It matters what you measure

We see this a lot in the data analysis space, but it's worth remembering that it really matters what you measure.

Rarely have I seen such a clear example of that as the claim today from the app developer Snappli that the percentage of people using Apple Maps on iOS6 has dropped from 35% to 4%. The Guardian nails the story, noting that the claim may well be without merit.

What happened?

Well, it turns out that Snappli was measuring not the percentage of people using the maps application each day, but the percentage of people using maps data every day. In iOS5, these percentages were effectively the same because the Maps application almost always had to download new map tiles every time it was opened.

So Snappli happily thought they had a good proxy for maps usage and over time they may have forgotten that their measurement was a proxy. They may have begun to assume that they were measuring actual maps usage. This happens all the time and it's really easy to do. But it's pretty embarrassing when something changes, causing our assumption to become invalid, and we don't realize it. That's when we start making false claims and looking pretty foolish.

That is what happened to Snappli. Because (surprise!) the Maps app in iOS6 doesn't download data very often. I just now threw my phone into airplane mode and zoomed into the last three cities I'd looked at over the last week and a half: Madison, WI; Minneapolis, MN; and Chicago, IL. In each of these cities I could see streets down to the lowest level of detail, including shops and points of interest. No data use.

So it seems that what Snappli scored as a strike against the new Maps app should actually be counted as a point in it's favor. And this whole saga can serve as a good reminder to us in the data business that we need to keep the assumptions behind our metrics and measurements in plain view as much as possible.

P.S. I realize there are some major problems with the data behind the maps app on iOS6. However, I also think it's important to focus on actual problems and not made up problems.

My irrational exuberance over SAP and Silverlight

Boy was I happy yesterday.

It sure looked to me like SAP's Bj√∂rn Goerke was strongly endorsing all new browser-based UI development happening in HTML, Javascript, and CSS (colloquially known as HTML5) rather than alternatives like Silverlight and Flash.

This is definitely the right move. I've long held the opinion that any UIs that can effectively be developed using HTML5 should be developed using HTML5. So it pained me, 3+ years ago, to see SAP developing new web-based UIs for their Business ByDesign product in Silverlight.

Of course, there have been reasons to doubt that HTML5 would win out as the web UI technology of choice. But it's now a no-brainer to turn to Flash and Silverlight only as a last resort for browser-based UIs. It has been ever since it became clear that the iPhone was going to have a sizable chunk of the phone market and that the iPad was going to dominate the tablet market for a good length of time: almost 2 years now. So it perplexed me a year ago to see the new UI for SAP's universal storefront released using Silverlight.

(The storefront is currently being rewritten in HTML5, and already displays as HTML5 on devices that don't support Silverlight, as well as in some browsers.)

With Goerke's statements, I had some hope that SAP was finally on target with its browser-based UI strategies. It would only build new browser-based UIs in HTML5, and in doing so it would get good at HTML5. Sometimes, to make a change, you've got to force yourself to make the change. It looked like SAP was going to bite the bullet and break free of Silverlight and Flash - two technologies that were holding it back on mobile, at the least. That made me happy.

Then I saw that SAP is planning to release a new tool in Q4 with (you guessed it) a browser-based Silverlight UI.

Back to waiting.

Java is the new Flash

I doubt we'll see a letter from Tim Cook on the topic, but Java will probably be the next browser extension technology to be killed off after Flash and Silverlight. Of course, these deprecations are only on mobile to date, but smartphones and tablets likely constitute a majority of computing devices sold today. If your platform isn't on mobile, you are a niche player.

iOS seems to do an excellent job demonstrating that these vestigial technologies are no longer necessary in modern browsers. At this point, for most people, all Java provides is a less secure, less performant browsing experience.