Yearly Archives: 2012Blog

A New Manufacturing Paradigm

I remember a saying in the 1990s that went something like this: “everything that can be digital will be digital.” Now, almost 20 years later, we can see how much that’s been realized. Products, such as music, movies, and publishing, are now delivered as bits. Many industries have moved processes to digital, including banking, tax reporting, and bill paying. And almost every business has a digital component, whether through web marketing, e-commerce, or just a simple website. Most of these examples deliver bits to screens on electronic devices. In some cases, the final output is printed copy from a digital source. However, what we haven’t seen is printing to 3D space, ie: real-world printing, until now.

The following article briefly surveys a technology called 3D Printing that may revolutionize manufacturing. Imagine designing objects digitally and utilizing machines to render those plans as actual objects. Anything from simple boxes to unibody computer casings to electronic parts to homes and even buildings are possible. Mass quantities or one-offs (aka mass personalization) can all be delivered. Such capability may even reverse the loss of manufacturing to overseas competitors.

… think about what the laser printer originally did for the graphic design profession. Rather than having to rely on a team of production technicians to render the designer’s artwork, suddenly, it was only necessary to hit PRINT, and a camera-ready master would emerge from the printer. Today, it’s possible for a product designer to create an intricate three-dimensional solid model in a CAD system and likewise press PRINT. This time, however, what emerges is not a sheet of paper but a fully-formed 3D object.

If 3D Printing becomes a viable technology, it will eventually impact society, making necessities such as housing, clothing, and efficient transportation much more affordable. If that happens, we may have to shorten that phrase from the ’90s mentioned above to: “everything … will be digital.”

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What Comes After Smartphones?

Beyond Smartphones: Google and Microsoft are working on ‘eyeglass computers.’ Is this the next logical step in computer sizing, proximity, and availability? Computers want to get smaller. And more powerful and ubiquitous. It may have something to do with an innate human desire to be telepathic — unbound in time and space. Whatever, it makes sense that someone will find a way to make computing almost as accessible as thought is to our brains. Hence, an ‘eyeglass computer’ featuring voice I/O, an internet connection, video recording, and an embedded display in the glass.

… something like Google Glass or whatever Microsoft is working on could end up replacing the smartphone as the dominant way people access the Internet and connect with others. First off: something has to. Disruption is inevitable. Secondly: The trend is obvious. Computers have been getting smaller and closer to our faces since their very beginning. First, they were in big rooms, then they sat on desktops, then they sat on our laps, and now they’re in our palms. Next, they’ll be on our faces. (Eventually, they’ll be in our brains.)

It’s the “in our brains” concept that’s a little scary. I’m not sure if it’s even possible to develop an interface for that. But in terms of storing everything a government might need to know about us on our person, including our exact location at the moment, that’s not difficult to do today.
But forgetting about what life in that scenario might look like, let’s think about how interesting it would be to get any bit of information we need with just a Siri-like voice query. Unlimited information, just a thought away. If only understanding and wisdom were that available.

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$249 Google Chromebook Puts Everything In the Cloud

Google’s new cloud computer, actually a lightweight laptop, comes out this week. Your applications and data live on Google’s servers. You just take this cheap little device with you to work, communicate, and collaborate whenever and wherever you want. There’s lots of potential, especially if third parties are allowed to write apps for it. The Chrome OS will certainly mature. Schools, small businesses, and those on the other side of the “digital divide” can especially benefit.

… something like Google Glass or whatever Microsoft is working on could end up replacing the smartphone as the dominant way people access the Internet and connect with others. First off: something has to. Disruption is inevitable. Secondly: The trend is obvious. Computers have been getting smaller and closer to our faces since their very beginning. First, they were in big rooms, then they sat on desktops, then they sat on our laps, and now they’re in our palms. Next, they’ll be on our faces. (Eventually, they’ll be in our brains.)

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Myspace Puts On a New Face

It may be a little late, but former social media star, Myspace, is back with a new design. A nice video overview of the site is available on Vimeo.

Myspace was viewed as “the future” when News Corp. bought it in 2005. But it quickly fell into obscurity, eclipsed almost immediately by Facebook, which has become the social media venue of choice for all humankind. A complete history of Myspace is available on Wikipedia.

With its new design, it will be interesting to see if Myspace can recapture some of the social media onslaught it helped create. The new look features large photos (which everyone loves), fun page effects, and a side-scrolling interface. However, it’s hard to imagine how any website can head off the FB juggernaut, much less a “new” Myspace. But this is the Internet, where things change quickly, and the unexpected is always possible.

For two contrasting views on the new Myspace we have TechCrunch presenting the thumbs-down, and Engadget, the thumbs up.

Any product or service can go from fad to wildly popular, find its peak, and then fade if it stops innovating or something better replaces it. Comebacks are another story. Once something is branded, is it possible to be anything else? Perhaps the people who bought Myspace from News Corp. would be better off renaming it and not bringing back the negative aura.

To a certain extent, Myspace is reminiscent of another superstar that merged with a traditional media company, fizzled, and came back under its own name, but never regained its past glory. That would be AOL, which has been on the fringes ever since, and never really had a chance with its outdated business model. But social media is all the rage now. Everyone’s social savvy and people try new things. Will trying a refreshed Myspace catch on? Or will it be like just putting on an old shirt from the ’90s? Maybe if it had a new name?

The Battle for the Future

A heated battle for the future is underway, and forces are aligning around an ongoing court battle between Apple and Samsung. Apple is ticked, claiming Google’s Android OS is a copy of Apple’s iOS. Steve Jobs has even famously vowed to use all of Apple’s cash (about $80B or so) to “destroy Android.” (Untapped rage over Microsoft’s copycat Windows OS and Apple’s failure to stop it, perhaps?) Eight Samsung phones were examined, and now a $1B judgment has been handed down against Samsung.

Repercussions from this case are just beginning. Google, now in danger of losing worried phone makers from its platform, is suing Apple. Meanwhile, Microsoft is jumping for joy, trying to decide how to woo those same makers to its platform.

“I think this will force a reset on Android products as they are re-engineered to get around Apple’s patents,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the tech consultancy Enderle Group.

“[It should also] provide a stronger opportunity for both of Microsoft’s new platforms – Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 – because they come with indemnification against Apple, suddenly making them far safer.”

These behemoths believe that what’s really at stake is who will own mobile, as if that’s a desirable outcome for anyone other than these companies. We’ve seen it before — who will own search? Who will own browsers? Who will own e-commerce? etc., etc., etc. Big dollars go to lawyers, settlements are eventually made, and the world goes on. I can’t blame companies for protecting their intellectual property, but no one wins when the goal is to rule the world.

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iPad Takes Significant Lead as e-Commerce Shifts to Mobile

A study by RichRelevance illustrates the power of Apple’s tablet platform in e-commerce (m-commerce?). Accounting for “68% of all mobile shoppers,” the iPad has put a charge into the move from desktop to mobile for buying things online. The larger screen undoubtedly helps consumers view full web pages better than smartphones for a more comfortable shopping experience. iPads may also make shopping online more casual since purchases can be made from the couch or kitchen table. Also, people may find that shopping on the go on smartphones is challenging timewise. True m-commerce implies “buying while flying,” which, apart from technologies like Near Field Communications that allow instant purchases, may currently be unrealistic if shoppers want to research and compare when shopping online.

Whatever the case, there’s no denying the iPad’s impact on the all-important activity of spending.

The report, the 2012 Q1 Shopping Insights Mobile Study, finds a steady rise in mobile share of revenue from 1.9% in April 2011 to 4.6% in March 2012, with the iPad driving nearly all shopping, browsing and purchasing in this emerging channel.

According to March 2012 data, iPad users spent significantly more time and money on retail sites than other mobile users, account for 68% of all mobile shoppers, and show the strongest conversion rates (1.5% for iPad vs. 0.57% for other mobile devices).

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Retail on Facebook: Is “F-commerce” All It’s Cracked Up to Be?

There’s been nothing but hype around Facebook’s upcoming IPO. Hundreds of millions of users, mountains of personal data, brands dying to repurpose their ad dollars online. This is going to be huge! Isn’t it?

Facebook is great as a social network for communicating with friends and family or customers if you’re a business. I use it every day for those purposes. I’d like to check and reset my privacy settings whenever FB changes things, which is often, but they make it so difficult you’d be hardpressed to call it user-friendly. I suppose most people aren’t as concerned about such things as I am. But if they’re not, they’re just falling aimlessly into FB’s data trap.

And then there’s the matter of how bloated the app has become. It’s more like using MS Word now than a cool social tool. Who can understand all the features? Do I subscribe, follow, post, or write a story? Why is the button I tapped yesterday gone today? And why do posts always seem to disappear? Do ordinary people understand any of this? Maybe this obscurity works to FB’s advantage, keeping their users in the dark while capturing more and more of their personal information as they blithely use the site.

Anyway, as a business, people don’t go to FB to shop — they go to connect. Yes, they learn a lot from their friends’ recommendations and get exposed to new products. And brands do a good job of chatting up (if not completely annoying) customers, placing sales and specials in the newsfeed with links back to their sites. But how is ‘F-commerce’ doing? Well, many brands have opened up storefronts on FB itself, but some are closing them just as quickly. According to a recent article,

“There was a lot of anticipation that Facebook would turn into a new destination, a store, a place where people would shop, but it was like trying to sell stuff to people while they’re hanging out with their friends at the bar.”

Apparently, FB’s offer to let us connect and communicate with friends isn’t going to automatically turn into a commerce goldmine. Is this a surprise? People go to FB to talk, not buy. Maybe buying things is actually a lot easier and better on Amazon or Google after all. Of course, with almost a billion eyeballs on the site, advertising might be the real goldmine.

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A 2012 Business Resolution Worth Keeping

You’re in business, right? Start the new year with a business resolution to obey “The 10 Commandments of Modern Marketing.” An excellent study — if you only read the subheads you’ll learn a lot:

… why not start the year with ten commandments for marketing — resolutions to do marketing right; that is, marketing that takes into account how the modern landscape and modern consumers have changed.