Entrepreneurship, Technology

Modular Hardware = Consumer Win

Have you heard about Project Ara from Google? If not, you should check it out. It is an exciting initiative focused on offering modular phones to consumers. For those of you not familiar with this concept, allow me to use a fun example: Mr. Potato Head. With our spudly friend, we can swap ears, limbs, eyes, add accessories, and change expressions; all without purchasing a new Mr. Potato Head. The proposition of a modular phone is not too different: instead of purchasing phone after phone just for different hardware components, a consumer could simply replace part of the device. For instance, if a consumer wanted a new high-definition camera, he or she could simply remove the existing block component and swap it for a purchased new one. Or that person could add hardware functionality that might not otherwise be available, like NFC with a secure element.

This is a huge opportunity for consumers. Conceivably, costs for these devices and parts will decrease as more and more are produced. This means that quality hardware will be made available to a wider customer base, although if you’re a tween or teenager, this also means that you may be upgrading your device components every couple of months; a potentially expensive scenario for enabling parents.

With this being a Google initiative, I am also hoping that certified third parties will be able to offer standardized components for this platform, keeping with Google’s (relative) tradition of enabling an open ecosystem. I would also be interested in seeing some hardware specifications open-sourced and made 3D printable, but maybe I’m getting ahead of myself..

Overall, I am excited for what this project could mean for global smartphone adoption and consumer customization. Supposedly, we will be seeing the first of these devices in January 2015, and I look forward to testing one. If you are interested in helping with Project Ara, I recommend signing up here and additionally checking out Phonebloks. Be sure to tweet me with your thoughts on modular!

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Entrepreneurship, Technology

Oh Where is My Wearable

In the next 12 months, I plan on buying a smart watch. Why? Currently we have companies giving us what I like to call the “standard smart watch experience”: a wearable digital screen with mobile computing power. Devices from Samsung, Pebble and the like are the natural evolutionary relatives to devices like the Casio Databank from the 80s. Unfortunately, not a whole lot has changed between the two eras (at least not enough for a stronger consumer proposition). On a separate but parallel development track, companies like Jawbone, Fitbit and Nike are now selling wearable devices that enable consumers to better understand their fitness habits (or lack thereof). With these and similar technologies like Google Glass, which I purchased and returned earlier this year, we are still at the beginning stages of this phenomenon.

So where are the future growth opportunities? Much like any nascent product category, we are about to see some accelerated development in the smart watch space, which is good news for consumers. The International Data Corp is predicting a significant uptick in the number of wearable units sold over the next few years. The hardware manufacturers in the space will continue to add new hardware components, similar to what we are currently seeing between Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy S series. There won’t be much room for new hardware entrants, but with unified operating systems like the upcoming Android Wear SDK, applications will still be a terrific opportunity. The future of wearables is all about information convergence, particularly with real-time and personalized data. For consumers and startups alike, we should get excited about the future of wearables. At least until they turn into implantables..

Keep the conversation going on Twitter with #wearable!

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Community, Technology

Why I Returned My Google Glass

Ajay GlassFirst of all, yes, you can return Google Glass. Why did I? Well, rather than start from the beginning, I think I will start from the end. I had coffee with my CEO, Ajay Banga, a couple of weeks ago. Fortunately, Ajay is the kind of down-to-earth person you don’t think CEOs of major corporations to be. Some of our discussion revolved around potential markets for this type of wearable technology, and the requirements for significant adoption. We had some fun with my Glass (as you can see to the right and here) and talked about the landscape of wearables in general. Where we immediately agreed was that the consumer proposition wasn’t quite there yet for something mainstream, even with products like Pebble and Gear in the market. We’ll get there, eventually, but we aren’t there today.

944835_10152144915052008_1408164435_nI’ve been a Glass Explorer for about a month now, and overall, it has been a great experience. Essentially acting as a volunteer beta tester, I’ve been able to interact with other Explorers in a closed discussion environment and provide product feedback to the Google Glass team. It has been a good experience overall, as I discussed in my initial review. My main concern with the Explorer edition has been the hardware, which should improve with future iterations. What has been most interesting in my testing has been the social implications of wearing the device. Some folks have come up to me asking about it, wanting to learn more. Others keep away and almost ostracize me, seemingly unsure of who (or what) I am. I know the Google Glass team is well aware of these issues from both testers and the media, and I am sure that will be reflected in future hardware changes.

Even with the recent announcement of Glass frames, it is tough for me to justify the price to myself. I am still very excited about the potential of this technology, and I hope to rejoin the program or purchase a future version of the device. This is one Glass Explorer signing off, for now…

What are your thoughts on wearable technology? Tweet at me with #wearables, and let me know!

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Technology

My First Week With Google Glass

BcWFA2IIEAAn_3fYes, I am now a Glass Explorer. It has been an interesting experience, to say the least. In an effort to make what could be a very long post digestible, I am going to take a hint from Buzzfeed and make this as list-oriented as possible. Here are some of my initial reactions to Google Glass:

The experience of getting Glass was fittingly simple. The Google Glass studio at Chelsea Market was a very simple experience, and I could have just as easily gotten it in the mail.

The hardware is adequate, but leaves much to be desired. Once I got over the initial shock of having Glass, inspecting the hardware itself revealed a fairly basic device. While Glass looks great, it doesn’t seem very solid and I often find myself handling it consciously. The battery life is good, at best. The camera is ok. The bridge is adjustable with three sets of different size nose pads, so customization is there, however limited.

The voice input experience is great, but only in an ideal situation. Most of the functions are voice based with a touch-surface-based secondary input. Glass can be a little hard of hearing in a crowded area. I also found that, with others wearing the device, I could still give the device verbal commands. Imagine what multiple Glass owners in a small room would do… poor devices. Otherwise, the input experience is fantastic and responsible.

BceNOzsIUAALvpoThe software user experience is learnable, but limited. The actual interface takes a little getting used to, with a transition from traditional “apps” to “cards.” The voice interface we have talked about, and the touch functionality could use some changes (like swiping up to delete cards instead of having to tap through the process), but overall it is easy to use with some practice. There isn’t much Glassware available yet, but the new GDK will hopefully change that.

The device heavily relies on your smartphone. We have seen the focus by Google move rapidly from locally-oriented software to cloud-based solutions, especially with another hardware initiative of theirs, and the same can be said about Glass. While there is plenty of memory on the device (12GB usable), and I am fortunate to have one of the old unlimited data plans, I could see myself becoming a very frustrated user without access to the search function or the navigation function, not to mention social media accounts. Yes, the device itself can access WiFi, but if you are outside the house the last thing you want to do is set WiFi up on a keyboard-less device.

There is a social etiquette to using Glass. I’ve picked it up quickly, as I think most would, but there are places and times when Glass shouldn’t be used.

Overall, using Glass has been good, and I hope to continue testing in different situations. More Glass-related posts to come!

Interested in learning more about my experiences, or have some of your own #throughglass experiences to share? Tweet at me with #GlassAct, and let me know!

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Entrepreneurship, Technology

I Don’t Own a TV… For Now.

TV

I don’t own a TV. I know; crazy, right? I’ll let that settle in for a moment…

Ok, now that you’ve had time to stop hyperventilating and settle down, let me explain why. In order to explain, it is first important to understand what is happening  in the world of TV. This will probably be more relevant to those of you who pay the bills in the house, so hang in there.

Cable operators are becoming less relevant, primarily due to the internet. Companies like YouTube (Google), Netflix, and Hulu are changing the idea of what “television” is (as evidenced by the latest Emmys), and freeing networks and content producers from their traditional dependencies. I can get almost all of the content I could get from cable on any internet-connected device with a browser, and I can get it for FREE. Now, I can sense you sports fans out there are already offering a counter-point, noting the lack of live television option online. But how long do you really think this will last? Companies like Aereo are already offering internet-based alternatives, and networks are beginning to stream live content on their sites. For me, I have no reason to own a TV and pay a cable bill, but I can see how the former of those two might change in the future.

The real advantage of TV ownership for me will be two-fold: 1. To watch something with a large group of people, it would be nice to have a giant screen in the room, and; 2. To be entertained in a way that is different from other platforms. As technology continues to develop at a ridiculous rate, the cost of production for large televisions will continue to decline, leading to more giant screens in living rooms. Technology development also means new uses of internet-connected TVs. How long until your XBOX, DVR, and standard operating system complete with apps is an all-in-one system? With the introduction of platforms like Chromecast, this idea is quickly becoming a new reality. I may get a television in the future, but sorry cable, besides my internet you just aren’t worth the cash right now.

Agree, or disagree? Tweet at me with #ToTVorNot and let me know what you think.

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