Thursday, November 5, 2015

Lytro's saving grace

What is Lytro?  I pondered a few years ago when Lytro came into existence.  They had amazing technology albeit it was not very useful or competitive against the current still cameras.  I wondered where Lytro would end up.

Yesterday, Lytro announced Immerge, its latest creation. With Immerge, Lytro seems to have found its sweet spot and saving grace. 

Immerge is a professional grade cinematic virtual reality video camera.  It offers 6 degrees of freedom which suits it very well for VR.  It also allows one to mix CG into the footage.  This is where Lytro's light field technology can truly shine.  It can capture light volumes and play back based on where the viewer is looking.  Imagine wearing a VR headgear and viewing a scene shot on Immerge.  As you glance around using its 6 DoF, and as you look at objects, the scene could refocus based on the light field technology.  It could simulate a human eye looking around in a scene bringing the scene eerily close to reality.

With Immerge, Lytro is also moving away from consumer market and into the professional market.  Lytro is not just selling this camera, they are selling an end-to-end solution with a server, post-processing tools, a player as well as a streaming server.  This will allow them to own and control the entire ecosystem.  They have also mentioned support for all available and future VR headsets and players. 

This is an amazing opportunity for Lytro to make a mark in the VR world as it matures. 

Photo credit:

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Drone attack!

Recently I was in Ireland and I visited the Blarney's castle.  Here is an aerial view of the castle from a magazine ad.

Here is another picture I took from the ground.

Not very flattering, huh?

One of the reasons aerial photography (short range) is going to become popular is due to this discrepancy.  It allows for one to be creative.  It is not as simple as just whipping out your camera or phone and clicking a button.  It is much more than that.  It is commanding a small camera fitted on a drone and piloting it (or instructing it) to shoot pics from a different vantage point.  It is exciting and the opportunities to be creative are boundless.  I was cursing myself for not bringing my drone along. 

That is when I saw this sign on the Blarney Castle grounds.


There are many reasons to ban drones from historical sites:
- Protect the monument or the historical artifact from being damaged by crashing aerial vehicles
- Protect the unobstructed visual beauty.  This does not really hold ground, since people walking around the site are already obstructing the visual beauty
- Protect the monument from the trash of dead aerial cameras perched on inaccessible locations such as the ledge in the picture below (which I shot from the top of the tower and not a drone).  We have all seen trash strewn on historical or natural monuments that is hard to clear
- Copyrighting the aerial view of the site.  This may not hold much ground when photography in general is allowed

It looks like this is going to become the norm in all the tourist locations from now on.  That is until the aerial cameras become smart enough to avoid obstructions and not get lost.  There are several manufacturers already on this path.  We will shortly start seeing aerial cameras that are capable of following a pre-set path, capable of avoiding stationary as well as moving objects, capable of returning home before losing complete control and being small enough to be carried by a photography enthusiast.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Amazon Dash Button - departure from corporate principles?

Amazon seems to be going away from its basic principles with the latest Amazon Dash button.  Amazon has always been for empowering the customer, providing all the information (choice, prices, reviews, etc.) to the customer so that the customer has all the freedom to make intelligent decisions.  But, with Amazon Dash, all this is going out of the window.  Well, almost all.

Amazon Dash is a new service (and device) that Amazon has recently released.  Amazon supplies stick-on buttons to Prime customers so they can stick these buttons to relevant things in their home/office to seamlessly order supplies before they run out.  The following video from Amazon illustrates it.

The biggest gripe I have with this service is that it is too specific.  It locks customers to specific brands. 

With Dash buttons, Amazon has just driven all new comers out of the playing field.  If Amazon ships me a Tide button, I am voluntarily signing up to buy Tide for the foreseeable future.  Any new competitor to enter the field of washing soap will have a tough time to sell their wares.  The principle of 'Choice to the customer' goes right out of the window.  What if I wanted to try other brands?  Do I have to go to Amazon and get another button for that? 

Amazon is slowly entering our homes and introducing the concept of 'Internet of Things' (IOT) with this device.  All this device is an IOT. albeit not a very smart one.  A smart IOT would have figured out when I am getting low on my supplies and would have automatically placed an order for me.  Well, we will have to wait a bit longer for that. 

What Amazon should have done is create a generic button and sent a dozen of them to each Prime customer.  The customer would then affix the buttons wherever appropriate (like fridge, washing machine, coffee machine, etc) and program them to a particular category.  Note I am saying 'Category', not a specific product.  So, the customer would affix a button on a washing machine and program it to the category of 'Laundry Detergent'.  This is a one time activity.  Once programmed, the device has a specific job.  Its job is to order a laundry detergent. 

This is where Amazon can still empower the customer.  When the user presses the laundry button, the system automatically adds a few choice detergents into the shopping cart as options.  User would then preview the options and choose the one that made the most sense based on brand, quality, reviews, price, etc.  Of course, we could go further and mark one of the choices as a default choice for the next 6 months so that Amazon picks that choice automatically without prodding (at least for the next 6 months).  This way Amazon can still provide the power of choice to the customer.  The customer can always choose the same product and set it as default. 

By not sending brand specific buttons, the customer is free to choose the brand she wants (at that point in time).  Also, the buttons can be made re-programmable so that they can be moved around and assigned different categories as the user sees fit.

New devices and ideas should always be aligned to the corporate vision and should never waver from it.  Otherwise, the company loses its vision and will soon become irrelevant. 

Of course, with the present design, Amazon can flex its muscle and charge brands to position themselves on the Dash button.  This is similar to the retail shelf space they compete for, in a brick and mortar store.

Amazon should use this opportunity to innovate and slowly position themselves within every home.  As long as they stick to their original vision of empowering the customer, this will be a grand success.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Apple Watch is not Sexy!

Those were the words of Jean-Claude Biver, the head of LVMH's watch division.

Image courtesy: Apple Inc.
He opines that the Apple Watch is condemned to become obsolete.  Even though Apple is making a Gold watch, it is just going to become a useless piece of Gold jewelry (if you can call it jewelry) after Apple releases the next version of the watch in their self cannibalization effort. 

He also aptly said “The smartwatch is an information device that tells you that you’ve got mail or a message, whereas a high-quality Swiss mechanical watch is a communication device that communicates to others who you are.”

A Swiss mechanical watch is a man's jewelry.  People do not wear it to tell time, they wear it to show who they are.

As I mentioned here, Apple should not be aiming at the watch market at all.  Apple should have thought outside the box and created a wearable computer.   A wearable computer that could be worn anywhere on the body.  Unfortunately, they chose the wrist and unfortunately, they named it Watch.

Here is a beautiful design where a watch is paired with the wearable computer.  There are many ways to pair a wearable with other accessories that people already wear: clothes, accessories like belts, necklaces, bracelets, finger rings, ear rings, underwear, etc. 

Companies should think outside the box and come up with wearables that just serve their purpose and not try to replace another device.  Stick to the minimalistic design.

Wonder what happened to Apple's inspiration from Dieter Rams' minimalistic design principles.

Planned Obsolescence

I recently watched a documentary on BBC about planned obsolescence.  It is an interesting view on the current marketplace and how companies have been designing for obsolescence. This phenomenon has been going on for a long time. 

I remember as a kid when all the ballpoint pens had refills, not just the high priced ones.  You bought a pen or two and kept replacing the ink cartridge refills.  Or, you used a fountain pen and bought ink bottles to refill the pen.  I must have gone through most of my primary education with just a few of these pens.

And then I came to the US where everything is disposable.  Bic pens were the first disposable ballpoint pens I used.  I was shocked to see people chucking pens in the trash as soon as the ink ran out. 

Fast forward to 2015.  People are chucking MP3 players and phones as trash as soon as the battery runs out.  Or, in some cases, as soon as the newer version is released. 

Thanks to the advances in 3D printing, we are coming up with technology to literally 'print' everything as a single unit.  No need of assembly, dis-assembly, servicing, replacement of parts, and such things.  You buy one unit and throw it away at the end of its life.  The end of life could be defined by either its functional usefulness or its capacity (battery life, ink, etc.).  This is ultimate consumerism at work.

What this is doing is making consumers spend more and buy more.  This will help corporations sell more and make more money, but we have to look at its global impact.
  • What this does to our environment?  
  • How is it recycled?
  • How do we separate the components for recycling?  
  • How much does it cost to recycle?
There is always a fine line between usability, design and being responsible to your consumers, to the environment, to the economy and to the world as a whole.

There are cases where this technology makes perfect sense.  Say, parts for a satellite which are never serviced once launched.  These parts need to work in harsh environments and need all the protection they can get.  These parts could be built as a single unit so that they are well sealed and can function optimally.

Nanostructures come to my mind as a great fit for this technology but unfortunately, the current 3D printing technology is still measured in mm and not in nm.  These structures are too small to assemble.  It makes more sense to just build them as one cohesive unit. 

3D printing is seen as a boon for making spare parts when none are easily available.  Companies are taking 3D printing to places where no man has gone before: printing food, printing prosthetics, printing tissue, printing organs and other areas that we have not imagined yet. 

We truly live in an exciting world today! 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Brand Love

I was at a Marriott in Minnesota recently.  It was cold and snowing that week.  One morning I get up and look out of my window to see the road and the lawn completely blanketed by snow.  I got ready and came down to go to the client office.  I had equipped myself with a muffler around my neck, ear muffs, winter gloves and a coat.  I was ready to brush the snow off my car and scrape the ice off the windshield. 

I walk out and am greeted by a car that had no snow or ice on it.  I glance around to see that someone had cleared the snow and ice off all the cars in the parking lot.  I was, to say the least, pleased with the pleasant surprise Marriott offered.  They made my life easier and they made me look cool.  While all my colleagues (staying at another hotel chain) were sweating in the Minnesota cold scraping ice off their windshield, I simply got in my car and drove off.  It not only saved my time but also saved me from the trouble of clearing show and ice in sub-zero climate.  You can bet I am going back to that Marriott.

This got me thinking about customer loyalty and brand loyalty. 

What is Customer Loyalty?

Customer loyalty is where a customer is loyal to a particular company/service/product.  Customer loyalty can be garnered by offering rewards, discounts and other perks. 

A simple act like clearing snow off cars, which is not part of their SLA or contract goes a long way in making the customer happy and finally loyal.  What Marriott did was make me cool and kick ass.  This reminded me of one of Kathy Sierra's posts on this subject (Image courtesy: Kathy Sierra).  

Brand loyalty, however has to be earned in a whole different way.  Brand loyalty is earned by offering exceptional products and services.  

Companies like Apple command brand loyalty mainly by producing excellent products that consumers want.  The products are of such high quality that they command a cult-like following of brand loyalists.  Apple has also creates an ecosystem (iTunes) that ties the customer into their products for a seamless experience (and forced brand loyalty).

Other companies indirectly force brand loyalty.  Take for example Canon or Nikon in the imaging market.  Once a consumer invests significant amount of money on the foundation product (say, the camera body) and a few accessories (say, lenses, flash, etc.), it is hard to switch to another brand due to the fact that they are different standards (say, lens coupling).  Switching would mean an entirely new investment to get back to where you were.  Not that these companies produce inferior products.  Both produce products on par with each other which makes it even more difficult to keep customers from wavering.  Hence, proprietary standards like lens coupling ensure brand loyalty. 

Customer loyalty is directly related to cost, discounts and rewards.  Once the rewards and discounts vanish, the customer will easily wander.  But, brand loyalty is not related to any of the factors mentioned above.  Irrespective of the cost or rewards, customers will always be loyal to the brand.  This kind of loyalty can only be commanded by producing exceptional products.

Everyone takes great service for granted.  Great service is not going to garner loyalty.  But the opposite is absolutely true.  Bad service will absolutely drive away customers.  Businesses should concentrate more on dispute resolution than on exceptional customer service.  It is human to make mistakes.  But, what sets apart great businesses is how they resolve disputes.

Businesses should concentrate on both customer loyalty as well as brand loyalty.  They both require different strategies and resources, but go a long way in customer retention.

Remember, the cost of customer acquisition is always higher than the cost of retention. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

16 Things from A16Z

Andreessen Horowitz published 16 areas they are focusing on for 2015.  This list is a good bellwether of what areas to research, work on, invest in, etc. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

CES 2015

Steven Sinofsky has published a nice recap of what he saw at this year's CES.  It is nice to note that batteries are improving in performance and how companies are trying to figure out ways to incorporate sensors into everyday products.  

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Hotel Check-In Process

Many a times during my business travel, I have waited in line to check-in to my hotel room.  I have always thought that this is an area that needs improvement.  With mobile apps and today's technology, this whole operation can be automated, especially for regular registered guests.  This is a great opportunity waiting to be realized.

Several hotels have already started on this journey and trying to catch up with other industries.  Starwood properties has  already installed smart locks that can be unlocked using their mobile app.  That is one step forward.  Hilton is following suite.  Meanwhile, Marriott has an app for check-In, but you still have to get a physical key card from the front desk.

There are many aspects of travel that can be frustrating.  Especially for road warriors who travel often.  Time is of essence and we want to get what we want fast and move on.

Here are a few things (selective) that a road warrior would need online:
- Ability to check-In
- Ability to use cellphone as a key
- Ability to view available rooms (within the class of room booked)
- Ability to see pictures of the room
- Ability to choose a room from the available rooms
- Ability to be notified when the room is ready (for first occupancy or subsequent, after house keeping)
- Ability to order room service or other services
- Ability to contact concierge to get local information or a virtual concierge

These are a few things that come to my mind.  Of course, you may be thinking that I am anti-social and do not want to talk to people.  That is one of the main reasons I said these were selective.  I could choose to chat with the front desk while checking in (if they are free), or dash straight to my chosen room after a long red-eye flight.  I have been in many situations where I didn't get the information I was looking for or I had to wait in line to get serviced. 

Choice to the consumer is the future.  Given the available rooms, why can't I choose which room I want based on the information presented to me?  I have been in too many situations where I was assigned a room next to the elevator or the ice machine even though I had asked not to.  Empowering the consumer removes all these issues and gives the power to choose.

Hotels can not only reduce their operating costs, but can also make the experienced consumers really happy by implementing these optional services. 

Image courtesy:, Marriott

Wireless charging

Ever since I bought my first electric toothbrush several years ago, I wondered what it would take to incorporate similar wireless charging capabilities into phones, wearables, gaming controllers, etc.  The toothbrush doesn't have any exposed electrical contacts.  You just place it on its base station and it just charges using induction.  What if we could use similar technology to charge any other device.  Throw your phone on a mat and it charges itself.  You don't need to worry about carrying your cable.  you could potentially charge any kind of device on a single mat.  Wouldn't that be great?

Well, several companies are already making such chargers using inductive or resonant charging technology.  One of the reasons for the slow takeoff is the competing effort of three bodies: Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP), Power Matters Alliance (PMA) and Wireless Power Consortium (Qi). 

Good news is that A4WP and PMA decided to merge this week.  Yay! 

As long as we have fewer competing standards and hopefully, everyone will agree to just one standard.  This will pave the way for wireless charging to charge ahead and make a breakthrough.  Having one standard will allow the utopian charging pad which can be used to charge any kind of device. 

Looking forward to wireless charging on all the devices in the near future. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Wearables and Classics Fusion

2015 seems to be the year when wearables will be finally embraced by the mass consumers.  Montblanc kicked off the new year with the announcement of its eStrap wearable.  Coupled with the automatic, this is the perfect marriage of a wearable technology with the classic timepiece.  This will surely get the watch aficionados who are also into technology drooling. 

Image courtesy: Montblanc
Here is some press coverage of the watch.  Love to see more fusion of wearables with classic consumer goods in order to spur broad interest.