Should the iPod be Laid to Rest?

From ‘What Apple Didn’t Announce at WWDC‘.

The Invisible iPod: It may be about time that Apple put the iPod in its rearview mirror. Like the Apple TV, the iPod barely saw a mention at WWDC yesterday other than as a part of total iOS installations. Apple released a new iPod a couple weeks ago to zero fanfare and hardly a press release. The iPod as a featured product from Apple is likely dead.

Does it make sense to kill off the iPod at this stage? Surely Apple can’t rely on the iPhone, iPad, and compatible cars solely for their newly-announced iTunes Radio to succeed.

The newly announced iPod

#IgotGlassed – My first impressions using Google Glass

We’ve just got our hands on one of two Glass units here at Somo. I’ve had a bit of a play around and thought I would jot down some initial impressions seeing as no one on the internet is talking about Glass…

How does it feel?

Weird. Low-res. High-up in my field of vision. A wee bit sparse. Feels like Google Now for your face. Using it feels ok when you get used to it, but I imagined it to fit into my routine seamlessly so I could stroll along checking out the latest NYT stories – not so, it is very distracting when viewing content and I wouldn’t consider it sensible or safe to carry on your daily business.

Do you like what it looks like?

What. A. Dick.

What. A. Dick.

Do you? I think it looks like a computer on your face, and when the screen is on it looks like your devil-eyes glow red. However, in saying this, I am getting more and more used to seeing it around the office now. I think it looks like a great v1. It really makes this Wired article on wearable tech needing fashion to thrive make a lot more sense.

** EDIT

The ’tilt head up to switch on’ manoeuvre is both ridiculous and hilarious (when other people are doing it, not me). You can’t really use it purely without your hands. At some point you need to touch it, which is annoying seeing as it’s on my face.

How easy is it to use? #speechdetection

It is easy. Even new gestures are pretty simple. The only thing that isn’t that ‘easy’ to use is the speech detection – it’s as good as any Google speech detection, it’s pretty good, but quite a few times it picked up what I was saying incorrectly. Also, it was a surprise to me to get generic search results through when asking Glass to ‘find me a hotel’. I was served with the full search result (not sure if it was PPC or not) including such inspiring copy as “Find cheap hotels, discount hotels and last minute hotel deals at LateRooms.com – theHotel Offers Experts. Book hotels & make hotel reservations online or by ...”. Not cool.

I’m using a shared Glass so have only used a few apps. NYT is pretty impressive as it seems to suit the use case of ‘give me small headline snippets of content’ and it reads them aloud to you so that you don’t focus on the screen for more than a couple of seconds.

**EDIT

The speech detection is pretty annoying actually. Lots wrong. It also reminds me why being conversational, like Siri, or Chrome’s recent conversational search, is important. When asked “how old is Obama?” it told me the correct answer. When I asked “how old is his wife?” it didn’t even register that I was trying to talk with it.

Overall…

It’s fun, new, innovative, unique, but a little limited at the moment. This will no doubt evolve into something really useful over the next year, it just very much seems like a v1 product. If Google had given these units out for free, or very cheap, then it would be awesome and completely worth it, however, paying $1,500 for one at the moment isn’t hugely worthwhile.

Will this replace my mobile? No chance. Our phones are really sophisticated, powerful devices that offer everything from 10 times a day utility, through to Plants Vs Zombies. My iPhone offers me far too many rich, thoroughly thought-out, reliable experiences that I fear Glass, or wearable tech sans-smartphone, will take years to match. I see Glass as a very ‘top-level’ gadget – something to give you a snapshot of info – where phones will remain the device of choice for longer, more in-depth experiences.

What mobile means to the Xbox One

I recently contributed to a piece on the Somo blog looking at the Xbox One announcement and what it means for advertisers and users. A little rushed, both in my thinking and the urgency of posting the piece, I think my opinion comes off a little harsh. After a little time to reflect on both my opinions and those of my co-writer Naji El-Arifi, I felt like I should add comment to my initial reaction.

The Xbox One, controller, and Kinect

On my initial opinion:

First off, let me set the record straight – I’m a huge Xbox fan. My gamerscore is over 20,000 (in your face Naji). I used to work for both EA and Codemasters so I have a keen interest in the next generation of entertainment hardware. I was counting down the days to May 21st but am left just a little unfulfilled. Here’s why…

WHERE’S MY SMARTGLASS?

SmartGlass is a brilliant, yet underused feature that allows you to control your Xbox with any tablet or smartphone. SmartGlass also displays supplementary content to the big screen, giving a really great in-built second-screen experience. This integration of mobile to console opens up the opportunities for mobile interactions in the connected living room. I really want to see where Microsoft have taken this as I believe it will be an emerging space to deliver mobile experiences on. Currently non-gaming activity accounts for around 40% of time spent with an Xbox, as we use an Xbox for TV and films, there is an opportunity here for brands to deliver supplementary content and engagement

 

I’m sure we will hear more about what Xbox are doing with SmartGlass at E3 as it was only mentioned once at the announcement event. The reason I was disappointed we didn’t hear more about SmartGlass is because I think it is the perfect second-screen experience just waiting to be used. If I was Zeebox or Monterosa or similar I would be worried. Even Shazam for TV should be worried as this can potentially do the same job. I can see SmartGlass becoming the most used input method to the Xbox One, more than the Kinect, as people start to watch TV, movies, and internet content through their Xbox. What do have PlayStation have to compete…?

The original SmartGlass hasn’t really changed since it was launched. What does the Xbox One have in store for it?

IS IT ALWAYS-ON?

Whilst the ‘always-on’ rumours are still a bit murky, being strongly encouraged to be connected to the internet means the home screen of the Xbox One will be a prime position for advertising. I remember the long-gone blades UI with no advertising (except for my Discovery Channel sponsored Gears of War theme). Nowadays the Xbox home screen is choc-a-bloc with branded advertising, and we can expect even more advertising, branded apps and sponsored content to come.

The now-infamous tweet from Microsoft CD that sparked the ‘always-on’ backlash

This one is relatively straight-forward. Internet connection required = advertising. Combine this with Kinect recognising your face and you have some really tailored advertising and content recommendations.

MOBILE XBOX

At the moment there isn’t much news at all on the mobile Xbox platform except for an early discussion about how Ubisoft game ‘Watchdogs’ will enable mobile gamers to interact with friends’ games in real-time. For some reason no one is talking about this and what this means for Xbox on mobile!

I expect to see Xbox games made available across mobile platforms, and I expect to see apps that interact with Xbox content in a meaningful way. I would like to hear about how games like Plants Vs Zombies can work across mobile and console, bringing the Xbox Live gaming platform to a much wider mobile audience.

This one’s a lot bigger than I can go into now… however, in short, Xbox Live is awesome and bringing it to mobile would be a huge win for Microsoft. The Watchdogs reference above I highly recommend reading as it talks of mobile gamers influencing friends’ Xbox gaming sessions in real time. This will be huge when released and I can see this an essential part of every AAA game – having a companion mobile app that keeps you playing on mobile when you are away from your Xbox. Eventually I see this moving to social platforms also.

On Naji’s opinion:

XBOX ONE THE ONE PLACE FOR YOUR MEDIA NEEDS

Microsoft have played up this angle for the Xbox One, it aims to be the entertainment hub of the living room. Hopefully you will be able to have all channels going through the Xbox and integrate Netflix. The perfect solution for me would be if I could search for a program on my Xbox One and it would rifle through Netflix, Sky and Lovefilm for me, I don’t care which service I watch a program or film on I just want to be able to watch it.

This is interesting when we add mobile into the mix (#SmartGlass). It’s obvious that Xbox want the living room, but what happens if you replicate the Xbox home screen on the mobile? Could you watch your content through the Xbox app on your phone? Do you organise your watch lists cross Netflix, Love Film, and iPlayer on the Xbox app?

KINECT, WE CAN SEE YOU BETTER THAN YOU THINK

The most impressive piece of technology announced was the new Kinect sensor which pulls in 2Gbs of data and so gets a very accurate reading of your environment. It can actually see up to six people and even the orientation of your extremities.

The hardware has also been upgraded and it now films in 1080p which is far superior to the previous Kinnect.

These improvements mean it is now technically possible to track a user’s facial expression, so you could see someone’s reaction to a particular advert or program – provided Microsoft allowed you to pull that data. Users’ heartbeats can also be captured by the Kinnect which could be used to great effect in games.

Overall, I think these improvements are all good, but I’m not tempted to pre-order. I’m hoping they will announce more than just exclusive game titles at the E3 event in a couple of weeks. There has to be more to come.

My first thought on this was a sarcastic ‘wow, HD Kinect. Now my Xbox can track 200 points of my body fumbling another kick in Kinect Sports’, however, I like Naji’s point that it can now track emotional responses to content. Whilst this doesn’t relate directly to mobile it’s interesting as this idea has been around for a while for smartphone front-facing cameras. It will be interesting to see how this idea is implemented successfully and how these learnings get translated to mobile.

In hindsight it seems so obvious – the Xbox One announcement was just the basic ‘hello, we’re here’ from Microsoft giving the basic overview of what they are offering for the next generation of home entertainment. Over the next 5 months we will get the full low-down of each and ever feature detailed and discussed to gain maximum buzz and coverage followed by 12 – 18 months of developers finding their feet and really innovating with the Xbox One’s multimedia and mobile integration capabilities.

I’d love to hear what you may think about the Xbox One announcement, and especially how you think mobile impacts the console in the comments below.

Three predictions on the future of mobile tech

Inspired by the 40th anniversary of the first ever mobile phone call I wrote a piece for the Somo blog on where I see the mobile going in the near future.

40 years ago today the first mobile phone call was made by Martin Cooper at Motorola, who called a rival at another telecoms company to gloat that he was first to call from a cellular phone. Well done Motorola, you kicked off something huge!

Martin Cooper

Fast-forward 40 years and mobile phones have come a long way – today, a mobile ‘phone’ means more to us than a way to make phone calls. Modern smartphones are super-computers in our pockets with a phone antenna attached. Smartphones allow us to communicate in new ways – we text, we email, we post to social media, we communicate via pictures and video, we read, we consume. We look to our smartphones to entertain us; we play games, listen to music in new ways, and even augment traditional pass times such as TV or magazines. Our smartphones are widely considered our most personal device and we trust them to hold our most personal details – our memories, our bank details, even the keys to our homes.

 

Just as Martin Cooper and co. would no doubt have trouble predicting where their mobile phone would end up in 40 years, we too have the same trouble (I’m going with something to do with lasers), however, we can make some good guesses on where mobile will be in a few years.

 

 The ‘phone’ bit is most likely to go!

We know that smartphones are more like computers than phones. According to O2 only 9% of time is now spent using the voice functionality of the modern smartphone, with 11% time spent playing games, and 19% browsing the internet. Usage is shifting, and after getting 3G on my iPad mini, I can personally see how an ‘always connected’ device without phone functionality is still extremely useful. Plus, calls can be made using VOIP when needed.

 

 ’Mobile’ devices are more than phones

Whilst tablets have been around for a long time, the iPad’s launch in 2010 suddenly forced us to question the role of these new devices. Were they mobile? Now we consider tablets as a mobile device and have to plan experiences accordingly to work across different screen sizes and user contexts. With Google Glass coming, the rumoured iWatch / Android watch, even persistently connected cars, how do we treat these? They are certainly mobile but they offer new screens, new contexts, new ways to think about the term ‘mobile’.

 

All companies will think mobile

Whilst many companies have ventured into mobile, many have still not. Accessing content, sites, or experiences will happen away from the traditional desktop computer. Brands, content providers, and companies of all shapes and sizes will offer solutions to cater for this. Whilst there will be those that are better than others, I cannot imagine a world where companies are not offering content tailored to the mobile user.

 

We don’t know where exactly the mobile phone will be in the future, but be sure that we will keep you informed every step of the way.

 

Congratulations Mr. Cooper, we salute you! Without your first phone call Somo would not be here.

What does the mobile future look like? A look back at a 2010 UK government prediction

Tim Dunn has just posted an interesting look back at the mobile future piece he wrote for the UK government in 2010. At 30,000 words the original piece is a bit of a slog to get through but is actually a great way to get to know lots about mobile in a short time, even if some isn’t super current. 

What I like about Tim’s post is the summary of what is not covered in the 2010 piece that would likely make it into a ‘mobile futures’ piece if written today. When discussing potential topics for inclusion, Tim writes:

I welcome your ideas below the line, but as a starter for 10, perhaps we would be looking at:

 

  • Natural interfaces – the growth of new intuitive ways to control the device, such as eye-scrolling and gesture recognition
  • Socio-economic dimorphism of mobile adoption and behavior based on geography and class. Will we see 4G simply extend and deepen the rural ‘not-spots’ we already see in broadband coverage? And will open OS smartphones truly enable digital participation regardless of earnings?
  • ID – I really don’t think we’ve scratched the surface of this. Smartphones should be able to carry secure and inviolable credentials such as passports and driving licences, but I don’t see much work in the field. Also, we should surely be able to scan or verify ID without the need for peripherals such as Square? Surely mobile will be able to deliver the vision of people like Dick Hardt as shown in this bravura performance from 2006
  • Enterprise – at Roundarch Isobar we do huge amounts of work in the Enterprise space that would be mind-boggling to my European colleagues. But I still think there’s a long way to go in B2B and B2E, specifically with BYOD in mind. Microsoft guys such as Matt Ballantine are providing leading thinking in this space
  • Location – this might seem like an old chestnut now, but the fact that mobile is, well, mobile, has not been mined to anything like its full potential. The capabilities have been very much held back by lack of physical infrastructure and lack of standardization, but payment and vouchering should now be on the up as business gears up to match consumer behavior in the converged world.
  • Connected Devices – with the smartphone packing the same processing power that a mainframe could deliver not so long ago, your phone is likely to be the center of your own local cloud services before long with anything from your watch to your soccer team to (whisper it) your fridge hanging off it for processing power and network functions

Whilst all points are key, and would pull out enterprise and location as key. Not necessarily for the obvious reasons. Whilst I believe topics such as the internet of things / connected devices is far more exciting, and will have massive impact on how we use physical and digital products together, I can see first hand the changes that mobile devices are having in the enterprise world right now. Businesses are embracing BYOD and modern smartphones – the iPhone is the most used enterprise device in the US – this has already opened up the possibilities of what can be delivered on business devices, where does this go in a couple of years?

Location is interesting because of how this impacts on content and UX. Whilst people argue about whether a mobile web site should include full site content or not, what is interesting to start to think about is how whatever content included reacts to the environment in which it is used. How does a mobile site accessed on a 3G connection, near a car showroom, directed to by specific Google search terms react when combined with the same user’s previous desktop behaviour on the same site? How does a supermarket mobile site react when it picks up chemical signals from a banana using sensors such as the Node?

Head on over to Tim’s blog to read the full article and get a load of useful links.

 

 

Rapid prototyping Google Glass – by an experience designer in Google’s X team

Google are starting to talk a lot about Glass, releasing a video yesterday entitled How It Feels [through Glass].

 

This reminded me of a great video by Tom Chi, an experience designer in Google’s X team, explaining how quickly they created prototypes for Glass.

via Only Dead Fish

 

It’s tempting to think that the prototyping for a project such as Google Glass would have been a complex, lengthy process lasting months if not years but this short, charming talk from Tom Chi (experience designer in the Google X team) gives a fascinating insight into how their process of creation was greatly accelerated through rapid prototyping. The first prototype was built in an hour using coat hangers, a tiny projector and a piece of plexiglass. Subsequent prototypes took even less time and used materials as diverse as paper, clay, modelling wire, chopsticks and hairbands. From these models they were able to glean useful insights into the social awkwardness of gesture controls which led to them dropping fetaures which had been thought integral. As Chi says, “Doing is the best kind of thinking”. Fascinating.

Touchcode – Capacitive ink tying together digital and physical objects

Touchcode is an interesting company that prints an invisible capacitive ink onto physical products (at this stage it looks like most of their examples are on paper). Printing this ink allows the item to be placed onto a smartphone screen and trigger a unique event.

This isn’t anything majorly new – Disney, amongst others, have used pretty much the same concept on their App Mates products. Still, it’s encouraging to see that more physical objects are being tied to their own digital presence.

I can see this technology being used in combination with NFC tags in stores as it essentially allows a similar outcome without the need for an NFC chip in the user’s device. A big barrier to entry, however, is that the user will have to be directed to a specific URL before touching the ink on the screen does anything.

Capacitive ink used to verify original goods