be strengthened and expanded by joining forces with Alcatel-Lucent.  As APIs become more central to software strategies in all domains, we’ll make ProgrammableWeb an even better one-stop independent source.”

About ProgrammableWeb

ProgrammableWeb is the leading online destination dedicated to mashups, APIs and the Web as a development platform. Founded in 2005, ProgrammableWeb offers the Internet’s largest directory of Web 2.0 APIs and mashups. With over 2,000 open APIs and thousands of real-world mashups, users can search, contribute, and connect as part of ProgrammableWeb’s active mashup developer community. The site also offers daily industry news, analysis, case studies, tools and technical resources. Regularly featured in major publications worldwide, including Forbes, Newsweek and CIO, ProgrammableWeb is a recognized industry authority. For more information, visit external linkwww.programmableweb.com.

About Alcatel-Lucent
Alcatel-Lucent (Euronext Paris and NYSE: ALU) is the trusted transformation partner of service providers, enterprises, strategic industries such as defense, energy, healthcare, transportation, and governments worldwide, providing solutions to deliver voice, data and video communication services to end-users. A leader in fixed, mobile and converged broadband networking, IP and optics technologies, applications and services, Alcatel-Lucent leverages the unrivalled technical and scientific expertise of Bell Labs, one of the largest innovation powerhouses in the communications industry. With operations in more than 130 countries and the most experienced global services organization in the industry, Alcatel-Lucent is a local partner with a global reach. Alcatel-Lucent achieved revenues of Euro 15.2 billion in 2009 and is incorporated in France, with executive offices located in Paris. For more information, visit Alcatel-Lucent on the Internet:http://www.alcatel-lucent.com, read the latest posts on the Alcatel-Lucent blog http://www.alcatel-lucent.com/blog and follow us on Twitter: external linkhttp://twitter.com/Alcatel_Lucent.

Contact the Alcatel-Lucent Press Office: press@alcatel-lucent.com

1-888-FACETIME brings the video contact center to the (iPhone 4) masses

One of the new features of the recently-launched iPhone 4 is its front-facing camera and the ability to conduct a video call. Yes, Apple (and in a small part, AT&T) finally gives U.S. consumers a taste of video calling on a mobile phone, something that Asian and European mobile users would probably go “Meh. Been there. Done that.”

But before you get too excited, Apple’s implementation of video calling — dubbed FaceTime — doesn’t quite work over a cellular network. FaceTime requires both parties to use the iPhone 4 and only over WiFi.

Now that I’ve dampened your interest in this, please continue to read on… Because Apple has set up a toll-free line to help iPhone 4 customers test FaceTime.

Thanks to overwhelming demand (again), the iPhone 4 has sold out everywhere on launch day. That means your fanboy buddies and family members probably don’t have one yet. So how could you test the nifty FaceTime feature?

Just call 1-888-FACETIME and an Apple representative will gladly accept your video call! He or she will also happily walk through some tips on using FaceTime, or just shoot the breeze for a while. But just don’t take up too much of his or her time because after all, Apple has to run a tight ship in its contact centers.

I got to try it (yes, my buddies are iPhone 4-less) and must say that it was an amazing (magical!) experience. Not so much for the cool factor, but just how easy and high-quality the whole ordeal was: call a number, tap “FaceTime,” and GO!

My guess is that Apple will keep incorporate this beyond the FaceTime test offering. With the success of the iPhone 4, I’m sure many users will appreciate the ability to video call an agent whenever they call Apple support.

And with Steve Jobs already publicly offering FaceTime to anyone who wants to adopt it, it will just be a matter of time before mobile video calls becomes popular. If history is any indication, Apple is the company which has the chops to make new tech adoption happen and happen fast. (Apple led the way in: GUI, color graphics, built-in LAN, built-in sound, floppy drive, built-in CD-ROM, all USB, etc…)

Polycom wants to eat, not be eaten

Andrew Miller, Polycom’s fairly new CEO, aimed to dispel any buyout rumors by going on record to say that the company is not in any talks with buyers. Instead, Miller sees Polycom being the buyer in the (near?) future:

Andrew Miller, who was named CEO last month, said the company was interested in buying companies with niche, cloud computing or mobile technology that would contribute to Polycom’s videoconferencing products.

“We’re going to become more active in M&A,” he said, adding that Polycom was in a strong financial position. The company ended last quarter with $470 million in cash and investments and no debt.

Interesting talk coming from a company with about $3 billion market capitalization while its biggest competitor, Cisco, commands 40x of that. Granted, Cisco has its hand in a lot of other sectors of the data networking business, but the fact that it doesn’t hesitate to buy out companies like WebEx and TANDBERG shows how serious it is in the video conferencing and telepresence space.

I’m not sure if it makes a lot of sense for Polycom to aggressively look for acquisitions. There’s no way it can out-buy Cisco. What Polycom needs to do is hit Cisco where it hurts: interoperability, mass adoption, and quick innovation.

Start partnering with other similar vendors to make each other’s solutions interoperable. In other words, be the most popular jock in the video crowd. Make Cisco jealous.

These partnerships should also encourage more adoption of Polycom and its partners’ products. It would be great if it can find a partner who’s already “voted most likely to disrupt telecom.” Hint: Skype.

And innovate, or find friends who are good at innovation. Have you heard of the new iPhone 4 and its FaceTime video call feature? I heard Apple’s looking to open it up to others to lure more people onto the bandwagon. Just sayin’.

Disclosure: I own Polycom stock in my retirement account.

QuickFuse is not quick enough to the Web telephony game

As much as I love to see another competitor in the crowded Web telephony space, I’d have to agree with Om on this one: QuickFuse (by Plum Voice) is not quick enough. Voxeo, Tropo, Twilio, Teleku, etc. have pretty much stolen the buzz in this space and then some, so I can only see QuickFuse’s entrance as a play on even more competitive pricing — shrinking margins for everyone.

Plum itself has a good list of high-profile customers, and I wonder if QuickFuse was introduced to acquire more businesses in the small and medium segment. Maybe the big clients still aren’t spending money on IVR projects in this economy.

I’m a fan of the convergence between Web and telephony technologies, so I certainly wish the best to the folks at QuickFuse/Plum. After all, it is through competition that drives innovation, and we all agree that there’s still plenty of room to innovate in Web telephony.

Skype opens the development floodgates

Get ready for Skype to become even more ubiquitous.

Today Skype lets loose its SkypeKit SDK for developers to incorporate Skype-tastic features into consumer devices and desktop applications. In essence, any Internet-connected device can now become VoIP-enabled via Skype. Right now the SDK is available for Linux with Windows/Mac coming later. The SILK audio codec is part of the SDK and definitely something to lure developers into creating HD audio apps.

This couldn’t come at a better time. Consumer electronic devices are fast becoming networked and an important part of our lives that we wonder why we cannot communicate using these devices. We don’t really care for the traditional phone hardware anymore in today’s IP world. If my digital photo frame is Internet-enabled, why can’t I use it to call people too? It sits in the living room or at my desk — convenient and popular locations to conduct calls.

I’m excited to see what developers come up with to Skype-enable our electronics!

Guest post: Cloud vs. Premise-based contact center

John Stepp, President of Free Tech Consultants, shares some thoughts after his visit to the Governor’s Office of Customer Service in Atlanta last week.

I had the pleasure of attending CCNG’s meeting at the Governor’s Office of Customer Service last week in Atlanta and it made me think of all the parameters surrounding the cloud-based contact centers.  But before I get to those thoughts, I have to say that I was also struck by how well run the GOCS contact center is.  The caller experience has been transformed from a frustrating maze of calls to different acronym agencies to one where callers are funneled to a frontend group of agents that have the tools to direct callers to the proper destination with handoff.  I was also impressed by the camaraderie and the leadership of the contact center.  This is truly an example of a well run government agency improving the lives of the citizens they serve.

So the first order of business in any contact center is how well the center is run, from the proper routing of calls to the tools the agents have at their disposal to the attitude of the agents and the desired outcome of the entity involved.  So is cloud-based contact center technology better or worse in achieving these goals?  There is no simple answer, but here are some thoughts to digest.

Your contact center must above all be reliable.  The network you use is key and failover provisions whether cloud or premise based must be airtight.  The redundancy and reliability of the equipment utilized is extremely important, more so for cloud-based contact centers routing to a facility.  And make no mistake, there are certain manufacturers of contact center equipment that are much more reliable than others.

You need access to a variety of tools to allow for changing needs and better analytics.  For example, how easy is it for you to add or subtract agents?  For many cloud-based services this is an advantage.  Are there a variety of tools available for you to use when you need them at a reasonable cost?  This will vary between the cloud-based services, but for premise equipment you can do just about anything if you have the money to devote to it.  How well will the analytic tools work for you?  Typically premise-based equipment will give you a tighter integration.  But of course pricing for these tools has to be factored in.  Since cloud-based tools are typically less expensive per agent, there is a trade off for the tighter integration that premise-based tools give you.

And how much time must be spent in programming the contact center and its tools?  Logically, the cloud-based call contact center will save you time, but that depends on the cloud-based vendor and the availability of the resources they have.  Just as with premise-based equipment, if you go ultra cheap, at some point you are going to find out why it was ultra cheap.  Conversely, just because you pay the extra bucks for what you think is greater reliability or versatility, you may get more headaches and more cost at the same time.  That is why an unbiased consultative approach to new contact center technology and upgrades is vital to making the best decision for any organization.

In the ever changing world of technology and economics, vendors, whether cloud-based or premise-based are a lot like sports teams.  Some years a team outperforms and is a great bet and some years they end up in last place disappointing everyone.  That is why picking the right vendors and technology is both an art and a science.