Posts tagged ‘consumerism’

computing gets consumerized

Oh, oh, oh
Spending all my time buying stuff
When I’ve more than enough
More than enough
Cough, cough
Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh
Neo consumer
Neo consumer
Consumer

Consumerized – sounds like a badly made up word, reminiscent of a presidential past.

The wordplay is only for effect, the idea is real…

Previously, in computing utilities cometh I discussed the inevitable move to utility-focused computing. A large, simple, ubiquitous and all encompassing information utility.

Well, what use is a ‘grid’ or ‘network’ without appliances? You may well argue that the PC, smartphone, small business datacentre of today are ‘appliances’ for just such a utility. Its job is to provide a common information infrastructure for sharing, backup and transfer – instead of moving current, it moves bits. Probably not far from the truth.

But.

When I was growing up, washing machines, although they had an electric motor, were beastly devices. They agitated the clothes, but to ‘wring’ those newly washed clothes, you swung the rollers into action, disengaged the agitator motor, and fed the clothes ‘through the wringer’. These appliances did the job, but they required skill on the part of the operator. The process was manually integrated. This skill was eventually replaced with mechanical, then electrical, and subsequently computer-controlled timers. Not to mention, pre-defined wash cycles (or workflows). How many of us cherish those halcyon wash days, where you intimately got involved in the process of making clothes clean?

Today’s washers do all manner of things, even steam clean clothes. What they don’t really allow is for dad or his friend to get a wrench and start into fixin’ the darn thing when it breaks, like they used to.

And so it is with the iPad.

I have been observing the pre-launch rumors, launch critiques and release reviews, along with a whole array of comments across that same time continuum. Interestingly, this is a highly polarizing device, even more so than its Apple product brethren. And I think I know why…

Every commenter who hates the iPad is religiously attached to:

  1. It is an Apple product and therefore is sex without substance
  2. Has no screws, heck, cannot even change the battery, and therefore as a technical person, this is bad engineering
  3. Lacks features – e.g. flash, usb, not e-ink etc. Therefore it is technically inept.

Most interestingly, these observations have been made in the absence of ‘actual product’, and are highly reminiscent of those strange people in NYC who bear tacky, grammatically challenged signs implying that the ‘end is near’. Seemingly warning us of the impending doom about to befall modern computerdom.

Those that gush over the product are equally religious (particularly those who believe without having seen!), wanting stuff that ‘just works’… and prepared to wait in line for hours to do just that.

Funny how we’d expect consumers not wanting stuff that ‘just works’. Vertically integrated appliances enable consumers of all ages to focus on what they want to do, without fear that they may get their hand stuck in the ‘clothes wringer’. For those that want to tinker with technology, there are plenty of things to play with… I for one, one who works in this business, am not threatened by the impending ‘lack of technical sophistication’.

I think that the iPad is really the consumer marketplace bellweather for the information appliance of the future. Yes, computing is getting consumerized – at both ends of the spectrum, the utility and the appliance.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

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April 8, 2010 at 1:00 am 1 comment

what’s in a meme?

I’ve lived long enough to have learned
The closer you get to the fire the more you get burned
But that won’t happen to us
‘Cause it’s always been a matter of trust

Those of you trend-watchers that have been following CES and the tech landscape will have undoubtedly encountered 2010 as year of the e-reader. Equally, many of you will no doubt have stumbled across the many rumors swirling around the January 26th date – widely believed to be the launch date of the currently non-existent Apple tablet, or what has been dubbed the iSlate.

At CES we saw a wide range of electronic readers, from the palm sized Dell, to the Document sized Que, or the in between HP Slate as demoed by Steve Ballmer at the keynote.

Everybody is ‘slating’.

What I find most incredible about this, is that the rumors of the Apple Tablet have found substance in a diverse group of companies endorsing the ‘slate’ meme and investing R&D in delivering a tablet. Stumbling over themselves in order to beat Apple to the punch, assuming that Apple is indeed going to release a ‘slate’.

Are we seeing a whole segment being born out of a previously failed vision and accelerated into existence by an Apple dream?  I submit that, of all the major technology companies, Apple has earned the trust of consumers, investors and pundits alike. They are associated with disruptive innovation, and they are associated with game changing devices as exemplified by the iPod and iPhone. They were not the first MP3 player, and they were not the first smartphone, but they disrupted both segments. It is only reasonable to expect that a tablet launched by Apple will have the same, or similar, degree of success. Even if it doesn’t, Apple  will be forgiven, as any attempt will still likely be better than the unimaginative devices already shown (and largely forgotten) at CES.

If imitation be the most sincere form of flattery, then imitation of a mirage in advance of a possible product launch is indeed the greatest tribute the industry can pay to Apple. We are trusting this company to manifest our expectations and to surprise us.

Therefore, Apple’s greatest asset is it’s trust.

So, if we get an Apple tablet on the 26th, its success will be in no small part due to the low bar that has been set by Apple’s peers. Innovation and imagination is hard in itself – making it mainstream is extremely difficult. I hope Apple hits this out of the park – this is a form-factor that I’d appreciate, and I know that they’ll get the UI done right.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

BTW I am a proud owner of a still working, and oft used Newton MP2000 and I have forgiven Jobs for killing the Newton.

January 14, 2010 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

information density

Food, glorious food!
Eat right through the menu.
Just loosen your belt
Two inches and then you
Work up a new appetite.
In this interlude —
The food,
Once again, food
Fabulous food,
Glorious food.

Back in generational differences I wrote

“Even though I am not a fan of monkeying around with food, it did on average increase life expectancies from the baseline of old. So it is with information. Let us just hope that we’ll be smart enough to not allow information to become too fast, over processed and too preserved. Imagine suffering information obesity in the coming days!”

I was discussing early American History with a colleague and good friend of mine and we fast forwarded to the present-day political landscape. What struck us both was the parallel between fast food and availability of information. Perhaps its a glib and tenuous connection, but maybe there is something to this on a few different levels.

Nutritional Density in the context of information intersects quite readily with the current trend toward huge data-centers, their efficiency and management. If we were to parallel the increasing density of information that can be stored and processed in these facilities, there is an obvious parallel to the amount of nutrition produced per parcel of land and mono-cultures in general.  But are we talking nutritionally dense data, or energy dense data? As we look across the broad expanse of processing, it is easy to see that digital media, especially video, consumes vast amounts of storage. It is  visually rich to a consumer, but is the content itself valuable? In other words, we know it is energy dense, but is it nutritionally dense? Is the information we store and process in these data-centers useful for anything else other than to generate media revenues? How much actually feeds positively useful information for our society with factually relevant information? Or has it been processed, and subsequently prepared and packaged by a franchise for quick consumption? Has information really become a fast-food, ready for snacking with twitter or an on-the-go handheld? Has information crossed into entertainment along with the likes of toy laden packaged happy meals? Clearly discussions such as these counter the concept of a free-market information economy and tread dangerously closely to subjective evaluations and censorship. I am not advocating either. However, I do miss the days of relevant insightful journalism, slower yes, but based upon fact. The day that the newsroom became a profit center and not a cost center, was the day that media organizations started their downward spirals into irrelevancy and created opportunities for new technologies to fragment audiences and break the current business models. ‘Slow food’, what about a ‘slow information’ movement?

Information Overload, a term coined by Alvin Toffler refers to an excess amount of information being provided, which makes processing and absorbing tasks very difficult for the individual because sometimes we cannot see the validity behind the information. Consider this in the same context as willingly going to the buffet we call the internet, and loading ourselves with the excess calories of knowledge because it is available on an all you can consume basis. Have we willingly become gluttons of information? Just as food without exercise, have we stopped turning information into useful actionable knowledge?

Perhaps it was all best summarized in the following “As long as the centuries continue to unfold, the number of books will grow continually, and one can predict that a time will come when it will be almost as difficult to learn anything from books as from the direct study of the whole universe. It will be almost as convenient to search for some bit of truth concealed in nature as it will be to find it hidden away in an immense multitude of bound volumes.” –Denis Diderot, “Encyclopédie” (1755)

The paradox of choice provides a good counterweight to the freedom of choice. As technology makes media more accessible, we have a responsibility to ensure that our energy and resources are not wasted on junk. Food or information alike. Working out how will be our greatest challenge.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

December 3, 2009 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

net neutrality

This web is mine man
This web is yours man
We like to surf it
Whenever we can
So just remember
To keep it wild and free
Preserve our Net Neutrality

I’ve stayed out of this debate, mainly because it has been largely ill-defined and characterized by wild assertions, emotional counter-claims etc. However, recently, the FCC’s Chair Julius Genachowski started firming up the positions, and the battle between government and industry for the connected future officially began. I think I’ll still stay out for a while longer… but I do want to table a few things.

I am not even sure it is about government and ‘the industry’. That is too simplistic a headline. And who is ‘the industry’? They’re almost as mysterious as the oft cited ‘they’. Is this not really about money for traffic i.e. who pays for the bandwidth, who uses the bandwidth and who regulates it?

All of this activity costs money. So, once again, it’s about the business model for the ‘media’ industry…

Can someone explain to me why a service provider should continually invest in infrastructure to provide connectivity for traffic capacity to subsidize businesses that leverage that connection to make money…? Surely there has to be equity in pricing and usage for both users and value added content providers? And surely there has to be investment in infrastructure to enhance that pricing and usage for new applications?

So how do ‘we’, as powerless outside observers, reconcile the two?

The four principles that serve as guidelines to preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the Public Internet, commonly referred to as, Net Neutrality are:

  1. Consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice
  2. Consumers are entitled to run applications and services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement
  3. Consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network
  4. Consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.

As a consumer, they sound pretty good. But this is all about consumers.

I am a consumer, but I also understand the need for businesses to have margins and incentive to invest. Ultimately that benefits me as well. Perhaps we all need to overcome skepticism of government regulation per the Wall Street Journal: “Government’s role here, properly understood, is not to tell Comcast how to manage its network. Rather, it is to make sure consumers have alternatives to Comcast if they are unhappy with their Internet service.”

Clearly there are more dimensions to this debate, in politics, in social and economic impacts and in technological implications. Perhaps we should learn how other countries have faced this dilemma? After all, aren’t we supposed to be globally connected?

And why do other countries have better bandwidth for cheaper prices than we have here in the US? Web Survey Finds Speed Is Quickest Overseas Is competition for net service as useful as having 42 brands of cornflakes in the cereal aisle, knowing full well that they are manufactured by only a handful of companies?

Maybe I’m still not looking at this in the right way…

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

October 15, 2009 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

immediacy

You say its urgent
Make it fast, make it urgent
Do it quick, do it urgent
Gotta rush, make it urgent
Want it quick
Urgent, urgent, emergency…

How important is now?

Now for Nathan Rothchild was hours – enough for the legendary manipulation of the bond market. This was a huge time advantage over the official envoy responsible for reporting the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo.

Now is only as important as the activity to which it is bound.

I remember an assignment at University on metastable states – the finite possibility of having a state that was ‘stuck’ between a ‘1’ and a ‘0’ in a digital gate. As clock frequencies increased and switching times decreased, this possibility increased.

The faster you push a system, the higher the probability of error. If you can risk that error probability, then no problems, but if you cannot, then why go faster? Just because you can? What is the advantage? Sometimes you just need to… but, as one computer manufacturer has proven, by taking out certain functions from a chip and optimizing that processor for certain types of transactions, you can clock the chip slower, save power and yet still get better performance than ‘faster chips’. There is much to be said for appropriateness.

So it is with information. If we humans cannot absorb it correctly, then what use is it to provide us with even more, even faster? What is the value of now?Kind of like trying to push more bits down a full network – it grinds to a halt, and the bits get lost. Does it not make more sense to prepare and validate the information before sending it, even if it does take some time? Is quality of information more important than quantity?

And the relevance to media and business models?

Perhaps there is a market for really smart analysis and in-depth reporting of news, that is not so candy wrapped. Something which is once again trusted like Cronkite was. Not factually skewed opinions, but well balanced and artfully presented fact. Something that the public can once again trust. Is this not the charter of the fourth estate and the value of media to the preservation of a balanced society? It seems that trust has been breached for the sake of entertainment, and we have been conditioned to only stomach 30sec clips or tweets about hollywood personalities.

Perhaps I’m getting old, but irrelevant tweets really don’t interest me. I would however, like to ensure that there is bandwidth available for a real emergency and balance the rest of my processing power for relevant data.

Yes, I know – just switch off, and only pay attention to the ‘good stuff’, vote with your attention and the market will decide the rest. Unfortunately, everyone is convincing me that they have the ‘good stuff’ and most of my time wasted in the selection process itself! So at the very least, just like a spammer or a web click, these time sinks are guaranteed of at least one vote! The system doesn’t work that well. Yet…

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

October 1, 2009 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

generational differences

When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful,
A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical.

I grew up in Australia, in a small town about 100 miles north west of Sydney. In the famous Hunter Valley, home of some of the most earthy, luscious reds produced on the planet.

We had access to two TV channels – the local commercial station and the national government one. Boy were we lucky! But not as lucky as my friend. He had the local channels plus a big antenna that enabled him to get the extra three channels from Sydney, even though they were a bit snowy. I used to enjoy going over to his house, where, in between the normalcy of riding bikes, playing with the hose and doing what kids did in the 60s, we’d come inside to watch the Munsters, the Three Stooges or other fare that the local commercial channel didn’t have.

Then the shows would be over. A quick snack and back outside.

Social networking for us was hassling the gang down the street, or avoiding the bully on the next block or forging teams to create the next cricket challenge at the local park. TV wasn’t that important. It was special. The programs were really pretty bland, but sufficiently exciting because they seemed rare, even exotic.

Growing up interested in electronics, I got involved in amateur radio, got a degree in computer engineering, got a masters and embarked upon the lonely, untrodden path of digiterati who were at the intersection of media and computers.  The rest as they say is history.

Fast forward 20 odd years…

Imagine my delight when I started my iTunes collection. All of this content! It brought me back to the days of my youth. That same excitement of experiencing not two, but five TV channels! Choice at any instant! As I proceeded to digitize my entire CD collection the paradox of choice suddenly struck me. There was too much to choose.

So, play a little of everything.

Before long that got pretty boring.

I still love music, but my selections of regularly played material do not span the entire library.

Over the years this has really bugged me and I noticed a few behavioral changes:

  1. My attention span has reduced somewhat. The constant drive for more, sometimes overcomes the need for depth and/or detail.
  2. I can thread more than one thought process at once quite easily, without significant diminished comprehension. Multitasking is a learned skill.
  3. Finding stuff is frustrating, but it forces me to think about different ways of searching until I get what I want. Thinking differently becomes a survival imperative in the pursuit of brain food.

Now. I submit, that this is behavior learned, probably due to my proximity to, and engineering curiosity of, technology. Learning has always been my main modus. But consider if I had been born later when all of this was as familiar to me as an analog B&W TV set without a remote control was back when I was a kid. Growing up with this multifaceted technological landscape would be stimulating beyond! Or, not knowing any better, it would be simply the way things are, and I’d just use it as it directed me… technology with user interfaces in control.

There are generational differences in the way we think, act and consequently behave. The following chart would clearly have been sci-fi when I was rolling around on the lounge room floor in front of the B&W TV many years ago. But it does illustrate the emerging status quo.

Multitasking is now a normal part of watching TV?

Multitasking is now a normal part of watching TV?

I believe that in spite of what we think, humanity is getting smarter. Access to information, both raw and processed is far greater. If we were to draw an analogy to food, humanity has benefited from food production and processing technologies. Even though I am not a fan of monkeying around with food, it did on average increase life expectancies from the baseline of old. So it is with information. Let us just hope that we’ll be smart enough to not allow information to become too fast, over processed and too preserved. Imagine suffering information obesity in the coming days!

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

July 23, 2009 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

advertising in a down economy

The more I see you
The more I want you
Somehow this feeling
Just grows and grows
With every sigh I become
More mad about you
More lost without you
And so it goes

In a recent study by Ad-ology, more than 48% of U.S. adults believe that a retail store, bank or auto dealership that does not advertise during a recession must be struggling. Likewise, a vast majority perceives businesses that continue to advertise as being competitive or committed to doing business.

So the lesson is… once you’ve established a brand, you need to keep investing to ensure that it remains relevant and alive.

A few other snippets reflecting the current state of things…

  • 40% of consumers use coupons more now than a year ago
  • Most consumers are as willing or more willing to pay more for ‘healthy’ or ‘organic’ products than they were a year ago
  • A ‘deeply discounted price’ was the number-one factor that would make consumers more likely to purchase a big-ticket item (+$1,000)
  • TV, newspaper, direct mail, and Internet top local media from which consumers saw/heard an ad within the last 30 days that led them to take action
  • Store Web sites ranked second only to search engines as the way consumers research products and shop online

Is this what you’d expect? Combine this with my observations in a recession winner? and this may be the time to invest in growing your media business.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

June 4, 2009 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

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