Thursday, August 27, 2009

Globalization, Internationalization, Localization and The Total Experience

Jason Lackey

Native speakers of English and those using relatively plain versions of the Roman Alphabet have it easy with regards to high tech in general and computers and computer-like devices. The reason I say this is that since many of these things were either invented or refined in English speaking countries support of English and the Roman Alphabet is usually pretty good. In fact, these might be the only language and character set choices available. Great for Americans, not so wonderful for others.

Although InnoPath is based in the US, we try to be a very international company. Part of this is we have to. Our market is global, our customers are all over the world. Part of this is a conscious decision and part of this is the organic result of having a very diverse staff at our Silicon Valley headquarters along with offices in Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo, Mumbai, London and Atlanta.

This international perspective is reflected not only in our attitudes and workforce, it is also reflected in our products. The ability to deliver the UI in the user's native language makes a real difference. The US is spoiled, here we demand everything in English and people don't even like to see movies with subtitles. Other countries should be able to enjoy products and services in the native language of the user but far too often such is not the case. With the InnoPath Care Portal the portal reads the browser's language settings and presents the UI in the user's language of choice. Certainly many people over the world can read and function in English, but it provides the user with a better and more welcoming experience when they can work in their native language.

Internationalization (i18n) also known as Globalization - is the process of designing and building your product in such a way that it can easily be adapted to a number of different languages and locales. Some of the factors include being able to effectively deal with foreign characters - Roman alphabet with diacritical marks, non-Roman characters such as Chinese, Japanese and Korean, Hindi etc. Unicode, a character set containing all the world's scripts (or at least many of the world's scripts) is often used. Challenges include coping with left to right as well as right to left and/or up to down reading direction, handing text input and coping with a variety of input method editors.

Localization (L10n) is the process of taking a product and translating it for a particular locale or language. If a product has been properly internationalized from the start then this is an easier process. For example, the InnoPath Care Portal contains text for the UI in a resource file. This makes it easy to edit the text of the UI without touching the code. A non-globalized approach might have text for the UI hardwired into the code, meaning that any changes will involve hunting through and changing the code, a time consuming and potentially risky process. Places sharing the same or similar languages may treat things like address, dates and times differently, so these concerns would have to be addressed as well.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Swimming Iguanas, Funny Birds and Japanese Smartphones - Galapagos Syndrome?

Risa Tanzawa

Editors Note: Risa Tanzawa is InnoPath's Tokyo based Marcom.

Blue footed boobies, swimming iguanas and other weird things make the Galapagos Islands, a small chain of islands on the equator in the Pacific, their home. Due to the relative isolation of these islands, evolution has taken some strange turns, resulting in scary looking lizards that eat algae under water, birds with a fetish for blue feet and other weirdness. Some say that the mobile handset market in Japan is similar to the Galapagos Islands, stunning and unexpected diversity that has evolved in isolation from the rest of the world resulting in if not shock and awe for the visitor, then at least surprise.

While weird and wonderful in their home market, Japanese device makers have had trouble selling their phones abroad, largely due to this divergent evolution of the market where features considered a necessity in Japan are not seen elsewhere. This problem is called the Galapagos Syndrome.

That said, let’s take a look at some of the unique features of Japanese mobile phones.

QR Code (two-dimensional bar code)
While many phones technically can read QR Codes, the two-dimensional bar codes seen in many Japanese ads, this is a technology not widely used or understood in the US. You can almost think of it as mobile Cue Cat except that, at least in Japan, QR has caught on and is widely used. This helps overcome the not so fun task of multitap/T9 input of long URLs.

IrDA (Sekigaisen-Tsushin)
You see a young couple saying goodbye on the street. Then you notice they are pointing their phones at each other like they were taking tricorder readings. The tricorder must have some good news, because both smile and bow and go their separate ways. What you just saw was the exchange of contact info over IR. Infrared, being short range and line of sight, is good for the semisecure exchange of info like contacts. Because it is short range and line of sight, it can be secure without having all sorts of passwords get in the way and it is a lot easier to do than to manually input a long, complex email address by hand.

Osaifu-Keitai is trademark of NTT DoCoMo, meaning Wallet-Mobile Phone. This technology uses Sony's Mobile FeliCa ICs. "Osaifu-Keitai" uses NFC radio and provides electronic money, credit card, electronic ticket, membership card, airline ticket, and other functionality. At convenience stores, you only need to hold a phone over a machine at the casher to purchase anything if you have enough money on your phone, which saves time and is very convenient. More from docomo.

One-Seg (TV)
One-Seg is a mobile terrestrial digital audio/ video and data broadcasting service. One-Seg is free and in many cases is used to watch TV on the handset. 86% of handsets shipping in Japan ship with One-Seg.

Japanese featurephones have been application friendly for a while, a feature which in combination with the powerful hardware helps blur the lines between a Japanese featurephone and a traditional smartphone. Games, including 3D shooters and the like requiring hardware acceleration, are available, but beware, downloads and use can chew up a lot of data which is expensive unless you have an unlimited plan.

Animated Emoticons and Email Decoration (cHTML email)
Japan is big on the cult of kawaii, people old and young all love “cute” and cHTML email puts the cute into mobile mail with animated emoticons, graphics, backgrounds and the like. This is particularly popular with women and children. There are more and more cute pictures, so actually I enjoying receiving new ones from my friends. You can reuse emoticons and pictures you have received, making this a fun, social feature. This feature was said to be one of the barrier to entry into the Japan market for the iPhone, which did not support this feature. Here is KDDI's page on this feature in Japanese.

So, just like the Galapagos Islands, Japan is a small island country and mobile phones, like the blue footed boobie, have taken on unique forms and colors to better meet local requirements. Sadly this supreme adaptation to local conditions, while useful in the native environment, makes life harder once off the island.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

BTW, InnoPath is Hiring!

Jason Lackey

Recession? What recession? We are busy, as in we have more work that we have people. As in we need help! The wireless business has, far more than many other industries, weathered the recession fairly well. Customer care and mobile device management, as slices of the larger wireless industry, done very well themselves.

Part of the reason for this is the Rise of the Superphone. Sure, we all knew that the day of the Smartphone was coming, but it was not clear how fast and how hard it was going to hit. Just today we learn that Smartphones have taken 28% of the US market. The additional functionality of smartphones is great, especially for powerusers. However, with power comes complexity and with complexity comes difficult support. Difficult as in long phone calls to do things like fix email etc.

Another part of the equation is that while support is always a place where operators are going to want to find ways of being more efficients, during rough economic times it goes without saying that mobile operators are going to want to save money on support, which is one of their largest expenses.

Other things contributing to things being busy around here include megatrends like The Rise of the Rest. For too long a disproportionate amount of the world's wealth and power have been concentrated in too few hands, leading to vast, global imbalances. With the rise of the BRIC and other nations, taking their rightful places at the table, global demand for wireless is rising and countries like India are no longer just buying cheap dumbphones, devices like the N97 are selling briskly there. Wonderful stuff!

We are also seeing trends like the Third Screen (ie the mobile screen) being the Only Screen for many millions of subscribers around the world. It used to be taken for granted that someone wealthy enough to own a smartphone would be wealthy enough to own a PC to run Nokia PC Suite or iTunes on. As it turns out, this is not necessarily the case anymore. Many can buy and desperately want a nice smartphone but may not be able to afford or really want a desktop PC. Guess for those people their updates are coming over-the-air, at a brick and mortar, or not at all. Hmmmm...wonder which way is cheapest and most convenient?

Anyway, we are hiring. Check out our Jobs Page but don't be overly fussy about the exact job description. We are hiring in many groups across the organization and if you have significant experience and/or expertise in Java, Oracle, Weblogic, Solaris, IP/SS7 networking, technical writing and even product marketing our recruiter would probably like to talk to you.

Just like the Jesus Jones song says, "Right here, right now, there's no other place I want to be."

Monday, August 17, 2009

SMS 20/20

Dave Ginsburg

We usually write about care-related topics, but sometimes something crosses our desk that just hits a nerve. The Brits, in their unique approach to ‘reality’, have produced a video on the dangers of texting while driving:

I’m remembering back to my Driver’s Ed and the videos they ran. In the same way that alcohol was compared to a drug, it is even easier to make the comparison to texting. It’s not like you drank 200 beers in a day, but that many SMSs is common amongst hard-core users. And though we jokingly draw comparisons to our Blackberries, calling them ‘crackberries’ in reference to another well-known drug, the urge to email when first waking up won’t do fatal damage to those around you (the impact on your relationship could be another matter, though).

California is one of the states that has banned texting while driving, and just last week announced a crackdown, countering those that claim the law is ineffective. Southern California was also the site of a texting incident last year on a commuter train in which a number of people died.

So, it’s not like texting is a bad thing. Just take it in moderation, and at the right time and place.

Text responsibly.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Customers as Hostages

Jason Lackey

Some industries seem to feel that they have the right to abuse their customers. In the US, airlines are one. While most have grown used to surly trolls bitterly tossing tiny bags of peanuts, once in a while even US domestic airlines rise above the threshold and venture into new and uncharted territory. In a previous post, we talked about United and their collective hatred of guitars:, but Continental recently outdid them with a mini hostage crisis where pax (passengers) were kept on the plane overnight until 6:30 in the morning despite no food, little drink, crying babies and an increasingly rank smell. Bloomberg has more on this:

You can keep pax or subs hostage for a short time, but later they tend to remember that they did not enjoy it very much. Hopefully this lesson will not be lost.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Did you ever have one of those days?

Jason Lackey

Ads and marketing can do powerful things in terms of building and shaping a brand and can either contribute to building something of value or get in the way. To be certain, Infiniti has earned respect by building good cars for a number of years. Then again, they had to as the launch of the Q45 (think Cedric for you JDM types) in the US was held back by the ads, which were viewed by some as being zen and forward looking while many had trouble understanding why a car company was showing them pictures of rocks and trees.

Apple has a way of getting things right, both with product and with the branding around the product. Then again, they have passionate people who are fanatic about the customer experience from ad, through the unboxing until product end of life and these people pay attention to the whole thing from end to end. Speaking of Apple, remember the Ellen Feiss Switch Ad? Classic! Well, her long lost twin was recently found in Santa Cruz at a City Council meeting!

Palm, recently risen from it's deathbed with a technically stellar OS (WebOS) on merely adequate hardware (Palm Pre) is in a bit of a bind. While many have fond memories of Palm and wish them great success, they really need to be firing on all cylinders and they don't have the burn time to buy a lot of do-overs. In this context you might expect them to do a nice series of ads highlighting the technical argument in favor of the Pre, perhaps hammering on multitasking or the cool apps you can run etc. Oh, wait, Sprint already did that. They even did one based on the price of the service plan for the phone, one of biggests chinks in the iPhone armor.
Palm, in contrast, did some really weird art pieces with Tamara Hope, who in these ads looks like the long lost sister of the Borg Queen. Nothing wrong with weird - if it connects. Nothing wrong with art, if it works. Seems that in this case the pieces, for most, do neither, and it is a shame, because Palm as a great new OS of which we have only seen the tip of the iceberg. However, they are running the risk of alienating exactly the consumers they should be appealing to and damaging a brand which deserves some polish.