by Steve Prentice | January 15, 2010 | 1 Comment
I am currently visiting numerous clients in California en-route to a briefing tour in Asia Pacific (the point of which will become apparent shortly!).
In the course of discussions the question was asked “Is their Good Technology and Bad Technology?”. I thought this was an odd question and paused momentarily. Now perhaps it was the fact that I had recently gone through the increasingly security conscious immigration process past all those pistol-packing officials (seriously has an immigration officer ever pulled their weapon and threatened, let alone shot, a prospective immigrant because they had filled in the wrong box on the form?!), but I was reminded of the unshakeable mantra of the National Rifle Association here in the United States – “Guns don’t kill people!”. Now call me a timid Brit, but my natural aversion to firearms always induces my silent response to this claim “…. but they sure make it a lot easier”.
The same I fear is true of technology. Like guns, technology has no morals, murderous intent or values – it is just stuff. There is no good technology or bad technology but there does appear to be an awful lot of bad implementation! Good technology applied badly usually ends up with the technology getting the blame, usually because it cannot answer back!
Like Darwinian Evolution the good implementations survive, bad ones decay. As Anthropologist and Intel research fellow Genevieve Bell told me some time back – “Technology succeeds when it meets a need that people care about!”. If the technology deployment doesn’t meet a need – it is doomed to extinction. If it doesn’t do anything that people care about, it is equally doomed. Think about that the next time you get seduced by the flashy new toys from the technology sector. Find the need. Find the people who care – and you will succeed!
Category: Behaviour technology Tags: context, value
by Steve Prentice | January 7, 2010 | 3 Comments
So Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer includes a quick demo of a forthcoming HP Tablet “computer” in his CES opening address. Kindle announce a larger screen version of their e-Book. Alongside 3D everything, tablets look like being the form factor of the moment in Las Vegas. The opening rounds of a war, but does anyone actually care yet? I doubt it!
After attending the giant Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas for the past couple of years a more rigorous application of prudence in travelling expenses means my feet get a rest this year! I’ll simply let my fingers do the walking (Hey! that sounds like a good marketing tagline for an information source!). I will miss the buzz and the sense of actually being there, but I also feel that (despite the strident market messages from the organisers to the contrary) such mammoth geek-fests have probably passed their peak. Remember Comdex? The next few days will be spent immersed in blogs, web trawling and chatting with the Gartner analysts who are on site (and didn’t have so far to travel) to see what has caught other people’s eyes and try to make sense of it away from the objectivity sapping environment that is Vegas during CES (objective analysis is tough when all you can think about is your feet!).
But back to form factors and tablets. What we are are seeing here is a continuation of the long tail decline of the mouse, keyboard and screen (no pun intended). Touch screens are everywhere (although I am stunned by the prospects of Sony’s giant 24 inch version), driven onwards by the growing ubiquity of multi-touch on our portable devices. Devices in this category are going to continue to challenge the dominance of the conventional mouse and keyboard – if only we can get our heads around the fundamental question “but what is it good for?”. The answer to that is equally simple “we will find out in due course!”. The road to innovation is rarely defined by the constrained thinking of the existing product lines. It is a bit like those amazing catalogues of kitchen and household gadgets – full of stuff you didn’t even know existed and yet now you find that they have become a “must have”! We will find out what tablets are good for, and in a few years time, with the benefit of hindsight, will wonder how we missed it for all those years. Tablets, surface computers, gaming stations, free air inertial controllers – the human computer interface is changing whether you like it or not.
But back to tablets. What we have seen so far is merely posturing and skirmishing. Everyone knows that the only one that matters is whatever emerges from Cupertino in due course. Of course we all know that Apple isn’t producing a tablet computer (well at least not officially). But you don’t need to be Einstein to realise that if anyone can break the deadlock of “what is it actually good for?” then Apple probably can. They don’t develop new products, they redefine social behaviour around technology with engaging user-experiences. Mind you, they have had their share of failures, but recent form has been pretty solid so if I was a competitor that is not the outcome that I would be relying on.
Maybe we will find out later this month, or maybe not. In the meantime, lots more fun, gadgets and gizmos from Las Vegas to pass the time!
Category: technology Tags: Apple, CES, tablet
by Steve Prentice | December 30, 2009 | 3 Comments
The Christmas holiday season is a time when you get to meet many of the more far flung members of your family, and their offspring – it’s always an interesting period. As economists around the world are still debating the undoubted impact of Paul Samuelson, the Nobel prize winning economist who died a couple of weeks ago, I fear I may have discovered the next generation!
There I was, gently digesting and deliberating after a hearty meal, when a young nephew comes up and asks me a question. Now he is a studious lad, takes an interest in the world around him and asks questions of adults when he doesn’t understand what is happening. “Can you explain to me” he says, with an angelic smile which disguises the demon lurking inside, “why governments have spent so much money to save the banks, but don’t want to spend the same amount to save the planet?”.
Wow! This boy has a future attending shareholder meetings and asking those awkward questions! Why indeed I pondered, considered the rather lacklustre performance in Copenhagen, compared to the enthusiastic approach to throwing taxpayers money into the financial system. I started to gently explain how important the financial system was to the effective operation of the world economy when I immediately realised that I was going to get caught in a temporal infinite loop worthy of a Doctor Who script – if we don’t save the banks we won’t get to save the planet, but if we don’t save the planet, do the banks even matter? Clearly I was going to have to come up with some killer analysis, and fast. I admit that I failed. At any rate I failed to come up with a simple enough answer to satisfy the innocent (or maybe not so innocent!) inquiry of a pre-teen citizen of the world. Fortunately, the more immediate demands of chocolate and other arriving relatives distracted him from my indecision.
It is a simple question, and attempts to deliver a simple answer appear only to highlight the short sightedness of our elected leaders. I would love to have an answer to satisfy such innocent simple curiosity.
Answers on a postcard please!
Category: Behaviour Uncategorized Tags: economy, environment
by Steve Prentice | December 21, 2009 | Comments Off
I have been pondering a lot recently on the notion of “value” and the motivations we have for investing in technology and the like. This is a subject I will likely be exploring a lot more in my research in 2010. In the meantime I have to share two examples of technology advertising that I encountered in the past week. They show how far the industry still has to go, but that some may be starting to see things differently.
First the ridiculous. I keep an eye on developments in the semiconductor space as part of an interest in emerging trends and technologies. So I happened to glance through a press release from a semiconductor manufacturer (whose name will be omitted to spare their shame!) and found myself crying (and almost laughing at the same time!). The press release related to the use of the companies specialist chips in wind turbines and contained the following paragraph:
At the heart of this system is ……. deleted…….. embedded in the data acquisition hardware …. deleted …..sub-assembly part affixed to the turbine’s nacelle. Delivering core processing performance up to 333 MHz/2 GFLOPS with support for IEEE 32-bit/40-bit floating point and 32-bit fixed point operations, …..deleted…… processors employ an enhanced Single Instruction, Multiple-Data (SIMD) architecture to provide the real-time processing bandwidth and atomicity required to keep these subsystems running in precise coordination.
Now my semis colleagues earnestly assure me that this is all very relevant stuff and fail to see the absurdity. Come on guys! This is about a chip being used to make wind turbines more efficient. Great news! Issued at the same time that the world’s leaders are meeting in Copenhagen to address climate change this was a week when green issues were front and centre. Ergo, this was a glorious opportunity to link a piece of technology with global environmental issues. Save the whales! Save the Polar Bears! Save the Planet! Nope, let’s just hit them with the technobabble! Sorry – this was a missed opportunity of major proportions – 0/10 – Must try harder in future!
So it was with great surprise that I came across a poster for a new notebook from HP whilst charging through Heathrow airport in the same week, en-route to visit clients (yes, I know it isn’t very green either – sorry planet!).
It contained just one big word – “ENVY”.
It stopped me dead in my tracks. No tech specs. No tech babble. No features. No functionality. Just a good old-fashioned appeal to my emotions. Hooray! Tech advertising finally catches up with the rest of the discretionary spending items like cars, clothes, holidays, food and the rest. “Buy me and make everyone envious!” – now there is an appeal to tug at the purse strings. At least one notebook manufacturer (or at least their advertising/marketing people) have realised that there are higher order appeals than technology and they need to do something other than proclaim they are faster, cheaper than the rest. Well done to you all! 10/10 – Has reached new heights in imagination this year.
More on the notion of value in the new year!
Category: Marketing Tags: value
by Steve Prentice | December 8, 2009 | 2 Comments
It has been a busy year and I kind of got out of the habit of blogging, so I have resolved (in advance of the holiday season!) to try harder!
I have passionate discussions with the virtual environments community about the use of the term “Serious Games”. I have lost count of the number of times that I have pointed out that, at least to a business person, these two words are uneasy bedfellows. If it is serious, then to call it a game is to undermine its value; and if it is a game then it clearly isn’t serious (and should be expunged from the corporate environment forthwith!).
However, whilst most people see the point, I have to admit that life isn’t quite that simple anymore. The runaway success of Modern Warfare 2 on it’s release in November and the sales since (news reports estimate that sales could top 12 million copies before Christmas) put it firmly on par with Hollywood blockbusters with sales revenues well over the $500 million mark. A serious success if not a serious game as many might view these things. However, despite the runaway success MW2 only really builds on the success of the existing franchise and, as a first person shooter game (albeit with more blood, gore, carnage and mayhem than most) it doesn’t exactly break down the doors to a new market.
The same cannot be said for the other runaway success of the past few months, although not so much in revenue terms. I am talking of course about Farmville! I don’t believe I am alone in being amazed by the amount of time, dedication and energy being devoted by members of my family to the pursuit of agricultural excellence. “We have to get back home NOW! My artichokes need harvesting!”. First thing in the morning and last thing at night, the entire household (well, at risk of being accused of sexism, the female part of the household) now runs to the demanding but gentle schedule of the rural economy.
The success of Farmville highlights some interesting features. Firstly it seems (at least in my experience) to appeal to the female of the species rather than the male – maybe it is the nurturing instinct coming out. Requests to join diected to my son are not only unheeded, they invoke outright incredulity – pass me that grenade launcher! At the same time, it has (like Nintendo and the Wii before it) opened up new markets and attracted a loyal (an understatement – fanatical would be a more accurate description) following. Whilst MW2 sets new standards in video effects and realism, FV stays firmly rooted (pardon the pun!) in 2.5D cartoon characters – and seems none the less attractive for it. What is the point you may ask (as do many regarding MW2 and other games), but social games, casual games or whatever you want to call them seem to appeal to a fairly basic need in the human psyche – maybe there doesn’t need to be a higher purpose. Of course the challenge is the inevitable “How do you make money?” which bedevils all social software initiatives. But successful – I would have to admit that it is, in it’s own way which is not so directly financially linked as MW2.
Which brings me back to Serious Games. Both MW2 and FV, whilst poles apart in content, intent, price and realism, have to be considered serious in their own way. It all depends on your point of view. Business leaders might be well advised to just think a little before dismissing all so-called games as a waste of time. As travel restrictions continue to bite we are all going to be spending a little more time getting to know our avatar and getting in touch with our virtual side!
Category: gaming Tags: addiction, avatar, Consumer, gaming
by Steve Prentice | March 11, 2009 | 2 Comments
As the parent of teenagers I oft times despair of the amount of time they spend online, on social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and the rest. I’m sure I’m not the first parent to demand they “get off the computer and get a life!”. As an analyst who has more than a passing involvement in these social behaviours this leaves me with a conundrum – I see it, I recognise that it must be valuable to them, but I’m not sure that I really understand it. But there is no doubt that Davey Winder does.
I picked up his new book “Being Virtual – who you really are online” without too many expectations and was totally impressed. This is the first book about virtual environments and online communities (and there have been plenty) that addresses the issues from the point of view of what these environments mean to people. If you struggle to understand why digital natives, your gen Y employees or even your kids do what they do, go read Davey’s book!
Category: Uncategorized Tags:
by Steve Prentice | March 10, 2009 | Comments Off
Apologies for the absence. (Note to self: Must post regularly to blog!)
I was at CeBIT in Hannover last week. Apart from the fact that my feet very rapidly reminded me of why, in the past, I resolved never to go again, it was an interesting experience. I was moderating a panel on the business value of Virtual Worlds (more of which in a later post) but had the opportunity to work my way round some of the stands looking for interesting new developments. I didn’t find a lot I have to admit.
What I did find was a half empty hall devoted to “Green IT” (maybe NOT being there was the greenest strategy!) and another hall simply overflowing with cooling devices for CPUs. Water cooling, forced air cooling, you name it they had it. It seems that when it comes to “sweating your assets” CPUs are having a hard time of it these days. I’m not sure what this contrasting set of exhibits says about the state of the industry today, but it seems we still cannot get enough horsepower.
Category: technology Tags: cooling, green
by Steve Prentice | February 18, 2009 | 1 Comment
In previous posts I have expressed my belief that 3D is going to be important this year, as gestural computing combines with improved technology (and lower costs) to bring about a far reaching revolution in the user experience.
There are news reports this morning that Microsoft is looking to acquire the Israeli startup 3DV Systems, makers of the Z-cam depth sensing camera. Whilst their interest may initially be in the gaming space to support the X-box, expect to see this technology moving into broader applications in the coming months. This field is full of startups, many in stealth mode, and this will not be the last acquisition we see in 2009. As I said at the start of the year – 3D is going to be BIG!
Category: technology Tags: 3D, gaming
by Steve Prentice | February 9, 2009 | 2 Comments
I just love the Australians – they are direct and challenging, which always makes for a stimulating conversation. Yesterday, during a day of client meetings I was discussing social collaboration, innovation and the relationships between technology and society with a CIO and his team. He is a seasoned veteran who has seen it all and done it all. At the same time, he and his team have created a very Gen Y frienddly environment. Support for personal devices, no restrictions on access to social networking sites, lots of innovation and understanding about the expectations of a Gen Y workforce. I had to say I was impressed – he had gone much further than many organisations I speak with. Then he hit me with the sucker punch!
“So the question I have for you” he said, leaning back in his chair with the start of a wry smile on his face, “is this – we’ve done all this stuff for our Gen Y workforce – But what has Gen Y ever done for me?”. Shades of Monty Python and the Romans!! It is a difficult question to answer, because many of the usual benefits about innovation and morale, recruitment and retention, productivity and collaboration are all difficult to measure, there is lots of soft benefits, but not a lot to wave at the CFO come budget time.
Now clearly, since actions speak louder than words, he believed that what he had done was necessary or it would never have happened, but the current conditions often require us to go back and measure and document the benefits. “What has Gen Y ever done for us?” is a very good question and I would welcome your answers (on a digital postcard please!). And don’t bother to mention the roads, or the sewage system – I’ve already got that on the list!
Category: Behaviour technology Tags: Generation Y
by Steve Prentice | February 8, 2009 | Comments Off
As a photographer one of the things you learn early on is to think about the “negative space” – the background, the stuff that is not the focus of attention. The human brain has an amazing ability to filter out the negative space whilst concentrating on the main subject – until you see the final image on a print or screen and think “I never saw that at the time!”. It is a useful lesson that can be applied elsewhere.
One of the benefits of travelling is that you get to read a lot – and on a flight down to Melbourne (where the weather, mercifully, has returned to something a little more normal) I read avery thought provoking article in Wired regarding the use of geosocial applications (applications which automatically provide information about your location). The writer, Mathew Honan provides a good summary of the benefits but, for the first time in my experience, also drives home the dangers of revealing too much about where you are – like where you are NOT (the negative space thing). For example, tell the world you are going on a trip (and even provide proof of how far you have got) and announce to the world that your house is now empty, time for a little burglary perhaps?
Sure, a smart hacker can gain this information from your cellular carrier, but should we really make it that simple, especially as the law enforcement authorities expect an increase in “acquisitive crime” during economic downturns?
This article might just make you more cautious about revealing too much!
Category: Behaviour technology Tags: geosocial