The Cultural Phenomena of Technology

It is one of those things that begins with a whisper and then continues to grow louder into the wildest of crashing waterfalls. Sometimes it confronts us in a very direct way and other times it sneaks up on us spreading like a virus throughout society. It penetrates our lives and influences others around us. The beneficiaries are our day-to-day modern society that adopts them and adores them. The victors are the people and the companies who make them. In fact we can quantify the victors with the monetary term of billions of dollars.  Those who try to stand in the way of these cultural phenomena’s are simply pushed aside and deemed not relevant.  We deem these to be the companies we refer to as competition.  In the industry this is a big deal and though sometimes accidental many times it is brilliance, such as Steve Jobs.  In the end it is about creating emotional connections and  not negative emotions but positive ones.  Looking through history there have been some big moments (and winners).

The first I remember of this type of phenomena was the build up to the launch of Microsoft’s Windows 95.  It was funny at the time as the product was continually being delayed.  When the name was announced people even began to wonder if it would even ship in 1995.  But at the time Microsoft was the darling of the industry.  Even when it seemed destined to fail in the end it always seemed to succeed.  Windows 95 would turn out to be the greatest testament to the ability of the company to succeed.  When the product finally shipped it was to mass hysteria never seen in the industry.  People lined up at midnight waiting for doors to open to a new world of wonder. It brought the idea of technology into everyone’s home.  It was exciting and a fulfillment of a vision that Paul Allen and Bill gates had as young boys.  It was really the dawn of the new age of technology and every significant technology launch has been compared to the launch of Windows 95.  The main competition, Apple, could only sit, watch and wonder, “it should have been us”.

The second phenomena that occurred I did not become familiar with until, then CEO of Novel,l Eric Schmidt left his post and joined a small company known as Google.  Google was a search engine provider and certainly not the first, but it would turn out to be by far and away the most successful.  It was not long before it seemed everyone was searching the web with  Google, as it was far superior to what was on the market.  Google’s impact beyond the technology was it changed the market dynamics and how companies made money.  They were in many was also the first to demonstrate you can not only make money on the web, you can make tons of money on the web.  The growth of Google was so accelerated it was almost hard to comprehend.  While they are making all this money they also became part of our cultural linguistics as Google became a verb.  By the time Microsoft finally launched a technological viable competitor in Bing, they were no longer visible in Google’s rear view mirror

When the iPhone stated to be discussed the whispers started early and grew loud and clear.  I had a friend working at AT&T at the time and he said everything at the corporate office was driving towards the launch of the Apple iPhone.  When the iPhone launched in 2007  it would turn out to be a huge success on many fronts, from the device to the apps, creating a new market, a new ecosystem.  As time went by what was amazing to watch was the extremely personal relationship that would develop between people and their technology.  People really get addicted to these phones and it more or less becomes an extension of the individual.  One thing Apple was always great at was creating a product that fostered loyalty.  The iPhone would do this in spades.  So much changed with the iPhone in how we as a society interact with one another, the iPhone was a truly powerful technical and social breakthrough.

It is difficult for companies to compete against these type of movements in a direct head on manner.  Microsoft has more or less tried this with Bing against Google and not seen very good results.  The biggest challenge is not the market share but the cultural awareness they are up against.  It is not even a technology gap so much as the successful technologies of today are internalized by users, who purchase and use certain technologies without much thought.  It is as if they are predisposed to certain choices, they are conditioned . It is hard and I have yet to see a marketing plan that says with our latest release we need to brainwash society and condition them to use our stuff.  I would be most entertained if someone would try doing this as I think it would be an eventful exercise.  As we have learned over and over again just because you have the better technology does not mean that you win.  Part of the challenge when competing with these social titans is that it is not good enough to create a better technology because even if you do, you have to ask, “Now what?”.  You need not only a better product but a better vision.  Vision should proceed the product, not follow it.

I am waiting for the next phenomena and it may be just around the corner.  We are nearing the age of the robot and I am warily awaiting the device that becomes a consumer phenomena.  It may also be something not so dramatic.  It could be a new social networking innovation.  Perhaps Google Glass is bigger than we think or know?  All we know is software is becoming pervasive in nearly everything we touch.  As Bill Gates said, “It is where the magic happens”. Like all things in tech it is not predicting the future, but timing it.  For any company the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is to become a necessary fabric of society. To be wanted. A basic, necessary and powerful human emotion.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann May 29, 2013

The Google Decade

It seems to happen in the industry with relative frequency, there always seems to be one. A Juggernaut  a company that does everything right and even when it does something wrong it is looked upon kindly.  Sometimes it happens in bursts of  two to three years and for a few it happens over the course of a decade.  In the past it has been Microsoft and then Apple.  It can almost be defined by decades.  In the nineties it was all about Microsoft and the rise of Windows and Office.  In the first decade of the new century we were introduced to the consumerization of technology and the rebirth and rise of Apple.  We had “i” everything – iPod, iPad and iPhone,  As we are early on into the second decade it seems a company that is starting to look like it will make it there decade is Google.  When I look at their product portfolio, their partnerships, mission statement all seems to be falling into place.  They are in the “zone”.  They get positive press even when they are not doing anything.

Though search is still their core business they have started to surround search with a lot of other technologies that have the ability to integrate and leverage the Google search engine.  This in the end leads to more Google revenues.  I have written several blogs on Google.  Some good, some critical.  Everything that Google does ties back to this core business, which allows them to do unique things in terms of playing and and altering traditional business models.  However as I have written Search was one of those things that changed the playing field. As industry legend Ray Ozzie pointed out while at Microsoft, it was an indirect business model.  Google used its massive cash flow from search advertising to fund other software ventures   Over time this has led to increased success for the Google Search engine while funding other successful business ventures.

Google Docs has become a significant threat to the only Office productivity suite we have known for the last twenty years,Microsoft Office.  When we are discussing Google Docs competing with MS Office we are talking about the cloud space.  The desktop for now is safe and sound still the domain of Microsoft Office.  However the PC landscape is changing quickly and so are the applications that used to solely be focused as Windows Apps.  Google Docs is in a good place as any market share they take is purely greenfield, they do not have the challenges that Microsoft faces in this space.  Microsoft has to defend 90% market share.  Any drop effects the bottom line. This is an area where innovation is simplification.  Among new users we are seeing increased familiarity and adoption of Google Docs.  Google has used its huge search revenues to fund this are and they do not really have anything to lose, except money, which they have a lot of.  they seem to be gaining inroads in education and start ups.  They are generating awareness.  They also changed the playing field from a package driven model to a software as a service model.  “When facing superior forces change the playing field”, Sun Tzu.

gMail really took off, as the other predominate free internet email service had kind of stagnated, namely Hotmail.  It was not until 2012 that Microsoft finally updated the interface for Hotmail and replaced with Outlook.  In the meantime gMail has become the default email service people sign up for when they create their first email account.  Once you have signed up for a personal email account it is pretty hard to switch.  I have a gMail account and I like gMail, but for me to move everything over is a pain and not from a technical perspective, but from a social perspective.  I don’t want to have to notify and remind everyone, “hey Hotmail is no longer my  preferred email service please use my gMail account, blah, blah, blah..”  We used to refer to email as a “sticky” service and that has proven true.  Which is why gMail has proven so successful and been a method for Google to get users to leverage other Google services.  Once you go in decline in technology it is hard to recover.

Android has becomes the globes dominant mobile OS.  Thanks in large part to the folks over in Korea; Samsung    One report I read stated  that in 2013 800 million Android devices will ship world wide.  The benefit is that there are 800 million devices where Google will be the default search engine.   It is essentially like printing money.  If Google makes $1 per month in search per device that equates to $9.6 billion in revenue,  Not to mention the apps that are downloaded to each devices from the app store.  Those that are not free but purchased Google gets their cut.  Google was smart to use Open Source and make the Android platform free.  It makes adoption easier when you don’t have to pay.  It is another example of Google using indirect business methods to generate revenue for other business ventures.

Chrome is changing the way we think of a browser.  Besides increasing browser market share, they now have hardware devices shipping with the Chrome OS.  For those not happy with Windows or a Mac there is yet another choice.  But where I think Chrome hits the mark is it seems to be an idea whose time has come.  The world is connected so the question is how much local hard drive space do I need anymore?  Will it take off?  I have played with a Chrome Book and it is light weight and has a very simple user interface.  Can I see it being my primary device?  For me probably not yet but it is not hard to fathom this is the way the world is headed.  In the meantime Chrome continues to increase in browser share.

When Google swayed Microsoft GM Vic Gudotra, to leave the comfy confines of Microsoft they landed a rock star persona.  I remember Vic, smart and a showman on stage.  He was in Microsoft’s Developer and Platform Evangelism group.  He knew the developer community.  Since Vic joined left Microsoft, Google  has done a phenomenal job courting the developer.  One of the hottest developer conferences to attend right now is Google I/O (just held this past week).  This year it was sold out in under one hour.  Google is an internet company and since the last statistics I saw 75% of development targets internet services, it makes sense that Google is very successful in this arena.  If you have a string developer community you have a group creating value for your products, thus making them even more attractive.  Google may be the king of the developer community right now with everyone else playing catch up.

Will these things be executed upon to success? One thing Google has done well is reach for the stars in some of their initiatives that stretch boundaries,   Google Glass was one that was introduced that seemed rather strange and awkward when it was first introduced.  But over the past year it has garnered a tremendous amount of favorable press as more about the technology is understood.  the work being done on robotic vehicles has a chance to really change and reshape our society.  The opportunity and the benefits are tremendous. As I wrote recently in “The End of the DUI“, thousands of lives can be spared.  We can lead more enjoyable and productive lifestyles.  It seems right now with existing bets and  the “far off” bets Google seems dialed in right now.  Playing the future, predicting it.

It is still early in the decade we have time and things can change quickly as is always evident.  My blog title is probably just a bit presumptuous.  But there are so many things that Google seems to doing rights that this moment and through it all they are generating a tremendous amount of cash reserves.  Somethings I did not even touch on such as Google Maps. Apple and Microsoft have tried to compete here, but Google Maps has become such a staple of day to day life it is used by people without much thought.  The Google Nexus tablet has proven very popular.  Google is at one of those moments in time where everything seems to be pointing their way.  Will it change?  Yes it will.  Momentum shifts quickly in this industry.  However when you are in the zone, it is a great and exciting place to be.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann May 17, 2013

Categories Uncategorized

High Tech meets Fashion

Back a while in history, a little post dot com boom, Microsoft Research and Development came out with a new gadget that used the FM airwaves to communicate with a watch.  It would be released and received some love in the press.  It was called the Microsoft Spotwatch. It was an interesting idea at the time.  In an odd way it made sense.  With digital watches I had never really considered it or thought of it as a tiny user interface.  But I guess it really was a “mini” UI.  Since Microsoft at the time was all about owning the user experience it made sense and, for the first time it seemed Microsoft R&D had actually made something, like a real product coming from our vaunted and well-funded labs.  That is a basic tenet of R&D.  Create.

Not long after, while walking the halls of Microsoft, one of our geeky employees was actually wearing one.  It was actually kind of hard to miss, since it was so big.  It was not pretty, rather big and black.  It was like a giant Timex watch.  You could sort of interact with it.  Find weather and simple items like that.  However as a project did not last long.  Thinking back on it, it was just a little ahead of its time, by a decade.  There were other similar projects like this.  I was at CTIA Wireless in Orlando and Siemens had made a watch you could stream video to.  The guy showing me the demo said there was no commercial viability to the watch, they just wanted to prove it was possible.  Projects like the aforementioned two, though seemingly silly and not viable at the time of development are often a window of opportunity for the future.  The problem with invention is often the inventors do not think big enough or long-term enough.

Probably the technology that is most on the forefront of this shift to technology engaging the world of fashion right now is Google Glass.  It has garnered a lot of press and created come controversy.  The 5-Point Cafe in Seattle banned Google Glass from its establishment saying essentially it violated the privacy of its seedy dive bar status (FYI I highly recommend the 5-Point, good food, good drink).  I am not convinced it will take off, but it does create a new method of communicating with the internet.  In a world where we are increasingly mobile I can now be walking and talking with no device in my hand.  The glasses themselves are not aesthetically perfect, but they are not horrible.  Not like the SPOT watch.  You can see eventually they will be pretty slick, maybe not even noticeable.  The power of technology is it seems to always get smaller, until eventually it is vapor.

Returning to our watch theme, of late Apple has been on the press with a Apple iWatch.  Are we going back to the future?  I have been searching for what this device would look like and the good news is it promises to be much smaller and I hope with Apple’s obsession with great design it should be pretty slick.  Bigger question for me is do I really need this in a watch?  If it is simple and elegant I could see a lot of simple scenarios where this could be of valid use, beyond just checking the time.  I could have local weather mode.   Find the nearest taxi.  Communicate with my robotic vehicle.   Could be my communicator all Star Trek.  If I could talk to my watch I could all of a suddenly have a lot of clever uses.  Siri on my wrist?  I see this happening.

At South by Southwest Google was showing off Google Shoes.  A shoe that can collect information as you run.  This made me think more of the latest buzz word in tech, “Big Data”.  Everything that moves is collecting information.  Why not shoes?  You could see pursues as essentially a big repository of data. Wallet? Data.  The question will be can we make the technology into an accessory that is either unnoticed or looks sleek and something I want to wear.  If you watch “Project Runway”, designers are very creative people so the idea of technologies like Big Data, Robotics, and Search meeting Karl Lagerfield, Hugo Boss, and Calvin Klein is more science than fiction.  It will be geek meets chic.

Finally there is already a website that addresses these scenarios (are you surprised?).  You can go to FashionTech.  there is also a battle heating up between Google, Nike and Jawbone in the field of what is being called wearable tech.  I prefer fashion tech because if it is not in fashion most people will not wear anyway.  There is no question we will be connected in new ways via the clothing we wear. These things are happening in front of us.  It has made me think that the trend of the dying  PC is not  quite as we may think.  We are simply moving from a world where the computing power which was once centralized and tied to our desktop is now being distributed into a multitude of devices and fabric.  Erich Schmidt, Chairman of Google once said, “Every human will be ten IP addresses”.  It does not sound so far off now.  We have a wrist watch, sneakers and glasses so I already can count three IP addresses.  Seven more does not seem that far off.  You won’t connect anymore to the internet you will wear it.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann May 7, 2013