Yearly Archives: 2012Blog

A New Manufacturing Paradigm

I remember a saying in the 1990’s that went something like this: “everything that can be digital, will be digital.” Now, almost 20 years later, we see that’s very much come to pass. Industries whose products could easily be delivered as bits are now digital, such as music, movies, and publishing. Many more 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. All of these examples mostly deliver bits to screens and electronic devices. In some cases the final output is printed hard copy from a digital source. What we haven’t seen, however, is printing to 3D space, ie: printing real-world objects. Until now.

The following article briefly surveys a technology, called 3D Printing, that has the potential to revolutionize manufacturing. Imagine being able to design objects digitally, and then utilize 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 (mass personalization) can all be delivered. Such capability may even begin to 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 comes to fruition as a viable technology it could eventually have a huge impact on society, making basic necessities such as housing, clothing, and efficient transportation much more affordable. If that happens we’ll also have to shorten that phrase from the ’90s mentioned above to something more like this: “everything … will be digital.”

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What Comes After Smartphones?

Beyond Smartphones: Google and Microsoft are working on ‘eyeglass computers.’ Are these the next logical step in computer sizing, proximity and availability? Let’s face it, computers just want to get smaller. And more powerful, useful and ubiquitous. It may have something to do with an innate human desire to be telepathic and 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, the ‘eyeglass computer,’ which features 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 to each other. 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 (where would you get an API?). 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. And forgetting about what life in that scenario might be like for the moment, let’s think about how interesting it would be to be able to get any bit of information we needed with just a Siri-like voice query. Unlimited information barely a thought away. If only understanding and wisdom were that available along with the information …

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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. The idea is that your applications and data all live on Google’s servers. You just take this cheap little device around and work, communicate and collaborate whenever and wherever you want. I think it will be a hit, especially if third parties are allowed to write apps for it. Undoubtedly the Chrome OS will need some time to mature, but this could be very big, especially for  schools, small businesses and those on the other side of the “digital divide.”

Google this week took the wraps off a pair of ultralight Chromebook computers, both of which will be manufactured by Samsung and outfitted with the Chrome operating system – not Mac OS or Windows. The newest Chromebook is set to ship at two price points: $249 for a Wi-Fi-only edition and $329 for a 3G version.

“Chrome OS eliminates the hassles of manually updating applications over time; the platform’s Web-based apps all update seamlessly on their own, just like the OS,” Raphael writes. “You don’t have to deal with messy drivers and software conflicts or worry about virus protection, either.

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Myspace Puts On a New Face

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

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

With the new design it will be interesting to see if Myspace can recapture at least a portion of the social media mania it helped spawn. It features large photos, which everyone loves, great page effects, and a side-scrolling interface. However, it’s hard to imagine how any website can hope to head off the FB juggernaut, much less a “been there, done that”  comeback kid like Myspace. But this, after all, 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.

In the course of things, a product or service can go from popular to fad to wildly popular, find its peak at some point, and then begin its fade once it stops innovating (as market leaders often do) or is replaced by a better idea. 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 rising star that merged with a traditional media company and then fizzled, then came back under its own name, but never regaining it’s past glory. That would be AOL, which has been on the fringes ever since, and never really had a chance since its business model was outdated by that time. But social media is all the rage today, and that makes Myspace different. Everyone’s social savvy, and people try new things. But trying “Myspace” is like trying on a shirt from the ’90s, isn’t it? But if it just had a new name …

The Battle for the Future

A heated battle for the future is underway, and forces are aligned around the ongoing court battle between Apple and Samsung. Apple is ticked, claiming Google’s Android OS is basically 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.” Some untapped rage over Microsoft’s copycat Windows OS and Apple’s failure to stop it is probably still at work. Eight Samsung phones were held up as examples, 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 as customers for its system, is suing Apple. Meanwhile, Microsoft is jumping for joy trying to decide how to woo those same makers to its system.

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

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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 the area of e-commerce (m-commerce?). The iPad has put a charge in the shift from desktop to mobile when it comes to buying things online, accounting for “68% of all mobile shoppers.” The larger screen undoubtedly helps consumers view full webpages better than on smartphones, making them more comfortable navigating shopping sites. iPads may also make shopping online a more casual experience since purchases can be made from the couch or kitchen table. Also, people may be finding shopping on-the-go on smartphones challenging from a time perspective. True m-commerce implies “buying while flying,” which apart from technologies like Near Field Communications that allow instant purchases, may currently be an unrealistic expectation considering that shoppers like to research and compare when buying online.

Whatever the case, there’s no denying the iPad’s power when it comes to the all important act 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?

I don’t know. I’ve never thought much of Facebook as a business. It’s great as a social network. At least it was before it became so complicated that I can’t in good conscience recommend that anyone use it. Not that it’s not good for communicating with friends and family, or customers if you’re a business. I use it every day for those purposes. But I’m also willing to check and reset my privacy settings whenever FB changes things, which is often, and I don’t give them any data beyond what’s necessary to converse with people. But I can’t expect most people to be as mindful as I am. And if they’re not, they’re just falling 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, write a story? Why is the button I used to do something yesterday gone today? And why do posts always seem to disappear? Do average people understand any of this? Maybe this obscurity all works to FB’s advantage, keeping people in the dark as they provide more and more data while blithely using the site?

Anyway, the issue here is business, and the fact is, people don’t go to FB to shop — they go to connect. Yes, they learn a lot from their friends, including new things to buy. And brands do their work of chatting up (if not completely annoying) customers, offering sales and specials back on their own 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 of connecting and communicating 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 finding and purchasing things is actually a lot easier and better on Amazon or Google after all. Once the IPO smoke clears, the next sound you hear may well be the latest bubble bursting.

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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 10 commandments for marketing — resolutions to do marketing right; that is, marketing that takes into account how the modern landscape and modern consumers have changed.