Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Tesco to sell Apple iPhone on Tesco Mobile tariffs

This morning Tesco Mobile announced that Tesco would be selling the Apple iPhone with Tesco Mobile SIM cards and tariffs.

Our push to get Tesco Finder (and soon, Tesco Grocery Shopper) into the Apple iTunes App Store was because of our desire to bring customers a great mobile experience of Tesco services in the knowledge that this news was coming (yes, I have to agree to 'vows of silence' on some topics of business sensitivity, even on this blog!).

The press release from Tesco Mobile:

25th November 2009

Tesco Mobile through its joint venture partnership with O2 is pleased to announce that it will shortly introduce iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS in Tesco Phone Shops and online through Tesco Direct in the UK.

For further information and for customers interested in pre-registration please visit

For more information on iPhone, please visit
More information can be found on Tesco Mobile at

News about our announcement (you can get more news from search engines):

Tesco Mobile hope to get iPhones in stock before Christmas, which us insiders can best describe as 'Splendid'!

Friday, 20 November 2009

iPhone for all my internet / comms when away on business? 4 out of 5.

At the start of the week I told you that I would spend 48 hours abroad on business with only my iPhone for all communications and internet connectivity. I award the experience a surprisingly good 4 out of 5.

The need for this experiment came as a result of wanting only to carry hand luggage onto the EasyJet flight, and finding that no amount of compression would get all my clothes, bathroom stuff and laptop into the 55 x 45 x 20 cm flight case. Here's how I got on:

  1. Taking off from London Luton airport, the iPhone plays the gritty drama Brit movie London To Brighton which was worked very well on the small screen although I did have to zoom in once or twice to see the looks on the characters' faces to check if they were frightened or not! Great sound even if the surround element is reduced to stereo. I rate this experience 4/5
  2. When I land at Berlin Schoenefeld airport I receive the first of several solemn text message warnings from O2 not to override the automatic data-roaming bar the iPhone has turned on, otherwise it was going to cost £3 per MB. To have downloaded the 700MB London to Brighton movie file directly from iTunes store over the 3G network in Germany would have cost me £2,100. Zooming in on my face looking at such a bill would have been London To Brighton -worthy indeed. Nice to be told up front. 5/5.
  3. Arriving in my room at the InterContinental hotel causes my first shock - they only have wired internet. The 19.99 euro proposed daily bill is my second shock. No internet in the bedroom, then. 1/5
  4. Reading the hotel guide reveals that Wifi is available in the lobby and Marlene's Bar lounge. Arrive to discover that the first hour is free! Email is quickly brought up to date. 5/5
  5. In Marlene's Bar I use Skype to call home, first to the landline and then we quickly switch over to Brin's computer for a free Skype-to-Skype call. Very high quality audio but I have to remember to keep still and not wander round as the Wifi signal varies in strength greatly. I forget and the call drops. However it beats the 35p/minute cost of calling over the cellular network, and I use the saving to drink beer whilst on the Skype call. 4/5
  6. I like to spend an hour most nights grazing over my favourite news and blog sites. This works well for a while but the small screen begins to strain my eyes. The constant tapping, pinching and finger-scrolling to zoom the pages around gives me hand-ache and I uncover a new form of potential repetitive strain injury. Give up for a while. 3/5
  7. I find an app called 'Berlin City' that is a complete guide to using the U-Bahn and S-line rail stations. It can find my nearest station based on location and animatedly travels along the lines to a destination station I enter, so I can familairise myself with the route. It even has a whole list of tourist attractions to navigate me to. Best of all, it is a self-contained application and doesn't need any network connection. And it's free. Fantastic! 5/5
  8. If my phone changes cellular provider, I get a fresh text warning from O2 about the costs of roaming. OK you've told me already! 3/5

So overall I rate the experience as 4 out of 5. If I was staying for much longer I would have started to miss the bigger laptop screen. However if I was staying for much longer I would take hold luggage so the problem would not there anyway - there's only so many clothes you can compress into a flight case even if you do sit on it to zip it up.

So if you're on a 45 hour business excursion, try leaving the laptop at home and eek your communications out of your smartphone. Worth it for the experience!

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Europeans lead the way with Delivery

In Berlin I learned two things:
  1. Britain (and USA) is quite some way ahead of central Europe when it comes to e-commerce service on the web, and
  2. We are way behind on the actual mechanisms of delivery. That is, of getting the products to the customer at the time most convenient to them.

I can always tell the moment when the content of my presentation finds its home in a delegate’s mind. First they slant their head to one side whilst staring the PowerPoint slide, and start to tap their lip with their pen. Then they straighten their head up, and frown a little. Next, they stop frowning and nod ever so slightly. Finally they jot down a few words. If they have a colleague they will turn to them and whisper something. Their colleague will then either nod immediately, or otherwise tap a pen on their own lips and follow the procedure of their colleague on this path to enlightenment.

That’s how I know my speech on Monday (talking about APIs, inspiration through collaboration, mobile devices, and listening to customers) resonated with many in the conference room. It’s also how it began to dawn on me that few of them had thought much about innovation at the ‘front end’. Talk of inspiration (using family, friends, and trusted sources such as a favorite TV cookery show), yielded quite a few nods, and talking about the’s API had most heads animated.

I thought I did quite well as the speech seemed to be well received, so it was a couple hours before I, as a delegate now, began to realise something and start to tap my pen on my lips...

The central European countries know how to deliver to customers. They always have. Germany’s Deutsche Post, and MOVE (Mail Order Valley of Europe, centred in Lille, France) are all part of a coordinated, disciplined, flexible postal delivery system that is the envy of the world. This is simply because these countries grew up trading with their neighbours to build their economies. Most residents of border towns think nothing of travelling to the next country to do their shopping, Indeed, the European Union was born of the desire to standardise tax, monetary units and whole economies so that trading could be made as simple and as easy as possible. Compare this to the ‘island nation’ mentality of us Brits who think that ‘Europe’ is the place over the water and quite a journey.

For Europeans, e-commerce is simply another way of selling over distance, which they are all used to. In the UK we always think of ‘delivery slots’ and conclude that a company allowing you to decide if you wish to have the delivery in the ‘morning, afternoon, or evening’ is amazing.

Most Central Europeans don’t have to make that sort of decision. With many companies, the customer gives a date/time they want a delivery. That request is sent off in real-time to a form of ‘bourse’ (a stock-exchange style market) and back comes a set of companies willing to make that delivery, and the price they are asking. The customer either selects one of the companies or, if the cost is too much, increases the width of the delivery window and asks again.

For example, I want a book delivered tomorrow at 3:30pm. In Central Europe, this request goes off to the ‘bourse’ and it comes back that two companies are willing to deliver between 3:15pm and 3:45pm, one for €8 and one for €10. Too much, so I extend the window to an hour either side of 3:30pm. Now I’m getting €5 average. Extend the window to the whole day and I’ll pay just €1.50. See the market at work here? Behind the ‘bourse’ is a whole network of companies from couriers on bikes to large vans. Computer trading systems links their various vehicles’ locations, capacity and availability to a market system which trades delivery orders. It’s absolutely fantastic (in theory anyway) and proof that Europe has thought this through.

Many smaller e-commerce companies in the UK rely on the Royal Mail. Ha! Can someone set up a ‘bourse’ for us all, please?

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Keynote speech at Berlin European Online Retail Conference

Tomorrow morning I'm giving a keynote speech at the European Online Retail Conference in Berlin (link goes to Microsoft English translation of German site). Called ' and the Fourth Screen', my presentation explores new thinking on how to bring grocery shopping to customers using a new, challenging idea: Make it effortless for customers.

I've always admired the trustworthiness and integrity of e-commerce conducted throughout western Europe so I was delighted to accept the invitation from Germany's The Conference Group to give my presentation to a genuinely interesting group of about 300 top companies.

When I agree to accept a speaking engagement it is always at zero cost to Tesco and also involves being sure I can gain as much insight as possible (and ideally more than I give, ha!). With the sort of companies attending tomorrow this will, I think, be plain sailing.

My presentation contains very similar content to the speech I gave at the recent IMRG Members' Meeting in October, and the T-JAM innovation event in August. I really should make a video and put it up here! A project for Christmas, perhaps...

Update: I've decided not to take my laptop with me so I take only hand luggage onto Easyjet. That means I'm relying on my iPhone for all I'm doing. Scary but worth the experiment for the 48 hours I'm away. Well hey, I've just updated this blog entry on it while sat in Luton Airport's departure lounge!

Friday, 13 November 2009

Out At Tesco - and I'm staffing the Tesco stand at Careers Show

Sorry for this off-topic message but, in the light of feedback concerning the announcement of Tesco’s new staff network “Out At Tesco” (of which I am a committee member), I am taking the opportunity here to help readers understand why such a network exists and to announce that I will be hosting the Tesco stand at a recruitment fair taking place next Friday 20th November in Covent Garden, London (so come and say hello!).

I will be staffing the Tesco stand at the Diversity Careers Show on Friday 20 November 2009, 11.00am to 5.30pm at the Grand Connaught Rooms, London. More info at

What ever your diversity, I’ll hope to see you there!

Yesterday, Tesco announced that a new staff network was now officially launched (see further down this post for the original message from our Communications team).

Called “Out At Tesco’, the network invites lesbian, gay, biexual and transgender members of Tesco staff to join. The network’s web site is at

Several well meaning straight colleagues have asked me, “What is this new lesbian & gay network and why has one been set up?” It’s often difficult to describe to people who have never considered hiding their private lives from their work colleagues because of a fear (real or imagined) that they will be stereotyped or possibly discriminated against.

Many gay people have in the past hidden their non-work lives away for this reason. This has led to some not even trying for a promotion because they fear they will have to ‘expose’ more about their lives than they want to.

We all know how it goes: as we join a team and get to know our colleagues, we naturally like to ask about lives outside Tesco. Yet how many of us who are gay have referred to our partners as ‘they’ rather than ‘he’ or ‘she’?

We find that the best way to help people overcome their prejudices is to have a conscious awareness that gay colleagues are working alongside them, and that the company (through the ‘Everyone Is Welcome At Tesco’ initiative) is taking our initiative very seriously.

‘Out At Tesco’ is all about raising awareness of gay people in our organisation; that ‘we are here’ and that we are welcome at Tesco too. It also highlights to gay staff that they ‘have a place to go’ to find friendship, mentoring, and social activities in their branch or office and across the company.

I will be mentoring gay colleagues to apply for promotions or new roles that they have not had the confidence to do so before. My mentoring helps to give them the mental tools to “be themselves”. They are, after all, normal worthy people but whose self-confidence may have suffered at the hands of prejudice, and they need to overcome this extra hurdle that their straight colleagues have never encountered.

However, we draw the line at positive discrimination. Once you (have the confidence to) apply for a new role, the ‘playing field’ is level for all applicants, and the best candidate will get the job. Simple as that.

Why is Tesco doing this? Simple; we want to recruit and retain the best people who can help our organisation. We also want to recruit a workforce that reflects our customers. We strive to understand customers better than anyone else, so it helps that our staff reflect our customer base, whether internationally or serving their store’s local community.

Perhaps now you being to understand why we take our slogan, ‘every little helps’ so seriously. It focuses our energies in everything we do - and that includes our staff.

Sorry to be off-topic but I felt this was important - let’s get back to the tech.

Subject: Launch of "Out at Tesco" Network
From: Internal Communications
Sent: 12 November 2009 16:54

For information to all staff

We are delighted to announce the launch of the "Out at Tesco" Network for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) staff.

We live the Values by making sure everybody feels welcome at Tesco and ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to get on regardless of their ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability or sexual orientation. The Out at Tesco Network has been formed to attract, support and develop gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, by helping to create an environment in which they feel safe being themselves at work, whether or not they choose to be open about their sexuality.

The network organises regular networking and social events, has plans to roll out a mentoring service, and connects LGBT employees with each other. It also works to raise funds for the Tesco Charity of the Year.

The network has been set up by The Diversity Council on behalf of Everyone's Welcome at Tesco. Retail Services CEO and main board director Andrew Higginson has agreed to sponsor the network across the Group. Tesco Bank CEO Benny Higgins will provide senior sponsorship in Scotland, and Business Development Director Daniel Gilsenan, who is openly gay, will act as the Network's senior mentor.

Membership and participation in the Network is open to all employees, and is completely confidential. If you are interested to know more or get involved we encourage you to visit the Network's website at, or contact them by email in confidence to

Monday, 9 November 2009

New Version of RedLaser uses only published iPhone APIs

After I put out a request for technologies that could use the iPhone's camera to scan barcodes without having to call unpublished API methods, I have been contacted by Jeffrey Powers, co-founder of Occipital, the company behind the RedLaser technology.

Jeffrey has informed me that there is a just-released version of RedLaser that only uses published iPhone API calls:
"I thought you would like to know that RedLaser, as an algorithm, has nothing to do with unpublished APIs, but that video processing in general is currently impossible without unpublished API use. We have some confidence that Apple will course-correct on this issue with their next OS update.

In the meantime, we do have a version of RedLaser that avoids this problem which became publicly available as of yesterday. It uses what we call "Photo-Burst" instead of the unpublished API, which means it takes a couple of snapshots very rapidly and then processes those momentarily. At the core it still uses RedLaser's state of the art barcode recognition, and it still works on all iPhone models. ("
Thanks for the update and the new version, Jeffrey. I am happy to point people excited by your innovative use of the phone's camera to scan barcodes, that they can use a version that Apple are not likely to reject.

So, we're back on track with Tesco Finder's technology upgrade then!

Friday, 6 November 2009

Barcode scanning for iPhone - anyone help?

Regular readers will know about our desire to take Tesco Finder, our store & product finding app for iPhone, on a journey where we will add new innovative features and functions based on customer feedback.

One of these functions is to use the iPhone's camera to perform barcode scanning. An innovative solution comes from Red Laser who have their own application demonstrating the technology.

However, we've uncovered that Red Laser use some 'hidden' iPhone API calls to make their technology work, and that some other applications using their libraries to add barcode-scanning functionality have, I understand, had their apps rejected by Apple as a result.

This blog now gets accessed by just over 2,000 different IP addresses a day (mostly over RSS) - so I'm putting it to work to find an organisation who provides iPhone barcode scanning with 'legal' API calls that could help us.

It would be great for any organisation who provides a barcode scanning library for iPhone to get in touch with me with a view to deploying their work in Tesco Finder - and you can be sure that if it works we'll loudly proclaim your name as well as 'open doors' for you.

The only caveat is that your library must only use published iPhone/Cocoa-Touch API calls and not in any way try and use hacked internal knowledge of iPhone.

If your organisation doesn't do this but you know someone who does also please get in touch.

To contact me:
  • Email me at (which has a larger storage capacity than my work email!)
  • Call our new R&D Ideas In Confidence phone/fax line which is (UK) 07092 192022, (World) +44 7092 192022.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Nice thought piece on APIs from Revolution magazine

I like this 'thought piece' from Revolution magazine on APIs and the future.

The article's "pros and cons" paragraph is particularly interesting, and the section about the importance of 'abstracting' the API from how the underlying service really works was important to me when designing the Grocery API.

Our underlying grocery service is a complex system with many components, and if I enabled it fully through the API:
  1. It might be easier to recreate without our permission (the grocery service is part of's intellectual property).
  2. It would be more difficult to use - or rather, easier to use incorrectly.
  3. It might be easier to attack through uncovering any unknown flaws in the system due to its complexity.
That's why our design distilled the entire grocery service into just 10 basic commands - a complete abstraction from the real service over which it sits:
  1. Login
  2. List product categories
  3. List products in a given category
  4. Search for products by text search / barcode
  5. List Basket
  6. Change Basket (a single command for adding / deleting / changing quantity)
  7. List Delivery Slots
  8. Select a delivery slot
  9. List pending orders
  10. Amend Order
These commands are easy to understand, obvious to use (I hope) and protect the underlying service from attack through misuse.

The Revolution article then concludes with a salient point:
Opening up a site's API is not simply a cheap option for brands to get free coding; there are costs involved in monitoring use, refreshing the technology and supporting developers. It is also a dud option for brands that are unexciting to developers.
We better make sure stays exciting then...!

It’s cheaper to Record than Delete.

(Update: Edited for increased clarity!)

When I was in Tesco Watford store on Saturday looking at their range of USB hard drives, two thoughts struck me:
  1. These disk drives had become amazingly cheap in terms of Gigabytes per £Pound
  2. I'd rather buy an additional drive rather than delete anything to free up my existing disk capacity.
These were fairly soft thoughts and my wish to get on with the grocery shopping stopped me taking them anywhere….until Monday morning and a programme called ‘Start The Week’ on the UK’s national speech radio station, BBC Radio 4.

Its presenter, Andrew Marr, introduced guest Viktor Mayer-Schönberger who has written a book called “Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age” which explores the human consequences of a milestone that has just come about in this, the Information Age, in which we now live: It is cheaper to record than delete.

In other words, we have just begun to find it cheaper to add more storage capacity than to spend time deleting digital stuff we don’t need any more.

I know I have been conditioned this way:
  1. Google Mail (which runs my email account) often tells me that it has increased the available storage capacity - and that’s despite the fact that I sometimes get 200+ emails a day (excluding spam).
  2. I don't remove the 400+ digital photos I took of one event of which 30 are of reasonable use. Why bother? The fact that I take several shots at any one time in the hope that one will be great does not mean that I delete the rest. They’re 9MB images in RAW format and I have a total of 54GB of them in my iPhoto library. Should I spend an afternoon deleting them, or £49 adding 320GB more new space thanks to a Tesco-purchased external drive? Here's my payment card...
So in the Information Age we live in, we have now reached the milestone that it is cheaper to record than delete. Excellent? Viktor Mayer-Schönberger says not. From the BBC website, this dark message:
Forgetting is part of what makes us human, but in the age of online digital information it is under threat. In Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger argues that our lives and reputations can be harmed by the internet’s infinite capacity to remember. Digital information and capacious online storage mean that a mistake from the distant past can come back to haunt us with one click of the mouse. Viktor discusses the importance of forgetting and suggests some solutions - how can memory loss be artificially created in a digital world?
So, if you search for your name in a search engine, you can find out a lot about yourself. Some of it you may not like. Some of it others may not like about you, either. For example, take the USA border guard who used a search engine to uncover that a visiting professor had blogged 5 years before that he (the professor) took pot at university 40 years before that - and refused to let him entry. The professor is now barred from visiting the USA, forever.

I, too, have a track record although I appear to have lived a rather sheltered life compared to some people. Search for me and you’ll learn of my love of ham radio, my pro-Microsoft stance against Linux advocates, and my campaigning for the same rights for gay people as everyone else. Oh and working for Tesco of course!

I have no issue with my past but I am absolutely barred (or will be arrested) in a small number of countries for my ‘gay activism’ which is easy to spot from a quick search of my name, and would not have happened if I had kept quiet online. On the other hand, being a radio amateur has opened some interesting doors that may not have been there, and my (continued) love of Microsoft technologies wins me friends and foes alike. The good news for me is that I am ‘happy’ with what’s out there and prepared to defend it.

Just as well: I can’t delete any of it. It’s out of reach, beyond my control, forever. Nobody has any desire to try and remove it. It’s cheaper to record than delete.

Now that the Internet has infinite capacity to remember, the consequences will resonate in all our lives in a way that many of us don't yet realise.

Take a deep breath and go search for your own name on all major search engines. What is the Internet forever remembering about you?