Monthly Archives: April 2012

Physical Web

Nook worth more than Barnes & Noble

Warning to bricks and mortar merchants

Microsoft’s new investment in Barnes & Noble’s Nook division pegs the value of that “virtual” division at twice what B&N is worth. That ought to give every established business reason to pause.

Perhaps your business has spent decades building physical facilities? It’s tempting to think these assets provide your firm with an advantage. The reality may be the opposite; that investment may limit your flexibility, and serve more as an anchor than a strong foundation.

B&N is in a unique position, and no one – including me – knows how the publishing industry will sort itself out.

I do know, however, that all bets are off. Not just in publishing, but in all industries. Most businesses are radically underestimating the degree of change that is approaching.

Physical Web

Physical Web Strategies

Goodbye Tower of Babel. Hello, rest of the world.

We are already starting to hyperlink the physical world like we have the Web. Your smartphone can use “augmented reality” applications to get information that is linked to physical objects and entities.

Point your phone at any one of 90 million homes, and the HomeSnap app will tell you all about it. Turn your phone towards the village center and Yelp will show you the direction of each restaurant, along with reviews for each. The award-winning astronomy app StarWalk turns an iPad into a magical tool for stargazers, identifying any constellation when you point the iPad in its direction.

Imagine you are traveling in Spain and don’t speak Spanish. Word Lens lets you point your phone at any sign or printed page, and it replaces all the Spanish words with English ones. This is so effective it’s almost creepy; you still see the sign, but the words you can understand replace the ones you cannot.

Room 77 helps discriminating travelers search hotels room-by-room by amenities and floor plans.

Bookmark a tree, building or beach

As you make new discoveries in the real world, you will be able to bookmark them. If you are hiking deep in the woods and discover a beautiful clearing under a giant oak tree, you can bookmark it so you can easily find it on your next visit.

SoundHound lets you identify any song you hear playing, even if it’s simply being sung by a kid on a street corner. Microsoft Tag and Google Goggles both allow companies to tag products so that customers can simply scan a code and see whatever information, demonstrations or offers the company chooses to attach. Such elements can be changed in real time, to enable timely offers or to accommodate sifting inventories. Think of a blouse with such a tag; the attached offer could promote 50% off a matching skirt, until that skirt is sold out and the offer immediately shifts to promote a different accessory.

UpNext offers 3D maps of major American cities, which let you zoom in on any section, block or building. This app lets you immediately get a sense of distance between locations, or simply learn what the building you are headed towards looks like. If you are looking for an Asian restaurant in a neighborhood or a fun attraction, UpNext highlights all the buildings that meet your criteria and gives you a concise written summary of each. Thanks to integration with Foursquare, the app can also help you find nearby places where your friends are currently gathering.

Get the idea? We are in the early stages of tagging and linking the physical world, but that doesn’t mean that it is far off in the future. Much of the necessary technology already exists. It means that most corporate executives and business strategies have not yet recognized that the real world is being linked like the Web – but with more impactful consequences.

To anticipate the business opportunities to come, we suggest you think both small and large. Physical Web technology will solve small but frequent problems like losing your keys in your house, your car in a parking lot, or your kids outside playing.

It will also tackle huge problems like companies not really understanding which of their activities are profitable, which processes are broken, and which customers represent the future of their industry. Linking the real world will allow both managers and individuals to take an increasingly granular view of the world, understanding what works and why.

As the Physical Web rises, pretty much everything a company does for its customers will become more interactive, dynamic and open to scrutiny.

Digital Sensors

When Location Goes 3D

What happens when your phone knows what floor you are on?

Like Flat Stanley, your smartphone lives in a 2D world. Its GPS identifies your location in terms of directions on a compass, but not altitude.

Let’s imagine what will be possible when phones add altimeters. Customer experience will change dramatically, as innovative and/or aggressive firms develop new tactics:

  • The energy company can know that you are upstairs in your bedroom, not in the living room beneath, and can thus turn down the heat in the living room.
  • Your hotel can know whether or not you are in your room, making housekeeping less intrusive.
  • Fitness programs can far more accurately measure exertion, as they factor in hills.
  • Depending on accuracy, you may eventually be able to create instant virtual models of your room or house by moving your phone around the perimeters of each space. Of course, Kinnect can already map a 3D model of your room.

That’s the good news. Now imagine what aggressive marketers might be able to do, potentially without your knowledge or permission:

  • Identify the company for which you work, by identifying the floor on which you work.
  • Identify the companies on which your sales team calls.
  • Track how many times each day you go to the bathroom, perhaps to identify targets for indigestion medications.
  • Guess what time you go to sleep, if you live in a two or three story house.

It’s going to be a whole new world…

Digital Sensors Physical Web

Siri, “Wired for War,” Ends Up in iPhone

Apple’s friendly assistant was born on the battlefield

As you probably know, Apple bought Siri, they did not develop the personal assistant in-house. According to Wade Roush, the algorithms that make the (original) app work… are the product of years of defense-sponsored research at Menlo Park, CA-based SRI International.

In other words, Siri has its roots as a military application, not a consumer one. Over the next few years, we are likely to see hundreds of consumer and business applications that result from technologies used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Dr. P. W. Singer’s remarkable book, Wired for War, highlights how technology is changing warfare. I despise wars, but read the book when originally published with the recognition that the military drives many innovations, and many of these end up powering commercial applications.

This passage from the book shows how technology even ends up blending warriors into society, creating a stunningly narrow line between war and everyday life:

One of the most familiar unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is the Predator. At 27 feet in length, the -propeller-powered drone is just a bit smaller than a Cessna plane. Perhaps its most useful feature is that it can spend up to 24 hours in the air, at heights up to 26,000 feet. Predators are flown by what are called “reach-back” or “remote-split” operations. While the drone flies out of bases in the war zone, the human pilot and sensor operator are 7,500 miles away, flying the planes via satellite from a set of converted single-wide trailers located mostly at Nellis and Creech Air Force bases in Nevada. Such operations have created the novel situation of pilots experiencing the psychological disconnect of being “at war” while still dealing with the pressures of home. In the words of one Predator pilot, “You see Americans killed in front of your eyes and then have to go to a PTA meeting.” Says another, “You are going to war for 12 hours, shooting weapons at targets, directing kills on enemy combatants, and then you get in the car, drive home, and within 20 minutes you are sitting at the dinner table talking to your kids about their homework.”

This passage troubles me to no end. I give a lot of speeches, and a few times have brought family members along to a particularly appealing venue. It was almost impossible to concentrate appropriately on either my family or speaking obligations, and I stopped that practice. I can’t imagine why it makes sense to allow drone pilots to live with their families while they are at war.

But technology breaks down walls. (What time do you stop working? Your spouse and kids might dispute your answer, given how often you text or check email.) Since we’ve poured billions of dollars into developing new technologies to support our troops, these technologies will come home along with our soldiers.

In these wars, American forces have used a broad assortment of drones and robots. Devices that many executives still consider to be “science fiction” have been used for years on the battlefield under far worse conditions than the average shopping mall, one of the many places they are likely to end up next.

Digital Sensors Pervasive Memory

Skiers That Never Forget

Remember the day we went 36.1 mph?

Customers That Never ForgetEspecially in this snow-starved winter, February 23 at Jackson Hole was a day to remember. We took the Gondola up, then skied down the right side of Lupine Way, cut across Ampitheater, and then clipped the bottom of the woods across Tower Three Chute, Hoops Gap, and Thunder, before ducking under the Marmot chairlift and then taking a hard left turn to board it.

I could go on in this level of detail, because the JH Tapped app on my phone recorded every run in detail, or at least it did before draining my battery. (This is a badge of pride for me, that my legs lasted longer on a powder day at jackson Hole than my iPhone battery.)

The moral of the story is: smart customers remember.

Not only can you use apps to record intricate details of your life, but you also can backup your precious memories in the cloud, protecting those 945 photographs you took of your son’s 1st birthday and the 147 times you sliced the ball instead of driving it 200 yards straight down the driving range.

Nine years ago, when my 21-year-old was 12, we skied at Alta and I have vague memories of a wonderful time. Nine years from now, when my youngest son turns 21, I’ll be able to reminisce about February 23, 2012, the day we went 36.1 mph down Laramie Bowl.