Rethinking the Cell Phone

February 14, 2008

modu_x220.jpgSome ideas keep coming back… In Technology Review: Rethinking the Cell Phone, a Israeli start-up proposes to make a modular cell phone, in which display and interface is seperated from the communication technology. The assumption is that sometimes you might want a phone that is as small as possible and in other cases you would like to have something with a big screen to do emails on the go. Instead of buying seperate phones, why not have multiple accessory displays… In the future, parts of the cell phone could even be integrated into your jacket or belt.

In 1999, a Silicon Valley start-up IXI had the similar vision, but could never materilize it. Partly because the perceived ‘cost saving’ is not large enough, partly because most people would rather not have too many accessories that they can forget or loose… As Moore’s law continues and phones become smaller and more powerful, it difficult to see that the time has come for the IXI’s of this world.

Please comment if you share or reject my view. Thanks.


Living in a Device-Centric World

February 11, 2008

Accenture published an article on Living in a Device-Centric World, a strategic view of an evolving market for digital devices:

“The current market focus on the “three screens” of the consumer—a television in your family room, a PC on your desk and a mobile phone in your pocket—is a new, device-centric way of seeing the digital services ecosystem. It’s a view with the potential to dramatically change the way in which people work, seek out entertainment and interact with one another.

The idea is that each of our screens would have full access to all our digital assets—files, content, applications and so forth. We could view the same content from any screen or, even better, we could use whatever screen was appropriate for the content and for our needs, based on where we were and what we wanted to do. Unless we were cast away on a desert island, we would probably not read a novel on a wristwatch-sized screen—but the idea is that we could if we wanted to.

A device-centric world presents both challenges and opportunities to the industry players involved. Some analysts have predicted that services that cross the three screens of the consumer—at work, on the road and in the digital home—will soon be a multitrillion-dollar business. However, the technology architecture that brings the three screens to life is complex. It’s important to understand both the technological and business changes occurring today if a company is to take advantage of device-centric opportunities to achieve and sustain high performance.

Big Change: Trivergence and Tridgets
The communications, high-tech and media industries are currently struggling to get out in front of a wave of change that may be unprecedented. Competition has always been fierce, but at least the marketplace boundaries were clear. No more. Today, software companies are creating development platforms for wireless communications services. We can buy a phone from a company better known for its airline service. Content companies look like high-tech companies, which look like phone companies. It’s not a marketplace; it’s a rugby scrum.

As the various players try to move the ball forward, all are looking for surer footing. One place to begin is with a better understanding of the device architecture that will make three-screen services possible. Accenture calls this emerging architecture “trivergence,” because its distinctive character is in using the network to separate (1) the physical device from (2) its data and (3) its controls.

To appreciate the importance of the trivergence architecture, compare a portable CD music player with an Apple iPod. The CD player has mechanisms inside that access the data, translate it into sound and send that to your headphones. On the unit itself are various controls that let you choose music tracks, adjust the volume and so forth. Everything is contained within the device.

The iPod, on the other hand, is dependent on the network for its data and controls. You download data—your media files—through a network, and then you control and manipulate those files using a Web-based, soft-panel application. Without the network, the iPod is just an expensive paperweight. Accenture refers to these trivergent devices as “tridgets,” and more of them are entering the marketplace almost every day. Apple has very successfully demonstrated that devices, data and controls—when fully networked—can work together to produce a compelling user experience. “

Basically they point out that you need a combination of ‘hardware, software and services’ to create compelling products.  Nothing new here, I would say… In the remaining part of the article they talk about the opportunities and challanges for the communications industry. For instance, network service providers could leverage their capabilities in end-user billing and customer service (something that companies such as Google and Microsoft can not offer so easily).

After reading the article again, I am thinking to call myself consultant and sell my ‘strategic views’ to large companies sleeping at the wheel (and make lots of money with it). Thanks Stefan for commenting. 


Nabaztag – ambient and emotional design

February 5, 2008

nabaztag.jpgI am a firm believer that all the great things on the web will be made available to us in new ways, in a more natural (or ‘ambient’) way. For instance, I would love to get my news updates or messages while having breakfast without the need to start my computer. Here is a device that claims to do so: The first smart rabbit – Nabaztag. This wifi-enabled ‘rabbit’ can send and receive MP3s and messages that are read out loud as well as perform the following services (by either speaking the information out loud or using indicative lights): weather forecast, stock market report, news headlines, alarm clock, e-mail alerts, and others. It is basically an evolution of the famous Tamagotchi and shares the same phylosophy as MIT spin-off Ambient Devices.

It also reminds me of a (research) project at Philips called Smart Companion. The device combines computer vision, speech and robotics to interact with users in a natural way, by understanding spoken requests, giving replies, recognizing faces and using body language such as facial expressions, head nodding and shaking or colored light. It even recognizes individual users and can turn its head to follow users as they move around in the room. I have not heart from it since 2005, so I guess this project ended like many Philips iniatives… no where. The irony is that Philips’s vision behind Smart Companion is very good, but the focus is too much on technological advanced solutions rather than developing a product that is ‘usable’ and ‘affordable’ (with current available technology). The approach from Violet with their ‘rabbit’ is much more practically and therefore has more chance of survival.