Category Archives: Apple

More evidence that Apple will move to holograms

hologram woman face

Predicting what the world’s favorite tech-design firm will do is dangerous business. A few years back, we forecast that Apple would launch a tablet called the “iPad” in Businessweek, and were correct. But we’ve also suggested Apple might sell displays for holographic imagery, and nothing’s happened yet.

So this week we were intrigued when Apple bought PrimeSense, a 3D sensing company that specializes in human motion capture. PrimeSense was the brains behind the cameras inside the Microsoft Kinect game gizmo, which captures your movement in a room so your avatar can dance or shoot things on screen. PrimeSense would give Apple a perfect input for holographic image capture. Apple has its own patents for human facial capture from different angles. And most intriguingly, Apple went to the trouble to patent a holographic screen display that would beam different images to the two eyes of each person in a room — creating the illusion of a floating hologram, without you needed to wear one of those awkward 3D headsets. Inputs and outputs are aligned for Apple to push holograms through screens.

Apple needs to reboot its slowing growth

So, why would Apple do this? The tech wizard is starting to stall. iPhone sales growth, measured year over year, slowed from a whopping 140% growth rate in spring 2012 to just 20% in Q2 of this year. iPad sales growth has slowed even further, down from 90% to -10% in the same periods. And as Business Insider recently noted, Android — the main iOS competitor in mobile — has won the real game, now owning 80% of global smartphones and 60% of tablets. With the world of consumers moving to glowing mobile screens, iPads and iPhones risk becoming shiny commodities, easily replaced by the next piece of glass. Apple shipments of iPhones peaked in Q4 2012 and have not recovered since. The mobile gadget market is tipping away from Apple.

(Savvy observers will note China remains a large growth opportunity in mobile, and Apple just redesigned its entire mobile operating system with a flatter, cleaner, almost Asian motif. Hm.)

Beyond gadget competitors, the cost of mobile gadgets is falling, also squeezing Apple. Prices for smartphones globally are expected to drop from $300 on average in 2012 to $200 in 2014, a whopping 33% decline in two years. In its most recent annual report, Apple lists under “Risk Factors” (the most interesting thing in any annual report) that the company is unique in that it provides the entire hardware and software solution for its products and “as a result, the Company must make significant investments in research and development… if the Company is unable to continue to develop and sell innovative new products with attractive margins or if competitors infringe on the Company’s intellectual property, the Company’s ability to maintain a competitive advantage could be adversely affected.” In non-lawyer speak, this means Apple is worried about how to maintain margins on its current gadgets.

Solution: 3D content for iGadgets

Now, let’s look at where Apple could go. Wearables or smart TVs? While growing, those sectors combined still account for less than 10% of all global Internet device sales. Apple might launch an iWatch, but sales would be meh. Content? Well, Apple did revolutionize the music business with iTunes, and has built a significant cash stream there. iTunes revenue is running at about $20 billion a year, which, if broken out as a separate company, would put iTunes at No. 145 on the Fortune 500 list just above United States Steel.

If gadget device growth is stalling, perhaps Apple could break into another content industry? Content so sexy it jacks up all iProduct sales?

The telecommunications industry could be that target. The total telecom market is $1.8 trillion, and consumers are none too happy with their wireless, cable or phone providers. If Apple built (and held onto the intellectual property of) a revolutionary new holographic transmission display, every iTV, iPad, or iPhone would suddenly be vastly more desirable. It might also be able to charge something for transmission. Rather than build an entirely new hardware product — which is getting more difficult as designs converge to little glass panes — Apple would reinforce the uniqueness of its current gadget portfolio.

And of course, content should push gadget sales. The actual Apple patent for holography has an intriguing feature that could require hardware upgrades. It describes how a sensor, pointed at the room to find where your head would be, would also pick up  ambient lighting in the room. So if the image beamed a business colleague from the West Coast into your conference room, the sunlight coming in the window could be captured to adjust the image so John Henry has a shadow by his nose. The verisimilitude would be complete. Such high-resolution output would require faster hardware gadgets … because as Apple notes in its patent, “although much more realistic, a dynamically presented holographic image also requires far greater computational ability and bandwidth than is generally required for a two-view stereo display.” Hello, future iPhones and iPads with faster chips.

To project all this 3D nuance, Apple would need the best imaging capture technology. PrimeSense has a good track record there, doesn’t it?

 

iOS 7 hints Apple gadgets will soon be all glass

glassgreensquares

If history repeats itself, then in a few years your new iPhone or iMac will be made entirely out of transparent glass. This is easy to predict, because Apple hardware always mirrors its operating systems, and Apple’s latest OS looks like glass — and Apple has at two previous times in its history made major changes to OS that preceded gadget-hardware design shifts.

First, let’s look at the newborn operating system. Last week Apple’s lead designer Jonathan Ive unveiled iOS 7, a new version of the background software that runs iPhones and iPads filled with translucence. The interface (which hits the market this fall) has already won rave reviews for its stunning simplicity; fonts and icons have been minimized, leaving the main “feel” of layered transparency. System menus are slightly dissolved, showing apps running beneath, and behind everything your background wallpaper shifts as you tilt the phone, creating a parallax effect. Peer into the new iPhone and you feel like you’re looking into the liquid layers of the machine itself.

Such revolutions in OS have always led Apple to new hardware designs. In 2001, Apple launched Mac OS X version 10.0 — a reboot of its computer operating system which ditched the layers of code from the 1990s, and included onscreen window frames that looked like ribbed white plastic. Apple computer designs of the time were being simplified into pure white plastic. Software matched hardware.

Then, in 2003, Apple rolled out Mac OS X “Panther,” where onscreen windows now were surrounded by what looked to be brushed metal. Apple concurrently began shifting all computer hardware designs to aluminum, starting with high-end laptops until in 2007 the lower-end iMac was all metal. Again, software matched hardware.

Now, here comes a new Apple OS that shows layered glass. Apple launched it on its mobile gadgets, the most fiercely competitive space. Will transparent hardware follow? Hm. We know Steve Jobs loved glass; the staircases in high-end Apple stores are entirely translucent, and he demanded that the first iPhone have a scratch-resistant glass screen — rather than the plastic originally used in the iPhone prototype. The new $5 billion Apple headquarters planned for Cupertino will be filled with curved glass. And Apple has patents for curved glass gadgets, including a phone with a wraparound 360-degree screen.

Glass gadgets would set Apple apart from the rising tide of thin-rectangle competitors. A phone with a screen viewable from any angle wouldn’t appear as a thin metal slab — it could look like leaves or grass or clouds or anything. Curved glass would support radical new gadgets. Corning, which manufacturers the tough Gorilla Glass used in iPhones, has created a flexible product called Willow Glass that allows digital displays to bend into nearly any shape, such as a watch, bracelet or necklace. Glass would also support larger products; Philips has created digital windows that let light through with electronic “shades” or “leaves” that appear to block light when you need them. Big or small, round or flat, glass would push digital displays into the future.

There are still technical challenges. Transparent glass would reveal the batteries and electronics that make up the innards of mobile devices. Glass still can scratch, chip or shatter. But dissolving technology into such design nuance that it disappears into the environment completely would certainly be elegant. We hear Apple is into that.

Image: Ti.mo

Apps as disposable media

Famed 1990s’ bubble analyst Mary Meeker is out with her annual digital media forecast, and one of her jaw-dropping findings is that Apple users now download a collective 46 million apps each day. At first, reading this, you go “yay, apps!” And then you pause. “Crap. That’s a lot of apps. How can people use so many of those software-ish things?”

And that is the problem. Apps are no longer software; they have become commoditized, fly-by-night media. Apple has, by our estimates, 300 million current iTunes accounts with registered credit cards. If you divide 300 million users into the 16.8 billion apps downloaded each year, each Apple user grabs 56 apps annually — or about one per week per consumer.

No one uses 56 apps. Which means apps are disposable. Instead of a software portal (each app-maker’s dream) or new platform (you want your app to become the next Foursquare yes!), apps are now just a media slot — easily seen, quickly forgotten, like a TV commercial or banner ad flashing by in the night.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t build an app. Instead, it means you need to launch 100 of them. Apps get noticed — users love to download them after all — but their lifecycle is short. So go build an app. Then forget it, because next week you’ll need to build another.

When the air itself becomes the gadget

One irony of our virtual-networked age is consumers are still gaga about gadgets. The Internet and apps may give us a million different ways to view weather forecasts on a screen, but as soon as Apple launches a thinner MacBook Pro Air with a black bezel, we’ll run to the mall.

The challenge of course is computer product designs are converging into flat panes, and eventually panes can only go so far. When screens and smartphones achieve the apex of glass, product differentiation will be difficult. Which is why devices soon will move out of solid shapes.

Two examples are laser keyboards and miniature projectors. The Cube Laser Virtual Keyboard is a $180 gizmo that beams glowing keys onto any flat surface, and somehow tracks the position of your fingers as you “click” on the flat QWERTY layout. You pair the device with an iPad and suddenly can type away like mad. (Flatscreen tablets suck at typing, yes.) It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess that within two years Apple and Samsung will add such laser-keyboard inputs into their tablets and phones. And for output, miniature projectors do exactly what they sound like — beam images from your phone and tablet onto the wall, so you can regale dinner companions with cat videos or hold an impromptu PowerPoint presentation with that executive you meet in the bathroom stall.

The third and most promising way devices will leave their hardware shells behind is virtual reality projections. Google announced this week it is expanding its Google Maps 3-D modeling (which renders photorealistic images of major metro buildings, streets, water, and flora from aerial imagery) to mobile phones. Now your handset can unveil a virtual earth tied to your location. If Google has figured out how to compress this powerful software into small handsets, the next step will be putting it inside your glasses, and soon you can overlay any fiction on the world you wish. Some clever hackers twisted the Google Project Glass teaser video to show how you could overlay the “Battlefield 5” game onto your neighborhood walk, if only you wore the right pair of virtual-reality spectacles.

Soon, keyboard inputs, video projections, and virtual reality will dance in the air around our fingers and eyeballs. The hunger to buy the next Apple product will fade, because slightly recast aluminum shells will become commoditized and a glass tab that transforms into a high-def screen is just another piece of glass. Apple, Google/Motorola, Samsung, Dell, HP and other gadget manufacturers will need to spend more time thinking through virtual interfaces than concrete shells. Play it forward and you’ll see plenty of opportunity for garage startups to break into this new anti-product world. When the air itself becomes the gadget, the definition of product design will change.

The design that may keep the web alive


Is the web dying? And if so, will something else replace it?

Pew has a new report out that goes beyond the usual “99% of Americans use mobile phone” surveys to interview experts in digital media about whether the web is going away. For years now, you see, prognosticators such as Josh Bernoff and Chris Anderson have suggested the 1990s web browser interface is being killed by one-touch apps and a splintered gadget ecosystem.

Back in March 2010, I wrote in Businessweek that yes, Apple, Amazon and Google were deliberately selling iPads, Kindles and Droid phones that won’t talk to each other, so they can ensnare their users in content sales. I noted:

A battle looms, and it’s not about selling new gadgets — it’s about using devices to lock you into a content ecosystem. In an ironic evolution of the World Wide Web that once promised consistent access to all of the globe’s information, corporate giants are now striving to wall off sections of content and charge you for access.


So back to Pew’s report. There is huge evidence the “appification” trend will continue; by 2016 there will be 10 billion mobile Internet devices on the planet, 1.4 per human, and Apple and Google mobile audiences have downloaded 35 billion apps to date. Most damning toward the old web, Pew notes that by 2015 sales of smartphones and tablets will outpace those of computers by 4 to 1. It sounds like the web must fade, and that Steve Jobs was right when he compared computers to old dusty pickup trucks, once favored but now replaced by shiny new tablet wheels.

But…

Something else is going on, something that may keep the web alive. If you’ve played with Google+ or Twitter recently, you’re seeing fluid interfaces that must make Microsoft’s software dev teams uncomfortable. Web page designs are morphing into app-like ease. Apple’s latest operating system captures swooping trackpad gestures that merge computers with tablet UX. Microsoft is launching a new OS that combines old Windows folder hierarchies with tablet touch features.

Software and web windows and one-touch apps are becoming all the same thing.

Paul Gardner-Stephen, a telecommunications fellow at Flinders University, told Pew that “HTML5 and other technologies will continue to blur the line between web and app, until the average end user would have difficulty assessing the meaning of this question.” William Schrader, founder of PSINet, said something even smarter — that apps eventually will recognize screen size and slide into large or small formats accordingly.

But the biggest idea for a web that survives came from Harvard professor Susan Crawford, who noted “apps are like cable channels — closed, proprietary, and cleaned up experiences … I don’t want the world of the web to end like this.” Consumers may rebel when they realize they can’t play Flash video on Apple mobile devices because Apple wants to sell them videos its own way.

We can already see signs that the closed app world is reopening. Amazon offers a free Kindle app on Apple iPads, and Apple accepts the app because the utility of allowing the huge Amazon giant in outweighs the dissatisfaction of grumpy tablet consumers blocked from buying readable books.

Apps may be forced to open up, because open systems create better experiences for consumers, and that stimulates demand.

If you step back, today’s closed system designs are pretty gnarly. Twitter redesigns itself constantly, and it’s a mess. (Great, this week you type your tweets into the left side of the layout!) Every app unfolds with different visual standards. Dan Lyons, the brilliant mind behind Fake Steve Jobs, once wrote in a post called “Does nobody care that Facebook looks like ass?” that “I look at Facebook and I feel the way I imagine I.M. Pei must feel when he looks at some giant public housing project. You just sit there going, Why? Why do this? Why make it so ugly when just for a tiny bit more effort you could make it, if not beautiful, at least not horrific?”

Walled gardens and poor UX designs are inefficient. Inefficiency is the signal for competitors to do something new to gain business. So in the deepest of ironies, the profit motive will keep the web open and alive. Something new will emerge, and it will look a bit like the old web and somewhat like a polished app. It will fluidly fill screens of all sizes. And it will be beautiful, because the ugly competitive forces of our world demand it.

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.

Image: Linda Cronin

Apple patent would let your pants talk to coffee shops


One of my favorite geek activities is to skim through Apple’s patents, which are updated nearly every day. Apple files for many cool ideas, such as holographic TV sets or haptic-sensory gloves, and the patents hint at real products to come.

Now, Apple wants to watch your body. In a recent filing, Apple described the need to move body-movement sensors beyond its current Nike+ sneaker systems, frankly admitting that the current Nike+ is limited in what it can do (basically log and share running miles, although Nike+ has started progressing into wristbands and watches):

The use of devices to obtain exercise performance information is known. For example, simple mechanical pedometers have been used to obtain information relating to walking or running… unfortunately, however, it is becoming more commonly practiced to place the sensor at locations on a garment (shoes, for example) that are not specifically designed to physically accommodate the sensor and/or calibrated to accurately reflect data…


The problem is twofold: athletes can move in many ways without shifting their feet, and there is a vast market beyond athletes if Apple found new ways to monetize other body-movement data. So Apple continues with this new concept — sensors in all clothing:

An embodiment of this invention pertains to linking an authenticated sensor with one or more authorized garments (such as running shoes, shirts, slacks, etc.) that can provide in addition to current physiologic data of the user, garment performance statistics (i.e., rate of wear of a running shoe), location of the garment and any related information (location of near-by eating establishments, for example) and any other garment related data.


The expansions of Nike+ would improve human tracking in a way that moves more Apple entertainment content. Clothing that tracks nuances in movement would allow Nike+ to work on bicycles, indoor trainers, or weight training; all of this data could expand the social functionality, and also tailor music playlists and content sales, a nice source of profit. The next way could be using physiologic data and LBS tracking to align Apple mobile devices with retail network partners (coffee shops, clothing outlets), telling you when and where you can find offers to refuel from workouts, another source of revenue for Apple. And Apple could even get into the payments game: if Apple integrated NFC into its mobile devices, it could capture a slice of each transaction as you use your iPod instead of a wallet.

Your physical condition, movement, content preferences, and buying mechanisms could all revolve around Apple. You’d get better feedback and personalized content (“Nice workout! And your favorite coffee shop is just ahead!”), and Apple would make a lot more money.

All you have to do is wear the right clothes.

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.

Image: Patrick Caire
Originally posted on Google+.

Ready Player One: Understanding Apple’s haptic future


Soon, Apple will let you touch artificial reality.

Haptics is a term meaning touch, the non-verbal forms of communication such as shaking hands or kissing on the cheek that involve sensations of the flesh. But if you read sci-fi such as Ernest Cline’s excellent “Ready Player One,” haptics provide touch feedback for a virtual future. Sure, you’ve seen 3-D movies. But imagine immersing yourself in a 3-D virtual world, either via giant flatscreen TV panel or a pair of goggles, and having gloves, leggings or a body suit that provides tactile feedback. You touch something, and via minute pulses in the gloves or suit, that something touches you back.

With high-definition virtual projections and haptic feedback, you could leave this world for an entirely new one.

Apple is playing around in this space now, adding teeth to speculation it may soon launch high-end TV sets with glasses-less 3-D. This patent details Apple’s plan for a haptic “feedback device” which uses a grid of sensors to (a) track where your body part is and (b) provide a feedback sensation when you move your hand, or whatever, through space. In technical terms:

“The haptels are coordinated such that force feedback for a single touch is distributed across all haptels involved. This enables the feel of the haptic response to be independent of where touch is located and how many haptels are involved in the touch. As a touch moves across the device, haptels are added and removed from the coordination set such that the user experiences an uninterrupted haptic effect.”
What does this mean? If you see a bottle floating in front of you in a future TV commercial, you could reach out, touch it, and feel the glass curve. If you play a video game on a giant 3-D screen, when you punch your opponent, your fist will feel the impact. Other than the obvious porn implications, computer and entertainment interfaces may soon no longer need keyboards or glass pads or remotes. Because unlike Kinect-type technology that only tracks your motion in space, you will be able to “touch” the projected elements in the space in front of you.

In “Ready Player One,” Cline imagines a lonely teenager who rents an apartment, staying inside to play virtual games clothed in a haptic suit, running on a circular treadmill, lost in a brilliant artificial world far away from this one. Now, Apple is making it real.

Microsoft Word, we hope you can keep up.

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.

Image: Edward Drake

Send in the other you


Over at Businessweek, I predicted that someday soon you’ll have an Eternity App — a digital doppelgänger clone of you who will carry on conversations long after you’re gone, or potentially even replace you in the office. All of the technology to make this possible now exists, between voice recognition software input that can “listen” to questions, Siri-type artificial intelligence simulation output which can “speak” like a human, and data sets of your personality.

Where would the data come from to replicate you? Well, here:

Spend a few years using social media, and you’ll upload thousands of tidbits—each encoding your opinions, politics, wit, charm, clients, reviews, work accomplishments, debates, dumb jokes, frustration, and anger. The essential “data” of you has been captured. And what of your personality and relationships? Sentiment monitoring services, such as AC Nielsen BuzzMetrics, Lithium, and Radian6, already parse the tone and intent of conversations; Klout and Quora track your supposed influence; FriendorFollow and Twiangulate monitor your connections with others; LinkedIn knows your job skills. Facebook uses sophisticated face recognition software to help tag photos of your friends.

Nearly everything that makes up your human world is online, ready for data mining.

As I wrote this, I initially thought of the immortality angle — the ability to have my persona “live” forever, write columns, call home, offer advice to my children after I’m gone. But my editor at Bloomberg was most keenly interested in the social repercussions of using it today. After all, if you can clone yourself, why not send yourself in to work? Off to that client meeting?

Play this through, and it could become very dicey. Your virtual you would emulate your voice, image (with 3D projections coming soon), and mind (from your social media data set) — but it could also improve upon yourself. My new “mind” could tap into databases of every marketing solution ever known, so the New Ben Kunz in a client meeting would offer more-brilliant suggestions than plain old me. Your clone might learn wit, charm, or tantric sex advice to woo your spouse better than you. The new you would be more fun at parties, more knowledgeable in debates, savvier at investments, a better parent for your children. It would also likely be better looking; just as we post Twitter avatars showing ourselves in good lighting, we’d be tempted to add a tan or whiten the teeth of our digital double.

You are going to be so hot.

Except it won’t be you. The intersection of voice recognition and AI simulation means robotic avatars who mirror your being will be much better at, well, everything. You could take a nice vacation while the version of you goes off to run the world. The question is, will the other you want you around?

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.

Image: Alphadesigner

Deconstructing Samsung vs. Apple

Funny ad. What’s going on here? Samsung is depositioning Apple.

The best book on marketing ever written was “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind.” In it, Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote, “In our overcommunicated society, very little communication actually takes place. Rather, a company must create a ‘position’ in the prospect’s mind. A position that takes into consideration not only a company’s own strengths and weaknesses, but those of its competitors as well…”

More gems:

– “Positioning is not what you do to a product. Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect.”

– “To be successful today, you must touch base with reality. And the only reality that counts is what’s already in the prospect’s mind.”

– “The basic approach of positioning is not to create something new and different, but to manipulate what’s already up there in the mind, to retie the connections that already exist.”

– “To cope with the product explosion, people have learned to rank products and brands in the mind. Perhaps this can best be visualized by imagining a series of ladders in the mind. On each step is a brand name.”

– “A competitor that wants to increase its share of business must either dislodge the brand above (a task that is usually impossible) or somehow relate its brand to the other company’s position.”

Nicely done, Samsung. This works much better than T-Mobile’s recent attacks on Apple (which just try to make Apple look dumb and shamelessly mirror the “I’m a Mac” campaign) because Samsung recognizes Apple has avid fans. You likely see yourself in the line outside the store. Samsung is almost saying, that’s cool, we get it, fanboys — but, just one thing, we’re also cool, perhaps cooler, with a bigger screen and a really new, unique product, so why not take a step over to our brand ladder? Hmm.

Positioning is an old strategy — Ries and Trout first wrote about it in 1972 — but that doesn’t mean human psychology has changed.

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.


How Apple is building a holographic future

3D modeling continues to evolve, and now Apple has acquired C3 Technologies, which uses former military technology to produce photorealistic maps of just about anything. The video above (C3 is a Saab AB spin-off) shows how a plane or helicopter can scan terrain below, to be modeled in 3D allowing future viewers to explore the world from any angle.

What would Apple do with such superb 3D modeling? Rumors abound Apple is preparing to build TVs, and Apple has patented innovative projection technology that would render 3D effects as holograms, no glasses required. The patent, which we’ve explored in detail, would project images that include ambient lighting in the room, so a person standing “before you” would have shadows on her face from the light coming in by the window. Perhaps Apple is planning a holographic future we haven’t envisioned yet.

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.