Habrainterview with Alexander Zudin (Paragon Software)

    On questions Habrahabr audience said Alexander Zudin - unit manager Paragon Software smart mobile devices. For 15 years they have been making software for various mobile platforms. Many people remember their Russification of Newton (in the interview we are talking about how they got Apple access to the kernel of the operating system). We asked Alexander to share his opinion on where the market is going now, why there is such chaos among mobile platforms and when endless technological revolutions will end.

    How do you evaluate the activities of Google in the market of operating systems and, in particular, mobile devices?

    You need to be well aware of the challenges Google has set for itself in the mobile device market. The primary goal of maximizing the reduction in the share of competing platforms and stripping the market has so far been extremely successful. However, this is not an end in itself. Google is set for the market of mobile and geo-targeting advertising, as well as mobile services - these goals are quite far from the goals of mobile hardware manufacturers.

    Everyone remembers an example of problems with the second version of the Android OS, for which the first models simply did not have enough memory. And this is only the tip of the iceberg of contradictions between the manufacturers of iron and Google. Historically successful in the mobile market were only manufacturers offering a “cocktail” of software and iron in one glass - Apple Newton, RIM (BlackBerry), Palm, Nokia, now Apple. Android does not fit into this outline, and now it is very difficult to predict its future.

    The modern mobile market is so unpredictable that, I think, Google itself does not have a clear strategy even two years ahead and operates rather on the “actual weather”, clearly understanding that for it the obvious money lies in the plane of expanding its extremely successful advertising and search business into the mobile ecosystem. This is a huge market that exceeds any conceivable earnings of iron producers. In addition, in this market, Google has a huge reserve. I don’t think that complete clarity will come earlier than the fate of Nokia, which is also very actively trying to shift from the field of iron production to the field of services and related ecosystems, becomes clear. Any forecasts in this area for today I would equate to forecasts of the cost of oil or the euro.

    Which of the operating systems for which Paragon software does, in your opinion, is the most promising? Maybe Android?

    It's hard to talk about it. Back in February 2010, no one could predict the death of Windows Mobile, which had so long occupied a tangible part of the market. Now few people can confidently say that, for example, in 2 years Symbian phones will remain on the market or, for example, the iPhone will not share the fate of the once super-popular Palm OS, as well as the very bright but short life of Sony Ericsson. It is more correct to make software for all mobile platforms - this significantly reduces the profitability of the business, but ensures that the market leader is not left without attention.

    Are you planning to release products for webOS? If so, when, if not - why?

    Unfortunately not. It does not make economic sense. The number of devices and the potential market are too small. We simply won’t be able to make money, which with our extremely accurate strategy is tantamount to a cross on the platform.

    How do you assess the prospects of the mobile software market?

    In the medium term - extremely restrained. The problem is that the mobile market is extremely unstable - a tendency towards an almost complete change in the rules of the game every two years has clearly emerged. This does not allow building marginally stable business processes, and, rather, reduces the position of the players in this market to survival tactics and stabilization expectations. If a couple of years ago it seemed that the equilibrium was more or less found, it is now clear that the market is undergoing complete restructuring without any hint of constancy.

    None of the current mobile platforms has a sustainable development model that will certainly work over the next two to three years. It is only encouraging that the revolution taking place on the mobile market testifies to the actual start of explosive market growth and its transition to the mass market category. In the long run, players who manage to occupy a significant segment of the mobile market will be able to count on tangible growth based on its extensive increase. Understanding that the market now has an average of 9-10 mobile platforms (Windows Mobile, Palm / Webos, Java, Symbian, Bada, iOs, BlackBerry, Android, MeeGo), we can safely expect a multiple increase in the share of a particular platform with market stabilization to one two main. Now, from my point of view, the most correct in the mobile market is medium-term investment tactics,

    We deduced, in mathematical terms, Paragon's lemma. It says that the number of buyers of a cross-platform mobile application does not change significantly at a sufficient time interval when a new platform or the death of an old platform is released. There is only a redistribution of users of this application between platforms. Understanding this, and the fact that smartphones have not yet become a mass market, it can be argued that the prospects are very good. The only question is how much time and investment will be required to achieve good profitability in the mobile market.

    In your company, the sales volume for mobile platforms is close to the volume of sales of licenses for desktop systems?

    Up to market fluctuations over years, comparable values. However, it is worth noting that recently the mobile business has led us to enter the electronic publishing market, which is no longer limited to mobile platforms, including today Mac OS, ordinary Windows systems, in the near future products for Linux, as well as on-line Services. In this regard, the share of revenue from mobile products in recent years has been falling, while the share of turnover attributable to the SHDD (Smart Handheld Devices division) Paragon Software, which is constantly adapting to the market and changing the focus of its activities, remains quite stable.

    How did a simple graduate of the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology succeed in achieving such success? Maybe open a secret?

    Frankly, I am far from such a statement of the question. I have many classmates from my course at MIPT who have achieved much more from both a professional and a commercial point of view.

    I do not yet have an inner feeling that I managed to create something unique or special. We are simply doing what we were taught at the institute, namely systemic and applied programming in projection onto a completely new, mobile ecosystem. And this is interesting. And the commercial aspect in this sense is important mainly from the point of view of ensuring the growth of our capabilities, which will allow us to do even more interesting projects.

    We have several long-term research projects, but the results that we have today are still far from those that could be called aloud success. We managed to create a stable and organically growing structure that learned to adapt to the constantly changing situation in the mobile market, and, which is very important, is albeit minimal, but profitable. However, so far we cannot build a stable model that would provide us with a stable, more than average market margin and allow us to talk about significant capitalization of the company.

    The success of an IT company, from my point of view, is measured by its market capitalization, expressed in any form: from a private purchase offer to public capitalization. Before that, most likely, we can talk only about subjective opinions, or about ideological slogans. In the meantime, those estimates of the value of the company that we received from the market in the face of serious buyers and investors are 2 or more times different from the internal vision of value. If we can achieve a balance of market demand for the company's assets and their external valuation, this will be a success in my understanding. The market has not yet given such an indicator of success.

    How did it all start? You graduated from the university ... how did you assemble the team? What was the first program? How did you earn your first money? How did you come up with the ideas of your programs?

    The company itself was formed by students during their studies at MIPT. If we talk about the mobile direction, it was initiated by Viktor Alekseevich Lopatin, who at that time worked in KAMI. In 1995, when Paragon already existed, he invited us to work on the Russification of Newton. This was our first project. Next, we made Russification, and then simply organically continued to engage in projects for new mobile platforms, which led us to utilities, handwriting recognition and dictionaries.

    The idea of ​​dictionaries for mobile computers, as well as the idea of ​​a handwriting system, came to us from projects related to localization - all this was required for the normal Russification of mobile devices that were supplied to the Russian market. This is not as romantic as it might seem, but seriously dealing with dictionaries, utilities and recognition, we have gone quite far - today Paragon is a leader in this technological segment of the mobile software market.

    Utilities by and large have arisen from Epocware division which developed programs for the Psion / EPOC platform. Then there was no fax functionality, adding which as an application program, we got a good example of how you can make money in this market.

    Did you start as a developer? Then became the Program Manager? Tell us about your career.

    Initially, I wrote programs for Newton, and was in my sole person the seed of our mobile department. Prior to this, I wrote programs in Assembler, working for Fiztekhsoft. In particular, I wrote the Calculator, which is part of PTS-DOS. And after that I became the ideologist and leader of all the developments that we have on mobile platforms, because it was interesting to me. Paragon at that time was exclusively a desktop company, all other resources were occupied by existing projects.

    Something I do not remember Russified Newton. If I'm not mistaken - Paragon did all the text recognition on Newton, and there it worked like that - it seems to me that so far no one has been able to surpass Newton's interface when working with handwritten text?

    Here it is necessary to separate flies from cutlets: Newton at the platform level very poorly succumbed to Russification. I have a longtime friend, Richard Northcott, the head and owner of Enfour, a Japanese company. They have always been very close to Apple, since it was they who made the main contribution to the creation of the first Japanese fonts for “poppies”. Apple is a terribly closed organization, and Richard was the only person in the world who managed to convince them to give him access to the core of Newton OS and make localization. Based on its “patch”, we made the core of Russian localization. Only this “patch” allowed the interface to be completely translated. Apple itself did not make either New Japanese or Japanese localization of Newton - they were made by Enfour and Paragon, respectively, on the basis of a patch developed by Enfour.

    Regarding the recognition system, the English version for Newton was made not by Paragon, but by “Paragraph” - the names are similar and this often confuses us. Their system is called Calligrapher, and ours is called PenReader. There was no Russian version of Calligrapher at that time, and we started creating a system for recognizing Russian handwritten text, taking in Paragon, with the help of Victor Alekseevich Lopatin, one of the engineers of the team that was engaged in handwriting recognition problems at the Institute of Fine Mechanics. The achievements of this particular team formed the basis of the Paragraph system.

    Regarding the Newton interface, I would not say that it was very convenient. Over the years, it becomes clear that any pen-based interface is not very convenient. Newton, most likely, was the breakthrough that Apple managed to develop in the iPhone. But at that time there was neither technology, nor the element base, on the basis of which it would be possible to implement what Apple is doing on the iPhone.

    You Russified Newton OS, in 2004 you made handwriting on Microsoft Tablet PC, now you work with Apple iPad. Don't you think that history is developing in a spiral and the iPad is, in a way, a repetition of old ideas?

    Paragon is a technology company. The basis of our products in the direction of system utilities, and in the direction of mobile business are technologies. PenReader is our key technology, the main goal of which is to achieve the best quality in the world for recognizing natural (fused), living (that is, received from the pen, and not from the scanner) handwritten text. Platforms come and go. Our task is to be a technological leader in this field.

    We are actively working with a wide range of clients who need handwriting recognition and analysis technologies: from organizations that study the characteristics of human handwriting for various purposes (pedagogical organizations, law enforcement agencies), to car manufacturers that require our unique technological capabilities. Retail products are also important to us - we have released and will continue to release them for all new platforms. This summer, the long-awaited version for Symbian, the version for Android and, of course, for the iPad and iPhone should be released. True, in the latter two, functionality will be limited, since iOs are very closed, unlike the Android system. Integrating handwriting recognition into it is very difficult.

    As for the development spiral, I think the reality is that neither Apple, nor Google, nor anyone else knows the situation ahead. So far, it can be argued that the idea of ​​the Tablet PC has completely failed in the form in which Bill Gates presented it with fanfare. It should be understood that the iPad is not a tablet in the classical sense. This device, technically being just a big iPhone, basically “attacks” such growing market niches as “readers” of books and some home use scenarios of laptops. Everything else is just the expectations of Apple, as, indeed, and Google, which seek to grope the trend in the tablet market. Apple's current sales figures cannot yet serve as confirmation that the right solution has been found. I would say that the market is actively looking for new form factors. It's too early to talk about the results.

    In my opinion, the “tablet epidemic” is an echo of the mobile revolution that is happening now. The market is so hungry for mobile innovations that it forces companies to be active even in segments adjacent to mobile, which leads to the next round of the “tablet race”.

    I think that the mobile spiral, at least with respect to operating systems, has a simple end called fuel cell. If we remove the restriction imposed by the battery life and the processor power limit that follows it, the question of which mobile OS is better will disappear by itself. Since almost all the known troubles of mobile OSs are based on the restrictions imposed by the battery life, or by the processor / memory, which again reduces it.

    The question of the interface and usability of mobile devices related to the small screen size quickly settles down, as is the case with Mac OS / Windows. In addition, the market is quickly standardized - there will be one or two, but rather, as in the case of Windows, a single dominant OS. An ecosystem known to us from the “desktop world” will already be built around it - here development will go by leaps and bounds, and will not wander through the dense forest of slow evolution, as is happening now. All this threatens the inevitable demise of all the mobile monsters of the present (Apple, BlackBerry, Nokia, Samsung), but users will only benefit from this. The only question is when the fuel cell will become acceptable enough for the market so that it can be widely used in mobile phones.

    What mobile devices do you personally use?

    Lenovo X200Tablet and Nokia E71 laptop. If with a laptop, which no one has yet come up with a replacement for, everything is clear, then the E71 today (except for the E72, which, in essence, is a slightly improved version of the E71) is still the best phone from my point of view.

    I still do not understand the meaning of the iPhone, and of many other phones on which I cannot simultaneously work with my mail in working Outlook, write SMS, watch Yandex or Google traffic abroad, listen to Ovi Maps commands, watch in open gmail, and at the same time "chat" with someone on Skype, being in a traffic jam. Yes, all this, launched together, sometimes overloads the phone, but I also like that it perfectly synchronizes via Bluetooth with the built-in telephone system in my car (which I could not achieve with other phones). I can completely control it from the steering wheel (with the exception of searching for difficult contacts), it holds a charge, receives a signal well, falls practically onto the concrete floor or in snow, its microphone does not deteriorate from close shots when someone calls me during training. Clearly aware of its shortcomings, at the moment I do not see an alternative that would be significantly better. Recently, being in our American office and going to the Apple Shop, I almost succumbed to the hysteria prevailing around the iPhone 4G. However, at that time there was only the possibility of pre-order, and 10 minutes were enough for me to cool off to this idea.

    My wife wants an iPhone 4G for herself, but it seems to me one hundred percent female craving for topical accessories, and not an informed choice. So far, unfortunately, I do not even see for myself a device that could replace the E71. Perhaps the keyboard version of N8, but certainly not Android - I have no soul for it. Of the prototypes that were in my hands, Samsung Wave really impressed me. Mainly due to the fantastic screen. We are currently conducting quite active developments for the Bada platform. If you manage to collect the full set of utilities I need (I haven’t even tried to play with Bada yet), namely: a normal calendar, browser, Outlook mobile client, Skype, Yandex and Google Maps, sane analogue of OVI maps, OTA contact and calendar synchronization - I do not exclude that for the first time in my life I will have a Samsung phone.

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