Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The 15 Euro handset. Impossible level 1 reached. Now get mentally prepared for impossible level 2: the 15 Euro smartphone.

Chew on this if you dare.

About six years back or so, I recall speaking to one handset industry executive who predicted that trade prices of handsets from major vendors could never go below $25. That was the predicted floor for a handset from a top-tier vendor. "The battery and the box alone would always add $20 to BoM" was the reasoning. Yet here we are: for your consideration, please see the story about Nokia's new €15 handset aimed at developing markets. The Nokia 105 has a color display, up to 12.5 hours of talk time, is dust and splash proof, has a built-in flashlight, and even a few games.

So, the impossible has been reached. What's next? It's time to get mentally prepared for the €15 smartphone. It sounds impossible, I know. The display and processor alone will always add more to BoM than such a price. But as a scenario-building exercise, device vendors should think about the impossible. If the ASP of smartphones begin to reach bubble-gum machine levels, how will today's mainstream vendors cope?

Business development teams had better have their thinking caps on. Opportunities exist on the other side of the screen, but they aren't easy to find and often harder to monetize.

The smartphone market is reaching new lows. Are you ready?

Nokia's new entry-level device, the €15 Nokia 105:

Average-selling prices are reaching gum-ball machine territory.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Google's $249 Chromebook. Is this the new screen of death for Microsoft? Is MS about to be Wanged?

I've had the opportunity to use Google's made-by-Samsung $249 Chromebook for a week now. It's sleek and it's neat. It's instant on, instant off, and it's in demand. As one of the best-selling laptops, it's time to wonder if Google isn't on its way to establish Chrome OS as the Android of PC world.

If such a shift seems unlikely given Windows' two-decade legacy, please take a peek at the next generation of white-collar workers. They are trained in the ways of Google Docs, think net before local, and have no loyalty to the platforms of their parents. Chrome OS could really be the next generation for the next generation.

Being in the center of such industry shifts is never fun. For most such unfortunate companies, it's a deer-in-the-headlights moment. Just ask the talented employees at Wang Laboratories. Wang who? Wang was hot property in its day making dedicated word processors and minicomputers competing against companies such as IBM and DEC (who?). But as the adoption of personal computers squeezed their markets, the company found itself in a painful downward spiral.

I remember well the formation of the Open Handset Alliance and the introduction of Android. It all started so innocently. But even the journey to a billion units starts with a single device. Google's Chrome OS is here to stay and we will soon begin to see it take some real market share. As we slowly march towards an HTML5 world, Chromebooks and Chromeboxes could be just what the doctor ordered.

And for Microsoft? Well, the future of Microsoft's Windows is looking cloudy.

Is this Microsoft's new screen of death?

A Wang dedicated word processor.
A market shift to PCs was a process they couldn't handle.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

20-20 vision. 20 years back. 20 years forward. AT&T's amazingly accurate foresighting videos from '93.

Have you ever seen these visionary AT&T videos from 1993? No. Take a look at this page and you will.

In reality, the AT&T that brought us these commercials back in 1993 no longer exists. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't be impressed with their foresighting. In fact, the only thing they got wrong was the company that brought us these technologies.

Yup, it's been 20 years since these commercials ran in the U.S. It was an interesting and accurate brand-building campaign by AT&T at a time when the concept of competition was just being introduced in the American telecoms market.

On-demand movies? Check. Books online? Check. Video chat? Check. GPS directions? Check. EZ toll payment? Check. Biometric locks? Check. Distance live video courses? Check. Sending a fax from the beach using a touch-based tablet? Well, I suppose that's a check as well. Yes, AT&T has an impressive checkered past when it comes to envisioning the future.

So, how did they do it? How did AT&T's technology foresighting team get everything so right? It's so impressive that it's almost spooky science at a distance. But this stuff doesn't develop in a vacuum. AT&T did their foresighting homework. They knew about technologies in the labs, both their own R&D labs as well as labs all around the world. The internet, GPS, touch-screens, mobile computing, digital content. The enablers were there as an embryonic technical stew.

So, what basic ingredients are simmering now which might enable some amazing "you wills" in 20 years from now? If you had to make a similar set of visionary commercials today to show the world in 2033, what basic technologies would you include. Here's a list that comes to my mind right now:

1] You will be enjoying the internet of things.
2] Move over smartphones and get ready for smart homes.
3] Your devices will be touched by nanotechnology in several ways.
4] Home robotics will move beyond vacuum cleaners and lawnmowers.
5] Wearable computing will be the norm.
6] Sensors of all kinds become will keep you very well informed about your body and your direct environment.
7] User interfaces will become very natural thanks to biometrics, BCI, and contextual information.
8] Cash is a thing of the past. And Americans won't be using checks any longer either. Or pennies.
9] Big proactive data will be used for good instead of evil to gather healthcare info.
10] And the semantic web is a reality.

OH] You won't be using a quantum computer, yet. But it will be a hot research topic.

And the company that will bring it to you? Well, if I knew that, I'd be doing something else right now.

AT&T's impressive visionary television commercials ca. 1993.

More just think about it! Monkeying around with thinkput. Amazing thoughtful TED video.

Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, a Brazilian physician and researcher, shows his "reading monkey thoughts" business at TED.

This is some encouraging —and rather entertaining— research. While Dr. Nicolelis's objective is to empower handicapped individuals, research such as this often results in dividends which are difficult to imagine.

For those of you who follow interface developments and haven't had a chance to try devices such as Emotiv Systems' EPOC game controller, you should think about tracking one down and testing it.

Brain-computer interfaces are still quite primitive. But as we enter an era of wearable computing and very low-cost EEG sensors, it may soon be time to imagine thinkput as a natural extension of device interfaces.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Is the future of smartphones so transparent? This see-thru smartphone display could enable something new.



Is the future form factor of smartphones so clear?

Transparent displays have been around for a while. I remember getting a look at LG's "Crystal" handset about four years ago. It was stunning, perhaps the best-looking handset I've ever seen. It didn't do much else than look sharp, but that's a great start in life.

So, will clear be the new hot thing someday in smartphones? A Taiwanese maker of glass products called Polytron Technologies is shopping around an early version of their clear smartphone display. Such transparent displays could go beyond just creating good-looking devices: for years, visionary augmented reality use cases have been calling for such technology.

Does this glass provide a window of opportunity for some smartphone maker to bring a new form-factor to market? Maybe. Such things are not always easy to see.

Video from Mobile Geeks':

Great Vision. Augmented Reality in Central Park: