Monday, October 29, 2012

Blacksocks scandal? At $19 a pair, do socks really need RFID, or is this just abuse of available technology?


Has technology implementation reached a new low?
Does a sock really need an iOS app to find its beau?

I don't mean to knocks this great idea for socks.

For $190 you get a box that is filled with smart black socks.

And with these smart black socks comes a little black box.

This little black box can help you sort your special dark black socks.

But what if you lose your dark black box before you can sort your smart black socks?

Perhaps it's me and I'm a bit over the hill,
But is this the sort of thing that is technology overkill?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Is Muse the new mouse? Think about brain-computer input using the InteraXon "Muse."


"The technology will know what's on your mind, and respond..." InteraXon.

Brain-computer interfaces have the potential to change the way we think about using devices. The why isn't very clear yet, but the how is getting there.

Here's how such things start: with devices like the Muse from a startup called InteraXon. It is a head-worn device with four EEG sensors supporting the collection of information such as stress levels and concentration. So what? Please think about the potential.

For learning, for gaming, for well-being, for healthcare, the applications will be discovered and they will be developed.

MOTO SOLUTIOS HC1. Just a heads up: computing form factors are expanding.


Over time, technology developments for the military and high-end enterprise bleed into markets below and eventually affect the markets for mainstream consumer devices.

Check out this Borg-like, wearable computing device from Motorola Solutions (not the Google-owned Motorola unit). The intention is to keep field workers well connected to back-office support. It relies on voice input for its UI, leaving the hands completely free for getting them dirty.

Near-to-eye display devices are nothing new: I've seen various gadgets from mainstream CE vendors such as Sony more than a decade ago at trade shows. But now the pieces are coming together. As Google has demo'd with their Project Glass, the components and software is out their for fresh approaches.

Slashgear reports that pricing for the HC1 is in the “$4,000-$5,000” range. In the world of truck rolls and field work, this could be a very reasonable investment.

A heads up: computing form factors have the potential to evolve in amazing ways:

Monday, October 22, 2012

Making the SAL (Spousal Approval Level). Is Microsoft on the wrong side of 400?

At $500, too many competing products are well below the Surface.

Sure, hindsight is always 20-20, but it's still entertaining to look back and be judgmental about past judgments. Shortly after the original iPhone was unveiled back in 2007, Steve Ballmer said a $500 device without a keyboard wouldn't appeal to enterprise users, if anybody. So, last week when Microsoft announced that their Surface tablet would cost $500 without a keyboard and would appeal to enterprise users, I have to wonder if humble pie wasn't being served at the Microsoft cafeteria in Redmond that day.

Early rumors about Surface pricing had the device pegged as low as $200. That would have made it a loss leader for a company which is losing big time in the laptop 2.0 world. Low cost is the strategy Amazon is using in its tablet business and Google is using in its Chromebook push, so cost as a wow factor would not have been an unprecedented market maneuver for Microsoft. Instead, now the Surface device has to go head-to-head with Apple on brand, UI, features and app availability.

Surface is available via pre-order. I haven't seen any sales numbers as of this writing: some reports have it that demand is very strong. It's likely that Microsoft expects a cross-platform halo effect will begin to kick in soon, with the same Metro UI being used on top of Windows 8, Windows RT, and Windows Phone.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, there doesn't appear to be nearly enough Metro interest to create any real halo effect out of the gate. And I'm convinced that Microsoft's tablet is too expensive to create any mass appeal to spill over to other device families.

For Surface pricing, I was expecting Microsoft to go for sub "Spousal Approval Level" pricing in an attempt to build volume to give some backbone to their tablet ecosystem. (Consumer electronics priced below the psychological Spousal Approval Level number tend not to be considered a major household purchase). Spousal Approval Level pricing was often considered to be sub $300, so when the new generation of gaming consoles were introduced a decade ago, it was no coincidence they were all priced at $299.99.

Microsoft's tablet pricing strategy is surprising if the company is looking to gain significant market share in short order. $500 might be a fair price for that solid piece of hardware. But unfortunately for Microsoft the equation doesn't end there. The company needs to allow for the fact that it is the RC Cola of the business. If Microsoft really wants to establish a solid third ecosystem, margins have to take a hit. Why should consumers take the risk when they can get a sure thing with Apple? The higher the risk for consumers, the greater the discount has to be. Lower prices certainly haven't been driving Windows Phone sales.

When your market share is zero, and you're long behind your competitors, and your retail stores appear empty, and your CEO tends to get most things wrong, and you're considered the old, boring man in a young man's game, and you're staring down the barrel of a loaded rifle, and your stock has been stuck in the same range for more than a decade, it's time for a strategy of shock and awe, not pause and bore.

Microsoft is behind the Windows eight ball now. Premium pricing won't SAL the deal.

Pricing is the wow factor:

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Squeezeput. Is 3D input coming our way? Will depth soon become the new angle in UI? The pressure is on for something fresh in smartphone form factors.


I recently got a quick peek at a prototype of a smartphone expected to hit the market in the coming weeks. I don't want to give too much away, but I suspect you already know exactly what it's like (a black, rectangular capacitive touch screen).

In the smartphone biz, there are no longer any rewards for hardware innovation. Follow the form-factor flock in a V formation and you just might make it to your destination alive. I do hope some day a lone eagle will come along and shake up what has become the most boring market in the world. Even the market for rather boring white goods such as washing machines and refrigerators has greater variety in form factors than the smartphone market. That's where we are today.

Looking for something new and fresh? Check out NTT DoCoMo's "Grip UI" shown recently at CEATEC 2012. In addition to classic touch-screen input, the proto device supports pressure-sensitive input from the sides enhancing one-handed usability.

I've seen demos and protos of squeezable pressure-sensitive devices for a number of years now as component vendors look to create a hot new wave among vendors. There doesn't look like much form-factor flexibility in the near future; these things take time, but at some point the market will bend under pressure.

NTT DoCoMo's Grip UI. Something fresh. You can say that again.
Video from DigInfo:

Nokia's shows flexibility in design:

Synaptics "Fuse" concept from February 2010. Input all around:

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Printernet of Things. For 3D printing of consumer electronics, how soon is now?

Download, print and wear. Are we almost there? Kind of.

Let's call this process "The Printernet of Things."


For those not familiar with 3D printing, picture something along the lines of Star Trek's replicator, then tone your expectations back a couple of centuries. There is a great deal of 3D print chatter around these days, and that means VC interest and funding. And that means hype and lots of exaggerated expectations.

Professional-quality 3D printers costing tens of thousands of dollars have been around for the past decade or so supporting rapid prototyping for manufacturers of all types. Through the use of 3D modeling software and 3D scanning, designers can hold a physical prototype --sometimes with functional moving parts-- in hand within hours at best or often after a long weekend. This is a real time saver for go/no-go decisions and thus can cut time to market significantly. And as we see so often, technology trickle down results in a nice long-term dividend for consumers.

So now the market for 3D printers is expanding from professional-quality, closet-sized devices to low-cost, desktop "thing" printers costing as little as a few hundred dollars for lower-quality hobby-level units.

There are some bold predictions that 3D printing be domesticated sooner than we realize and alter the global economy. After all, ubiquitous personal fabrication could eliminate the need for Christmas shopping. Suddenly you don't buy a box of Lego building blocks, you download them and print them out for little Betty or Johnny.

But like most earth-shattering technology changes, the hype comes long before consumers are ready or interested in the goods. And when the technology reaches that level of maturity, the changes are often unexpected. If we look at the parallels in the market for laser printers, even after hardware prices fell to a few hundred dollars and consumers snapped them up, printing books and newspapers at home never became fiscally prudent. The economies of mass production aren't so easily beat.

Nonetheless, it's vital for CE companies to be mentally prepared for all coming disruptions. The printing of complex consumer electronics --a large-screen LED television for example-- is a very, very long way off. But if you're a manufacturer which depends on the market for smartphone accessories such as cases and stands, you should certainly take note.

And here's a start for you. Need a pair of fashionable headphones? Then check out this project by Mr. John Mabry on "thingiverse," a website that supports the sharing of pre-physical things for 3D printing. Download, print, and snap together a working pair of headphones. (Or most of it at least.)

3D printing is certainly a top technology trend for the coming decade(s). Company trend spotters and futurists should certainly create internal awareness of this one. It could take customization to the extreme. Madonna had it right: the universe might be going digital, but we still live in a material world.

3D printing is making noise now.
Instructions to download and print out a pair of headphones:

FORM 1, a $2300 3D printer by startup Formlabs:

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Déjà vu deux? Get ready to see double again with dual-SIM smartphones. Samsung intros the low-end Android-based "Galaxy Music Duos."

Galaxy Music Duos, MOBILEBURN STORY >>

Yup, get ready to lose feature phone share to dual-SIM smarties.

I've been seeing more and more dual-SIM smartphones hit the market during the past year and they're getting more mainstream.

Here's one from Samsung, the low-end Galaxy Music Duos. It runs Android Ice Cream Sandwich, has a 3-inch QVGA screen, a 3 megapixel camera with no flash, and some additional hardware to live up to its "music" name tag such as stereo speakers.

All-in-all, not an impressive piece of hardware. But the price can be expected to match the low-end specs (I didn't find any pricing details).

Over the past year, we've seen dual-SIM smartphones from most mainstream vendors including from Acer (Liquid Gallant Duo), Alcatel (Blaze Duo), Gigabyte (GSmart G1355), HTC (the Desire V), LG (Optimus L3), Motorola (XT390), Samsung (Galaxy S Duos, Galaxy Y Pro DUOS, Galaxy Y DUOS, GALAXY Ace DUOS, Galaxy Music Duos), Sony (Xperia tipo dual), and ViewSonic (ViewPhone 3). And local vendors such as India's Micromax are always among the first to introduce such dual-SIM products given their understanding of local demand.

For vendors looking for volume in markets such as India, Russia, Italy, Portugal and Greece, check your portfolios for dual-SIM smartphones. If you've got a gap, get going.

Galaxy Music Duos, low-end Android-based smartphone with two SIM slots:

So get ready to support SIM one SIM two:

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Coat size xoxo. This connected jacket hugs you when you're liked.


Check out "Like-a-Hug." A nice, touching idea for a physical-digital interaction from Melissa Kit Chow, a graduate of Harvard's Graduate School of Design and Andy Payne and Phil Seaton from the MIT Media Lab.

Soon our digital and physical worlds will begin working together. So group hugs all around.

It's the un-hands free. Is this accessory inspired by an April Fool's joke? Anyway, it's quite nifty.

It doesn't just work with gloves on, it is gloves.



Somehow I missed this product intro at the end of August. But it works well to establish both a "hand" theme and a "wearable computing" theme today.

These "hi-Call" gloves from Italian-based company hi-Fun are also a Bluetooth hands-free kit. So how much would you pay now? Don't answer yet. Hi-call also supports touch-input on capacitive touchscreen devices. Now how much would you pay? If you said €49, you'd be right. And actually that seems like a fair price to me.

I do have to wonder if this product wasn't inspired by the Qualcomm "HandSolo" April Fool's video (see bottom video).

Hi-Call gloves (Engadget video from IFA 2012):

Inspiration? Qualcomm's HandSolo:

Digital input! Thumbs up to Microsoft for this.


Microsoft deserves a hand for this: gesture input taken to the next level. Each finger has its very own meaning. Every gesture its own action.

Is this the Kinect of things to come? Fingput?

(And this is introduced just as handset vendors are introducing touchscreen smartphone that work with gloves on.)

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Cola wars. With 15% of the market up for grabs, who will be the RC Cola of smartphone platforms?

Coke + Pepsi: 75%.
Android + iOS: 85%.

When a classic duopoly is formed, outsiders are left to fight for the table scraps: the market-segment leftovers that the two major players have likely decided to ignore.

Serious challengers usually revert to the classic think-different campaign, trying to convince potential customers not to simply follow the flock: why be like everyone else when you have this opportunity to be unique. To show the world you can make up your own mind. You don't just go with the flow, you decide, you know.

The irony of most of these be-your-own-person campaigns is that they are all so similar, often using the same assembly-line metaphor rather than highlighting truly useful and differentiating features. (Check out some of the commercials at the bottom of this entry.)

When it comes to smartphone platforms, the two dominant market leaders are in place, and it seems unlikely they will be unseated anytime soon. So now the fight is now on to be the Royal Crown Cola of the market. And if you've never heard of RC Cola, point made.

Coca Cola and Pepsi have a combined market share of 75% of the global carbonated beverage business. Cadbury, the producer of think-different brands such as RC Cola and Dr. Pepper, comes in a distant third with around 16% of the market, with many small, local brands taking the rest.

When it comes to smartphone platforms, there is no Cadbury equivalent yet: no clear bronze-place finisher. Might it turn out to be Microsoft's Windows Phone, HP-supported (Open) webOS, RIM's BB10, Tizen, Boot to Gecko, something unknown from Amazon or Baidu, or none of the above?

Mind share and thus market share are especially difficult to change in this business due to the intense and increasing stickiness of platforms. And as smartphone penetration rates surpass 50% in many markets, the window of opportunity is slowly closing for most challengers.

So it's no longer time to think different; it's time to think better. Better features. Better usability. Better localization. Better apps and better maps. Better innovation. Better wow. And you had better start moving: it's the real thing now. Decide for yourself. Enjoy.

Drink different:

Think different:

Think different:

Think different:

Drink different: