This Week in Asia Episode 15: The iPad Tsunami – Guest Star!

I had the joy being invited onto the TWIA podcast last night. Find it here:

First off I want to say thanks to the team that puts it on for inviting me. I had a great time and I hope they invite me back again. I love their interview format and the general say what you are thinking round table Skype conference call.

Until next time!

Here is the description:

Michael Smith Jr, Director YDN SE Asia from Yahoo! joins the TWIA crew as our guest for the week. The discussion centered on the aftermath of the Apple iPad after months of speculation. With the Founders’ Institute coming to Singapore following after many incubators setting up shop here, the TWIA discussion group discussed the impact on tech entrepreneurship in Singapore and overall to the other countries Indonesia and Malaysia in Southeast Asia. With Maxis opening apps store in Malaysia and China’s declaration that they have nothing to do with the attacks on Google, the crew steered ahead with an exciting week in Asia.

The US continually showing how behind the times it is…

Just coming back from the US – yes I froze my ass off – I am always surprised when I see the media playing up some cool idea that they think is novel or even innovative. Yes – the US is home to the googles, apples and 4squares but the US is not always the first place ideas are played out.

It was funny to read GigaOm today and see them touting the new Boost mobile Blackberry plan. Folks Indonesia did this sometime ago and it is one of the reasons the Blackberry is kicking butt in Indonesia. You can even buy day to day mobile plans. Some folks buy the mon-fri plan so they don’t have to deal with email on the weekends. Nice. Anyway – get in line Boost. This has been done already but it is a smart move.

Good to see puppet boy getting rewarded for running Sun into the ground. Props.

As of today this month’s stats have past last month’s stats. That’s all I can ask.

I will be in Jakarta w-fri, give me a shout if you are in town.

Next month : Roofcamp #6 in Manila.

Musings on Singapore…

In the states right now freezing and lamenting the current Cali weather. Would be one thing if I was up skiing or something but I am not. Oh well.

Good to see Nokia coming out swinging a bit. I think all the stand alone GPS guys are going to be taking another one on the chin but in the specialty market I don’t think the phone version of GPS works well. On my motorcycle for instance I would not use an iPhone, Android or a Nokia. They are not waterproof, have small buttons and I don’t want the phone ringing while riding. I picked up a Garmin for my bike and am pretty happy with it.

Those interested in developer activity in SEA should check out this list put forth by e27. Should come in quite handy!

There is a lot going on in Singapore if you are in the tech/developer/media space. I have been thinking about it a lot and decided it was time to put my thoughts out there for people to digest. Right now Singapore is my part time home. I have been in Asia close to 10 years now working in tech, consulting, hospitality, and in general just moving around experiencing the coolest region on the planet. I have lived in Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore. I have had extended stays working in Japan, China, Australia and India plus I have traveled to every part of Asia but Burma. Southeast Asia continues to be my favorite area though but the problem is most of SEA does not provide great employment choices.

For those interested there is a Barcamp happening in Burma BTW.

For those not from Singapore I don’t think many people strive to work in Singapore. It usually just happens. Most of the good expat gigs are in Hong Kong or Singapore. Those with families tend to choose Singapore and the younger singles or couples tend to choose Hong Kong. In my opinion Hong Kong is not what it used to be as China slowly bleeds it out and fills in the harbor.

Singapore is probably growing in its appeal though given the tax rates, the ease of setting up a business and the current activity in the startup/investment community. Over the last six months Singapore is getting a lot of attention as a place for startups, incubators, funds and as a regional Asia hub for all things web/tech related.

Little things make the difference, such as HackerspaceSG – of which I am a member and absolutely dig the space. I think this is the first hackerspace in SEA.

Singapore as a city/state/government has thrown huge resources into getting companies/people/investors to want to build their business dreams in Singapore. Singapore is a great place to work. From firsthand experience I can tell you that getting my employment pass and getting my government paperwork sorted was a dream. The easiest country in Asia I have dealt with. The country is connected and the internet is fine but I get a little tired of the censorship and blocked sites. Such is life. There are a lot of incentives for companies to be in Singapore and recently the government has put together some great packages for investors/incubators.

All this is great but I have always felt that startups getting funded too early and too easily makes for lazy companies. I won’t name any names but Singapore is littered with zombie startups and companies who move REAL slow. I blame the funding models for the most part and the education/entitlement system but I digress.

Just look at the activity as of late:

New Incubation Scheme: . Some commentary on that here.

Then out of the blue Joi Ito and team decide Singapore is interesting – this could be the game changer in the sense that Joi attracts a certain crowd – a certain following. Read about Neoteny to get a sense of what I mean. Can also read more about Ito and team here.

With Joi Ito now comes others – All this attention is great for Singapore and may be the secret sauce that added to the government soup could be just the meal everyone is looking for but let me offer up a contrarian view of sorts.

If Singapore could, I am sure they would put a lid over their little island and control the weather. Imagine Christmas on Orchard Road with actual snow falling and you get my drift. One cannot create an environment – they just happen.

People tend to think that the startup world or ecosystem is simply created by incubators/funding sources/spaces/entrepreneurs/coders/designers and the government climate to allow all of these people to do what they do best with as little red-tape and corruption as possible. Makes sense and in this regard let’s give Singapore an A+. Having worked and lived in other places in Asia they have done an amazing job and this makes Singapore hugely attractive.

The problem is the rest of the environment that excites/challenges/inspires people is lifestyle. This is where Singapore is lacking and I am not sure they can fix it. Most of the people around the world who are involved in startups tend to be people living an alternative lifestyle. That is just impossible in Singapore unless you plan on going to jail. Others tend to go unfunded and live cheap so they can build exactly what they want and how they want without the fear of KPI police or early stage investors calling the shots. First off – you can’t live cheap in Singapore and I have seen incubators/government with PPT slides on KPIs. The bohemian or “starving artist” lifestyle is damn near impossible unless you have parents to bunk with.

Singapore will nail the business/funding side of this equation but not sure they can fix the “lifestyle” side but maybe Joi and team can help:

Neoteny (pronounced /niːˈɒtɨniː/), also called juvenilization, is the retention, by adults in a species, of traits previously seen only in juveniles…

MSFT struggling to be relevant…

If there is one thing you have to love about the great Google heist is how much it is hurting MSFT to the core. Sure – before everyone chimes in to say MSFT still sells boatloads of Office, Windows and now xBox – they are careening towards irrelevance with winmo and they have been at this tablet thing for like 4 years now but no one cares. MSFT tablet is not defining a new marketplace – Jobs will. End of story.

So for the media to pretend that Ballmer is stealing some thunder borders on laughable. It would be better if the media told the truth – as soon as jobs unveils the new thing, call it what you will, no one will even remember what the hell a MSFT tablet is.

So Ballmer is using his only chance he has because pretty soon no one will be listening. Zune anyone?

Even funnier is the big MSFT partner is busily working on the Android tablet.

The furor over unlocked phones!

One forgets how much of a choke hold carriers have in the United States and I guess in some sense Europe. It seems the biggest thing the unwashed bloggers are talking about in the states is that you can now buy an unlocked phone. Wow. Yawning here. Folks – in Asia we have been doing this for over 10 years. I can walk up to any phone store and buy a phone unlocked and just drop my sim card in it. Sure, if I wanted to buy a subsidized phone, I might have to put up with it being locked but a simple trip to MBK(Thailand) or SimLim(Singapore) and I can pay a nominal fee to have it unlocked. Big deal.

It is funny to me that people think this is such a big thing when in reality this is just the US now experiencing what Asia has had for years. We buy phones at will, trade them, upgrade them, downgrade them and use them pretty much on any network we buy a plan for. Hell – we even get them cheaply repaired when needed. The way it should be. So I guess if the only good to come out of this Nexus overhype is that in the US one can buy an unlocked phone then cool but wow – this is just not that big of a deal folks.

Now, that may sound a bit extreme, but just look at what Google did today. They launched an unlocked phone that you can buy directly from them. Now, this first device may not have much of an impact because it’s too expensive ($529.00) for its limitations (it will only fully work on T-Mobile in the U.S.), but it’s a first step. More importantly, look at the page pictured below. Is there any question what Google is doing here? They’re taking the traditional mobile model in this country, where you first choose your carrier, and then choose your phone, and turning it upside down. It’s what Apple started with the iPhone. But Google goes farther, because they already have multiple carriers (in this case, T-Mobile and Verizon, coming this Spring).

Back to the salt mines!

Well. I had some semblance of real holiday this year. Being in the tech game I find the best part about my holidays is getting away from tech – I mean kind of. Tech is so important in life that even leisure time is made more special via technology.

I finally broke down this year and got a motorbike. For all my life I have had them but since moving to Asia some ten years ago I have been without. Sad really that I let it go this long. Anyway – 2010 looks to be a good year and I bought the bike for Christmas. Already put 800 km on it in a short time. What can I say other than BMWs are worth every penny.

ABS brakes, LED lights and lots of goodies make tech such an integral part of the experience. Since I am in Thailand I could not possibly get around with maps and street signs so of course I added a Garmin GPS and realize I could not live without it. Anyway – tech is cool stuff. Packed a bag, grabbed the Blackberry and I was on the great road exploring places in Thailand I have never seen. Awesome.

Now back to the real world.

My last post, about Google, is now one of the most read on my blog. I think many people are thinking about this subject more and more. The whole notion of being open, doing no evil and so on is an interesting topic no matter where you sit in the world of tech. I am not saying I have the answers but it all reminds me of the MSFT battle for taking over the world. Only time will reveal the answer but either way it is a hot debate.

Lots of stuff from lots of different angle. From the simple consumer side I guess most people think all this stuff from Google is amazing but for me when I look closer I see the rise of one company dominating too many important pieces end-to-end and utterly changing the face of the Internet or computing as we know it. Some of the results will be good for us all but I worry about the monopolistic position, evasions of privacy and the future ad models.

For me I think my feeling about China applies – the idea that as long as China supplies cheap capital and cheap goods the world looks the other way when it comes to human rights, freedom of speech and universal suffrage. I see Google as China and the world, the basic consumer, uses all the free stuff while turning their back on the future implications for what the rise of Google might mean when it comes to the future of the Internet.

Heady times.

Next up – is Singapore the next Silicon Valley?