Tag Archives: Microsoft

Digital Upgrade At Your Own Risk – Brand Be Damned!

It seems that many apps and digital offerings have been updated since the beginning of the year – and an interesting trend has taken shape. What once was so wonderfully free – with few ad breaks and just slightly more privacy – has turned the corner and has become, well… less. Additionally, a huge sector of mobile users that excitedly upgraded to Android 4.3 before the end of the year have only further lamented the multitude of issues they’ve encountered since (with battery life reducing drastically being a consistent theme).  All of this leads to the question – To Upgrade or Not To Upgrade?  Unfortunately, in many instances, the consumer never gets the chance to question and the brand is damned to stumble.

Screenshot_2014-01-28-16-57-38

The gray area is meant to have content served within.

 

In the case of ESPN, they chose to re-brand their scores and news app to be more aligned with their colossal SportsCenter brand – changing it from Scorecenter to SportsCenter. That change makes sense – as does the twitter feed from their on-air personalities.  What’s more challenging is that the app is much more volatile (see above) with nothing showing much of the time.  Even more annoying is the fact that users now have to log in or register in order to automatically keep track of their favorite teams. For most, this might not be an issue, but for those trying to hold on to the last piece of privacy, that component might be a deal breaker. The fact that there’s now far more advertising with page overlays and in-feed ads only adds salt to the wound.

Diminished revenue generation is definitely an issue for all content providers, but it will be interesting to see how conversion plays out as more and more previously free apps move into the paid model. Since the new year, at least 4 of my news apps have moved behind a paywall – with only headlines available for free – rendering it useless. Hopefully, we’ll soon see the ramifications – one way or the other – on this change soon. We’ll definitely see if people have an appetite for paying in multiple places for content.

Even in the free realm, questionable choices have been made:

  • ABC force upgraded the app leaving users with a lot less content choices and a lot more ill will. Checking the ratings on the App Store and Google Play shows a very large distaste for something that was the standard bearer for innovative video presentation. With the previous usage and inability to skip through commercials, it made sense.  Who knows what will happen now.
  • Yahoo! changed their mobile product to supposedly simplify their content delivery. The only problem is that the UI leads one to believe that if they click on search, they’ll be able to search within the category (i.e.,Entertainment, Sports, Life), only to find that it takes them out of the app environment and to their general search interface.
  • Sporting News is struggling to keep from crashing as they deal with issues stemming from iOS 7 in their newest update. The fix might come with the supposed release of iOS 7.1 in March, but that brings us to the next issue.

With all of the concerns users have with upgrading already – and the worries of what they will have to learn or not have access to – is the update to iOS 7.1 or Android’s 4.4 KitKat one that people will venture into widely or quickly?  Microsoft is having it’s own issues getting consumers to upgrade Windows OS – especially as people realized how much was still left to be done with each release. Is the same lack of concern for the user experience – and the interest of meeting ambiguous deadlines worthwhile for consumers who are quick to pull the trigger and move elsewhere? A concern is that, among developers, there is an excuse permeating that everyone expects issues. How sad is that?

The debate can continue as to whether it’s human nature to always want the new bright and shiny object. But, it is pretty clear cut that when forced to the new, something good should be delivered.  If companies/brands keep forcing the issue, they might be damned to losing the loyalty of those who just want to keep interacting the way they always have.

Advertisements

CES 2013 Show Recap and Technology Tidbits

Another CES has come and gone. And, much like in the past, there’s some cool things that you can’t wait to see hit the market.  There’s also some things you don’t want to see hit the market.  There were a number of “wow” factors as well as some “scratch your head in wonder” factors.  Some may never see the light of day and some are already there.  One of the most interesting elements was the tracking of progression from one year to the next – both in the show itself and the technologies it showcases. The show itself is now covering even more square footage.  So, with the feet showing more wear and tear, what follows is a collection of thoughts and tidbits.

Microsoft’s Huge Cost Savings
Before getting into what was actually on the floor, there was a lot of press was devoted to Microsoft’s pulling out of CES – no booth and no keynote. Kudos to them on still making a huge Keynote splash by crashing Qualcomm’s Keynote with Steve Ballmer walking on stage and presenting Windows Mobile 8. Who knows how much they saved in sponsorship fees, Keynote production costs and the actual cost of the booth.

Starting At Innovation

In years past, I’ve made it a habit to start the show at the main hall, but switched it up this year and began at the Innovation Hall in the Venetian.  What used to be a showcase of the Innovation “Best In Shows” on the convention center’s main lobby floor has expanded – even if it’s not so close to the main floor.  The great thing about the Innovation Hall is that it provides a quick overview of what’s new and cool.  You can’t interact with most of the things, but it easily provides the opportunity to determine what booths you don’t want to miss on the exhibition floors.

What has made it even more interesting is the grouping of small, up and coming companies in the hall around the “Best of” displays.  These are the budding companies who may have a cool idea but don’t really have the strongest marketing and certainly don’t have the market share (yet) to be on the main floor. There are probably more misses than hits, but its always fun to find the hidden jewels.

Future Home – Whirlpool

20130108_111900

Though not a start-up by any means, Whirlpool used this space to show off possible future tech.  In the image above, they considered this to be a futuristic fireplace – where people could sit around a table with weird lighting from the table and above and have the food kept warm by the lighting. My takeaway was that it could work on the Gallactica or in Buck Rogers, but it will be interesting to see if this becomes a common feature in the next 20 years…

3D Printing

20130108_114247 20130108_114316

While there was only one 3D printer in this hall last year, the ones presented this year made last year’s seem like it was from the stone ages.  The precision printing of objects directly from digital files is very cool to see in person.  In the top image, you can even see a guitar made from a 3D printer.  While still somewhat rudimentary, you can really see some true future benefits from the development of this technology.

Autos and Accessories

Moving on to the Convention Center, we restrained ourselves from going into the Main Hall and went into the North Hall instead – where mobile accessories and Auto products reign. After a while in this hall (and the entire show for that matter) you feel like you never want to see an accessory again.

One thing that I found funny in the accessories was this product from Pure Gear that adds an analog game to the iPhone.  Made me laugh because you would assume there’s an app for that.  Perhaps they figured they’d pass on the charging cover and just provide something to do for when your battery dies out.

20130108_131158

Audi has been on the floor in this hall for a few years and their booths are quite spectacular. With Lexus joining the fray and promoting their future self-driving car, they provided some communication competition for Audi, but the Germans still mastered booth mystique.  Even with the lack of clarity in terms of what Audi was selling, their booth was hands down the winner.

20130108_133515

Lexus

20130108_133629

Audi

And, just in case you were wondering about the safety of texting and driving in Los Angeles – or anywhere for that matter – consider the computing power found within the newest LAPD cars…

20130108_135007

Connectivity

On the upper floor of the South Hall, the heavy hitters were all about connectivity and processing.  Verizon was showing off every use of mobile under the sun, Qualcomm was highlighting everything that uses their chips/processors (plus providing their usual coffee stand) and Alcatel Lucent was demoing all the ngConnect stuff.  The connected displays we worked on were well received by numerous entities coming through – from Telcos salivating over the opportunity for transactional revenue to mall and other large-scale public venue corporations excitedly discovering how their locations can be reinvigorated through dynamic, connected signage.

20130108_160607 20130108_160642

There was a bunch of other stuff to see on the floor that was interesting for about a minute and then you moved on.

Sadly, I didn’t get much time on the bottom floor of the South Hall, but I did see a few things of interest.  The first was a robot window cleaner to complete your collection of the Rhoomba and the Mint.  I wish I could find more, but the company member who was there wasn’t too open with information.  One thing of note about that lower hall was that there was much more breathing room. There was an opportunity to have some fun with your booth design – which one company selling bluetooth enabled outdoor active speakers did.

The Main Event – Main Floor

This year, I entered the main hall in a way that I hadn’t before.  In addition to not being the first hall I entered, I only spent a short period in there on the first day and then didn’t go back in until the middle of the second day.

When we first went in, we just went into the LG booth because it has the best entrance – with the huge 3D wall.  This year, what really caught my eye (and was my most memorable technology from the show)was the Ultra HD 84″ screen that was just beyond the wall.

20130108_143151

Obviously, it can’t be seen here, but what makes it spectacular is the fact that LG has seemingly mastered 3D over the past year.  Their glasses have always been great, but their 3D was only good for things coming out of the screen toward the viewer.  This monitor caught my eye because of the addition of a great depth-of-field.

Regardless of how blown away I was by the Ultra HD, I had to laugh when I got to a nearby screen for 3D gaming.  The screen looked great, but they highlighted the use of a mobile phone to control the gameplay. When I tried to play the game using it, I had to constantly look down at the controller – which wasn’t in 3D.  A cool concept, but with its flat screen, mobile devices as controllers just don’t make sense.

20130108_143612

On the way out of the hall, I stopped at the Intel booth which seems to have literally blossomed without Microsoft being so close.  I sadly don’t have any images, but built an interactive Ultrabook display that looked like a tree.

The next day was the accidental discovery that was my favorite content of the show as well as led me to my favorite audio piece at the show – both of which were at the DTS booth.

20130109_115233

My favorite content was the interview by Nic Harcourt with the engineer for most of the Beatles’ albums – Geoff Emerick.  Geoff’s frankness and stories from those days were fascinating in how they would create effects in an analog world that still hold their own in a digital one.

After the interview, we were able to sample a new DTS product called Headphone.X that effectively can turn any set of decent headphones into an 11.1 sound system.  Their demo did a great job showcasing this new technology.  But, as with many things shown at CES, it will take a while to even cycle the newer processors that can handle the technology into the market.  When I asked, I was told that Qualcomm is the only one providing a processor that can handle it – and then the audio still needs to be build in 11.1.  So who knows when we will actually be able to enjoy.

As for the rest of the main hall, it was even more about lights and action and overwhelming stuff.  The biggest players are Samsung, Sony and Panasonic.  Sony’s area was huge and provided a lot of room to walk around and see their version of the largest OLED.

Panasonic was throwing everything out there from screens to beauty products to a first-class cabin on Air Singapore.  They even had their own version of the largest OLED. Their booth was somewhat easy to move around, but the presentation was dry and I am still trying to figure out who would want the 20″ tablet they were showing off.

I will say this for Panasonic: they did a very good job of conveying how their technology makes it into people’s lives – both in the home and in business.  One example is their presentation of POS solutions through tablets. They drew people in with their organic menu and allowed the technology presentation to get people over their disappointment that there wasn’t actually healthy food available on the floor.

Finally, the booth that exemplifies all that is CES can be found in the middle of the main hall – Samsung.

20130109_130028

Samsung has usually had the coolest things to show and have always generated the largest crowds.  Sadly, their booth design is an assault on the senses.  It is so overwhelming that you don’t know what to look at, where to go or why to care.  Taken in doses, the content is more palatable, but that controlled dose pattern is very hard to pull off.  Without a doubt, there were many great items that were missed due to the hubbub.

But, I guess in the end, that’s what CES is all about – and what drives people to come back – the exploration for that next great thing.

Executing the Scarcity Tactic in Marketing Can Do Harm

I can understand a company wanting to generate the buzz that Apple has been getting with their product scarcity tactic, but it’s getting out of hand. But the past couple of days, there’s been a major instance of a product release coming when stores aren’t even open or the product is not available online and in only one store in the country in daily limited supply. Both products have strong stories to tell, but they’re not stories that consumers are actively seeking out – like they do for Apple products. When there is a demand for 4 million units in the first weeks of a product release (New iPad) you can deal with some folks being upset they can’t get their hands on the product.  When there is very little demand, you can’t risk people being upset that the product is not available. As such, the scarcity tactic does more harm than good.

The bigger fail of the two is AT&T’s launch with Microsoft of the Lumia 900 Windows 7 phone. They supposedly spent $150M to promote the product’s launch date on April 8th. That would be fine if the 8th was not Easter Sunday. Did they think that people would separate from family to buy products – even if stores were open?  The NY Times did their own research to find that there were just no units to be found in the few Manhattan stores that were open. I personally don’t buy that it was smart marketing to launch a big product on a commercially dead day. There certainly is not any buzz that’s coming from the lack of found product.

They had to have spent a pretty penny on the Nicki Minaj performance in Times Square.  It’s too bad they couldn’t have drafted any of that into sales through the weekend at those 30+ stores within five miles of Times Square.

Nike also did something weird with its marketing schedule. They launched a video yesterday on YouTube that stands as their key video campaign element for the Nike+ FuelBand product. The “Make It Count” campaign centerpiece conveys a great Nike spirit:

Whether the production was as clandestine as they would lead you to believe – with the director, Casey Neistat, taking the entire budget to travel around the world with his best friend – doesn’t really matter.  With nearly 150K views in just over a day, they are doing pretty nicely from a numbers sense. It is a great long form piece if you want to capture the Nike Brand, but I don’t know if it does a great job at conveying what the FuelBand actually is.  When I went to the site to find out, its features made me interested but there was no price and they didn’t have any in stock.  They do point out that stock is updated on the site as it becomes available and each morning the NYC Niketown gets an extremely limited quantity.

I don’t know that I would be interested in checking back regularly for this product as I don’t have to have it and can stand to wait for a while. But I would imagine both Nike and AT&T/Microsoft/Nokia dearly hope that people will feel they must have it in order to drive the opening weekend numbers.

The problem in both instances is that they have executed big bangs for the product launches with no way to leverage the excitement to drive conversions to purchase. I know I’m being cynical when comparing the scarcity “theory” between these products and Apple products, but I just can’t get my head around the fact that there is such a huge disconnect between marketing decisions and distribution capabilities. If this new marketing phenomenon is all about a press release, then it certainly will do harm to many bottom lines.

The Digital Media Environment Might Be Shown Under The Wrong Light

I get it, but I don’t.  It’s been such a long time where new media/digital media/digital content has been trying to say how different they are from a traditional media opportunity perspective – with some degree of success or failure, depending on how you look at it. Now,  the digital players might be confusing things even more by trying to emulate the traditional media model of television upfronts. I get why the collective of outlets like Hulu, Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo! and YouTube would think Digital Content NewFronts is a perfect solution for selling a lion-share of inventory in a fashion people are used to, but it frames digital media in a way that it really isn’t. It seems that no matter how much work is put into differentiating digital from traditional media – by emulating the media-selling platform of a different medium, the industry might err in showing the content in the wrong light.

Television UpFronts have been happening in May for quite some time – where networks unveil their coming seasons and brands and buyers get “pizzaz-zed” at the start the negotiation for a hefty bit of the available inventory. It is quite the feeding frenzy with much of the ad space getting booked in lump sums.  The deals are definitely based on demos and a clearly understood media platform.

The NewFronts will happen for the first time its year and is quite proud that they are taking a cue from the television world. on the site, it says that “Attendees are invited to roll up their sleeves and participate. Form relationships. Eye and act on the possibilities. Make sponsorship agreements.” Which is all fine and dandy, but there is a much higher complexity in the media planning for digital content.  With the data and tracking that is available, it isn’t just about the people you can reach – its about how they interact and what they do after that interaction.

Again, I understand why the powers would want to emulate something that is already known, but that leads people to think that they are effectively the same – which they are not.  Yes.  There are some video networks that are now getting stronger viewership than some small cable outlets, but the scale for the digital content is smaller in most parts, but more dynamic in others.

When a sword can be slammed into the ground that this digital is something different and should be taken seriously, the emulation of an existing media model seems to soften the blow.  Will there be some success and great press releases to come out of this? I’m sure there will be — we have been executing some of those larger UpFront types of deals with major publishers on behalf of studios  for a couple of years.  But, I don’t think a big song and dance will do the trick.

It always seemed odd to have a theatre full of media professionals sitting in a crowd in a huge theatre with TV shows projected on the big screen that they would ordinarily watch with a few people – at most – on a small screen.  And, from this, they would determine what is going to be a winner and what is going to be a bust.  The same issue could be the case here but with an even larger disparity between the presentation experience and the real-life experience of watching these videos.

They talk about moving from beneath the fluorescent lights into something bigger and brighter.  I just hope they find a way to shed the right light on the content and not get mired in a picture that is not their own.

International CES Recap – Still a While To Go To Really Get Connected

The organizers of CES claim to cover what amounts to 37 football fields for the annual conference and my feet are complaining enough that it seems like it was even more.  There were certainly enough eye-popping presentations in the main hall – where all the heavy-hitters were – but a lot of solid elements were found in the secondary halls.  As promised, I did try to get deeper into the steps manufacturers and other players were taking to strengthen interfacing with content and what I found was neither good nor bad – it was just a little ho-hum.  Where I thought many television manufacturers would be advancing their smart or connected screens further than last year – or adding further interactivity options with second-screens, I really didn’t see much.  In the case of Panasonic, they almost acted like an entire kiosk from last year didn’t even exist.  Specific interfaces to control what shows up on the screen have advanced in small ways. But, from what was shown on the floor, the interfacing with and connecting to vast forms and formats of content still have a while before it becomes reality.

Starting with Panasonic, the exciting use of tablets shown last year to select and share content from your tablet on the big screen was greatly minimized.  Their showcase element of this type of connectivity was a limited example of interfacing with MySpace.  With the program in development, the canned presentation did not excite.  Sharp touted some connected screens, but didn’t go into specifics and their biggest interactivity showcase of the event as their Aquos workscreen meant to take the place of conference room white-boards.  Its direct incorporation of video conferencing, touch screen manipulation of images, documents and spreadsheets on a huge scale were nice, but certainly not consumer-facing.  Samsung relied much less this year on showing how Samsung mobile phones can act as controllers for their TVs and focused much more on their new voice and gesture-based controlling of the screens.  Some speculated this feature is an opening salvo to the reported functionality of the yet-to-be-seen Apple TV, but we’ll see how it plays in the long run against the offering of XBox360 and Kinect controls that would do the same on any TV it is attached to – regardless of manufacturer.

There were a couple of social connectability offerings shown by companies other than TV or mobile manufacturers.  The one that looked promising to me – if not completely there yet – was by a company named Copia.  They allow users to share notes in the margins of books as you read them on your tablet.  It seemed that the possibility to expand the mechanic to other forms of entertainment consumption on their platform was promising.  Cisco announced the incorporation of Cloud technology to its floundering Videoscape product that allows all forms of connectivity and interaction via set-top boxes and mobile by way of ActiveVideo. 

In a much less satisfying form of connectivity, but interesting all the same in what it could be with the incorporation of a Cloud is what Intel was showing off for instant sharing.  The problem with the product as it now stands is that it is only within your Wi-Fi network.  Imagine if you were able to take a picture and share it immediately with pre-determined friends and family around the world without having to compress and send through SMS, email or other.  The mechanics they showed within network would be astounding if they could be controlled through the Cloud for instant sharing.  Perhaps that’s something that could be integrated with Google+ and it circles – yet with expanding beyond the internet and onto TVs and mobile phones…

So, in the end, I couldn’t get much more insight into interfaces other than just the idea of tapping into apps as they are and not APIs.  While we will be connected, it will take a while to really get there.

Come back tomorrow to check out some other general observations of CES 2012…

Siri and Kinect Leading the HAL Race

While I don’t believe anyone is in a race to become HAL 9000, the villain in Arthur C. Clarke’s Space Odyssey saga (brought to the big screen in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey,) the fantastic dream of being able to interact with technology by just using your voice has been a goal for many. With the release of the SIRI product on Apple’s iPhone 4S and the recent augmentation of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 controller, Kinect, using your voice to control your full environment is one step closer to reality.  Both of these products and others that are in development are positioned as controls for smaller things (mobile phone and entertainment center, respectively), but there is really not a lot stopping them from being the voice control formats for your connected home or life. SIRI and Kinect are really leading the charge.

For the time being, we’ll have to be in awe of the ability to ask SIRI to find us things on our phones or provide directions and work with Kinect as it refines its ability to find us programming through our TV.  The forward-thinking reality is that they can and should connect to everything in the house.

Now, for a jump into the future:

  • From a John Anderton (Minority Report) perspective, Kinect might be closer to his “reality” as it can sense movement and it is tied to the house.  Once you enter the house, it can detect your entry and begin a series of macros to turn on lights, perhaps flip to the desired TV channel and even make the refrigerator output a glass of ice water.  The only think lacking would be that the sensor might only be in one room.
  • Siri already has the disembodied voice down and would be able to follow you through your house and beyond to assist in all your needs.  Car keys won’t even be required because they’ll be in your mobile so you just need to get close to the car or your office door and it will unlock.  You’ll be able to ask Siri to turn on lights or adjust security settings while you are out of the house or across the world.

And back to the now…

We’ve already been able to play and work through some of Siri’s growing pains, but the judgements are in that it is a success and will probably just keep getting better.  Microsoft’s announcement limits itself to being an interactive entertainment center – being able to find shows or products from a select amount of channels and online outlets.  It incorporates Microsoft’s Bing, but not as a web searcher, just as a content searcher.  The fact that it also incorporates movement is a plus – especially if they are successful in launching their planned ability to choose between different commercials by making hand gestures.  They intimate that there will even be opportunities to interact through gestures directly within the commercials.

One other change for Microsoft and the Xbox is the decision to make the user interface more similar to other Microsoft interfaces.  While you can control actions with a Windows mobiel phone, some of the interfaces will look just like those of the mobile system.  Other components will also look similar to Windows 7 interfaces so that the user can feel comfortable switching from one interface to the other.

In both cases, they are still missing the point of working with other companies to interface with the technologies that are in our homes.  Granted, I understand the barriers to doing so easily, but there’s got to be a push for that.  Through both of these products, these companies are even more primed to become central to our lives.  Google and perhaps Sony or General Electric could also make a strong push in this space, but both Siri and Kinect are clearly leading this race. We can only hope that the end product is much more friendly than HAL…

My How Things Change – Innovation or Desperation?

An AllThingsD blog report came out today about a partnership announced at a dinner the other night by AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo.  I guess it depends on which side of the dinner table you’re on to determine whether it is a genius form of innovation or a sad bit of desperation from companies struggling to maintain market share. Their plan is to group together to sell each other’s “Class 2 Display” inventory centrally and share the revenues.  By doing this, they can make more money as they don’t need to be served by ad networks and therefore pay the middle men.  In theory, it seems to be ho-hum at best – especially when they are supposedly allowing ad networks to continue selling the same inventory.

In human terms, it wasn’t long ago that all of these companies were at the absolute top of the world and in control.  In technology, that time was forever ago.  Google has certainly taken the throne from an ad perspective and everyone else is trying to catch up.  Bing didn’t work as well as Microsoft hoped. Yahoo is still trying to figure things out in the hopes of being somewhat relevant (small disclaimer that I still appreciate a bit of what Yahoo is offering if only because my personal email is a Yahoo account) and I wouldn’t even think of AOL in terms of being relevant after what happened to that Time Warner empire they owned.  Sure, these are still three large players in the scheme of things, but it is amazing how quickly fortunes can change.  I definitely heard grumblings of how those three were invincible in the same way I hear about Facebook and Google today.

It certainly seems like a desperate attempt to maintain revenue margins if not share of market.  I guess I would have been more impressed if they had used their powers to develop something truly innovative – not just a reshaping of something that already exists – to enable stronger targeting across their sites, easier planning interfaces across the three or some other media benefit. A bigger fear is that advertising on any of those becomes more challenging than it sometimes is on Hulu with multiple owner/players.  At this point, it leaves a bunch of media buyers asking “what’s in it for me?”  I hope the dinner was good…