Steve Jobs and the Lean Startup

Steve JobsOn my 25 minute train journey to work each morning I like to pass the time by reading. The two most recent books I’ve read are The Lean Startup: How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries and Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (both links contain an affiliate id). Although one is a biography and the other is a book on project management they actually cover similar ground, and both are books that people working in technology should read.

Walter Isaacson’s book has been extensively reviewed and dissected so I’m not going to go into detail on it. The book is roughly divided into two halves. The first section is on the founding of Apple, Pixar and NeXT. This section serves an inspirational guide to setting up your own company. The joy of building a great product and defying the odds against a company succeeding comes across very strongly. The later section following Job’s return to Apple is a much more about the nuts and bolts of running a huge corporation. While it’s an interesting guide to how Apple got to where it is today, it lacks the excitement of the earlier chapters.

Eric Ries - The Lean Startup, London EditionThe Lean Startup could, rather unkindly, be described as a managerial technique book. It’s much more than that though as it’s more of a philosophy for how to run company or a project. The book is very readable and engaging with plenty of useful case studies to illustrate the point being made. The key message of the book is to get your product out to customers as soon as possible, to measure as much as you can and learn from what your customers are doing and saying. As you learn you need to make a decision on whether to persevere or to pivot, and change strategy.

There are many reasons why Steve Jobs was a great leader, a visionary and a terrible boss. One aspect was his unshakable belief that he knew what the customer wanted, even before they knew themselves. This is the antithesis of the Lean Startup methodology, which focuses on measurement and learning. Eric Ries stresses that a startup is not necessarily two guys working out of a garage. Huge multinational corporations can have speculative teams or projects inside them, that act much like start ups, so it wouldn’t be impossible for the Apple of today to act like a start up. Apple weren’t always huge though, and back in the 1970s they really were a start up.

One Apple trait the Lean Startup methodolgy doesn’t allow for is dramatic product launches. The Lean Startup is a way of working that relies on quick iteration and gradually building up your customer base. It’s hard to quickly iterate when building hardware, but early in Apple’s life they were struggling to find a market for their computers. The Apple I follow the trend of the time of build-it-yourself computers. Just a year later and Apple released the Apple ][ which came with a case and was much more suitable for the average consumer. This represents a pivot on the part of Apple. They could have continued to focus on hobbyists but instead they decided to change and aim for a bigger, but less technical, market.

Reading is a key part of becoming a better programmer. Whether it’s reading about the latest technology on a blog, the latest project management techniques or the history of computers reading will help you become better at your job. I’m not sure I recommend anyone tries to recreate Steve Job’s management style, but as a history of Apple Walter Isaacson’s book is inspirational and informative. The Lean Startup is considerably more practical, even if it won’t inspire you to set a company in the first place.

Photo of Steve Jobs by Ben Stanfield.
Photo of Eric Ries – The Lean Startup, London Edition by Betsy Weber.

iPhone 4S

Apple Store - LondonThis weekend I joined the hysterical masses and upgraded my increasingly ancient iPhone 3G to a shiny new 64GB iPhone 4S. Except that it was actually a bit of an anticlimax. I went into my local O2 shop at about 10:30am on Saturday morning, the day after the launch, and purchased a phone. No queueing, no raging hoards. I didn’t even have to shove a granny out of the way to get one. However, after handing over my credit card while cringing at the expense it was back home to enjoy the famous Apple unboxing experience.

I wish I’d never upgraded my 3G to iOS 4.2. Up until that point it was a great phone. Afterwards it was slow and applications would repeated crash on start up. Did I mention it was slow?

It’s hard to express just how much quicker the 4S is compared to my 3G. Often just typing my the passcode would be too quick for the 3G and it would miss one of the numbers forcing me to go back. No danger of this with the 4G though. Application starting, browsing the web, taking photos are all super speedy.

Although it’s the same as the iPhone 4 the screen is still incredible. It’s so bright and sharp it’s really a joy to use. It really comes into its own when browsing webpages that are designed for bigger screens. The extra detail really helps you to work out where to zoom in.

The camera is also much improved, and I’m sure the addition of video compared to my old 3G will come in useful. I brought iMovie and that seems like an easy way to put together some short videos of my holidays. I haven’t had much of a chance to experiment with this aspect of the phone properly yet, but I can imagine that where carrying equipment is a problem it will replace my DSLR as my primary camera. I’m sure I’ll have more to say on this topic when I’ve been out and about for a while.

Robots only eat old peopleI don’t intend to make this an in depth review of the phone, there are many hundreds of better places that you could go to for that. One feature that I can’t not talk about is Siri. I struggle to see why, for a non-blind user, you would use it after playing with it for a bit. If you are blind then dictating is clearly a huge help, and the biggest surprise for me is the quality of the voice recognition. I don’t have a strong accent so I suppose that if it didn’t work for me then it wouldn’t work for anyone. Still though, for someone who hasn’t used voice recognition for ten years it’s amazing just how far it has come.

There’s lots of talk online about the funny answers that Siri comes up with if you ask it question like “What’s the meaning of life?” It’s certainly to Apple’s credit that they’ve given it so much personality and it’s not just a bland robot. These questions are not a long term use case though.

Where Siri really succeeds is as an interface to Wolfram Alpha. Like most people when Wolfram Alpha was launched I played with it for a bit and then forgot about it. The ability to say things like “What’s the distance from the Earth to the Moon?” and have Siri return the correct answer is quite amazing. People are used to typing a few words into Google but Wolfram Alpha needs a bit more than that. A voice interface seems so much more natural and is probably Siri’s killer application.

Unfortunately as I’m in the UK Siri doesn’t do mapping or business search for me. Roll on 2012 when that is supposed to be added.

It’s early days yet, but I’ve fallen in love with my phone all over again.

Photo of Apple Store – London by nabekor. Photo of Robots only eat old people by Mark Strozier.


This weekend, the day after the iPad was released in the UK, I went into an Apple store and had a play with an iPad for a few minutes. My first reaction was surprise was that I was able to get access to an iPad so quickly. When I tried the same for the iPhone I had to give up as it was taking too long to queue. That’s probably down to the time of day rather than the popularity of the device though.

Much has been made of the iPad being a jumped up iPod Touch, and when the iPad was announced I was disappointed that it didn’t run Mac OS X. Having played with the device though I’m inclined to think that it was a good move. When they release the upcoming version 4 operating system with its background processing capabilities most criticisms will no longer be valid.

The iPad is usually described as a content consumption device, rather than a content creation device. That’s not quite true, as I could quite happily type this blog post using an iPad. However, as a webdeveloper in both a professional and a hobbyist capacity it is impossible to imagine using the iPad to create anything that complicated.

At the moment I have a large, dual screen, pc which is on most of the time while I’m at home. I might be sat on the sofa watching the TV, but my pc is on an whirring quite loudly a short distance away. The reason it’s on is so that I can check facebook, my email or google reader without having to wait a couple of minutes for it to switch on. It is exactly this sort use that the iPad will excel at. It is also the what the vast majority of computers are used for.

With an iPad my main computer could be off unless I want to actually do something constructive with my pc. As the iPad turns on instantly and has a long battery life it can live on my coffee table and be accessed as and when it’s needed. This is greener and will save me money on my electricity bill, although just how long it would take me to save enough money to claw back the purchase price I’m not sure. You’re probably talking on the order of decades though!

I’m an almost complete cloud computing convert. I use GMail for my email. I read my RSS feeds using Google Reader and create documents and spreadsheets using Google Docs, and I store my photos online using Flickr. All bar the last of these are supported easily by the iPad. The inability to plugin in my camera and upload photos to Flickr means that even for my parents, their current computer won’t be going anywhere.

If this blog post sounds like someone who is trying to convince themselves to buy an iPad, then you’re probably right. Unfortunately my upcoming wedding means that I’ve had to put my planned iPhone 4 purchase this summer on hold. I’ll just have to tell myself that the iPad 2 will be even better…