Monday, November 26, 2012

Qeexo's FingerSense. It's the what touch of the touch input world.


Will smartphones and tablets soon be wondering what touched me?

There are almost certainly more than one billion touch devices being actively used today. Android-based devices account for at least half of a billion, iOS for around 400 million, and there are tens of millions of touch Symbian devices still being used. And there are Windows Phone phones, and there are Bada phone phones. The list goes on, and it is touching.

With at least 90% of smartphone sales being touch monoblock, the number of full-touch devices is growing very quickly. So it's nice to think that many of these devices could be introduced to a new UI paradigm through a software upgrade.

Check out this user input enhancement called FingerSense from startup Qeexo. FingerSense informs the underlying platform about WHAT is touching the screen: a thumb or an index finger. A knuckle or a fingernail. A big, fat stylus or a little, skinny one. Etc.

Apparently Qeexo accomplishes this using a clever software algorithm which can, among other things, distinguish the sounds and physical vibrations of what's touching the screen together with variables such as thickness and placement.

I could imagine that clever UI designers could do some amazing things with such flexibility. And poor UI designers could ruin a platform.

With touch device activations around two million per day (around 23 per second), it's nice to think there's something a bit refreshing on the horizon. Unfortunately I've seen lots of good ideas like this die on the operating table. I do hope this one has the magic touch.

PCMAG: Android Device Activations Top 500 Million,2817,2409601,00.asp

Engadget: Apple brags: sells 365 million iOS devices, 140 million iMessage users

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Jolla, unveiled. Is this the Red Bull of the smartphone biz? Did one of the world's most boring industries just get an energy boost?



I used the analogy of the soft drink market several times now when describing the duopoly that has formed in mobile platforms. There's Coke, Pepsi, and some hopeful cola competitors. There's Android, iOS, and some hopeful platform competitors.

And then there are the Red Bulls. The companies that hit an industry from the side with something different, something fresh, and something unexpected. Today we get a first look at the Sailfish OS from Jolla.

Jolla is in essence the grandchild of the Maemo OS, which was one of my favorite mobile platforms ever. (I was lucky enough to be a test user for the Maemo-based Nokia 770 tablet which was released back in 2005. The touch monoblock device provided real browsing and a smooth overall user experience.) In addition to the platform unveiling, Jolla has also announced a partnership with ST-Ericsson for optimized mobile chipset solutions for the Sailfish OS, a support in the Finnish operator DNA, and the fact that Sailfish will support Android apps.

More info from Jolla is hitting the market as of this writing. But for now, I like the little bit we see here. A UI filled with nice big clear words rather than vague icons. A UI that cuts to the chase and could be one some operators embrace.

So, is Jolla Bull? Red Bull?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Misfit Shine. An activity-tracking device that radiates simplicity. The pairing is the real magic.




Activity tracking devices have been popping onto the market over the past few years with companies such as Nike, Jawbone, Motorola, Sony, and a series of start-ups introducing smart, wearable devices to encourage better living.

Here is another one from a company called Misfit Wearables, which was co-founded by former Apple CEO John Sculley. The device is called "Shine," a coin-sized metallic device that, the company says, can intelligently and automatically track activities such as running, swimming, and biking.

No matter how well the activity tracking works, what I find most amazing is the super smooth pairing between a Shine and an iPhone. According to the Misfit, all that is required to sync the accessory to an iPhone is placing it on the screen. This is where the device really does shine. As the iPhone does not have NFC, Misfit is making some very clever use of the iPhone's existing capabilities, possibly via sound waves and/or WiFi or Bluetooth.

Prices start at US$79.

Check the pairing. Sound, BT, WiFi? How'd they do that?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Tongue in cheek: Get your market timing right or you could be history

The business world can be so medieval.

So, an idea clicks in your head. You get to work. Yes, you're an innovator. A real visionary well ahead of your time. You have concepts and even near-working prototypes of products and services long before your competition. Sorry. Take a number and get in line. You're missing one key ingredient.

Woody Allen said that 80% of success is showing up. I would add that showing up at the right time greatly increases your odds. History is full of sad stories of missed opportunities. We've learned over and over that being first to a market that isn't quite ripe is a recipe for failure.

Here's to hoping you get your timing right and your good ideas don't simply get shelved. After all, you don't want your company to be history. ROLL THE TAPE:

Wave hello to a new UI parameter: electrical fields feel 3D gesture input.



Some pedant scientists are quick to remind us that there really is no such thing as touch as we know it. The sense we call touch is actually an illusion. A misunderstanding. A method for the mind to simplify a more complex process of electron avoidance. We can hover and transfer electro impulses, but we never really reach out and touch someone. The universe is actually a very repulsive place.

As far as smartphone user interfaces go, we've been stuck in 2007 for five years now. The monoblock touch form factor now accounts for approximately 90% of all smartphones. The world is flat as a pancake it seems, full of dark dark black, rectangular screens.

When will the next UI shift happen? Follow the components.

Here's an interesting story in MIT's Technology Review about a new technique for devices to sense 3D gesture-based input for devices. Rather then using cameras or accelerometers, Microchip Technology has introduced a way to used electrical fields to sense 3D movment. Microchip calls this enabler "GestIC Technology," and could lead to some interesting user interactions in devices a few years down the road. Picture an accurate gesture-based UI in a car, or perhaps under the car. In the kitchen, or in the garden.

A touch replacement? Probably not. But it's clear that handsets are becoming more sensitive. And thanks to the magic of sensor fusion, data from the growing number of device sensors can be made to work together in wonderful ways.

Perhaps we won't be waving goodbye to touch, but rather hello to another step towards the UI of the future.

3D input cubed. Concept video from Microchip:

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Coming up for air. Report: Microsoft surface sales expected to fall far below company expectations.


Watch out for red herrings. Beware of excuses.

Reports are coming in from both Microsoft execs and suppliers that Surface sales are coming in far below expectations. In fact, some rumors have it that Surface volumes could be almost half of the company's original expectations going into the end of 2012.

So, what are we hearing? The typical industry newspeak platitudes and the classic slow-start excuses: "there are component issues, supplier troubles, sales channel limitations, encouraging levels of early interest, it's really only meant to be an early adopter device, we're creating pent-up demand, steady as she goes..." Oh yes, supplies are limited so order now, max two per household, must be over 18 to order.

And just wait until the next version!

To be fair, Surface has only been on the market for two weeks, but as I speculated after release, Microsoft's Surface tablet was overpriced and under app'd at start. Given the risk to consumers, expect pricing trims and free accessory throw-ins.

Microsoft's Steve Ballmer "We've had a modest start because Surface is only
available on our online retail sites and a few Microsoft stores in the United States."

Yes, you heard it right!
The product is so good that supplies are limited, so order NOW!!

Friday, November 09, 2012

Astounding Translation. Microsoft takes speech recognition to the next level.

Picture the ability to speak to anyone anywhere in the world and whatever language you want in your own voice.

This project from Microsoft Research is going in that direction. Star Trek fans might call this a sort of universal translator. Microsoft is one of those companies that has some great stuff in the pipeline. I hope things don't get clogged up and this sort of product and/or service sees the light of day.

I'd hate to see this translation get lost.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Something Nubia. Can ZTE establish a hot new smartphone brand? Asian hardware influence is increasing no matter what.

Brands come & they go, and they're born & they grow.

Before there was LG, there was Goldstar. Back in the '70s and '80s, those who didn't want to spend the money on a Zenith-branded television set or a Technics-branded amplifier went to K-Mart to buy Goldstar-branded electronics. It was a downscale brand for the lower-end of the market. But back in the '90s, rising like a phoenix from the ashes, the LG brand was born from Lucky Goldstar. It went upscale. It went quality. And it worked.

So here comes the "Nubia" brand from ZTE. It's one vowel and one consonant away from the "Nokia" brand, but who's to say where inspiration comes from these days?

ZTE has been successful with some reasonably solid Android-based phones, and they've made some significant volumes with operator-branded devices, but now it looks like ZTE means business. Will the Nubia brand become a household name in Western Europe and North America. Is Nubia another Samsung or LG in the making? It could be.

The bigger trend here, however, is the on-going commoditization of smartphone hardware with Asia-based companies such as ZTE, Huawei, HTC, MediaTek, Foxconn, Compal, Xiaomi, Lenovo, TCL, and others growing their influence over the industry. If strong brand names can be built or bought by the same, more power to them, literally.

If Chinese and Taiwanese companies can build up big brand names, it's icing on the commoditization cake. There might soon be a nu sheriff in smartphone town.

The "Nubia" brand from ZTE. Will this be the hot, nu thing?

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Portfolio inflation. A mile wide, an inch deep: does your portfolio suffer from device creep?

Let's forget about feature creep for just one moment. It's time to talk portfolio creep.

Consumer segmentation is a delicate process requiring a steady hand and a sturdy heart.

Sure, it might be tempting to micro-manage by creating mini segments to maximize margins. But significant overlaps usually result in under-impressing and end up being a mega mistake. In the end you might go beyond market cannibalization and you end up eating your own young.

Don't think too big, don't think too small, for in the end you please nobody at all.

(Thanks to those Facebook acquaintances who shared this video.)

A look into the future of screens from Japan.

I always say that future mobile device trends are easy to spot: just follow the components.

Here's a look at screens to come. From Japan:

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

De Frag. Fragmented thinking created a temporary comfort zone for Android competitors. Painful.

Cellular News Story & platform market shares >>

Android took 75% market share during Q3 2012! With fragmentation like that, who needs unity?

A few years back as Google just began kicking up its huge mobile dust storm in earnest, most Android competitors took some comfort in the fragmentation myth: that the many emerging isotopes and skins of Android would result in a broken ecosystem and developer & consumer pain. So when IDC announced the other day that Android's share of global smartphone shipments reached 75% during Q3 2012, I began to wonder what went wrong with that fragmented way of thinking. Where did it come from?

The current market stats are amazing: there were 136 million Android-based smartphones shipped during Q3 according to IDC, five times as many iOS-based smartphones. Those two platforms now have an oligopoly with 90% market share, leaving the others to fight for the market crumbs. How did it come to this?

The contradictory notion that Android's sudden white hot success would turn into its undoing reeked of sour grapes. Android's wide market adoption was a painful lesson for the market incumbents to watch. Google, a virtual mobile newcomer, was being taken very, very seriously. By operators. By vendors. By developers. And by consumers.

Smartphone portfolios were suddenly filled with Android-based devices, and Google's apps store quickly filled with high quality apps and services.

And then came talk of potential binary breaks as Google amazed with version updates at an inhuman pace. Some industry executives chimed in. There were too many OS builds on the market at the same time. Too many form factors. Too many APIs, too many tweaks, too many options, and too much customization. Supposedly the belief was that all this would be Android's Achilles' heel.

But for the most part, in the end, this fragmented thinking did a lot more harm to the competition. It enabled the creation of artificial comfort zones and supported the on-going denial of real-world trajectories. Industry executives from several non-Android adopter companies pointed to Google's market dynamics as being self destructive. Thick PowerPoint stacks were creating trying to prove this theory. All a waste of energy.

Exaggerating or inventing competitors' weaknesses is an effective --but expensive-- method of rationalizing. Rather than looking in the mirror, it's tempting to spend energy in trying to prove the competition is wrong than prove yourself right. It's a matter of creating the proper mental attitude. And aptitude.

Binary breaks? A million tiny pieces? Android managed to keep itself together.

Friday, November 02, 2012

BCI reaches new heights: a thought-controlled artificial leg teams with this stair climber.


More think about it!

This young man with a thought-controlled artificial leg will climb 103 flights of stairs up to the top of Chicago’s Willis Tower, aka the Sears Tower.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

The next best thing to being there? BEAMING there? Is this the future of telecoms? Maybe some day.



Beaming. This ambitious European Commision-funded project is looking to add a physical dimension to telepresence services by choosing from a smorgasbord of trendy technology topics including neuro-interfaces, avatars, haptics, 3D scanning & input, and robotics.

This advanced telepresence project could lead to a leap in what remote workers and educators could achieve, and in the long run trickle down to consumer services.

Contemporary professional videoconferencing systems like those from Tandberg have come a long, long way in usability and enjoyability. Here's a vision of what's to come: