Thursday, May 29, 2014

Rumor Watch: Apple is in the round corner.

via MacRumors >>

In the developing form-factor cage match between looped and squared, Apple may have chosen to step into the ring with round. At least according to some leaks from the East. I am also putting my money on circular.

It looks like circles are cropping up all over the place now.

News ReCap: Home Land. From Apple to ZigBee, the smart home is smokin' hot.

[Key trends: the smart home | the internet of things]

"The smart home is just around the corner." Many of us first heard that back in the year 2000. But now we really are about to arrive.

If you're looking for the sizzling hot trend courant, sit back and relax, and don't leave home, because you're soaking in it. No, this stuff never happens overnight. From Microsoft and Samsung to Sony and Cisco, every influential IT and CE vendor worth their popcorn salt had mega stands at all the mega shows, demonstrating their vision of the connected home of the future.

And the future is almost now. Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google, Samsung, Qualcomm, Cisco, Belkin and many other are getting ready for the beyond-the-PC world. Objects are connected, they learn, the improve, they are really rather smart and helpful.

So, the news this week is full of hints and hot rumors of moves for the living room. Microsoft may be about to rollout a ChromeCast-like device. Apple is preparing a smart-home platform. LG and Samsung are now in the connected light bulb business. (I'll write another post about ReCap's new Smart Bulb report with forecasts to 2019. Thanks for the input on that one.) Let's not forget the service providers: AT&T, Verizon, your local cable guys, your power company, and security firms.

Trends this big require a generation shift to be absorbed. A decade or two to work out the kinks. And a few spec battles just to make things interesting. As is usually the case in new markets, there has been first-mover advantage at home. But now it's looking like it's time to move in for real. Find your place or prepare to be locked out.

Welcome home. Goji Smart Lock.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Please kick mi. Adidas's connected, sensor-filled miCoach Smart Ball.

Key trends: the internet of things, sensors, well-being, playful, fitness, wireless charging.

via CNET >>

Perhaps you can forget the Wii when you have the mi. This looks like a great way to get the kids out of the house. Check out this product from Adidas: the miCoach Smart Ball.

Yes, you have the smartphone, smart home, smart watch, smart clothes. And here comes the smart sporting equipment.

In this sensor-filled world of the internet of things, we can count calories, we can count steps, so why shouldn't we be able to count kicks? Adidas's miCouch Smart Ball connects to the user's smartphone via Bluetooth as uses sensors and software to monitor kicks, and includes some games which cross the real world with the virtual one. And for a touch of additional coolness, it uses wireless charging. We'll be seeing a lot more solid uses for wireless charging going forward for sealed gadgets like this.

The miCoach costs around $299/€299 in America/Europe. So, not exactly a toy.

Monday, May 26, 2014

What goes around? Samsung's upcoming smart watch of course. (Patent Pending.)

via Android Authority >>

There's nothing like a good form factor battle to get a market going.

I'm not sure if it's just confirmation bias on my part, or the wearables market really is the hottest and most exciting tech trend since the introduction of the white iPhone.

Wearables-related headlines are all over the place, from popular tech blogs to all the major business magazines like Forbes (which often indicates the peak of hype). I'm still an agnostic coward when it comes to predicting the future of these gadgets. I don't see any network effect yet, and I don't know one single person who wears one, even though I know people who work for companies which make these.

Let's face it: the market still needs a poster child. And some killer apps. And, of course, a decisive form factor.

So, Samsung has their square Gear, but Samsung is one company they never met a platform or a form factor they didn't like. No company spreads the risk like Samsung. There is little doubt that Samsung would love to corner the market on smart watches. Don't like square wear? It looks like Samsung is getting ready to make a profound turnaround in smart watches.

Did Samsung just re-invent the circular smart watch?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Is the smart watch market about to go full circle? Will one form factor prevail?

So, how is the market for wearables shaping up? Is round & retro the new flat & black?

Predicting consumer tastes is always the hard part. Let's look at the market for smart watches. Though connected watches have been around for more than a decade from vendors such as Sony Ericsson and Polar, they never caught on as mainstream accessories.

If I had been a smart watch designer, I would understand the temptation to create a freeze-dried version of the screens we all know so well: shrink down the familiar smartphone display, turn it sideways, and add a wrist strap.

But given that Google's Android Wear platform and SDK support both round and rectangular watch form factors, I have to wonder which shape will lead the market. While the popular wearables to date such as Samsung's Galaxy Gear and Pebble's Smartwatch are rectangular, I have to say that the retro round-styled watches do look like the could catch on. I've been pretty cynical about a real market for these gadgets in general, but I'm starting to see something here. Please check the videos below for devices from Motorola and a company called Kairos.

So, will the MOTO 360 become the RAZR of the smart watch world or will it be hip to be square? Only time will tell.

Tongue in cheek of the week: A long shot

You're an outsider in the market. Your product angles are different. You have your own spin on things. Sure, success is a long shot, but you take it anyway. Perhaps in the end, you just might strike a chord with consumers. ROLL THE TAPE:

Monday, May 19, 2014

The PEV Market: In Norway vs. Sweden, Norway wins 10 to 0.65.

Congratulations to Norway on its bicentennial. And as Norwegians celebrate the 200th anniversary of their constitution, they have another reason to be proud: this year Norway will be become the first country in which more than 10% of new car sales will be plug-in electrics during a full calendar year. This is an an amazing stat, especially for an oil-producing nation.

Let's compare Norway's adoption of e-cars to its neighboring nation of Sweden. Norway and Sweden are two countries of a similar shape and size. Similar cultures, languages, and tax systems. Two well-off countries with comparable infrastructures and reasonably comparable income levels. Yes, one has oil. But the other has IKEA. Let's call it a wash.

In a new market report Research Capsule is publishing entitled "PEVs, there's no turning back now," ReCap forecasts that while more than 10% of new cars sold in Norway during 2014 will be PEVs, only 0.65% of new cars sold in Sweden will be plug-ins (this includes PHEVs as well as full battery-electrics).

Countries which penalize car buyers with chunky fiscal disincentives to buy and own larger, heavier cars have the opportunity to encourage quick adoption of PEVs by reducing or eliminating those punitive damages. But many countries tax electric cars in essentially the same manner as internal combustion vehicles. Not Norway. Norway has eliminated many of the taxes and registration fees on PEVs, and also has created a great charging infrastructure for electrics. In addition, PEVs can park for free in many places and also use the bus lanes. These incentives have enabled Norway to become the world leader in the adoption of electric cars, and are the reason Tesla chose Norway as one of its first new markets outside of the U.S.

Looking across Norway's border, we see a vastly different market. In Sweden, we estimate less than 1,800 plug-in cars will be sold this year, or less than 0.65% of all new car sales. Any Swedish car buyer who does the math will find that there is no financial incentive to buy electric. Some cynical Swedes we've spoken with say that Sweden won't offer the same level of tax incentives as Norway until semi-Swedish Volvo becomes a real competitor in the PEV market. Why give sales away to Japanese Nissan? It's an interesting thought, though Volvo does have some plug-in hybrids.

Let's call this the Scandinavian Contrast. Norway v Sweden. But soon many of the Norwegian fiscal incentives are set to expire meaning Norway itself will be the perfect Petri dish for observing an e-car culture. In the race to PEV adoption, will Norway's lead be frozen in time?

Norway is in the PEV fast lane:
Drivers of electric cars can use the bus lanes.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Microsoft making it real. Microsoft's floating display.

Many of us are waiting for something new. Holograms. 3D input. Magic. The day will come when something fresh comes along and perhaps it's Microsoft who will bring it to us. Please MS, get this right and put it in a tablet and in a box and break up this monotony of look-alike, act-alike gadgets. Please Microsoft, you're my only hope:

From Microsoft's Applied Sciences Group:

For India, things look bright ahead.

Congratulations to India on its massive election. It's an amazing thing really. Almost 540 million voters. A 66% turnout rate across the country. And now India will soon have a new prime minister who rose from obscurity. It's the new land of opportunity. India has a bright future as it leapfrogs the world in the development and implementation of many technologies. (We at ReCap are working on a market research study on the Indian market for mobile money, and the stats are amazing.)

The world's largest democracy is taking a leadership position. It's time to look ahead and smile.

(This has always has been one of my favorite commercials. Thanks to the person who shared this.)

The Mini Mi? NO! It's Mi to the MAX. The Mi Pad $240 tablet. I'm telling you, it won't be easy beating Mi, so remember Mi name.

Get to know Mi. And companies like Mi. They are the danger. Good devices, good prices, new pronounceable branding tactics. They have the chemistry in place to change the market for good. Get ready. We are entering the next stage of the wireless business cycle. It's here. It's now. Work with it. Look for opportunities in adjacent markets. Content, services, the connection of things.

So, please do check out the new Xiaomi Mi Pad (Gigaom story), a very decently spec'd up tablet from the Chinese vendor. The Mi Pad has a 7.9-inch screen with 2,048-by-1,536 pixels, runs on an Nvidia Tegra K1 2.2 processor, has 2GB of RAM, an 8-megapixel rear camera, a 5-megapixel front camera, and a microSD slot. All this for $240 for the 16GB version. The tablet will be available in China this summer and I suspect other markets could follow.

Xiaomi (sort of pronounced “show me”) isn't a company looking to scrape some barnacles off of the side of the market. They are aiming for the top. Xiaomi's CEO, Lei Ju, said they “hope to put pressure on Apple.” Xiaomi is a company talking about bringing quality $50 smartphones to the masses. This is a company that is working its way global by spreading out across Asia.

So Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Sony, others, please do remember Mi name.

No, you haven't heard the last of Mi.

The $240 quality-spec'd Mi tablet. Device prices are coming down, and a receding tide lowers prices for everyone.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Is this the smart watch UI of the future? The Wrist Twist?

via Technology Review >>
Project Pages >>

The market for smart watches won't really take off until someone gets the UI just right. Did these researchers at Carnegie Mellon University just do that? Watch the video:

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

AC/DC. Driving Standards Forward. History might not repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme. Sometimes.

Driving Standards Forward. History might not repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme. Sometimes.

I'm studying the market for plug-in electric vehicles and it sure does remind me of the wireless world of the 1980s. Back then there were air interface specs of all sorts. For those who love standards, there were plenty to choose from. And now with pevs, it's time for more fun.


When it comes to charging plug-in electric vehicles, there's a small learning curve to overcome. You see, there's Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 charging. There are also modes. There's Mode 1, Mode 2, Mode 3, and Mode 4. Mode 4 usually equals Level 3, but it depends on where you are. At times Modes 2 and 3 cover Level 2, but Mode 1 is almost always the same as Level 1, but sometimes Mode 2 is Level 1. But not in France, Japan and parts of the U.S. and some cities in China, depending on what car you drive. And for clarity, there are connection cases. There's Case A, Case B, and Case C. Case B is often Mode 3 which might be Level 2, and C is direct, not alternating you see. And though "Case A" sounds like it's the best case yet, it's actually the worst you can get. (Oh, yea, and before I forget: that case can be 110 or 220, which are actually 120 or 240, again it depends.)

Where do you go to juice up your new e-bucket? Well, there are EVSEs, charging points, charging stations, charging piles, and charging locations. They are all the same, except sometimes they aren't, especially in China. Charging stations are charging locations. Or they might be points or piles or plugs or ports. Pick your poison. You can go to public stations at private locations, or private points at public places. You can pay with points, or you can juice up gratuit. That means free to you and me.

OK, so that's just the semantics of charging. The words. The terms. It's WiFi vs. IEEE 802.11*. It's 4G vs. LTE. It's just like that. But the plug itself offers some more challenging facts. There are connectors and couplers, pistols and cores, and so, so much more.

Ready? You might have an AC-based SAE J1772 charger but could step up to a DC-based unit using the included CHAdeMO cable. (If it's not included, just charge it.) Of course there are proprietary solutions like Tesla's Supercharger. Forget stepping up, there you might want to step down, so get an adapter to use all the slow Level 2's in town.

Well, we all have our types, and so do these cars. There's Type 1 and 2 meaning very different things, there's Type 3 and 4, yes there are plug specs galore.

Then there's AC and DC, and the number of volts. (Tesla developed AC, but Tesla uses DC, somewhat ironically.) There's slow and there's fast, but nothing between. Although there actually is. No it's not easy being green.

Just like the old days of the cellular world, PEV charging has the same mess of specs and terms. There are coverage maps, there are coverage gaps. There's roaming, and dead zones, and specs made of alphabet soup. And there are the early adopters who put up with all this poop.

It's not always easy being green. Why can't these things just use USB?

The industry needs some global standard leadership. And some clever promoter group to boot, to give us nicer terms.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Tongue in Cheek: Is honesty the best business policy?

Nothing like a good allegory to get the business thoughts flowing for the weekend.

Forget the rose-colored glasses. You're a realist. You see things with clarity and refuse to be deluded by hype. Your colleagues are practically married to their business ideas, but you speak your mind, hurt feelings be damned.

So, in the business world, does it pay to forthright, candid, even blunt to the point of pain? Or is it best to sit down and shut up? It's not easy knowing which is best.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

The Delayed Dozen. Forget the term "technology disruption." In reality hot trends take more than a decade to get noticed.

Back in the year 2000 I was working with Nokia's smart home unit. There were researchers developing Bluetooth-controlled lights, home-control tablets, connected refrigerators, internet connected televisions. I met people in other parts of the company working on the e-wallet, mobile couponing, and location-based social networking. You know, all the stuff making headlines now. It was all there then. But the molasses of reality can cause a sticky mess.

This is the way trends work. They take more than a decade to work their way through the system. In my experience, 12 years is the average time. All the pieces have to be perfectly in place and, most importantly, consumers have to be ready. The end user is always the unknown variable in the equation. The big X to isolate.

Yes, rolling out new devices and services can be a complex formula. The technology enablers are the easy bits to spot early on. Things are proposed, researched, developed, standardized, funded, and shown at TED -- all before reaching the mainstream media.

So what's the rage now? Why wearables of course. And mobile wellbeing. And life logging. But please check out some of the devices from Polar from more than 10 years ago. PC-connected watches which tracked and collected data on your running and walking distance, pace, altitude, temperature, heart rate. Yes, I'm sorry to break it to you but this smart watch stuff is really nothing new at all. We know Apple has been assembling a high-caliber wearables team since at least 2010. We know that the companies which make the sensors and other components have been pushing their goods for years before that.

Technology trends have long and sometimes painful gestation periods. And then they crawl before they can walk. But then they begin to run.

This figures. Smart watches? A brand new hot trend? No, these things take time.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

The awe of large numbers. Optimistic forecasters live larger than life.

In one forecasting project I worked on many years ago for a senior VP presentation, the executive was concerned my numbers were way too low and just didn't look interesting. I was asked to bump them up. Somehow.

I understand. People do love big numbers and fat CAGRs. Bar charts that look like mountains growing to the heavens. Line graphs with arrows at positive 45° angles. Up is always better than down. Steep is better than flat. The bigger the figures the better the funding.

I was recently churning some numbers with my colleague, creating forecasts for several market research studies we will be publishing at Research Capsule. Growth rates were coming in at nice, respectable levels. 17%, 25%, 40%. But then we compared these to some other market projections. 100%, 150, 200. Such numbers do make great headlines. But could lead to some bad business decisions.

Are optimistic forecasters more likely to be invited to the party? Yes they are. Executives will pay a premium for what are likely exaggerations. I've come across my share of embellished projections. I now see that "trillion" has become the new billion when it comes to dollar figures. There will be many "next trillion dollar industries."

Everybody likes an optimist. This is the flaw of large numbers.

When it comes to market forecasting, it usually pays to be full of it:

Friday, May 02, 2014

Xiaomi the money. Is the smartphone profit margin a thing of the past? Where will the money come from now?

(Yes, "Xiaomi" is sort of pronounced "show me" but soon "mi" will do fine.)

It's a bit sad to see the company where I worked for 16 years break apart. The Nokia I knew no longer exists. But there really are no surprises here. Clever companies know when it's time to move on.

All industries are special, sexy, and exciting. Until the day they aren't. Toasters, refrigerators, transistor radios, televisions, VCRs. They all had their day in the sun, but got covered in a thin, dull layer of boring. They became very everyday objects. Key players come, and key players go.

So, how much have the players in the handset industry changed? Completely! As I've pointed out before, not one single top-ten vendor from 20 years ago is still in the global handset business. They haven't just lost market share, they have given up competing in the industry. The big, fat hardware profits dried up so they just got up and moved on. Let someone else fight for the table scraps. That's the smart move so long as you have another watering hole lined up. (I'll say that the chunk of Motorola owned by Lenovo is a different company than the Motorola we knew.)

I remember five years ago when I first came across a top-ten global handset vendor named Xiaomi. Who? Some company few of us had ever heard of (and few knew how to pronounce) suddenly appeared as a top handset maker. I checked out their website. They had a portfolio of handsets a mile wide with features that must have been stuffed into devices with a plunger. There were phones with televisions, radios, touch input. There were sliders and colors galore. So what is Xiaomi up to now. Well, they are becoming a serious global smartphone company with sharp-looking gadgets. They even make bionic bunny rabbits.

But hey, it's getting crowded in here. Check out Huawei, another company name people can't quite pronounce, but matters a ton nonetheless. Huawei's goal this year is to ship 80 million smartphones. That would give them around 8% global share. And Huawei means business with a $300 million global marketing campaign.

So, what happens when Google brings out the advanced $100 smartphone? And Motorola/Lenovo the sub-$50 smartphone? What happens when good phones reach bubblegum-machine pricing?

How can you compete? No, it's not easy beating Mi. (

Is handset (hardware) profitability toast? Key players get burnt once an industry is no longer special.