Posts filed under ‘technology’

Stages of digital grief

Andy Stubbings writes: I went to a talk on the future of publishing recently by Julius Wiedemann, the Design Editor at the art book publisher Taschen, at the Design Museum round the corner from our London office. Wiedemann made a cute analogy between the classic “DABDA” framework on the stages of grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance) and the way the publishing industry is adapting (or not) to digital technologies and planning for its future.

It wasn’t exactly clear from the talk where publishing is on the DABDA journey (inevitably, the projector was malfunctioning), but it appears we have gone past Denial (“Of course the traditional newspaper model is viable!”) through Anger (“How dare people find information for free that they used to have to pay for!”), and is now somewhere into Bargaining (“OK, you can read all our magazines as much as you want online, but only by subscribing to our ‘digital newstand’ via your iPad”). One thought that occurred to me during Wiedemann’s argument was that skeuomorphic design – the idea that objects should retain part of their previous typeform or design cues to put users at ease (e.g. the page-flip mechanism of online magazines) – could be a product of submerged anxiety in an industry still in a ‘Bargaining’ phase, and therefore can’t let go of doing things in old ways.

According to Wiedemann, things are going to get a lot worse before they get better for the industry in the shift to digital. Chief among the reasons for this is fragmentation – of publishers and publishing formats, of retailers and distribution models, of device operating systems and interface standards.


10 August 2012 at 1:40 pm 1 comment

Surface tension


Microsoft’s whizzy new Surface slates — unveiled June 18 at a high-profile Apple-style announcement event in Hollywood — have triggered wildly disparate reactions across the technology world, with some pundits calling them a revolutionary bridge between full-fledged PCs and tablets, and others declaring their hybrid format an evolutionary dead-end.

Our own take falls in the latter category. We believe Surface may sell well out of the gate to Apple refuseniks and users who believe a keyboard can make large-scale text entry on a tablet more viable. But ultimately, we don’t believe this is a serious competitor to the iPad — or, longer term, a rival for Android-based tablets. The future of Surface is likely as a niche player for enterprise environments; if it has any sustained life in the consumer space, it will be due primarily to massive investment on Microsoft’s part.

The problem is not that Surface is not innovative. It’s that it’s innovative in the wrong direction. Surface’s keyboard is beautiful, sleek and smart — and anchored in the 1980s. Microsoft’s stubborn addition of stylus input to the Surface reinforces this point. The primary thing that Surface offers is compatibility with legacy interfaces.

Only disruptive innovation can create new revenue streams. Innovation that’s focused on preserving the past can only cannibalize the existing installed base. Even in the enterprise, Surface adoption won’t come at the expense of the iPad — it’ll be purchased as a lightweight substitute for Windows laptops.

Meanwhile, over in Cupertino, Apple has asserted that it is “doubling down” on its voice-based, natural-language Siri intelligent agent. Voice recognition opens up a range of alternative use cases for iPads — e.g., hands-free or multitasking control. That’s the kind of disruptive interface that Microsoft proved it could deliver with Kinect, for big screens and large areas.

The jury is still out on the future of interfaces for small screens and enclosed spaces — that is, the mobile computing interface. But we know one thing it’s not going to spring from: Better versions of old and increasingly outmoded technology.

Below the fold, we’ve taken a look at the spectrum of reactions from analysts across the web.

The picture of the Surface at the top of this post is from dotTech, and is used with thanks.


26 June 2012 at 7:01 pm Leave a comment

Re-thinking our homes

by Pen Stuart

The home is the safe heart of many consumers’ lives, but this can make people overlook the changes that are reshaping the way people live, so it’s worth a closer look. The recent Grand Designs Live expo in London highlighted some of the most exciting things in homes. For me there were three highlights:

The future is sooner than you think: Changes in homes and housebuilding are assumed to be slow, incremental, and fairly dull, but Jaya Skandamoorthy, of the BRE, argued in a talk that when we look abroad this may be about to change. China for instance, needs to build 35 million more homes over five years to cope with urbanisation and falling household size. The sheer scale involved means the government can consider new approaches to building design, size of living space, materials used, and even urban planning itself.

Consumers in control: Closer to home, self-build housing has historically been only about 10% of new builds in the UK, compared to almost half on the continent, but now there seems to be an appetite to increase this proportion – among both governments and individuals. A raft of new policies has been launched in the past months, with the intention of doubling the amount of self-build. This could make housing more affordable, especially for young people who are currently squeezed out of the market. House building may become less constrained by the conservative expectations of developers and builders. This also mirrors the wider trends we’ve seen in other sectors.

Fit buildings to people, not people to buildings: The automated home has been talked about enthusiastically for a long time – where all devices will talk to each other seamlessly and resolve domestic problems invisibly. Grand Designs had a special Automated Home display section. But what struck me was how much this looked like a fairground – something you wander around, enjoy the spectacle, and get back to your real life.

As we say in our Technology 2020 report, people are often unwilling to fundamentally change their behaviours. On the subject of green homes, Hank Dittmar, Chief Executive of The Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment, noted that new eco homes are often judged to be strange ‘teletubby homes’. Planners have declared in the past ‘the buildings work, but the people don’t’. But this is putting the problem round the wrong way. The Prince’s Foundation Natural House shows significant potential – embodying modern, eco-friendly efficient technology, but looking traditional – as a way to combine sustainability with mass market appeal.

The picture at the top of this post is of a street of ‘Natural Homes’ from the Learning from London blog, and it used with thanks.

22 May 2012 at 12:33 pm Leave a comment

Copyright wars

Andrew Curry writes:

Watching the SOPA/PIPA saga unfold from the other side of the Atlantic, it was difficult not to see it as a ‘wave war’, in which companies which grew up in different technology waves compete to set the frame of economic and policy discussion. On the one side, the media companies, creatures of the mass production era that dominated much of the 20th century; on the other, the technology companies that have grown up in the digital wave that followed it. (We wrote about these waves in our Futures Perspective report, Technology 2020).

The technology companies seem to be on the right side of the generational wave. As we noted last week in Futures Five, our fortnightly US newsletter for MONITOR clients,

most [Millennials] see far more nuance in pirated content-sharing than other generations: According to the 2011 Yankelovich MONITOR, 70% of Millennials indicate it’s “sometimes forgivable” if a person “views or downloads pirated content online (such as movies, television shows, music or shows),” almost double the 34% of Baby Boomers who feel the same way.

Of course, this is not a uniquely American issue. The proposed international treaty ACTA has the same intent as SOPA, as do sections of the UK’s Digital Economy Act. My view on this was shaped by James Boyle, the Duke University scholar who wrote The Public Domain, and his view was shaped by Thomas Jefferson, the first policy-maker to think seriously about copyright (yes, that Thomas Jefferson).

In a nutshell, we need copyright to reward creators, but in creating this legal privilege, we need to balance it so we don’t kill off the social, cultural, and economic gains from the free flow of knowledge, which let creators and innovators stand on the shoulders of others. The hugely extended copyright periods we now have in the USA and the UK are a grotesque tribute to the lobbying powers of media owners and old rock stars.

There’s another point here, too, about the way in which the mental landscapes of politicians shift only slowly. It’s been said that American politicians were surprised by the strength of opposition to the SOPA and PIPA bills, and more surprised to discover that their media industries were small fry, in economic terms, when compared to the tech industries.

The UK had a similar problem, in a very different sector, a decade ago. In response to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease, the government closed off large swathes of the countryside, only to discover that rural tourism and leisure were worth far more to the economy than farming. The policy-makers understood this. The politicians didn’t, because they’d got used to the farmers’ lobby. But, as with SOPA, the noise of the lobbyists had drowned out the quiet shifts of long-term change.

The image at the top is from the Bangstyle blog, where you will also find a perspective from the independent music sector. It is used with thanks.

30 January 2012 at 11:59 am Leave a comment

Trending @CES 2012

Last week, we and 150,000 of our closest gearhead friends attended CES, the consumer electronics industry’s largest trade event – and with a few days’ distance from the Las Vegas hype and glitter, we’ve been able to identify some of the show’s most interesting trends.

1. The Center of the CE World Is Shifting

While the big Japan brands – Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba – still dominate the show floor, it’s never been more obvious that Korea’s tech titans, Samsung and LG, now represent the front line of consumer electronics innovation. Or at least the innovation on display at CES. The biggest U.S. gadget players – HP, Google and especially Apple – are conspicuous by their absence; Microsoft has announced that next year, it too will exit the show, selling the rights to its coveted exhibit space to Dish Networks and China’s Hisense electronics. The latter is also a sign of the times: While Chinese brands are still quietly building market share rather than trying to technologically leapfrog, it’s only a matter of time before the biggest China players – Lenovo, Haier and TCL in particular – make a move for mindshare as well.

2. Say Hello to the Internet of Things

As of 2010, there was an average of one net-connected device per human being on Earth; by 2015, there will be an average of two. This reflects the reality that more and more information is being exchanged between intelligent devices, independent of human agency. In fact, networking giant Cisco recently estimated that the single fastest-growing category for Internet traffic is “machine-to-machine,” with the amount of data flowing between M2M modules now soaring at a rate of 258% per year.

Several brands at CES pushed the curve on the thing-based Internet. LG showed off the second generation of its “Thinq-enabled” home appliances line – e.g. a smart refrigerator that’s capable of tracking grocery purchases and ordering favorites when they run low, as well as transferring recipe suggestions to a connected smart stove.

Not to be outdone, Samsung unveiled its own plans for a household ecosystem of connected intelligent devices, with the Smart TV at its center. Will the television go from digital hearth to digital hub? Samsung – the world’s number-one seller of TVs – is banking on it.

3. Rise of the Intuitive, Immersive Interface

For obvious reasons, traditional devices are awkward input and control tools for an Internet of Things. (A microwave with a keyboard? No thanks.) This year’s CES showed dozens of ways that manufacturers are attempting to solve for this problem: Wall-sized multitouch surfaces (including a massive 82-inch capacitive display from Perceptive Pixel, whose technology powers the “smart walls” used on CNN), face recognition, and, of course, natural-language voice control.

Behind closed doors, Nuance – the developers of the speech recognition technology used in the iPhone 4S’s Siri intelligent agent – showed off their new DragonTV voice-based television interface, and it was impressive; Nuance says the software will power the smart TV offerings of “all the major manufacturers” (including, perhaps, Apple’s hypothetical new iTV?).

Meanwhile, startup Tobii unveiled an eye-tracking system that senses what you want to select next based on the position of your pupils. And PrimeSense, developers of the technology used in Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect peripheral, demonstrated the next-generation version of their motion recognition system, which uses a 3D camera to allow users to control devices with typical touchscreen gestures (swipe, pinch to zoom, and so on) – in thin air, from up to ten feet away.

4. What’s Next
Though some have questioned CES’s continued relevance in an era of instant communications and social networks, the show remains one of the few opportunities to watch the dynamics of the technology marketplace up close – allowing active observers to spot new technologies, track the uptake of trends, and identify emerging standards in real time. We’ll be following up on the phenomena we saw this year, so watch this space.

17 January 2012 at 9:45 am Leave a comment

From Chaos to Collaboration

Andy Stubbings writes:

Have you ever asked yourself what the travel guidebook of the future might look like, or why when it is arguably easier than ever to visit anywhere you like, it’s also more hassle to actually get there?

Andrew Curry and myself spent Wednesday this week with the global travel distribution company Amadeus, talking to journalists about the report, “From chaos to collaboration” we’d written for the company on the future of travel, and specifically how technology will change travel in the years to 2020.

In a nutshell: the report argues that over the next decade, thanks to a range of technologies as well as changes in social and economic contexts, there is great potential for travel to be enhanced at every stage of the journey by greater and more fluid interaction with other travellers and travel providers. The main benefits for travellers will be making the experience of getting to and from their destination less chaotic and stressful, and once they get somewhere else, they will be able to have a deeper experience of the place  by accessing other people’s collective experience. Most of the data that’s needed to do this already exists; the challenge is putting it together.

Sounds intriguing? The full report can be downloaded for free from here (opens pdf), and our friends at Kwittken, Amadeus’s international PR agency who worked with us on the report, have put together this infographic with some stats taken from the quantitative research done for the report.

A shareable version can be found here.

The picture is published here by The Futures Company under a Creative Commons licence: some rights reserved.

13 January 2012 at 11:20 am 2 comments

Some notes from Stream

Andrew Curry writes:

Stream, WPP’s annual tech ‘un-conference’, held by tradition at a former Club Med resort near Athens, has just finished. I’m going to try to catch a snapshot of some of the things I learned while I was there.

3D printing is a slow train coming
We’ve been talking to clients for a while about the potential of 3D printing, or ‘fabbing’, and a discussion led by Steve Sammartino of Grey got into some of the complexities of this. The principle of 3D printing is that you send the code and a machine makes the object locally – possibly even in your home. Costs are falling quite fast, with the ‘hobbyist’ fabricator kit, Maker Bot, now less than $1,000, although the professional machines used by designers are still above $10,000. The other limitations are materials and time; a machine is set up to use one type of material, and making an object, even a small one, is slow. A designer taking part in the discussion showed a tape dispenser made on his printer which took ten hours to produce. Is this a new industrial revolution? Probably not. But over the next decade it could transform the way we repair things, prototype them, and also change the way we think about manufacturing.

The new high level internet domains will be a lawyers’ paradise
You may not have noticed, but ICANN, which regulates the Internet’s top level domains (.com, .edu, .uk, etc) is quite a long way down the road on a radical transformation of the domain system. Instead of the current relatively constrained architecture, it’s proposing to let people buy words instead; ‘.cheese’, say, or ‘.health’, or ‘.yahoo’. In practice, this means that large companies will buy them, if they so choose, since the application costs around $200,000, and preparing the application another $300,000.

The thing is, it’s hard to see who benefits: the internet becomes a sea of noise, and businesses are faced with a sea of unprofitable competition for domain names. Esther Dyson, who led the session, described it as “a tragedy of the commons”. But intellectual property lawyers should do well for themselves. The only saving grace is that the decision hasn’t yet been ratified; pressure on ICANN might yet prevent the change.

What we mean by ‘news’ is changing before our eyes. The idea emerged from several different sessions. Vice presented data which showed that the average age of the US audience for mainstream TV news was 60-something, compared to the far younger audience for Vice News. Peter Hirshberg, the urban data pioneer, suggested that “you really need to be able to understand data to tell stories in the 21st century”. The Guardian, challenged by its editor, Alan Rusbridger, that “the public is not interested in what’s in the public interest”, is launching the ‘Finance Game’, off the back of an anthropological investigation of the City of London’s bankers, to see if this leads to new ways of understanding, researching, and presenting complex stories (and potentially to different audiences). But in his platform interview, WPP Chief Executive Sir Martin Sorrell observed that if – as a society – “we value professional journalism, we’re probably going to have to subsidise it”.

The picture at the top of this post was taken by Andrew Curry. It is published here under a Creative Commons licence: some rights reserved.

16 September 2011 at 8:24 am Leave a comment

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The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.

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