Posts by: Albert Banks
There were a few common themes at SXSW Interactive this year. Below are some thoughts from the more memorable tech centered sessions.
Internet of Things Too Smart?
Yes, this is happening. Smart things will soon be everywhere. There are a lot of social and cultural questions raised as we move forward. Will smart objects have the power to change our cultural values? Will the big data collected from smart things belong to the few. Should we trust these companies with our data? Should we demand access to our data? Perhaps digital literacy is the larger concern. Will the masses understand enough to care? It will likely take consumer demand to force platform openness.
Designing Smart Objects for Emotion
One panel cut right to the heart of the matter. Smart objects should evoke emotion from people. By tapping into our emotional intelligence, tech can enhance our relationships with ourselves, other people and our environment. When designing we should focus on how an object might affect our motivation, self expression and empathy.
Wearables are here, but they haven’t reached its potential. How can we create a wearable valuable enough to be adapted by the masses? One path might be to consider what experience the user might have if the device were inside a body rather than being worn. Another idea may be to fully separate devices by use cases (health monitoring, fitness, etc.) and mainstream functionalities (notifications, directions, etc.). Either way, to create a truly powerful wearable you must first understand the person wearing it and their motivations. Only then can you create inspirational and truly valuable technology.
The term, “Internet of Things” (IoT), has blown up in the past year. Due to its relative infancy, the term doesn’t have a common definition. But the gist is this: Uniquely identifiable, connected devices. Everywhere.
These “internethings” are increasingly common in the home. Smart locks, light dimmers, proximity sensors, thermostats, fire alarms and cameras are all a part of the new “connected home.” And it is becoming big business. Recently Google purchased Nest Labs, maker of the popular Nest Learning Thermostat, for whopping $3.2 billion.
CES 2014 brought us move connected devices: watches, fitness trackers, baby monitors, doorbells, pet feeders, child trackers and even toothbrushes. While this list may sound unnecessary, the IoT was also highlighted at CES by tech heavyweights Cisco, Intel and Qualcomm.
It is an exciting time for this trend. But like all things new, there are inevitably challenges.
Imagine if your baby monitor could detect cold temperatures and automatically turn up the heat on your thermostat. To make this scenario a reality, there needs to be common standards for connecting these endpoints. Currently, most devices exist in their own bubble, utilizing a proprietary hub, data cloud or mobile application for connectivity. Fear not; efforts to unify devices have begun by the likes of AllSeen, Sen.se, Xively and even Wolfram.
What if your “Smart” TV or Fridge was hacked and started sending spam? That may sounds crazy, but it just happened. Like most early to market technology, current devices have less than stellar security. Many can be accessed via simple web interfaces or utilize insecure internet protocols. To prevent an army of “thingbots” spreading viruses or hackers turning off our lights just for kicks we may need to isolate devices from the internet with software like AllJoyn. Bottom line, security has to get better for widespread adoption to continue.
Why do I need a smart watch? What’s the big deal with a learning thermostat? Sure, connected products have a purpose at the simplest level: adjust my heat, feed my cat, unlock my door. But for the IoT to really hit its stride the hardware must solve big problems. Currently, the devices are independent little helpers that appear to exist just because they can. They need to do more: affect environmental change, drastically improve our health or save invaluable time in our day. When connected “things” reach that higher level of purpose, the “Thingolution” will be unstoppable.
I have followed SoDA, the Society of Digital Agencies, since the early days of Myjive. Founded in 2007, SoDA was the first organization that fit how we saw our company.
For years, I checked out member agencies and their amazing work. We even reached out to them, years ago, to join the exclusive club. But it was not until the last few years that our company deserved acceptance. In late July, Myjive was selected as a new member, surviving its infamous selection process.
Myjive’s co-founder and Executive Creative Director Ron Edelen and I headed out to Las Vegas for the annual SoDA Global Member Meeting (GMM) this past July. The event brought executive leaders from others agencies, who brought presentations, discussions and an open dialog on issues facing our industry. Attendees genuinely lived up to the organization’s principles of sharing, respect and confidentiality.
Going in, I expected to learn solutions to challenges agencies like us face. Yet, regardless of size, location or type of agency (production, digital, etc.) our peers face many of the challenges we do. But everyone was willing to share past experiences, outline current approaches, offer suggestions and sometimes just commiserate.
SoDa has an incredibly diverse international membership, all included under its “The Global Society for Digital Marketing Innovators.” I was able to chat with agency leaders from Australia, China, Thailand, Hong Kong, Germany, Brazil and Canada. Despite the physical distance between our companies, the origin story, passion and challenges they all shared hit close to home.
Our experience at the GMM reinforced the values and goals Myjive established early on. It also spurned long needed changes that you’ll see as we move forward. As a member of SoDa, we are stronger, smarter and more confident.
I can’t wait to participate in the many wonderful benefits of the organization moving forward.
Myjive has evolved greatly in the years since Ron Edelen and I founded the company. Our growth required struggles and thrills, failures and successes. I’d like to share eight lessons I learned along the way:
1. You must have contracts
You need them with clients, contractors, employees and partners. They allow you to have the tough, awkward conversations about worst case scenarios. So if any of those scenarios come up, always when they’re least expected, the answer has already been agreed upon.
2. We are here because of our clients
They are our livelihood and deserve respect. You have to live and breathe their brand, audience, goals, product and services to serve them effectively.
3. Be straightforward and honest
Our greatest successes (and most lost prospective work) is from being honest with ourselves and clients about what we can and can’t do, what we think about a brand or decision, or even if a project should be done.
4. Sometimes you just have to make a decision
Running a company and being a leader means making decisions every day. It doesn’t always matter if you are “right,” but often an employee or client just needs you to make a call. You have to own it and move forward.
5. Keep learning, even if it’s not what you want to learn
What I choose to learn goes well beyond my official duties as a Technical Director. To keep our business running and thriving I have had to learn about contracts, business structures, taxes, accounting, human resources, facilities maintenance — whatever was needed. You have to embrace learning, even if you hate Quickbooks or legal jargon.
6. The people make a company
Myjive is what it is because of the crew that works here. And I can’t help but care deeply for each and every one of them. You should hire people smarter than you, who have ambition and aren’t afraid to challenge you and be challenged themselves.
7. Running an agency is not easy
Your contracts are not bulletproof. Not all clients will respect honesty. Sometimes your decisions were not the best call. You can only learn so much, so quickly. People move on and take other jobs.
8. Running a successful business is awesome
Impacting a client’s business in a positive way can be a thrill. Being true to our core values and beliefs allows me to sleep easy. Learning something new is an adrenaline rush. Hiring an all-star or watching an employee blossom is a “proud parent” moment.
These lessons are my own and not everyone will agree with them. Sure, there are business leaders and experts out there who can tell you more. But this is an honest look back at what I’ve learned from running an agency that I hope can help you.
I was thrilled to return to Austin, TX this spring for the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival. The learning, debating and socializing makes the experience fulfilling and enlightening.
The hottest topic in web design and development was “Responsive” and “Adaptive.” Defining and properly communicating Responsive and Adaptive has been challenging. We use these definitions:
Adaptive layout adapts to specific device types, screen sizes and use type via Media Queries
I should state that “Responsive” is a technique used in “Adaptive” web design and development. Therefore a mix of Responsive and Adaptive may be an ideal approach to many projects.
Common questions and complaints arose across these sessions, so I thought I’d address them for those not in attendance.
When should I use Responsive and Adaptive?
The common, yet unfulfilling answers was, “It depends.” Many factors must be considered including: project budgets, business goals, content strategy, user experience, technology constraints, brand standards and target devices.
What is the full Responsive Process?
Now that we understand what Responsive Design is, what is the workflow? One panelist shared his company’s process in detail. This somewhat traditional process is a great approach, but does not include a Prototype. We find having a working responsive prototype with actual content helps us and clients identify issues and opportunities much earlier in the process.
What screen should I design for first?
At SXSW I heard three different answers from panelists:
- “Design for desktop and scale back”
- “Design for mobile first”
- “Design for them all simultaneously”
If industry leaders can’t decide on the approach where does that leave us? Perhaps the answer is again, “It depends.” Are you going fully Adaptive or a Responsive hybrid? Does the experience or content need to be vastly different on a phone?
Responsive Interactive Design is boring!
Many designers are frustrated with the new world of flexible layouts and modularized content. Dealing with small screens could make creatives feel like they are designing for the least common denominator. The consensus in Austin was that there needed to be a shift in perceptions to see this evolution as an opportunity. Accept touch interfaces as the future. Embrace progressive enhancement over graceful degradation. Utilize the extra “white space” in wide screens to pull content up or even add Easter eggs.
We live in an age of mobile devices and our content is displayed on myriad screen sizes and devices. And we can’t even fathom where our content will be displayed in the future. Adaptive principles allow your content to be future friendly, ubiquitous and flexible.
Image source: Brad Frost
With the news that Starbucks and Square have inked a partnership it appears mobile payments are finally going mainstream.
Square is a service for iPhone and Android users that eliminates the need for paying with a physical credit card. Users can open a tab, or set the app to automatically open a tab, at a retailer. The consumer’s phone can then be recognized by the store and allow for automatic payments. At the checkout, cashiers validate a visitor’s identity by viewing their name and photo which automatically appear on registers. Other Square features include: discounts, tipping and loyalty programs.
Square utilizes a little known technology called geo-fencing which creates virtual perimeters around a retailer. If someone is within that perimeter with a supported device then a transaction can take place.
Many observers believed Near field communication (NFC) would be required for mobile payments to be successful. But the lack of NFC in smartphones and the cost of updating point-of-sale equipment has slowed the march towards mobile payments in the United States.
Until yesterday’s announcement, businesses using Pay with Square were local, non-chain stores. The addition of Starbucks adds not only significant income for Square, but also mainstream awareness. But will it translate to mainstream adoption?
Surprisingly, the announcement has detailed that the location recognition functionality will not be available and that the Starbucks loyalty program will remain separate. This incomplete experience with Square may result in additional consumer confusion.
If Starbucks and Square can clearly communicate this change in payment philosophy to customers and geo-fencing works as advertised, mainstream mobile payment may finally become common practice in the United States.
Image from Geolocation
Net Neutrality — the principle of preventing any restrictions on content, websites, platforms or modes of communication — is not a new issue. After much debate in the early 2000s, the principle was formalized by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2005.
Along with technology, this topic has evolved in the years since the Internet Policy Statement. The advent of social media, exponential growth of mobile devices, war on terror, growing number of patent lawsuits and boom in media piracy has changed the complexion of the neutral internet debate.
In the past year several pieces of legislation have been proposed with the stated mission of fighting online piracy (Stop Online Piracy Act), protect intellectual property (PROTECT IP Act) and even creating international standards for enforcement (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement). All of these proposed laws have been greeted with outcry from the tech companies, user protests, service blackouts and even attacks on proponents by hacker groups. Thus far, each piece of legislation has been either defeated, tabled or remains unratified.
Up next is the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which hopes to gain traction by attracting tech companies that opposed previous laws. It focuses on preventing cyber attacks, yet is written open-ended enough that many fear it is simply the reincarnation of SOPA.
In the past few weeks, groups have issued not one, but two versions of a Declaration of Internet Freedom. The first is from Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of reddit, and Josh Levy, from Free Press. The second is spearheaded by TechFreedom and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Even Ron Paul has joined the crusade with a manifesto from his Campaign for Liberty.
The most basic is the initial Declaration focusing on five basic principles: Expression, Access, Openness, Innovation and Privacy. The Preamble challenges us to discuss the principles — agree or disagree with them, debate them, translate them, make them your own and broaden the discussion with your community — as only the Internet can make possible.
We took this challenge to heart at Myjive. We did some roleplaying, acting as politicians, hackers, Internet service providers, the Motion Picture Association of America, corporations, media providers, rights organizations and the average Joe. It was enlightening to see the large range of opinions because of the wide variation in motivations.
Afterwards, we were able to have a healthy debate on the principles and future of internet freedom. I encourage everyone to join the discussion — on the web, at the office or at home.
Mobile users are content consumers. In fact, consumption in many categories nearly doubled between 2010 and 2011 including: health information, reference and entertainment. This growth can be attributed to not only overall growth in mobile users, but also increased data speeds, ubiquitous connectivity, mobile formatted content and the proliferation of social integration.
Mobile users are gamers and the demographic is not just young males. In fact, women over 30 are the most avid players of mobile games. A recent report shows that 64% of users who downloaded an app in the past 30 days downloaded a game. Games are the most popular app category particularly amongst paid apps with 93% of app downloaders willing to pay for a game.
Listening to music on mobile devices is huge. Currently, 70% of Pandora’s traffic is from mobile devices. Along with Spotify, iHeartRadio, Last.fm, Rhapsody and many others, music apps offer the mobile consumer free, ad-supported or paid access to a nearly infinite library of music. Integration of mobile devices in home theater electronics and vehicle stereos, coupled with pervasive internet connections has turned the mobile device into the consumer’s music headquarters.
Certainly mobile devices are used for socializing. Facebook (33%) and Twitter (55%) are experiencing a large increase in percentage of traffic from mobile devices and the numbers are expected to continue growing. Many social networking platforms either originated as an app or exist only as an app. Location-based apps like Foursquare prominently feature social sharing features. Even photo-sharing apps such as Instagram have millions of users.
A huge differentiator in the mobile versus desktop consumer market is the concept of apps. Desktop users purchase a limited number of software titles and are often very deliberate with these often expensive purchases.
Meanwhile, the now $100 billion mobile app market is growing at nearly 100% per year. On average, mobile consumers have 33 apps on their phones. The relatively low cost of apps and the ease of purchase, download and installation has turned buying “software” into a cheap and trivial task.
The miniscule cost and easy adoption of apps has resulted in a volatile market. New or popular apps can see astronomical growth. Consider these stats:
- AOL took 9 years to reach one million users
- Facebook took 9 months
- Mobile app Draw Something took only 9 days!
Of course, with finite time to spend on their devices, mobile consumers can be quick to abandon apps. Popularity may be fleeting. As Draw Something rapidly gains users, the popular Words With Friends app has seen a steady decline in usage.
Shopping and spending using mobile devices is becoming mainstream. Nearly 38% of mobile consumers have used a smartphone to make a purchase. This was reflected on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, as 14% of web traffic was from mobile devices that day in 2011.
Mobile payments are also growing via services like PayPal and Square. Paid media content such as downloaded music, books, movies, magazines and TV shows has become big business, particularly amongst tablet users.
The mobile consumer behaves inherently different than a desktop user. Mobile devices make information, games, music, socializing, downloading and shopping immediately available. This changing behavior will only continue to grow. Internet users will double in the next 3 years and most will be using a mobile device.
Consumers are different in the Mobile Future.
State of Media: Consumer Usage Report
Play Before Work: Games Most Popular Mobile App Category in US
Mobile made up 14pc of Black Friday Web traffic
Mobile Shopping Goes Mainstream
The Future of Mobile
With mobile devices overtaking PCs, we are closely monitoring the Platform War. When these devices become our primary “computers”, what platform will they be using?
At the moment, it appears to be a two-horse race between Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS with Microsoft and the rest lagging behind.
Android currently leads the market with a large number of device models and multiple carriers for those devices. However, it appears iOS is now the preferred platform for developers. And why not? Revenue from iOS apps are six times that of Android apps.
Microsoft appears to be the greatest threat to Android and iOS. Windows 8 tablet is emerging as a viable competitor to Apple’s iPad. Windows 8 is also a desktop operating system, making it an OS that works on all consumer devices: PC, tablets and smartphones. Microsoft’s approach with Windows 8 is to introduce the new OS via new PC sales, thus ensuring millions of users will not have a learning curve when using the OS on their tablets and phones. If Microsoft can continue to beat iPad in price-point and leverage Windows 8′s equity in the PC market, it could become a successful mobile OS.
The race isn’t completely over. The past few years have featured the demise of three mobile platforms: Symbian, WebOS and BlackBerry. As users migrate away from these platforms, what platform will they choose? Also keep in mind, there are a large number of global consumers yet to migrate to smartphones or tablets. The choices of these two groups will have a huge impact on the outcome of the platform war.
A few possible outcomes:
- Microsoft has success with their Windows Phone and Windows 8 focusing on touch.
- Android maintains its lead, perhaps with a unique device like Project Glass.
- Developers revolt and focus on HTML5 or other independent development technology.
- Apple wins and we all use iDevices for everything.
The Platform War rages on into the Mobile Future.