Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What Convergence?

For the past 2-3 years, and perhaps even today we have been hearing that convergence is going to land in a gadget, when everything ends up in the palm of your hand. So you will have a device that is -
a Radio
a TV
a Music Player
a Computer
a Telephone
a Planner
a Clock
a Still Camera
a Voice Recorder
a Video Recorder
a Gaming Console
Perhaps even an Insulin Tracker
And a lot more..

(I am not even talking about ‘petty cash features’ as the calculator, currency converter, etc).

But I do not see that device yet. At best I see some gadgets that click really good pictures and help you transfer them wirelessly, some phones that do e mail really well, some MP 3 players that dock with speakers smoothly, some voice recorders that are very small, some TVs that do a little internet, some computers that do gaming very well, some game consoles that store data very well, some video recorders that take still photographs (somehow) and some mobile phones that do music and radio very well etc.

In other words every product is at best succeeding in doing one or two things well. It is a separate question that the phone that does mail best, only about manages to still look like a phone. In addition to this, you usually end up carrying an additional phone for phone calls! (Let me not ask that embarrassing question to innovators that “What was the laptop doing in that shoulder bag when the mobile phone became the ‘e mail phone?’”).

Consider this; the number of appliances in my living room has only gone up in the last 3 years –
TV (2001)
Amplifier (2003)
Speakers (2003)
DVD Player (2003)
Gaming Console (2007)
[I am not counting my two Laptops {official (2007)/personal (2005)} for they do not always sit in my living room!]
There is a separate ‘domination by expansion’ happening in my study room – wires tangling with everything, everywhere – External Hard Drives, MP 3 Player jacks, Digital Camera cord & Mobile Phone cables. But I will not talk about that here.

Fundamentally Convergence of content‘there is much more than e mails coming into your PC’ – has not been matched by convergence of format (hardware) – ‘your PC can be your everything’!
And people who still do this (i.e. use a PC to do everything) do it as a compromise, still have a high definition home theatre parked in their heads. They still want to separate ‘their movies from their mail’, ‘their Doom 2 from their word documents’ and wrist watch from their mobile clock (this last one is provocative!)

Why is it that?

Difficult to say but it perhaps could be due to
1. Habit - entertainment is a separate bucket from enterprise?

2. Lack of cost effective products that can deliver the solution – My PC, even with the sub-woofer, still can’t match the home theatre experience, my mobile phone still does not capture the steady shot that I want. At best these are make-do solutions till I can buy the ‘real’ thing?

The only driver for the convergence so far, has been mobility. “I will use this as my camera and my music player and my movie pod because that’s the best I can get on the move.”
In other words when I enter my home, there is a lot of competition for an I Pod but outside – I pod rules. And if future is about increased mobility urban and suburban mobility then there is a great long-term potential for this business. However, if telecommuting becomes much bigger than commuting then things might change. This is one thing that I have had no fix on yet. Will we travel more in the future or travel less?
Because if one were to believe the technology theorists in late 90s then the airline business should have suffered a lot at the hands of video conferencing and the primary traveler today should mainly have been the leisure / holiday traveler, who travels for site seeing and not gets of the airplane to go to a hotel or meeting room and head back to the airport sometimes in less than 24 hours

To come back to my original thought strand – convergence I believe is happening around mobility and user profiles. We have different gadgets that are being loaded with additional features around the location of their use. So there is a role for mobile phone, there is a role of MP 3 player, there is a role for a digital camera and all of these features are loaded into a gadget while looking at the user profile. There are, and perhaps would always be, various kinds of users – those who move around much more and need to carry more features and those who do not and thus want only specific benefits/features. In other words all devices will have their logical role in different physical setting all the way from home to the subway station, to a coffee shop to office and back home.

Before I close I want to share the last ‘if’ on the above conclusion about ‘convergence happens around mobility and user profiles’. This conclusion is based on the assumption that that physical space will be relevant in the future.
(I personally do not believe it would be.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Beautiful Presentation - Ugly Wires!

1. The Laptop maker makes laptops
2. The projector maker makes projection equipment
3. The mouse makers make mouse
4. The Speaker maker makes speakers
5. The power extension cord maker makes extension cords
6. And the ‘end-user’ makes the presentation..
But the presentation needs the laptop, it can’t do without a projector, some of the end users even need a mouse to manage their cursor better and finally all meeting rooms do not have embedded speakers – so the presentation also needs speakers to make the audio video experience more ‘livable’ for the audience.
In other words all the hardware above, plus the content on that PowerPoint file (well that is the format most of the time) comes together to make the presentation happen right.
But unfortunately none of the above seven, except the presenter, is thinking about the final presentation. So you have one wire going from the right of the laptop towards the centre of the table (to the projector) and another wire is going from behind the laptop towards the base of the chair that the presenter is sitting on (to the power socket) and another wire is going from the other side of the laptop to connect the two speakers. In other words just about as many wires that can make the whole ‘presentation apparatus’ look clumsy and static.
“Hey watch out! You just might step on the power cord or disconnect the projector and then starts the long road back that goes through Fn+ F7 etc etc..
How long do we think it would be before some hardware maker (or office furniture outfit) starts thinking about making this look better and work seamlessly? Even if we can’t rid the apparatus of all the wired – can we at least make them less visible or more manageable.

Can someone think about the presentation please?

Friday, November 09, 2007

Can we get some innovation in here please?

Chips are becoming smaller and faster
Memory is becoming lighter & mightier
Screens are becoming photo frames and interactive surfaces
Keyboards and other ‘peripherals’ are disappearing
Projectors are shrinking in size and improving in resolution
Speakers are becoming smaller and sexier
Music players are becoming portable and yet Hi Fi
Content connectivity is going wire free – at least over short distances

But one thing that is common to almost all of them and has not demonstrated any visible signs of development in the past, almost, 50 years is power.
The last ‘remarkable’ development in the sphere of power sources, in order to fuel the ever hungrier gadgets, was solar panels in calculators and watches alike and rechargeable batteries that rid us from the worry of replacement every time.
After these two breakthroughs (and Lithium Ion to an extent), I have not witnessed any development in this area. The batteries are still large sized, heavy, unwieldy and most importantly just about average in catering to the ever evolving needs of present day devices.
Portable Power Devices have not been able to keep pace with the evolution of Portable Devices. These power sources still account for the bulk of the weight of most of the personal gadgets.

Even among desktop devices, power continues to represent the clumsiest part of set up – bulky power adaptors, long wires, lose connections and problems pertaining to over charging etc.

Perhaps players engaged in the manufacturing and distribution of power devices or components can benchmark themselves against connectivity. Just watch how multiple platforms (desktop, laptop, mobile phone, WiMax etc.) are all aligned towards trying to ensure reach to the end user.
Could we expect WireFree gadget recharging that is robust and mobile? Could we create gadgets precharged for a sizable duration of time, from the time they leave the factory?
Can we visualize a gadget world sans power cords? Whence we do not need to ‘tie down’ all our personal gadgets, to a wire every time we reach our office or home.

Friday, November 02, 2007

This child learned algorithms before A for Apple

The kid in question is AI (Artificial Intelligence) - pet peeve of the ‘technology will surpass human thinking school.
I must confess that AI has taken long to evolve and no-believers still say that look at that clumsy Robot ‘it’ still cannot tell a Cat from a Dog but I would tend to agree with what Ray Kurzweil has to say about the evolution of AI. It is learning the bigger things first – detecting patterns in what we now popularly know as algorithms. This is a kind of evolution like the baby first learns to crawl, then walk, talk, then read write and finally do engineering or statistics and write codes patterns etc. AI is learning almost entirely the other way round. It is learning to map patterns in an ocean of numbers and then stepping towards reading and writing and perhaps the final frontier would be the Cat and Dog difference. We must acknowledge that AIs evolution is a function of its application. We do not need computers to tell a Dog from a Cat but we do want the child to know which is which right?

Why is only this, your chosen strategy?

Well, I do not know who thought of it first but recently I heard one of our senior colleagues say this. Come to think of it – it is a bloody good question; One of those that we seldom ask ourselves. The question is a great way of checking if we ‘think’ what we want to do is right or is it our ‘gut’ (‘or past experiences’) that is driving us to do it. In fact when you try and answer this question you begin to think not just why the chosen plan works but more importantly what could be the other plans or approaches to achieve the same objective.
This, I believe it is supremely democratic introspection – which sometimes gets undermined especially when we are very passionate about a particular way of approaching the problem.
It is a great way of checking what one is thinking. Also, I would suggest administering this question after having decided the chosen path or plan. Because by this time we have done a good deal of thinking convincing ourselves and people around about our proposed way of doing things

The idea is to check dispassionately what we are passionate about. If the approach is solid the plan will endure the test but more importantly it would open up a lot of streams of thinking that would preempt questions and comments from people who are not close to the making of the original plan – most of the times our end consumer/audience is in a similar situation. Thus while answering why this is the best strategy or our chosen strategy, we are also preempting some questions, concerns or contradictions which are often eclipsed by our passion for the chosen path!

Brand & the Power of Story

Sample this:
“This Polo by Ralph Lauren sweater is an expression of quality craftsmanship and integrity of design, from the selection of fabric to the execution of every detail. It has been crafted of pure cashmere interlock for lightweight comfort and breathability. This sweater has a generous fit to accommodate the natural shrinkage that will happen after the first few launderings allowing it to then retain its size and shape for continued comfort and freedom of movement. The subtle variations and nuances of shading that occur in this sweater are what give it its unique character and are not to be considered as imperfections. As with all pure cashmere this Polo will continue to soften and fade as it becomes better and more personal with age.”
(As mentioned on a Ralph Lauren sweater label.)
Great words! Nice story, very engaging and makes the product seem very special.

I have not bought a lot of Cashmere before so I do not know if the above things happen to it. But here is how an average Joe (who, at best, has bought woolens made with ‘pure lambs wool’) would interpret this。 “This sweater will shrink, it will fade (even upon being dry-cleaned) and it will have colour variations.”
Together, these three make for a bad product. At least back home (in India) if some mid priced brand’s label read like this – the product might not sell.
But look at the power of story telling and the brand that it comes from. It lends everything an entirely new, and almost opposite, meaning
1. Bad/lose fit is made to look like ‘room for shrinking’ in future
2. Fading looks as if the sweater were ‘mellowing/maturing’
3. Colour variations look like symbols of ‘uniqueness and personalization’ (smart sweater adapting its shade to match the personality of the person who is wearing it!)
4. Not fit for cold windy weather is made to look like ‘breathability’
5. Imperfections are made to look like ‘unique character’. Mistakes become beautiful mistakes.

Branding, I tell you, is poetry that sells!

Close the loop

I owe this and the last post to thoughts triggered by what Kees Van Der Heijden has written. Amazingly simple yet not practiced enough!
Almost every organization (and I will include families and societies in this) has three kinds of people at work – those who can perceive, those with the ability to think and finally those who can do it! If we can close the loop between these three and their conversations, communities, motivations and actions – we’d have what I call power ranger organization! I am sure how many of us have witnessed this but I see it often – we are individually outstanding and collectively average or at best good. While I have seen a lot of literature on leadership and how it is their primary role to make these three schools (perceive, think and do) come together and form Top Gun but it is difficult for me to understand how just leadership can make it happen all by itself? Especially given the fact that there are so few leaders in any organization and how much can they realistically reach out and try and close the loop. I do not have an answer yet. But keep watching this space!

Organizations are more rational than individuals as decision makers

Good and Bad.

Good because rationality brings longevity to the setup. We all want to live long (if not forever!) It is not very surprising that celebrity fades faster than the brands they endorse (well, most of the time).

Bad because when it comes to understanding and interfacing with consumers (especially in consumer products/services business) organizations are unable to shed their rational hangover (or take of the logic hat if you please).
They fail to step into customer’s shoes leave alone walking with them in those. Because the underlying assumption for everything that they think and do about their customer assumes that they are thinking rationally.

I call it the iron fist in velvet glove thing – be rational but behave emotional. I believe that people & processes in any organization can gain a lot by striking a balance between being logical and being themselves. Our desire to control everything is understandable – but we can’t imagine the payoff of letting things be, at least sometimes, because we have never done it.
Letting be, letting go, stepping back and even away from rational thinking or just asking oneself “what do I personally believe in?”, can actually throw up some really new directions.
From there on we ‘just’ need to walk in the direction (guts again!)