Thursday, 5 October 2017

Future of short distance passenger flight is the drone

The world need a buss-sized drone that can replace short flights, specially for transport across water. A passenger drone travelling around 200 km/hr could easily outcompete commercial airlines where flight time for a jet is 1 hour or less due to a drone could take off and land from small spaces near a parking lot with more convenient locations than an airport.

I see a drone with:
- About 4 electrically driven propeller pods each side of a bus shaped body.
- 2 petrol engines to create the power, with separate fuel tanks for security.
- Batteries to boost power at takeoff and enough capacity to land safely if engines cut out.
- Each side would have separate controls for 2+2 pods, so if 1 set cut out the drone could still land safely.
- If landing on water the whole unit would be kept floating by airbags.
- Completely automated flight but a single attendant for safety and to control that eveybody has a ticket and handle unruliness.
- Remotely but cable connected pre-programmed flight destination to avoid possible hijackings.
- Flight controlled by gps, safety by radar and lidar.
- Laser based ground scan to find safe emergency landing spots.
- Around 50 passengers per drone for versatility and about 5-7 tons payload.
- Price for each unit would need to be in the Euro 500k to 1 million bracket to be competitive.

Public interest and safety would be satisfied by the buss-drones beeing owned by regulated entities, and production and maintenance could be strictly controlled. A separate commercial drone-buss flying zone could be regulated for around 500-1000 meters above ground level.

A nicer interior "private jet" version of the drone could be developed to replace helicopters and increase the market. Commuter routes into traffic congested city-centers is another market.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Internal training can lead to degregation and failure

If you source systems from outside sources but for cost-saving reasons purely rely on internal knowledge hand-over to get joiners up to speed, it may lead to degregation of the process.
Take a rapidly expanding company but strictly cost controlled like Ryanair. Many of their core systems are sourced from 3'rd parties but maintained in-house. However what worked yesterday and today might not be as effective tomorrow. Most companies throw more manpower at a problem. This is specially the case if non-technology people are set to solve system problems. And the users of the system may know no better because this is the way they do the process and that is the way their predecessors did it.
However the developers of the system might have come up with new solutions and ad-ons because other companies using the system also have experienced similar problems. And since these other companies have invested in from-the-source training, the resulting near contact have led them to ask if the processes can be automated better. These improvements cannot be picked up through internal training unless all system documentation are made easily and publicly available and somebody sees an interest in, and reward for, being up to date on all new developments. And many system developers keep new stufff close to their chest, as a competitive advantage.
Problem is many companies only reward new processes that leads to direct monetary rewards. Not for keeping going old-reliables that have always worked but are core to the successfull operation of the business.

Costs and risks are not clearly defined at the start of a crisis

Sometimes a purely bottom line focused company ends up coming to conclusions that make it spend more than if it took a more overall view. When Ryanair discovered it had scheduled more flights than it could man, it decided to cancel a number of them instead of the alternatives like;  temporarily wet-leasing (hiring with crew) aircraft from a different airline. And there was plenty of them around, proved by that the CAA could only a week later hire in a fleet of them to ferry home stranded customers after the Monarch collapse.
From a purely financial decision that might have been the correct thing to do if you where a company operating strictly by the book. However Ryanair are not exactly inundated with friends. Even their customers use them because they are the cheapest, completetly according to the Ryanair strategy, but still do not hold back in regular criticism on social media. And their enemies have been waiting for the right time to pounce. When that is the case you don't serve them up an opportunity on a silver platter.

Little could be done with the initial cancellations if it was a sudden realisation of lack of crew, or parts of management had already made the anouncement without mulling it over for a day or two. But there was just 2100 of them. The company had plenty of time to consider what to do with the rest of the season.
First they could have taken away the flights that had no seats sold on them. And according to their own statement and a simple calculation since 400 000 seats was sold on 18 000 flights, this could have meant at least halving the number to about 9000. 
Then consider political implications and UK pm May's dependence on Northern Irish support to stay in government and Scottish transport links to keep the country together. Political pressure is always more difficult to diffuse than bargain hunters that forget their principals when the next seat sale comes along.  
Then consider different financial scenarios where the best is that we get away with cancelling and everybody want refunds. A middle where a percentage is happy to take the buss and a voucher for goodwill. And the worst is we have to stick strictly to the letter/intention of the law and reaccommodate all 400 000 on competitors flights at grossly inflated prices plus sustenance and accomodation. And the likelihood of each one.
Is cancelling all still the best option, leasing in planes and crews to do all the flights, or a combination of the two.  What about when the risk associated with lack of goodwill, investors confidence, internal rumblings and future costs when new rules must be adhered to where before they could be diffused. 

Monday, 28 December 2015

Microsoft – Why have you abandoned us

Late 2012 I bought a Nokia Windows phone on a 2 yr contract. The OperatingSystem was version 7.1 and I thought I’d do some development with VB Express to make a few apps. Pretty quickly the severe limitations of the OS restricted further development and I moved on to Android which don’t have such ridiculous limits put on the OS for the device to pretend it has a better battery life.
I’m talking about a background running environment for 3’rd party apps.  Android has it, Microsoft’s OS for smartphones has not, Apple’s iPhone has one that is severely restricted.  Background running is the cornerstone of all fitness, tracking and logging apps. Without it you can’t get a continuous tracking, recording, logging or reporting of your position or activity. 

And what about the failures of the notification and alarm system. You can’t have a notification with an alternative sound, and an alarm won’t stop repeating without manual intervention. Where the management at MS deliberately trying to limit the availability of 3’rd party apps and the usability of the device. 
Microsoft is starting to see the folly of their ways and making some stuff available in newer versions, but it’s in 8.1 or even 10 of the OS. My Nokia smartphone is just 3 years old, of which 2yr was on a binding contract. It can’t take Windows 8 or higher, meaning it was left for dead by Microsoft even before the contract ran out. That quick abandonment, = OS upgrade stop, make it very difficult to move on to a newer hardware version. The trust is gone,. But worse than that, the market of potential users for apps utilizing the new features become severely limited. Further putting a damper on the incentive to make them in the first place. Even if the app uptake percentage might be higher because of the amount of abandoned users searching for new stuff in a limited market, the ad fill and value is shocking.

Problem is they treated smartphones like a phone instead of like a computer. OS for pc’s are kept updated for maybe 7 years..  And you can install the newest version of Windows 10 on pc’s that is even more than 5 years old. That Nokia was making the hardware is not an excuse. They took it over as a going concern, and surely for its dedicated customers.

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Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Can you succeed in the mobile market without a million apps

First you need to get your priorities right.  Are you in the market to sell phones, apps, accessories,  ads or development tools. 
Some has a clear strategy, like Apple with all of the above, but at a price, and they did have the first out advantage.  Others like Google spread the different key parts out to partners like Samsung and Admob, and then if the partners become too successful, like Admob,  take them over.  Then we have the not so successful like RIM/Blackberry and Microsoft/Nokia. 
Blackberry tried to keep their stuff proprietary so if you wanted their software you had to buy their hardware.  That could only take them so far.  Look how successful their messaging software was as  soon as they ported it to ios.
When it comes to Microsoft they don’t seem to have cracked the nut on how to do mobile even if they have plenty of samples to follow.  Their intricate system of 3’rd party development paths for the Windows Phone platform is as bad as Apple’s, without having the advantage of being first with anything.   They should have looked at Google and Android instead if they wanted to see how to be  in opposition.    Google controlled the layout but gave away the OS, and  took control of the app store and the advertising where a lot of the money can be made.  They made it easy to subscribe and fast to submit apps. 
Even though I developed my first app for the Windows Phone, It took me a full month to be ok’d by the Windows app store.  A month I used to port it to Android, and it only took me a couple of days to be set up on Google’s store.  From I submit an app to Microsoft’s store it takes 3-4 days to be approved while it takes 3-4 hours on Google Play.  There is something wrong there.   Yes the Windows app is checked more for compatibility, but is it really necessary with such a limited number of hardware options.  In the end the customer download the apps and uses it if it works and complains if it doesn’t – or more likely throws it away.  That’s what you have trials for.
For and Android phone you have a lot more control over the features than for a Windows phone.  You can write apps that run as services, an essential for most movement logger apps, while this is restricted for a Windows phone “to save battery life”. 
Then it comes to cost, even though setting up in the 2 stores cost about the same, you’ll need a Windows 8 pc, a several hundred quid phone,  and most likely the more than 500 quid .net to develop for a Windows Phone.   Comparable to Apple where you need an Apple computer.  For Android you can do with any pc on any version of OS, a 50 quid phone and a 60 quid development tool.   The funny thing is I can write in VB for both Windows and Android, so it should have been easily portable between the two.  But the high start-up cost for the Windows Phone development tools combined with their limited volume, makes it a much higher risk. 
Microsoft could do so much to improve their app availability by a few cheap and simple steps.  Open the OS for more adjustments and buy up a couple of the largest Android development tool makers and adjust their products so apps already made on them can be easily ported to the Windows Phone platform.  That would really kick-start availability overnight.