Category Archives: Dell

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.

When public and private screens fail


We joked this morning on Twitter that this buzzing Windows display at JFK Airport made a cool new ad for Apple. But perhaps it’s a deeper signal — that the proliferation of new video screens means all marketers face similar risks of consumer disengagement.

To understand why, let’s visit a ratings service. This past spring, Nielsen trumpeted its $3.5 million Video Consumer Mapping Study, which observed 376 U.S. consumers in 10-second intervals as they walked about their lives for two full days. The results: U.S. residents watch more than 8 hours of “screens” each day, with a full 5 hours and 9 minutes in front of live television. This would seem good news for general broadcasters … until you look more closely:

1. Young demos were observed by Nielsen spending the majority of screen time away from televisions, with about 50% of screen viewing for adults 18-44 coming from DVR playback, web sites, email, mobile, and GPS navigation.

2. “Concurrent media use” skyrockets when ads come on traditional television, meaning viewers move their eyes away from the tube and toward cell phones or laptops during commercial breaks.

This is rough news for the entire broadcast and publishing industries, which are still tied to the 20th century model of third-party advertising driving almost all revenue. The proliferation of screen devices means consumers have more options than ever before to control what they consume, and it’s getting easier to click away: both Apple and Dell may release new wireless touchscreen tablet devices in 2010. More choices mean marketers must get their message and media right, or they’ll fail like a buzzing digital sign at JFK Airport.

Browsers get hungry, start snacking on software

The UK magazine Web Designer, a brilliant pub about web trends that perversely gives almost no content away on its web site, explains in Issue 136 how to move a web site outside a browser window — to take over the entire user’s computer screen. You’ve seen this at work at YouTube, if you hit “full screen mode” on the video.

This is much more than a design gimmick. If web sites can now go full-screen, and run programs, and store your data, then what is the point of desktop software? As this trend continues, companies that rely on PC-bound software (Microsoft) or PCs with complex innards (Dell, HP) are going to get hammered. All users will need is a screen, and everything else they want will be found online.

The impact on online advertising could be huge, since as content, utility, and storage move out of our homes or offices into the great wide web, it will become easier and cheaper for consumers to have multiple entry points into the internet. The screen in your car, the screen on your iPhone, the screen tablet in your briefcase, and the screen at the hotel lobby check in will all tie in to your online data systems. More points of entry, at a lower user cost, will create more time than ever before online. Facebook, for example, is really a new operating system that is housed online. You can run programs, communicate, store contacts, keep photos and files, all online — all you need is a screen to get in. Back in 1995, Facebook itself would have made a high-end computer.

All this, in turn, will continue the cannibalization of other media as consumers shift their routines to internet usage, vs. broadcast receptivity. To see full-screen web in action, check out papervision3d, which can turn your entire screen into a fish tank, or Sequence Post, a UK site showcasing high-end video work. More is coming.