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Google Glass: Are we ready for wearable computing peripherals?

I think the technology and the consumer are mostly ready. The society, not so much.
Pros:

  • Wearable computing peripherals are convenient since they don’t occupy your hands and usually stay at the ready.
  • Wearables can enhance your ability to capture and review your experiences.
  • Each wearable peripheral can stand alone to add something to your experience depending on what environment you’re entering for the day (hiking day vs. working day)
  • Wearables can work together in an cumulative or even additive way, giving us more information about our daily habits and experiences.
  • They’re geeky!

Cons:

  • People will be uncomfortable with being monitored by others, especially by video capture.
  • Lots of time will be wasted reviewing all the new personal data logs.
  • Social media will be further overloaded with data about others.
  • Expensive wearables may be vulnerable to theft.
  • Dead batteries become the norm.
  • They’re geeky!

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First Look: Sony PlayStation 4. Any Game Changers?

ImageSony held a special conference last night to introduce the new PlayStation 4. I think the most notable thing about the conference is that they failed to actually introduce the console. Sony didn’t show the console hardware and they didn’t announce any pricing or availability. I’m not really sure they even confirmed the name or anything. After all, Sony’s webpage simply says “PlayStation: See the Future” and directs Twitter traffic to the #playstation2013 tag
So, what did we see that matters?
There’s the mundane and expected:
  • Lot’s of studios working on great games.
  • x86 chip, 8GB RAM, huge hard drive, etc.
  • Camera.
  • Social gaming network
There’s the Questionable:
  • Can’t play your old Playstation games, streaming only
  • Touchpad on the controller – bad location and what’s the point
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There’s the New and Notable:
  • DualShock 4 controller finally gets some curves and comfort.
  • Continue games on PS Vita portable console (if you have one)
  • A “Share” button right on the controller
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I Spotted One Experience Delight:
  • I love the instant Suspend and Resume from a power key on the DualShock 4. That definitely reflects modern computing appliances like smartphones and tablets, but it is not a game-changer by itself.
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I hope there is much more to come from Sony on this generation. I don’t think instant on/off is enough to stand out. I do understand that the serious console gaming market is really about the games. Sony is delivering in that area and the games looked impressive. Still, they held out on showing the console design itself at the Introduction. Why?
Images from Sony and Kotaku.com

HTC Ultrapixels vs. Megapixels: Where Experience Design and Marketing Clash

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HTC’s latest flagship smartphone, called the HTC One goes against the megapixel trend in smartphone cameras. They have introduced the new Ultrapixel Camera in the HTC One that promises to achieve better pictures with a 4 megapixel camera than the competing flagships from Apple and Samsung with higher megapixel specs. They have decided to focus on actual image quality. While this is noble and certainly could benefit the HTC customer, it could be a big challenge in the sales and marketing department.
 
The Megapixel Myth
When we Product Planning Pros market a new phone, we always want to promote some differentiating features so that the phone stands out in the crowd. Sometimes, we have to include certain features as ‘entry tickets’ just so the market will recognize it as a credible contender for the market’s mighty buck. Since camera phones entered the scene in 2005, the push has been for ever-higher pixel counts. For a while you wanted to claim a megapixel camera, then it needed to be more megapixels, and now, 5 to 8 megapixels is the entry standard in smartphones, with some offering up to 41 megapixels.
 
Many in the mobile device industry, including prominent reviewers and bloggers, have pointed out that there is more to a camera than the megapixel count. Yet, that is exactly the main thing that has been marketed to consumers. Like clock speed or cores in processors, more megapixels sounds like more to the consumer. What other information do they have when they visit their local shop to compare phones.
 
Is Ultrapixel a Better Camera?
The first distinguishing factor is the pixel size in the image sensor. It’s simple physics that a larger sensor can capture more light in less time given the same lens. So, HTC claims that each ‘pixel’ in the sensor collects 300% more light than certain competing 13 megapixel cameras.
 
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Second, the Ultrapixel camera achieves the largest aperture in the smartphone market at f/2.0 which is 44% more than iPhone 5’s f/2.4 aperture. Capturing more light overall means that the camera will offer better contrast and color in low-light conditions and will show less blur when capturing fast action since the shutter speed can be faster. It also results in less noise in the image since more light is measured to even out the gaps.
 
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Another advantage touted by HTC is the ISP (Image Signal Processor) to fully accommodate real-time video and image processing. Since there are less pixels, it is easier to achieve the processing throughput to keep up with the signals coming in from the camera. This means the camera can capture full-size images in the video capture without compression or other lossy techniques that degrade the image.

 
So, if we ignore megapixels for a second, we can see that this camera module is more in line with a compact digital camera than even the best camera phones. The pixel size and the aperture both set it apart from most smartphone cameras. It remains that the biggest downside is that it doesn’t compete on megapixels.
 
Will It Matter?
Megapixels matter according to most of the consumer research that I’ve been privileged to participate in or review. Most consumers are familiar with the term and equate it with a better camera. In fact, most consumers don’t differentiate the megapixel camera rating from the video capabilities, which is definitely recorded at a much smaller resolution (Full HD video is only about 2 megapixels).
 
The extreme megapixel example in the market was the Nokia 808 with a 41 megapixel camera. Nokia used the megapixels to deliver oversampled images (combining data from multiple pixels into one in the final image) and to allow for a better digital zoom experience. The reviews for that camera were pretty strong overall, with little complaint about the image quality, and much exposure due to the extreme megapixel rating.
 
Marketing Reset
I think that HTC recognizes the uphill battle they are taking on and have decided to try for a marketing reset for the camera. They seek to re-frame the customer’s decision process regarding smartphone camera expectations.
 
Their marketing reset starts with the Ultrapixel Camera name for their solution to sound like it’s better than the standard megapixels that other cameras offer. They have created a website to explain the camera and are trying to educate the consumer about their design efforts. I have also seen some mainstream press already discussing Ultrapixel as a departure from the megapixel myth, so likely they have executed a solid PR effort to achieve that.
 
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Finally, they have paired the updated camera with their HTE Zoe shooting mode. The Zoe shooting mode captures up to 3 seconds and 20 full-scale images by pressing the shutter once. The photo gallery will animate the Zoe captures after a short delay so you get an active gallery with more pizzazz than a typical smartphone grid. Finally, the phone can group them into highlight videos with a selection of themes and it’s easy to share any of this created content to social networks. So, they have tried to emphasize more than just raw picture quality in their value proposition for the Ultrapixel Camera as part of the HTC One.
 
Missed Opportunities?
I think that HTC could have done even more to emphasize the experience advantages of their Ultrapixel camera configuration. Ultimately, their website ends up trumpeting f-stop and pixel size as the new specifications to compare, but consumers are already trained that megapixels matter. For example, they should put the low-light and motion capture performance advantages more to the forefront. I fully expected to see some comparisons on their website showing similar images with and without the Ultrapixel sensor. They should show images of the same scene taken with HTC One vs. competitive flagship smartphones.
 
HTC should, and still could, tap into the social network community with photo contests on Instagram or Flickr featuring low light or motion capture as the theme.
 
Finally, they could have invoked some brand or celebrity to endorse their efforts. If they were to attach a popular camera brand or a popular photographer’s name to the effort, that could help them offer credibility to the consumer that they can relate to instead of f-stop and pixel sizes. They have had success with this approach by partnering with Beats for their audio solution.
 
Drew’s Conclusion
I think that HTC has made a decision to follow the path of designing for the customer experience, followed with the best marketing efforts they can deliver. I hope that the market is ready and receptive to a change from valuing cameras only on megapixel ratings. The whole smartphone industry would be better for it.
 

Mailbox: A View of the App Hype from the Back of the Line

I’m number 755,235 in line, and I’m excited to be there. Already, 14,580 people have gotten in line behind me. This is the place to be!
What is the Mailbox App?
Mailbox is a new app created by Orchestra, Inc that promises to help you turn your email inbox into a task manager. Orchestra previously created a task manager that won Apple’s Editors Choice selection, but they observed that a great number of the tasks originated and were channeled back to email. So, they decided to reinvent the archane email inbox and add the task management functions directly into the mail client. There are 3 aspects that are exciting to me and the reason I must try it out myself.
1. Mobile-First experience
Mailbox has built their app as a mobile-first way to read and process email. They have some fancy data optimization and are creating quite a buzz just due to the responsiveness and quickness of the app to load emails and email threads that reportedly outpaces the Gmail and Apple Mail clients handily.
2. Quick processing
You can quickly swipe emails to send them on to the archive. This is huge if you ever hope to achieve and maintain the GTD goal of “Inbox Zero”.
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image from mailboxapp.com
3. Snooze
With just a swipe and tap, you can ‘snooze’ your emails away and they will return after your chosen interval. That will ensure that you will think of it again at a better time without clogging up the current inbox and ruining your “Inbox Zero” chances.
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image from mailboxapp.com
The bad
The biggest downside that I see is that they only support Google’s Gmail with an iPhone app for now. So, only that combination even gets to apply.
So, I know that this won’t really solve my email challenges. I’m already a happy subscriber to Sanebox for both my Gmail and my other primary email accounts. That service offers the ‘snooze’ function and automatically separates out less important emails into a daily digest. This has been a major time-saver for me, especially in cutting through a lot of the clutter with minimal training needed.
The Hype
I think that Orchestra has made a smart choice in having a live ‘line’ in the app. It has helped them manage the number of active users so that they control their rate of scaling up (to a degree). Also, it has generated word of mouth as new fans give their friends a heads-up to get in line as soon as possible. It’s hard to fight the sense of urgency when a new product or service is obviously limited in supply. In our long-tail digitized world, this doesn’t happen as often as it used to happen.
Care to join me in line? I’m now up to 754,880! Woot!

www.mailboxapp.com

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Instagram “Feeds” Its Followers

Instagram has now made the feed accessible to the web. Check it out at http://www.instagram.com
You can see your normal Instragram feed along with comments much as in the mobile app.
Instagram on the big screen
The first thing that I notice is that the display on my laptop is much bigger than my phone. This is both good and bad. The flaws in the image are much more apparent, but you can more fully enjoy a truly epic shot. I think overall this is a net plus vs. the phone experience.
Keep Your Comments In-line
Similar to the mobile interface, the poster’s first comment and a few of the most recent comments are displayed below the image. This is a good alternative to forcing an expand to see comments or listing all comments in line. You get a flavor for the interaction, but can scroll on by without a challenge.
Like and Comment All You Want
The web interface makes adding a [heart] or comment to a photo about as easy as the mobile interface. You can click a nice-sized icon or double click the image to like it. A comment bar is always accessible below the current comments, so you can click there are start typing. Of course, for most of us, typing on the computer is much easier than entering comments from the phone, but adding emoji will be quite tricky.
Proper Profile Page
This one isn’t as obvious at first, since you will just be in a normal feed, but once you click on an Instagramers avatar, you will launch their profile page. This page is great. Much like the mobile version, it shows your avatar and your profile text, along with your number of photos, followers, and followings. Fortunately, the banner is more than just the text. Instragram creates a collage of your images that will slowly transition to different images in a grid pattern.
InfiniteEye Instragram Profile
This is a much better way to highlight an artist or user and I hope to see this in an IG update of the future for the mobile version.
How Will a WebFeed Impact the Community?
It seems that this is another example of Facebook effect on Instagram. I like that I can access from the web and it gives me a place to send people other than Tumblr or Flickr for my Instagram photos. Of course, on the other side, the community becomes just a little bit less cozy and intimate. I honestly miss the early days of Instagram and all of the community that was fostered by the mutual activity in their carefully confined garden. But, that hasn’t been the reality for awhile and certainly not since Facebook acquired the service. So, we might as well enjoy the convenience of having easier access to our feed and easier presence for our followers and new fans.
Check it out and let me know what you think. Will it change Instagram? Is it better than the mobile experience?

Amazon to hand out some serious coin

Amazon announced their new virtual currency, to be called Amazon Coins earlier today. Coins can be used to purchase apps, games and in-app items for Kindle Fire. They also pledge to give away “tens of millions” worth of the coins starting in May when the new service/product launches. See Introducing Amazon Coins.

I think it is smart for Amazon to provide another way to ease the purchase of content in the Kindle Fire ecosystem. Also, I imagine that they will give Coins away with purchases of Kindles and probably with lots of other goods, too. It will be interesting to see where Amazon ultimately goes with this, but here are some of my initial ideas.

Fire Halo Effect
I could see a small kick-back on purchases whether you have a Kindle or not. Soon enough, you’re going to want to have a Kindle so that you can cash in all of your earned Coins. Could be a serious draw for the ecosystem. I know that I spend a fair amount annually with Amazon. If they give me a small percent of credit toward virtual goods on their platform, it could make that seem more attractive.

Coins Aren’t Real Money
I also believe that they will make it easy to buy Amazon Coins or give them as gifts or in-app incentives. Once real money is translated to Coins, Amazon wins! You will spend it at Amazon on virtual goods giving Amazon an easy 30% commission. Also, you’re likely to have some residual coins drawing you back to add or earn some more. Finally, it seems much easier to spend virtual credits than real dollars and cents.

Kindle Everywhere
Could it also be a way to create more loyalty to their virtual goods over time. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Amazon Coins accepted for Kindle Books or AmazonMP3 to be read and played on other devices, like Android phones and tablets or Apple iDevices. Could be a great way to create lock-in for their virtual marketplace. This would build loyalty toward their marketplace and not just the Fire device portfolio. Amazon’s devices have been created to support their “Long Tail” marketplace, not the other way around.

Drop Some Coin for Anything
Another obvious extension of this would be to allow Coins as payment for all kinds of goods. Want something shipped to your house? Amazon Coins could be a great way to get me to choose Amazon for real-world goods also.

What Did Facebook Miss?
Before I close, it’s worth noting that Facebook failed in their attempt to create a virtual currency for their apps and games. They ultimately abandoned Facebook Credits and just returned to national currencies. This may partly explain why Amazon has defined Coins narrowly for now and will offer only in the USA market at launch.

I wish them luck and can’t wait to see how this develops. Any other ideas or thoughts? Comment below!

See also: http://www.theverge.com/2013/2/5/3955202/why-amazon-wants-its-own-currency

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