Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Is Netbook becoming a Notebook? - Part 2

IDC forecasts that by the end of 2009 almost 20 million Netbooks would have been sold. This represents almost 12% of the entire Notebook market. To me this already is a sizable chunk of the mobile computing market.
Now step back and imagine what if Netbooks had entered the mobile computing space before the Notebooks did. Would we still prefer the Notebook to the Netbook? Think.

To me the real potential of the Netbook is as big as the Notebook market is today and the bottom end of the PC market. This is the real number of people who need Netbooks.

The question is how can we reach Netbooks to them faster?
Somehow companies seem to be in two minds about promoting their Netbooks. Perhaps because the more they promote these, the more competition they create for their own pricier and more loaded Notebooks.

But isn’t this cannibalization inevitable? After all sooner or later majority of consumers are going to realize that a Netbook can address their needs.

This situation somehow reminds me of the Film Roll Camera Vs. the Digital Camera conundrum 8-10 years back. Only thing that makes Netbooks poised for a still faster adoption is their lower price. (Digital cameras were very pricey at the time of their launch.)

If we think about the needs of the three potential user groups that we talked about earlier – it will become evident that there is enough room to market different kinds of Netbooks between these three groups. The frequent traveler is looking for a professional Netbook, the young girls is looking for a cute Netbook and the students just want their first digital workbook in the shape of a Netbook.

There is a huge market for these light & smart devices and we as marketers and manufacturers need to allow this market its rightful place be it the airport lounge for a frequent traveler, a studio apartment of a young girl, or a classroom anywhere in the world.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Is Netbook becoming a Notebook? - Part 1

(and Notebook is becoming a Desktop?)
Recently my Mandarin teacher introduced me to her newly acquired Lenovo ideapad – a Netboook. It is a small, sexy, simple and solidly built thing. Interestingly enough, my teacher already has a Notebook but she found it too heavy to lug around and thus the Netbook.
Did she compromise a lot for this portability? Not really – except for the fact that the screen is just about 12” & there is no DVD drive – there is virtually no perceptible difference in the performance. Even the smaller keyboard was not limiting in any perceptible way. Given that my teacher is not a graphic designer or a hardcore gamer, it is no surprise that Netbook is just what works for her.
I asked her about how often she used the Notebook, now that she had an alternative and as it turns out, her Notebook has now become her home PC.

To me, this kind of user is not an exception. In fact I would go on to say that majority of laptop users today, actually use their Notebooks to do similar things. Most of the time they are checking/sending emails, doing IM chats, creating and saving MS Office files, surfing the Internet, playing some flash games or saving an interesting video downloaded from some website or received in a mail from a friend. Come to think of it, there is not much other than this.

This usage behaviour is not new – what is relatively new is having the option of buying something like a Netbook. But there was and, in many situations still is, a perceptual block towards Netbooks viz. the fear of buying a slow performing computer that jeopardized everyday work, the doubt that the keyboard is too small to allow ease of usage etc. Increased adoption will potentially change all this perception. The more people see what a Netbook is capable of, the less they will doubt.

In this adoption cycle - the most potential group of users and most likely the potential blocks that could prevent them from choosing the Netbook could be perhaps be summarized thus:

1. Group 1: ‘Netbook is the new Notebook!’
Frequently traveling ‘non-organization man or woman’ who works for him (he might have a laptop and/or desktop as his home of SOHO computer)

Potential Block 1: “Does it look professional enough for that meeting?”
Potential Block 2: “Does it work seamlessly like laptops?”

2. Group 2: ‘Netbook is the way a computer should be’
A large group of young female users, who prefer ‘cute-portability’ to ‘pricier specs’. They choose the clear benefit of simplicity over the hard to understand definition of performance

Potential Block: “But I have not seen any of my friends using it. My boyfriend never suggested me I buy that. Is it a good choice”?

And now the largest and the most under-utilized user group
3. Group 3: ‘Netbook is a Workbook’
Students comprise the largest group who should be using Netbooks. Visualize the Netbook case as the new school bag.
Student applications are perhaps best suited for the adoption of Netbooks. No wonder this is the group that inspired the creation of Netbook first.

Potential Block: “My school tells me I can only buy XYZ brand of Notebook, I can get this at a special price”

Together these three segments can be really big. In fact the third segment by itself is a huge under utilized opportunity.

This post will be continued.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Unusual is ok as long as it is an Offer

While in Chengdu for the recent National Day holidays I thought of checking out the departmental near my hotel. I had not walked for more than two minutes inside the electronics section of the store, when I reached an island display announcing a Bag of Rice or a Bottle of Cooking oil as a free gift with every purchase worth more than RMB 500. This was in the middle of names like Nikon, JVC, Panasonic, Philips, Sony, Apple etc.
A very pragmatic promotional offer I should say. Despite the fact that the department store was not necessarily a value destination – the promotions were very down to earth

This unique offer reminded me of something that I witnessed almost six months back while I was in a similar departmental store in a smaller town close to Kaifeng in Northern China. There I was greeted by something even more unusual – I saw a colorful starburst announcing Tide Detergent Powder being given out free with second hand DVD Players.

If I were to speculate a few inferences from these two separate observations, I would say that just like the Indian shopper – the Chinese shopper loves offers. As long as there is a promotional freebie attached to a product being sold – no matter how unrelated it might be to the product– the shopper will pay attention. This also reminds me of what my ex-colleague and good friend - R Narayanan once told me about China- “China can be a market for the most unusual of products.” I would now add by saying – “China can be a market for the most unusual promotional offers.”

This also makes me think about looking at promotional offers through a wider lens. Instead of getting stuck in the more conventional- brand or category related paradigms, we can actually open ourselves to ideas that are pragmatic or simply unusual.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Making Engines AND Engineers

While sitting in a discussion on competitive advantage of nations, a thought crossed my mind “Japan makes engines, India makes engineers”. I realized, how the ‘Education and Opportunity’ landscape in India groomed world-class minds and yet we still had a long way to go before we could provide an ecosystem that could utilize many of the talented minds from India. Once we could achieve this, we would be able to develop breakthrough innovations and take them to the world rather than watch talented Indian minds work on breakthrough innovations for developed nations.

Arguably a large proportion of best Indian brains leave India in search of better opportunities. Iconic institutions like the Indian Institute of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institute of Management (IIMs) have made a name for themselves and so have the professionals who have studied here. So, when I walked into a Television section of an electronics chain store in Chengdu (Central China), I was pleasantly surprised to discover THTF the brand name on one of the flat panel televisions on display. THTF is TsingHua TongFeng Electronics. Not just the name sound similar to TsingHua University, Beijing (consider it to be the the IIT Kanpur/IIT Mumbai of China) - it actually is a brand started by an entrepreneur who is a alumnus TsingHua University!

I realized that there could potentially be a big opportunity here. Although Hindu mythology does talk about not mixing Goddess Saraswati (Goddess of Knowledge) with Goddess Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth) thus keeping education and accumulation of wealth apart. However, when I see the THTF brand, I cannot help but visualize the opportunity for some of the iconic educational institutions in India. They could perhaps give even more to the society, by leveraging their name and expertise to create opportunities for young minds to develop products and services that can also be marketed under their brands. Be it IIT, IIM or IISc (Indian Institute of Science). What can be a better Venture Capital (VC) fund or a Technology Startup than the one that can be mentored by our own experienced professors and lead by bright students while being supported by business leaders and investors!
Visualize consumer electronics brand supported by IITs displayed next to names like Sony, Sharp or Apple.

Engineers innovate & innovations rule the business world – there is no reason why we can’t better realize the hidden potential of the Indian innovation engine by leveraging the esteemed marques in the education arena!

Monday, October 05, 2009

Car is now a Gadget – 100%?

Look at these messages for some of the newer models of cars:

Get the link?

Bhp and cc and cylinders and turning radius and torque and 0 to 60 in xyz secs and etc and ect. Well, most of the cars used to be marketed around these - one way or the other. But what I see now, especially for some of the newer models of middle to high-end cars is very different. The story seems to be shifting from the mechanical details under the hood to the electronics inside the cabin. Be it GPS or Cruise control, or Audio systems, or electronically controlled comfort features, or communication features linked with inbuilt hands free technologies etc.

Car makers have usually talked about features like power, handling, safety, fuel economy, cost of ownership. Then why this change?
Are people not looking for superior car engines anymore?
Have we hit a ceiling in development of newer car engines?
Do we not have any more stories from the mechanical engineering side of building good cars?
Is the future of car innovation linked with electronics than the mechanics of car building?
Is hardware going to give way to software even in automotive engineering? (Mobile phone making is the other business that is witnessing this change!)
At least for the developed economies of the word, it might not be inaccurate to say that people have had their fill of powerful cars and thus carmakers are focusing on other things that can turn the buyer on.
This shift in focus of innovation could also be due to the fact that innovating in the electricals, electronics, and software aspects of the automobile is relatively less capital intensive (“get the microprocessor, the audio system and the GPS in – these are relatively more readily available technologies with relatively more predictable consumer response.”)
Also, these are potentially more visible enhancements for the driver than the subtleties of superior car handling which are arguably already perceived to be ‘good enough’ - at least among the mid priced and premium cars.

I can foresee the innovation in mid and high-end passenger cars to follow along this trend up until the time when there is a breakthrough innovation in automotive engineering that brings the focus back to under the hood changes, which can be felt inside the cabin too!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Warning: Ubiquitous Intelligence Ahead - Party Responsibly!

Sony recently unveiled the immensely interesting Party-shot. The dock-like contraption is capable of rotating 360 degrees and tilting 24 degrees. It uses a combination of Sony’s Smile Shutter and Face Detection technology. In other words the camera attached to the Party-shot will seek out profiles and automatically take pictures. But this post is not about the features of this new gadget and the technology behind it. This post is also about what would happen when we forget that our friend’s camera is watching us even when we are 4+ drinks down happily swaying all over the dance floor!
What would happen to post drinking privacy when our host would no longer need to drink less to capture those ‘golden moments’ (read morning after regrets)?
I mean everyone would be equally drunk and Party-shot would be busy doing his job by clicking everyone as clearly as the technology allows. (People who watched three drunk men on a security camera happily walking away with Mike Tyson’s pet tiger in the movie Hang Over, would better relate to what I am pointing at here)

This points at the potential social impact of the ubiquity of intelligent gadgets around us. Ubiquitous intelligence could be great convenience as long as we remember that we are being watched by, more than just the, security camera. We might be in for unpleasant surprises when we don’t.

What we would do, in our offline world meshed with ubiquitous intelligence and in our online world full of our digital fingerprints, is going to increasingly effect our everyday life. I already know more than a handful of people who have been caught with embarrassingly contradicting accounts of personal information. What you are on Facebook, a dating website, a Blog, a business networking website, Twitter and the Office intranet are not as mutually exclusive as many of us are beginning to realize.
It is difficult to imagine that the fear of being recorded while doing the off the record things would slow or stop the adoption of such technologies, but I can clearly foresee the emergence of new services to manage this involuntary ubiquity.
I can foresee online or digital PR evolving to serve not just the big brands or the rich and the famous but just about any individual who wishes to have a cleaner, or should we say a ‘better-managed’, online presence. Similarly, like the mobile phone or GSM network jammers of today (used mainly for security purposes), I can visualize portable devices that act as ‘sensors for gadgets’ that help people scan the environment every time they seek ‘privacy out of home’.

However all this assumes that we are not drunk perpetually. So drink even more responsibly in the future because you’ll never know when you are going to go live!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Divergence 2

The scenario of Divergence that I talked about in the last post is probable, however its probability hinges on some basic consumer factors. There could be more but I would start by outlining three:

1. What percentage of the total users would like to have separate portable devices for functionalities like taking pictures, navigation, music, games etc?
2. Within this group, what percentage of people would like to upload, download pictures instantly after capture, or play music and games online and on the go?
3. And finally how many people from the second group would be prepared to pay for wireless connectivity services that enable these activities?

Conventional logic would perhaps make us believe that such consumers might be very few. However I believe that adoption of such new gadgets and services might not follow a linear course as we saw above. A lot hinges on the form and experience factor of these new gadgets and these wireless services. (Future surprises us all the time – it was difficult to imagine that people would always want to carry all the music that they liked. But as we saw with the success Apple iPod – they did, and even paid a premium for it!)

The other set of questions that these gadgets and services raise are to do with operational factors like industry standards and interface. What would be the application software in these devices so as to be able to interface with the Internet? Which operating system would they use?

I remember reading Everyware, by Adam Greenfield, last year. Greenfield offers a sneak peak into the questions that ubiquitous computing (ubicomp) would raise in the future. The book looks at the ecosystem of the wirelessly interconnected devices of the future. Greenfield goes on to talk about the importance of finding common standard for all these things to be able to interface effectively. AT&T’s pursuit that I discussed in the last post would l make this need even more immediate.

What might be exciting to visualize is that if this is going to happen in the future, what would happen then. In other words what could be the social impact of these technology developments and how could it potentially impact our behaviour in the time to come?
Questions from our future are heading our way fast!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Divergence 1

(It has been a long break (again). I guess too much of work at work is not the best thing for a Blog. Hope to be more regular from here on..)

Digital camera, game consoles, e books readers, GPS devices etc, are all familiar gadgets of everyday use.
Now imagine all these devices having the ability to hook up to the Internet on their own.
• I mean the camera does not need to wait to be near a computer to transfer pictures nor does it need to be attached to a mobile phone to share
• The mobile game console can surf the net in wide area - wirelessly
• The GPS device does not need to be attached to a mobile phone to get its quadrants right
• The specialized e book reader (largely like the Kindle of today) hooks up to the Internet on its own, wirelessly.

If AT&T were to have its way – we could soon see a mobile service provider selling subsidized cameras, GPS devices, E-Book Readers, hand held video game devices and more (BusinessWeek July 2009). The motivation for a company like AT&T is quite simple more the number of wireless connections, greater the usage and thus higher the revenues.

So what’s the big deal? Two I think:

1. “‘Master Gadget’ Never Really Came (the wait is forever?)”
This indicates that the device approach to the definition of convergence (one device does it all) is not coming out to be true. Somewhere corporations have realized, that it is not worthwhile to wait for that ‘one device’ that people would start using as their master gadget (i.e. make calls, surf web, take pictures, read books, listen to music, get directions, play games, etc etc)
Why has it not come? Well, it is debatable.
Corporations would prefer to say that majority of consumers are not ready to switch to and pay for that one device.
Consumers would say – there is no worthy device that can deliver satisfactorily on even half of the desired functions well.

I guess iPhone or iPod Touch, are examples of devices that have managed to come close to the desired multi-functionality

2. “The real war for standards (operating system etc) is perhaps about to begin”
Which OS version and Internet browser would these many different devices (made by manufacturers spread across the world from Tokyo and Seoul to Shenzhen in China, use? Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari or Opera? Netbooks going the Android or UNIX way or Nokia building Symbian as the Mobile OS standard etc are not the real news. The real news would perhaps be who among Microsoft, Nokia, Google etc ends up holding the majority of the Operating system and Application software sky.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Professional Skills (Analysis, intuition, Judgment, Experience and Imagination - Part 2)

I did not mean to have such a long gap between my last post on this subject and this follow up thought. But this subject just got overlooked in the everyday!
Hope it is not too late for it to be still relevant.
There is a skill more important than all of the skills that I talked about in my last post on this subject.

There is something much bigger than analysis, intuition and judgment all put together. To me, the ability to Believe and Decide is bigger than all else.

One can have the gift of intuition to define the most inspiring direction of thought, one can have the ability to analyze and reach the causes underlying the problem, we can have the most experienced mind helping us judge the multiple outcomes of any action - but at the end of it all, we need someone to believe in one of the approaches and then go after it.

Nothing can be called successful until it is decided and executed - that is where I see a skill vacuum. Very few people have the ability to decide and decide on time. The brightest ideas can flop just the way the most obvious options look like strategic turning points, if they get the nod in time and are executed right.

People love to talk about strategy but no strategy can be called that unless it is implemented. Before implementation or execution strategy is merely an option. Here is what I have observed about great leaders and strategists – “they are not the brightest they are the bravest!” They believe and do. Belief and courage in action becomes leadership, and leadership brews success.

We never really know if we truly believe in something till we are in a position to decide basis that belief.
People seek power but very few people are comfortable when power comes their way. The power to decide needs power in that person to decide. But ironically people become very jittery when they have the decision button under their thumb.

To close this discussion here is how I experience the basic professional skills in action everyday

Intuition: gives direction/motivation for decision
Analysis: gives options, right questions
Imagination: gives ideas
Judgment: can give decision/strategy
Courage and Confidence: Finally helps all the skills to add up to something tangible
Belief (or delusion!): Gives confidence and courage

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Introducing the well-known

I usually avoid talking about advertisements here but I could not help putting this one up. I have not seen any television advertising for the Accord 2009, but what I saw in print really caught my attention.
Imagine what perhaps would have been the brief for this piece of communication?

Accord is a well-known brand from Honda and has a history of more than 15 years or so. Thus with a new 2009 Accord coming to the market – the objective was not as much to talk about Accord as it was to talk about the 2009 version. It is not very difficult to imagine that, with one new version of Accord coming to the market almost every 18 months, the new features would be more incremental than transformational. The twin challenge could thus have been
1. How to make incremental changes, from a well-known brand, look interesting
2. How not to leave everything just to the looks of the car?

This is the beauty of this magazine advertisement. Here is how it addresses the above among other challenges, effectively:

1. Make a well labeled diagram but give it a story: The cross section of the car is more than just that – it uses a visual compartment with miniature people in it to demonstrate each feature. It makes each new feature personal and thoughtful and visually arresting. You will definitely stop and read more.

2. Talk about many things and yet give one message: The care has many new features – but the one message that it gives is that the new Accord is loaded much more than ever before

3. Do not just get stuck with the inside: The advertisement still shows the car from outside – looks take care of the rest of the concerns about “is the new Accord looking any different after all?”

4. Tell people what they want to know: Everybody knows Accord is good. Everybody also perhaps knows that the new Accord would be having something new. The question would be - what? This is exactly what this advertisement tells the reader.

Accord 2009 is a winning product. And if I were to go with this example, I would say that the communication also does full justice to make everybody understand that.

Monday, June 08, 2009

The story in the summary

These days you tell people something and they will urge you “Tell me fast!”
When you have an interesting idea you are urged to “turn this concept into an elevator speech!”
When you have a concept you are often asked “what is the key visual for this creative approach?
When you have a theme with multiple facets, people say “can you show this as a visual board?”
And one of my favourites, “Do not give me a research report – just give me a well edited video film that I can play for about 7-10 minutes..”

People try to get more out of their life and time in more ways than one “The album sucks – just get the 1st and 4th track”, “What is the one thing that this workshop told you?” “So what is this book really saying?”

And then of course everyone tries to convey their feelings with communication expressions like “LOL”, “Rgds”, “Tks” “tc” (in addition to, the now, more than 50 kinds of smiley)

Also, in the past almost 2-3 years, people have even started rationing spelling their names – I guess it started with the lack of time and soon turned into a statement of style through on brevity. So Saurabh Sharma is not needed at the need of every mail – ‘s’ is enough however if you really mean to sign off, it can be “S”.

The rise of visually rich adult comics, messages with symbols, PowerPoint presentations without words, word documents without many words, music without words, music videos with Karaoke are some examples of the new shorthand culture.

While on one side everything is getting “shorter, crisper, smoother, faster, focused, narrow, now and quick”, on the other side there is this constant appeal for the “Story”. “Can you say what you want to say in a way that I not just hear but I also ‘like to listen’, ‘remember’, ‘believe’ and ‘act upon’?”

I believe that the paucity of time is intensifying the tension between ‘relaxed story telling’ and ‘brevity geared for efficiency’. The long story needs to get short but the short point needs to tell a story!
Today, the classic - ‘brevity is the soul of wit’ also needs a story that can be engaging and yet at the same time ‘the stories that we tell need to be told in the elevator’.

Interpersonal communication, especially in work situations, is becoming increasingly demanding and most of us who do not recognize this end up at the wrong side of it. The key perhaps is to understand (in real time) when to switch to the story, when to say the summary and when to say the story in a summary.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hey work, I will not think about you after work!

The more people I meet from the urban workforce (the non-assembly line service sector), the stronger my belief gets that “in these modern times, the place of work is getting reduced to an execution zone”. Notice how many of us draw a “Jobs to do” list on the night before Monday morning or in the subway or bus on our way to work.
Place of work no more seems to resemble a place for contemplation, at least no more individual contemplation.
There is just too much ringing, buzzing, pinging and falling apart - for one to be able to ‘switch oneself off’ and contemplate.
There are way too many people pressured by the weight of project delivery date!

No wonder some people are trying to create zones that can still trigger some thinking – usually through groupthink. A more popular word for this is brainstorming.
Increasingly brainstorms tend to be proxies for lack of opportunity to think on one’s own feet (and rest of the times it is aimed at ‘creating a perception of consensus’ for something that might originally be an individual’s idea).

Lack of opportunity to think at work might not lead to anything significant, as long people do not treat their work and life as two separate and watertight compartments. If we are telling ourselves that we are not at all going to think about work after office hours, then in a way, we are telling ourselves that we are not going to think about improving the quality of our work!

My good friend Manish Sinha often used to say, “The best work happens at the fringe of work”. In other words best ideas usually come our way when we are not necessarily looking for them.
This, I am sure contradicts with what we hear most of the business leaders claiming in media– “I stop thinking about work the moment I am at home”.

I would not say if it is good or bad but if we try and demarcate work and life the way many of the business leaders make us understand that they do, we might not be able to achieve the quality of thinking that is needed for the same breakthroughs to happen.

This does not mean that we cannot be great achievers if we are not workaholics; it just means that we need to keep our minds open for fresh thoughts and breakthrough ideas can come anytime.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Your MP3 player is ringing & my gaming device is downloading your song

I have always believed that the iPhone is just another iPod that makes calls and can surf the web. This perhaps is one of the reasons why the iPod sales have been slowing down, ever since the iPhone was launched in 2007.

In November of 2008, almost a year and a half after the iPhone came to the market came the latest version of Nintendo’s hugely successful handheld gaming device - Nintendo DSi. Unlike the earlier DS versions, Nintendo DSi is not a revolution, however it does have something that I believe is revolutionary (although lack of robustness might prevent us from acknowledging it yet).
Other than additions like a camera that you can play around with, the DSi is WiFi enabled.
To me, this is the point of departure. If I were to look at this development in the context of Wii’s plan to stream content for its users to their consoles, then the DSi is following a very similar path. To me it seems that through both of its products, Nintendo is trying to enter the content & applications space – rather than just selling hardware, which it has done so far. This transition is similar to what makes iPhone and iPod sexier than many viz. the presence of iTunes and the Apple App Store.

However this transition acquires greater meaning when we look at the next question that it raises. “How many devices will I carry when DSi’s WiFi function stabilizes?” or “What all would I want to carry, when games on the iPhone start matching the sophistication of titles on DSi?”

This question about convergence keeps haunting me. Would it really be one device? If I were to look back (and I hope I am not looking back too early) I do not see it happening:

1. Mobile phones have failed to become notebooks – and thus we have Netbooks filling shopping shelves!
2. Notebooks could never become elegantly mobile – thus came Netbooks!
3. The TV could never become the PC and the PC could never become the TV!
Also click here to read about the new roles that the TV is set to play, beyond entertainment!

The above three are interesting because the MP3 (iPod) player did become the mobile phone (iPhone). So – is it about consumers not being ready for one product or most of the companies not being able to come up with a compelling design and function that can motivate them to buy ‘that one device’? I suspect it is the latter.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Television 1.2

I remember – it was a weekend in 2005 and I was in India – reading a news story about Videocon (a consumer durable major in India). It was about the company launching the first Internet TV in India. I also remember the media and expert noise around this launch. They were all talking about how innovations like Internet Television and (large screen) computers, with high-speed broadband access, would ultimately replace the ‘classic’ television.
It has been almost 4 years now. Desktop computers have traversed a journey from standard CRTs, to large size flat screen CRTs, to slim LCDs. And the laptops have traveled from 12” micro sized notebooks to large 17” machines and now super small and ultra light Netbooks.

The computer has become faster, more graphic rich etc etc. but the size of the display unit (screen/monitor if you like) despite moving in all directions – size wise - has remained more or less the same - average size in the neighbourhood of 15” (based on my personal observation).
While the computer screens have remained more or less the same size – the Television screens have been expanding in size. We might need to check this empirically – but the average size of a television screen is definitely much more than the erstwhile average of 21”.
If I were to hazard a guess on the average size today– it could be anywhere in the neighbourhood of 25” to 27”. Why so?
Other than the fact that television companies want us to buy larger, flatter, slimmer, clearer TV sets (because that’s where the margins are!)– the unifying force behind TV buying is family viewing. Members of a household still tend to converge around the television. It is easier to justify purchase of a big and expensive television perhaps because it is a ‘household item’, as compared to an expensive computer – which can be seen to be more personal.
While a lot of people, especially young and single individual households have started using their laptop or desktop as their entertainment hub (Movies, Music, Communication etc), those living in a family, continue to converge around the TV.

Given this - it does not surprise me when I see Television in yet another light. I understand that a company like Cisco finds an entirely new meaning for the classic TV! (Cisco is staking a claim in the consumer electronics space, with its new line or products based on home networking technology).
With its newly acquired companies, Cisco is now in a position to offer videophone service that has the Television at the heart of it. For example when a Flip video camera is connected to a set-top-box, the cable connection and the Television – one can get the videophone experience that we used to see in Startekesq Sci-Fi TV serials.
However – what amazes me even more than the home videophone technology– is the fact hat this experience is being visualized around the TV screen instead of the computer screen.
To me this is almost as if Television were now offering a unique experience in the communication space – just the way it has classically offered a unique experience in the entertainment space.
The stereotypes that come to our mind when we think of web chats viz. – a man peeping into a computer monitor while video chatting with his parents /girlfriend on his computer screen, might just be about to make way for the same happening on TV and with a larger number of people doing this together.

In my view – if we humans as a community continue to derive greater meaning from our interactions with other people than we do with things – then I foresee newer a much wider application for the Television in the future.If video telephony catches up I can foresee our Televisions becoming still bigger in size and even more important than before. The entertainment equivalent of pod casts might upstage broadcast, or other forms of personalized entertainment-on-demand, but the TV set does not seem to tuning off anytime soon. We seem to be heading into the world of Television 1.2.
Keep watching!

Monday, May 04, 2009

Assembly-line is innocent; board is evil?

(What follows is not indented to glorify the GM & Chrysler management or position them as innocent scapegoats.)

Pardon me if I sound like an extreme capitalist when I write this, but the recent developments in GM and Chrysler make me doubt the accuracy of judgment and opinions being raised in media, Government circles and by people in general.
The question that vexes me is that while passing a judgment on the inefficient, operations of GM and Chrysler, “is it accurate to look at the management of these two corporations in isolation from the larger work force engaged in the assembly line operations?”
1. “Isn’t manufacturing good quality cars as much a responsibility (if not more) of the assembly line staff, as it is of the senior management?”
2. “Did the assembly-line staff not observe that their company is not innovating?”
3. “Did they not realize that if they themselves were to buy a car or recommend one to a friend– they would rather look at something other than the GM or Chrysler?”
4. “Being insiders – did they not realize that their company was perhaps not headed anywhere?”
If all this did occur to them - then what did they do about it to correct it?

If it did not occur to them or they did not do anything about it, then to me – they are as much responsible for the downfall of their company as their boards are made to look, in popular media.

I believe that every employee, no matter what lever s/he is engaged in a corporation, has the responsibility towards himself and towards the company to ask – “how are we doing?” “Why so?” “How can we improve?” “What are we doing to improve ourselves?” “Why or why not?” And most importantly “what role can ‘I’ play in making things better?”
I am also reminded of something that my friend Prem Narayan once told me about the what “NR Narayanamurthy”, the then chairman of (Infosys technologies), once said in response to what an interviewer asked him. The interviewer asked Mr. Murthy “how did Infosys hire the best talent?” to this Mr. Murthy replied by saying, “We try and look for people who have dreams for themselves. If a person has a dream for himself, he can only do very well for the organization that he works with.”

From whatever little that I gather from the media reports - the GM & Chrysler workforce dis not seem have that personal dream that could activate them to achieve more!

I do not know if this is the capitalistic way of looking at things but to me commerce has a lot to do with meritocracy and hard work. If we are not good enough to do something and we are not even trying to better ourselves – we do not earn the right to flourish.

I also see a parallel between this principle of meritocracy and theory or natural selection. Only the best have a right to live and grow. That is the way nature operates and we cannot pass a judgment when this principle manifests itself in business & commerce.

To me the GM & Chrysler episode demonstrates how public opinion is based on emotion rather clarity of thought. Just because the GM and Chrysler workers are much larger in number does not mean that they have a right to be incompetent. The taxpayer’s money is earned from hard work and it should ideally be invested in ventures and projects that are based on merit and hard work.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Two World’s Collided_2

(Continued from last Post – Two World’s Collided)
As we mingle in these two worlds parallely – it is interesting to note how protocols & conventions from the physical world are being selectively carried forward into the online world. Here is how:

1. Space: In the physical world we prefer to keep our belongings with us – so either at home / office, or where we are. The only thing we do not mind stashing out of home (given that we feel that it is safer or wiser to keep it there) is our money. It sits very conveniently in banks and we almost never complain about it not being safe.
However when it comes to storing our information/data online – we are still very cautious. Observe how individual users still prefer to keep their information on personal external hard disks that are owned by them and usually kept at home. In a country with seamless Internet connectivity, this is definitely not the most efficient way to access information – however it is still preferred over the more accessible online storage.

2. Time: It is very strange to ring friend’s door bell at 12 midnight or call him or her at 1 am, but it is perfectly Ok to chat on an instant messenger though the night.
It is strange to buy things in the market after 10 – but it is perfectly ok to shop for cosmetics or gifts online 2 am in the morning!

3. Expression of emotion & thought: More often than not, most of us are much more expressive in the digital world than in the physical world. It is very strange to flirt with a married man in the office but it is Ok to get intimate & talk about anything with him in a chat room.
Perhaps because of the fact that the online world offers an opportunity for us to be able to say things and not bear the consequences as directly as it is in physical world. (“we are less shy, when we do not need to look in the eye..”)

4. Social Protocols: While the convention for greeting in the physical world is all about reciprocity, we are very comfortable not reciprocating similarly in the online space. Leaving a friend alone at a bar table, without telling him is considered odd, not replying to something that your colleague is asking you across the cubicle wall is considered rude – however it is common to leave an instant messenger chat without intimating others, it is common not write a thank you mail to someone for the help that was received from him through email.

5. Attention to detail: It is ok to have a letter or email or text message without worrying about the grammar, capitals and even spellings – but it definitely is not a good idea for a hand written document or any a typed document that would be printed!

What I have outlined here, are just some of the many protocols that we have subconsciously consented to follow or ignore.
On the surface I am left curious wondering why on some occasions we choose to follow the protocols and ignore them on other occasions?
However what challenge me even more are some fundamental questions that this user behaviour raises

1. Semi Anonymity:
As the digital world expands to acquire a role bigger than that of the physical world of today (Read more about Digital World Upstaging the Physical World, in the Feb 2007 post: ‘No Lungs to invest in eco stocks!’) no one would perhaps really know our true identity – what would be the meaning of privacy then?

2. Space:
What would be the meaning of ownership when things would no longer have to be physically located near their owner?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Two worlds collided_1

Today we do more and more things online & large part of us lives in the digital world.
• Email, chat (to communicate)
• Twitter update our thoughts/emotions (sharing/communicating)
• Mining, Sharing, Uploading, Downloading Information (for work or leisure)
• Blogging our hearts and minds (sharing/communicating)
• Networking (to socialize)
• Gaming (to entertain ourselves)
• Online avatars (for a Parallel Lives/entertainment)
• Shopping (for Leisure/Value)
• Buying/Selling/transacting cash (Commercial goals)
And many more..

If we were asked to think of things that we couldn’t accomplish online - they would mainly be those that involve a necessary interaction with the physical world of atoms. Most of the other things can be accomplished online.

This engagement with the digital world is manifested when we look at the three key ‘time zones’ in everyday life viz. home, work and commute - we see that our engagement with the digital is the physical world is illustrated even better.

Home Time
At home especially if the family is small without kids etc- the online behaviour is not much different from the office. We are either online – updating Facebook profile, organizing pictures on Flickr, reading a book online, or offline engaged in domestic chores, buying the stuff from super market, going out for work or socialization, taking pictures etc.
Home Time

Work Time
At work, we are predominantly engaged either with the digital world (email, web conference, web surfing, chatting, preparing documents etc) or the physical world – talking to a colleague, going for a ‘physical’ meeting, having lunch, smoking, walking up to a colleague’s cubicle, so on an so forth.

Transit Time
Even while we are in transit – a time when we are expected to be in the physical - we see people absorbed in their mobile phones – reading novels, or comics, viewing video clips, talking, playing games, texting so on and so forth.

To me it is much easier to understand our preoccupation with these digital interfaces when we look at them not as a PC, a Mobile Phone or a Laptop & instead look at them as elements of a new world that is taking shape. I call it a world because a large and growing part of the population is doing more and more things online. One possible way to evaluate the significance of the role that this world plays in our lives would be to visualize one month without it! Even if it is gone for 30 minutes, most of us feel lost without Internet at work for some of us it is true even at home!

The popular activities that people engage in when they interact with the new Online World have 3 key defining characters. (There could be more – but let us start with three.)

The online world turbo-charges our reach. Although we continue to know a select group of people but our set of acquaintances grows multifold and the people who we interact with but might not know much about, grows even more. This vastly expanded network but relatively shallower understanding people in the network, (and thus weaker bonding with people in this network), gives us what I can be referred to as semi-anonymity.

Expression free from context:
I usually summarize it thus – “we are less shy, when we do not need to look in the eye!” The online world offers all of us a unique context because more often than not it does not make us think much about the context. It is much easier to say something personal, private, provocative or even intimate, and do this much sooner, in a relationship (or even when there is no relationship), when one does not need to do it in person.
The online world offers this chance! It frees the personal expression from the context in which it is being said – thus stakes seem to be lower.

Digitization of Physicality:
Unlike the physical world that operates in on physical dynamics governed by space – the online world collapses physicality. This makes the online world offer an entirely new paradigm to its users.

In the next post – I would attempt to illustrate how the above three characters of the online world impact our behaviour in different situations. How we make subconscious choices to carry forward the offline protocols and how sometimes we switch to new protocols.

Monday, April 13, 2009

So where was I going? What was I doing?

Does it occur to us that every time we log on to the Internet – more often than not -we end up spending more time than we originally planned? More so at home, given that the proverbial ‘cyber cafĂ© clock’ is not there to haunt us!
Over-running our planned Internet time is linked with aimless clicking from one page to another. WILF or ‘What Was I Looking For’ is the expression used to describe this phenomenon. WILF happens mainly due to the hyperlink-to-hyperlink clicking that we engage in. Reading about something, clicking on a link that has more to tell about the same and so on - the chain can be endless.
Once we are on to the chain we can easily lose track not just of time but also what is that we were originally looking for – thus ‘what was I looking for..” This chain starts with the random surfing that begins during the time that the browser window is loading the web-mail page, or the time between clicking on an attachment icon and the opening of the file and many more similar in-between moments. These are moments in which we engage in checking out the other stuff’! As a result after about ‘2 hrs of what we would describe as ‘checking email’ and ‘surfing’ –what we have actually done is just about read 4 mails, deleted 15 spam mails and a lot of ‘random clicking.’ Many young college-goers actually suffer from such net addiction.

However this post is not about WILF. This post is about the potential impact of location aware mobile devices, on our movement in the everyday physical space. This post is about the possibilities that would emerge when our location aware mobile devices would start interacting with user generated soft maps (soft map = city map layered with information about personal preferences viz. my favourite pub, the quietest street, the best pizza, ‘my crush lives here’, get your camera & click the sunset from this point, the best park for the morning jog etc.)

When people would walk around while being constantly told, by the location aware mobile device sitting in their pocket, about the best that they could do in the place that they were in – wouldn’t they be prompted in a way that is similar to the way an interesting hyperlink prompts people on a web page?

Of course a lot of this prompting can be switched off – perhaps almost in the same way that we block unwanted pop ups on websites. However location prompts could be harder to resist for they would not just be linked with our physical location (and thus much more relevant) but also sensitive to our preferences that our mobile device would be much more aware of.
For want of a better example – Amazon’s customized home page is the closest web equivalent of an irresistible prompt of the location sensitive future.

I am curious to know the social impact of this consumer technology that is headed our way – soon!

Imagine young people wandering around the city, moving around district while staring into their mobile devices just to get to that place that their friend has tagged as ‘the place’ for the best local street snack, only to get distracted after a while by another tag that points at a spot which is best place to click the city from an elevation and then discovering a bargain on hand painted T-Shirts – that is two blocks away.. and then running into a GPS driven treasure hunt game organized by a bunch of local skateboarders who are looking for a partner..and at after a few hours of all this the person is left wondering where was I going, what was I doing?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Apps, Maps, Advertising & Paid Services

Selina Wu is a good friend of Rakesh & Joan Fang. They have all chosen to be ‘traceable’ to each other. So every time they come in 5 sq km proximity of each other, they get a prompt on their phones (through a GPS based application that is downloadable for free).
It is 7pm on Friday and Selina is driving home. She has only driven out couple of kilometers form office ad gets pinged that Rakesh and William are having drinks together in one of those Belgian joints. The place has been recommended to her by many but she never really got the chance to go there. Now, Selina might choose to just say hi to her friends over a call or text and set up a meeting for later. Alternatively she might want to join them for beer and finally get to see this place as well. But Selina does not know the way to the place and directions over the phone do not seem to be work for her. So she opens the maps application on her mobile phone and activates navigation. Soon enough, she is there and they are discussing the latest office gossip as the third pint comes up.

As you would have already guessed – there is no science fiction in the above scenario. Such applications (tagging select people) and services (navigation) are already available in select markets and soon in many. However in the scenario above, there are some underlying assumptions that I have worked with, while portraying this situation:

1. I am assuming that people like to be tracked/tagged the way I have illustrated here
2. I am assuming that people would not mind being interrupted (going home and then suddenly changing over to go to a pub with friends)
3. I am assuming that Selina prefers GPS directions instead of being told over the phone, how to get to a place. Or asking the passersby about the exact location of the place
4. I am assuming that Selina does not mind paying for the navigation service

These seemingly obvious assumptions can potentially be challenged in terms of a diverse social & cultural backdrop in different countries. For example my experience in India and China is that people prefer to ask their way to a place rather than using technology to figure it out. However I could be wrong given that such mobile navigation possibilities are relatively new in these two markets (especially India). Thus it might also be too early to conclude if this is a viable mass proposition in these two markets. Making people pay for a navigation service seems to be a challenge. This is perhaps true because City knowledge seems to be given for most of the residents and such things as maps and navigation seems to be more of a tourist or expatriate behaviour rather than local’s way of getting around the city.

However there could be alternative ways of helping people utilize navigation and yet not charge them for it. This can be achieved by overlaying an advertising layer on this. Here is how it could be done - just imagine the above scenario again but this time the Belgian joint that Rakesh & Joan are sitting in, subsidizes the navigation for Selina.
Why? Because with one more guest – the joint is going to make more money from the same table. So Selina gets her navigation to the place free, Rakesh and Joan get Selina’s company and the Belgian joint gets one more guest.
However this advertising layer still does not address the questions raised through assumptions 1 to 3. To me, having a convincing point of view on the first three is the tougher part.

Mobile applications and services like these among others, that I would be writing about in the subsequent posts, raise many fundamental questions about the adoption of mobile services, technologies and their social impact. This discourse would perhaps help in painting a clearer picture of what could work and what perhaps would not, in the post 3G mobile phones & services market.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Analysis Intuition Judgment Experience & Imagination

I was motivated to write this after listening to some of my friends and colleagues say – analysis is the most important contribution that one can make at work! I also believe that analysis is important – however there are more things that are equally, if not more, important.

In theory, analysis seems to be an important skill for any kind of work. However, from the applied skills perspective – analysis is the easiest thing to do. This is because it starts with some facts and information as an input, and in these times information and facts are not impossible to get as long as we are ready to pay for these (and many times we do not even need to pay!).

So, if information and facts are easy to get, that leaves us with analysis right? May be not. To me in any particular assignment, looking for some information, facts and starting the process of analysis actually come later. What comes first is to define the problem or the opportunity correctly or as we say in creative businesses defining the problem creatively. This is linked with asking the right questions. To me this is the biggest contribution that can be made by anyone.

Going back to why is defining the problem or the opportunity correctly, the most important activity in any assignment. I would say it is so because in real business (and life) situations – problems do not come to us in neatly organized packs. We need to ‘figure them out’. This is where our skills come into play. To be able to ‘figure out’ the problem requires judgment, intuition and a good dose of experience.
Having said this, I must also add that, every new assignment or situation calls for an open mind because there is a lot of randomness lurking in almost every situation that one finds oneself in. It is not enough to have all the judgment, intuition, analysis, and experience on one’s side. It is equally important to realize that every new situation deserves imagination, for it to be approached in a whole new way. This is because while problems can come in patterns, this pattern can break without telling you and me. It is our job to ‘figure out’ when that happens!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

5 Questions for 2009

It’s the start of a New Year – many trend reports, many forecasts, many personal resolutions and horoscopes too!

I have five questions that I am keen to find answers to and look I forward to watch these closely, in the New Year.

1. Will China begin to engage in world affairs like the US (in some way)?
For example sending her troops to play a role beyond protecting its geographic territories?

Would China’s increasing engagement in Africa, lead to one situation when they would have to send a larger number of her troops to protect her business interests in far off lands and seas? Would this become more than the few naval ships that they have dispatched to protect the Chinese Merchant Vessels from the Somali pirates
What would be the UN (US) reaction to China’s increasing dominance of a greater region?

2. Would Iran get the bomb or start to become a great business ally of China?
The latter – China-Iran nexus could be a part of Obama administration’s grand plan to help diffuse tension in the middle east by bringing in China as a ally to negotiate peace and denuclearization. All this in order to secure economic stability for the US, through special trade & finance deals with China.
China gets a foot-hold in ‘the oil region’ while US secures a speedier exit from the downturn.

World Economy
3. Will we witness the rise of a substantive alternative to the US Dollar?

The financial meltdown that began its journey from the strongest economy in the world, also left the US Dollar in the cold. Would this trend continue & lead to alternative currency(ies) for global money exchange?

Global Security
4. Would the world really do something concrete to purge terrorism (of any kind) from the face of this planet?

Would the new & democratically elected government under the leadership of Asaf Ali Zardari be able to start the process of freeing Pakistan (and the world) from the clutches of Islamic fundamentalism? Would his administration be able to reduce the dominance of the armed forces in running that country?

5. Will Nokia be able to regain her global ‘image leadership’ in the mobile devices business?
Especially given the way consumer expectations have heightened in the ‘post iPhone era’?

Nokia has a slew of new (and exciting) products lined-up for 2009. But more importantly 2009 might be the year when the world would be able to see what Nokia has been working on for many months – mobile services. Services which made Nokia say that she is no longer just a device maker but an ‘Internet Company’!

This list of questions is not comprehensive in any way – however in true spirit of a short post I would keep the rest of the questions for some other occasion.

We’ll look back at these questions in the last week of 2009. Happy New Year!

Friday, January 02, 2009


I was recently sitting with some people as we were being told about a new methodology to research Shoppers in China. The premise that was driving this shopper research methodology was that shoppers in China are on auto pilot. What it meant was the most of the shoppers already have fixed preferences about brands and they are just ‘executing’ their preferences while they are inside the store. This is a big assumption. However, in my understanding of this market the shopper choice is not premeditated.

There are many reasons for this
1. For ‘majority’ of the Chinese (in some way similar to the way it is for Indians) the whole process of shopping (even if it is for seemingly boring things like grocery) is about entertainment. It is not a chore – they actually enjoy the process
2. This is also perhaps because the modern trade format (“so many shining shelves”, “so much variety”, “such a clean &comfortable environment to buy”, “attractive packaging”, “so many offers” etc) is still a new experience for the consumers – shopping is almost like going to a carnival.
3. Also, consumers are not very sophisticated to be able to discern the difference between 21 verities of Shampoos or 38 kind of soaps – they are still flirting and romancing with choice

Given this consumer context Autopilot is not the right assumption for the consumer yet (and please, I am referring to the average consumer – not people in advertising and marketing – who are, more often than not, on auto pilot and evading communication)

That brings us back to so where did autopilot come from?
Well, I believe that most of these shopper models are created in the developed markets and they are brought to Asia in their ‘fully built form’ – with least regard to adapt it for the local markets.
These models are very accurate when it comes to describing how people shop -say in France or UK and even US. Because consumers in these markets are seasoned in a way and do not process information in the retail environment the way their Chinese and Indian counterparts do in Asia.
Here is an example of how we as marketers and advertisers can go terribly go wrong by assuming that the consumer is very discerning and is looking for very specific things in those shelves. “Organize the shelves by product description (viz. for dry skin, for oily skin, for skin toning, for skin whitening etc) instead of organizing the shelves by brands (Dove, Nutrogena, Ponds etc). However ‘majority’ of shoppers in China and India still identify things from brand name, for they are not so sophisticated to discern their needs that well. Also, they want to try a few before they can settle on a certain brand. Needless to mention that choice is relatively new and they are still looking around.
So you see my point. We need to step back and let the consumer have a little fun while s/he is still enjoying the process of shopping – let us not assume that he is too bored already (like he is with advertising!)

Happy New Year (shopping)!