‘Fastest Growing’ mobile device? That Means Nothing!

I just read an article on Flurry about Phablets being the fastest growing device type. Phablet usage grew a seemingly impressive 148% in one year. (You can read the article here)

But is it really that impressive? Should we all now rush to create apps specifically for phablets?

blog_fastestgrowingI like phablets. I am NOT comparing them to cockroaches in this comic.

Fastest Growing means nothing

Growth is measured in percentage, relative to your current size. Which means, the smaller you are, the easier it is for you to have incredibly large growth numbers.

Imagine a bored farmer starting a company to make cellphones. In the first year he makes one for himself. Then he sells one to his mother and one to his neighbor in his second year. Thus he has grown his sales by 100%. Sounds impressive, right?
(Explanation: He sold one in the first, and two in the second year.)

On the other side: If Apple, which has sold roughly 170 million iPhones in 2014 (Source here), now sold 171 million iPhones in the next year – a whopping 1 million more devices! – it would only make iPhone sales grow by 0.006%. Simply because the number was already that high.

Clearly, the farmer has the faster growing product.
But, does that mean anything? Or at least, does it mean anything good? Is a total of three devices something to celebrate?

Which company would you rather invest your money in?
What cellphone operating system would you spend your time and money developing exclusive content for?

(Of course I wish the best of luck to the farmer in his endeavors!)

Small growth can be more impressive

Growth alone doesn’t mean much. But that changes when you provide surrounding data, ideally in the form of some absolute numbers.

If you grow your company size by 10% and had 1000 employees before – congratulations! You just created 100 new jobs!.
If you increase the amount of money you give to charity each year by 100%, and you gave $3 before… not much to celebrate here.

I am getting tired of reading ‘fastest growing’ everywhere as if it was somehow impressive all by itself. If anything, big growth usually means that whatever is growing so fast is currently really quite small.

It’s the small growth numbers that are often way more interesting. Something that is already big and still manages to grow 5%-10%? Now that is actually impressive.

And if something claims to be the fastest growing industry/company/religion/tech/whatever, but then doesn’t provide any real hard numbers, things start smelling fishy.

Here is a comic by XKCD that pretty much hits it on the spot:

Back to Phablets

Don’t get me wrong – I like Flurry’s insights articles a lot. And the core of the information is perfectly fine and interesting. More and more Phablets are being bought and used. They are probably here to stay and will become a permanent and relevant part of the mobile device market.

Unfortunately the article doesn’t list any absolute numbers on how many phablets are out there, how often a day they are being used and so on. It just states that their usage is growing faster than that of iPhones in the same period. Which means nothing. Even without knowing the exact numbers I can tell that there must be a multiple times the amount of iPhones out there than phablets. That makes it hard to judge how important phablets really already are.

From a developer standpoint it probably doesn’t matter much. Phablets are in between phones and tablets in screen size, so they’ll run all apps from these two markets just fine. No need to target phablets specifically.
There’s already apps for that.

Summing it all up, I’m really just ranting.
My point: Beware when something claims to be the ‘fastest growing’ in its field.

Disclaimer

I mentioned Apple and iPhones in this article. This was purely for making a point. Neither do I promote buying Apple products, nor do I discourage from it.

Fun fact:
Did you know that Apple actually trademarked the phrase “There’s an app for that”?

Stop teaching your girls that computers are difficult!

Instead of posting another development update, today I want to talk about something that annoys the hell out of me: Parents that teach their kids that computers are difficult. This seems to happen with girls more often than with boys, but applies to both genders.

During my time at the university I worked as a network admin in our dormitory. I would help with all kinds of computer issues, but most of the time I would help students get their internet set up.

A Toy for toddlers. Simple blocks have to be put through holes. Each block will only fit through the hole with the correct shape. This toy is meant for 3 year olds or younger.

The complexity of connecting a LAN cable to a computer.

Sure, there was the occasional male student who complained about me blocking his port just because he forgot to turn off his DHCP server and trapped half the dorm’s occupants in his own network. But the vast majority of people coming to me during office hours to get help were female. But this post is not about whether girls need more help than men, or just don’t have as much of a problem asking for help. This is about what they said to me.

I don’t know anything about computers
Practically all of them repeated the same line: “I really don’t know anything about computers.” – usually followed by “It’s too complicated for me.” It sounded the same every time. It felt rehearsed, learned off by heart, like a mantra. Then they stepped aside and waited for me to do my thing, with no interest in learning how to do it themselves.

I am proud to say that I successfully fought the urge to grab them by the hair and show them that there really is only ONE SINGLE opening on their computers that the LAN cable could even fit into. Two year old kids can solve toys where they need to fit shapes into matching openings, so I am sure these college students would have been able to do it. But they were so convinced they couldn’t, that they didn’t even try.

My personal highlight were two french girls that were exchange students at my university. They tried to reach their dial-up internet provider (in France!) from the dormitory – using the network outlet instead of the phone line. The language barrier stopped me from getting them to understand the difference, and that they were trying to make an international phone call just to get online. But I tried my best to explain to them that we offered free internet inside the dorm and even lend them two of my own LAN cables (which they never bothered to return by the way). Care to guess what they told me (in broken english)? “Oh, we don’t know about ze computerz.” They too were convinced computers were too complicated for them.

Kids just repeat what the parents say
And you know what? I am really not angry at any of these girls. I am angry at the parents for teaching them this bullshit. All my female friends in school were repeating that same line over and over without ever questioning it. “Computers are too complicated for me.”. Their parents had taught it to them. What a bang up job, telling your kids they aren’t smart enough for something!

In High School my best friend’s dad wouldn’t even let her use their family’s computer at home – despite her being in computer science class! (Side note: If I remember correctly she also was the only other girl in computer science class aside from myself.) She knew how to program the darn thing, but yet, at home she wasn’t allowed to use it, because she was a girl. Oh yes – her brother was allowed on the machine. At least until he broke it.

Don’t Tell Your Kids!
Computers are not that complicated. Trust me. Things are only difficult until you learn how to use them. If you read this and you ever have kids, do me a favour. Under no circumstances ever tell them that a computer (or math for that matter) is complicated. It will discourage them from even trying. I have met the grown-up versions of these little kids and can attest to that.

So even if you think of computers (or math) as black magic that can only be operated by specialists, don’t share your opinions with your kids. It doesn’t even matter if your kid is male or female. Just keep it to yourself and let them decide on their own.

Final Note
After re-reading this I feel like I should call up my mom right now and tell her thank you. While my dad kept insisting that paper worked just fine for him, she dragged all kinds of computers and gaming consoles into our house. She was also the one who bought me my first Commodore 64 when I was eleven – along with a box of games and my very first programming book. I would not have become a software engineer if it hadn’t been for that. So thank you, mom.