Category Archives: mobile commerce

Social Networking with a Schmear

In the past 10 years I have managed many social media projects – some even before that catch phrase was coined.  While every company seems to want to be on the various social networks, very few seem to grasp how and why

As they say – to cut to the chase:  Social Media is and should be social.  That may seem like an obvious statement but many campaigns seem to miss that point.  Here are some examples of Social Media Myth busting and one surprising example of social media done right.

  • Signing up people to like your product or service by giving them something

I was at the New York Auto show at the Javits Center this past Spring.  One auto company was giving away tee shirts if you “liked” their Facebook page.  They probably gave away 1000 tee shirts and got 1000 likes.  If their apparel budget permitted 1 million tee shirts, they perhaps could get 1 million likes. So what?

By the way, I got a tee shirt for “liking” them. I can’t even tell you what company it was or where I put my treasured prize.

Getting random people, who are fundamentally unconnected, with no interest in each other or even the product to join a social network, just to show you have “numbers” is a waste of time and money – except for the company that makes the tee-shirts, and supplies the models to hand them out. A quick estimate for that campaign would be $10K for a consultant to “produce” the marketing event, another $10K to produce the tee shirts and likely $5K in costs for contractors (models) to hand-out the tee-shirts.  That’s at least $25K spend on getting 1000 “likes”.  It would be better to have a website that says “like me”, and I will send you ten bucks.

How many times do you think any of these people visited the company’s Facebook page?  How many of their friends decided “Gee, I better like that page also?”  How much original user generated content was created because of this campaign?

As we say in NJ….Ugats!

  • Trying to create a great social network around boring content , is … boring,  unless its not.

Let me explain.  If you put up photos and comments about little Jimmy’s second grade music lesson it may be boring to the masses, but for the little Jimmy’s family it’s interesting and fun.  One picture can generate 20 comments in a family circle.   If you take that same picture and put it on a website that sells music lessons, will anyone comment or care?  Will family members share that link on their Facebook walls or Twitter rolls? Interest in content is contextual.  Members of a social network must be self-motivated to spread the word, comment, contribute and create the viral impact of social media.

An interesting example of social networking done correctly is a delicatessen in Newark New Jersey.  Hobby’s deli has been a family run Jewish restaurant since the invention of corned beef.  The real life Hobby’s experience includes fabulous food and even better “schmoozing” between the customers and especially with the two brothers who are the owners.  From the lunch time crowd of lawyers and politicians to the enthusiastic dinner hockey fans on their way to watch a game, Hobby’s provides social subsistence along with the knishes.

To take the Hobby’s experience and bring it to Facebook was not a guaranteed success.  The owners did not pay an “expert” thousands of dollars to help them with the project.   They applied their natural real-life social networking skills and put it on Facebook.  The formula is simple.  They comment on what is going on at the restaurant.  Who is having a birthday? Feeding the Ringling Brothers Elephants, a visit from a pro athlete, little contests between the two brothers, playing the role of a Leprechaun for the holiday celebrating the Patron Saint of Corned Beef – (St Patrick) and the ever-present Devils fans.    Within this content come mentions of the daily special and photos of the food.   While the latter elements are clearly advertising, they come across more in context of the overall Hobby’s narrative.

By taking what is already happening in real life and placing it in social media they have created a tempting morsel for a loyal clientele.  They have less than 1000 likes as of the writing of this blog, but I am sure that is not bothering Hobby’s.  The likes that they do have, really  like Hobby’s.  When their patrons comment, and they do it often, it spreads virally across Facebook.

Which one is a former NJ Devil?

Which one is a former NJ Devil?

To achieve their success they did not stand on the corner of Halsey Street and hand out sandwiches to random people just to get them to like their page.  The Facebook page is becoming a contextual meeting place for their patrons and obviously drives business.  It has the right ingredients: a consumer base that has something in common, content that they find interesting, a natural willingness to generate user comments and a real ROI for the business.  Win-Win-Win

I’m hungry now – time for a trip to Newark.

Link to Video of Chico Resch at Hobby’s (Click Here)

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Filed under advertising, Circus, Content, Corned Beef, facebook, Food, hockey, humor, mobile, mobile commerce, Newark, Rangers, social networking

Google Acquires Patents – and Also Motorola

Google + Moto is the BIG NEWS of the summer.  It was big enough to grab me out of my blog vacation.  While the pundits are filling the airwaves with analysis on this one , I view it perhaps more simply, more straightforward.

The battleground for supremacy in connected devices (mobile smartphones, Tablets, and  set-top boxes) has moved from the R&D labs to the court rooms.  The patent wars between Apple and Google are fierce, with Microsoft bulking up on its own portfolio as part of the consortium that bought the Nortel patents.

Motorola was worth the price Google paid just for their patent portfolio.  In patent wars if you get sued, you better have a patent in your portfolio that can hurt the attacker.  In this way you trade mutual assured destruction with a patent stand-off.

When Google acquired the rights to Motorola’s 25,000+ patents, they bought both defensive capability and offensive firepower.  Apple may go after Android for an Apple patent but what are the changes that Google now has a patent that can hurt Apple?

It is impossible to design and produce a device such as an iPhone, iPad, or Android device that will not infringe on someone’s patent.  Impossible.  What a company must do is acknowledge that they will infringe and hope the other guy also infringes on their patents and us the mutual infringement to to either create a license arrangement or to have both companies do nothing.

Google’s price of $12.5B is about $500,000 per patent, which seems to be a bargain compared to the $4.5B  Apple and Microsoft for 6000 Nortel patents.  Their price was  $750,000 per patent.

Lets assume that the Motorola sale  is approved and Google gets the Motorola patent portfolio.  Google’s next problem is that they have also bought a company that makes handsets.  I say this is a problem because this is a huge company in a market that is different from Google’s core competency.  This is also a company that competes with Google’s other OEM partners for Android Devices.  The conventional wisdom is that these other OEM partners will start to defect, en mass,  to Microsoft.

Yeah right….

What does defect even mean?  Microsoft will pay these companies to produce some Windows phones anyway.

Android is free.  Can Microsoft compete with free?  Google makes its money on Android from their ad business.  Microsoft must make money from their software license for Mobile 7 operating system.  Besides for being years late to the party, Microsoft is structural disadvantaged to compete.  At best they can hope to be a number 3 player.

Google has two choices.

Number 1: They can acquire the patent portfolio and then spin out the Motorola Mobility Business, probably re-cooping half their initial investment.  They could sell Motorola’s handset and tablet businesses, along with licenses to the patents they now own to either HTC or Samsung, their two most important OEM partners.  This would be an amazing move.

Number 2:  Keep the Motorola hardware business and expand Android into the Cable Set-Top Box market.  This is the riskier of the paths as the sheer weight of a big manufacturing company could alter the culture of Google for the worse.  This path would be an attempt to become “Apple”.  While this path seems to be the assumed defacto strategy of Google, I am placing my bets on scenario #1.  This will take a couple of years to play out, so hold onto this link and let’s see if I am right.

An indicator that we are on Scenario 1 will be if Microsoft acquires RIM (Blackberry) or Nokia.  This would be an acknowledgment that the Google OEM manufacturers are not going to defect to Microsoft and that they must own a hardware company to compete.

This has only gotten worse in the last 10 months!

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Filed under Acquisitions, advertising, android, Apple, blackberry, Cable, Droid, Google, HTC, iPad, mobile advertising, Mobile Application Stores, mobile commerce, smart phone, Smartphone

Microkia – Birth of a New Species? or Death of Old Ones?

Last Week Nokia announced that they were ditching their Symbian Smartphone OS in favor of Windows Mobile 7.  For those consumers who live, work and play in North America this announcement barely warrants a yawn.  For the rest of the world- the world in which Nokia has been the number one mobile device for what seems like forever – this is big news.

I was an “involved player” in the early formation of Symbian.  At the time a Palm-like device from Psion was dominant in Europe.  The three intelligent organizers (as they were called 14 years ago) came from Palm, Psion and Microsoft.  The conventional wisdom, at the time was to not allow Microsoft to establish a monopolistic stranglehold on mobile platforms, like it did in the PC.

From this strategy grew the Symbian operating system that was used primarily by Nokia and Ericsson. Symbian was based on the Psion OS.  During the BiCE (Before Iphone common era), the coolest smartphones were in Europe and ran Symbian.  Microsoft tried to continually adapt a desktop centric design philosophy to mobile devices.   They had very modest success, far less than their corporate ego would admit, externally or internally.

The good news is that the strategy worked.  Microsoft never established a monopolistic foothold in the mobile space.  The industry exchanged one dominant force for another. Apple and Google have established that position in this next generation.

In the AiCE (After iPhone Common Era) period the world changed.

Nokia’s dominance which was (is) based on great physical phone design, radio interfaces, button placement, and distribution, suddenly seemed less relevant.

The great Symbian operating system was like the  Neanderthals, once Homo-sapiens appeared.

A report released just 4 days ago listed Apple with a 45% share of Smartphones in Europe, followed by 16% for both Android and Blackberry.  Symbian had fallen to around 12%, and is in free fall.  Nokia’s Smartphone share in the largest Smartphone market (North America) is close to nil.  On a worldwide basis, Symbian  has just been eclipsed as the leader by Android with both around 30% share.

Against this backdrop, Steve Elop the CEO of Nokia and most recently a top executive at Microsoft, issued an internal Memo in which he likened the Nokia business to a burning oil platform with multiple fires. Great imagery! (His complete memo to the Nokia troops is at the bottom of this blog)

Meanwhile Microsoft has also been ablaze, except they continue a public stance of  “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead”.  They seem to have temporarily righted their ship with Windows 7 sales, mainly because businesses refused to buy the disastrous Windows Vista.   They are becoming the Xerox of the new millennium- Lots of great ideas and ground breaking technologies,  with very poor execution.

I have mentioned in previous blog articles that the Windows 7 Mobile, on the surface looks like a viable technology. However, the product is very late to the party, is called “Windows”, and its marketing was linked to Zune (Do you have one?) and Xbox.  Good ideas, poor execution.

Against this backdrop, Steve Elop hooks up with his former Boss, Steve Balmer and the two sinking ships attempt to tie themselves together to stay afloat.  Nokia will have to navigate through the support issues for the millions of Symbian consumers and also there now seemingly aborted relationship with Intel on the Meego Smartphone platform.  Nokia is rationalizing themselves as a hardware platform vendor, not a software producer.  They are making a deal that seemed unthinkable for over a decade.  They have been pushed into a partnership with Microsoft by the success of Apple and Google.

The real winner is Microsoft.  Nokia is betting their Smartphone future with the Windows Platform and hoping that it turns around its plummeting Smartphone share.   Microsoft is risking much less because they have much less to risk in the mobile space.  They have a single digit of market share.  The announced Micorosoft relationship with the largest manufacturer of mobile devices, as they say, “Can’t hurt!”.

The integration and production of  “Microkia” phones will take at least 6 months and  more likely a year.  That’s another year of innovation and product releases from Apple and Google.

The Micorosft /Nokia combination must define a new class of Smartphone, perhaps aimed at developing markets , that is a clear differentiation from the highend iPhone and Droids.   Without a new Smartphone species, Microsoft and Nokia with continue to look like Neanderthals and suffer a similar fate.

——————————

Steven Elop – CEO of Nokia – Memo to his troops

Hello there,

There is a pertinent story about a man who was working on an oil platform in the North Sea. He woke up one night from a loud explosion, which suddenly set his entire oil platform on fire. In mere moments, he was surrounded by flames. Through the smoke and heat, he barely made his way out of the chaos to the platform’s edge. When he looked down over the edge, all he could see were the dark, cold, foreboding Atlantic waters.

As the fire approached him, the man had mere seconds to react. He could stand on the platform, and inevitably be consumed by the burning flames. Or, he could plunge 30 meters in to the freezing waters. The man was standing upon a “burning platform,” and he needed to make a choice.

He decided to jump. It was unexpected. In ordinary circumstances, the man would never consider plunging into icy waters. But these were not ordinary times – his platform was on fire. The man survived the fall and the waters. After he was rescued, he noted that a “burning platform” caused a radical change in his behaviour.

We too, are standing on a “burning platform,” and we must decide how we are going to change our behaviour.

Over the past few months, I’ve shared with you what I’ve heard from our shareholders, operators, developers, suppliers and from you. Today, I’m going to share what I’ve learned and what I have come to believe.

I have learned that we are standing on a burning platform.

And, we have more than one explosion – we have multiple points of scorching heat that are fuelling a blazing fire around us.

For example, there is intense heat coming from our competitors, more rapidly than we ever expected. Apple disrupted the market by redefining the smartphone and attracting developers to a closed, but very powerful ecosystem.

In 2008, Apple’s market share in the $300+ price range was 25 percent; by 2010 it escalated to 61 percent. They are enjoying a tremendous growth trajectory with a 78 percent earnings growth year over year in Q4 2010. Apple demonstrated that if designed well, consumers would buy a high-priced phone with a great experience and developers would build applications. They changed the game, and today, Apple owns the high-end range.

And then, there is Android. In about two years, Android created a platform that attracts application developers, service providers and hardware manufacturers. Android came in at the high-end, they are now winning the mid-range, and quickly they are going downstream to phones under €100. Google has become a gravitational force, drawing much of the industry’s innovation to its core.

Let’s not forget about the low-end price range. In 2008, MediaTek supplied complete reference designs for phone chipsets, which enabled manufacturers in the Shenzhen region of China to produce phones at an unbelievable pace. By some accounts, this ecosystem now produces more than one third of the phones sold globally – taking share from us in emerging markets.

While competitors poured flames on our market share, what happened at Nokia? We fell behind, we missed big trends, and we lost time. At that time, we thought we were making the right decisions; but, with the benefit of hindsight, we now find ourselves years behind.

The first iPhone shipped in 2007, and we still don’t have a product that is close to their experience. Android came on the scene just over 2 years ago, and this week they took our leadership position in smartphone volumes. Unbelievable.

We have some brilliant sources of innovation inside Nokia, but we are not bringing it to market fast enough. We thought MeeGo would be a platform for winning high-end smartphones. However, at this rate, by the end of 2011, we might have only one MeeGo product in the market.

At the midrange, we have Symbian. It has proven to be non-competitive in leading markets like North America. Additionally, Symbian is proving to be an increasingly difficult environment in which to develop to meet the continuously expanding consumer requirements, leading to slowness in product development and also creating a disadvantage when we seek to take advantage of new hardware platforms. As a result, if we continue like before, we will get further and further behind, while our competitors advance further and further ahead.

At the lower-end price range, Chinese OEMs are cranking out a device much faster than, as one Nokia employee said only partially in jest, “the time that it takes us to polish a PowerPoint presentation.” They are fast, they are cheap, and they are challenging us.

And the truly perplexing aspect is that we’re not even fighting with the right weapons. We are still too often trying to approach each price range on a device-to-device basis.

The battle of devices has now become a war of ecosystems, where ecosystems include not only the hardware and software of the device, but developers, applications, ecommerce, advertising, search, social applications, location-based services, unified communications and many other things. Our competitors aren’t taking our market share with devices; they are taking our market share with an entire ecosystem. This means we’re going to have to decide how we either build, catalyse or join an ecosystem.

This is one of the decisions we need to make. In the meantime, we’ve lost market share, we’ve lost mind share and we’ve lost time.

On Tuesday, Standard & Poor’s informed that they will put our A long term and A-1 short term ratings on negative credit watch. This is a similar rating action to the one that Moody’s took last week. Basically it means that during the next few weeks they will make an analysis of Nokia, and decide on a possible credit rating downgrade. Why are these credit agencies contemplating these changes? Because they are concerned about our competitiveness.

Consumer preference for Nokia declined worldwide. In the UK, our brand preference has slipped to 20 percent, which is 8 percent lower than last year. That means only 1 out of 5 people in the UK prefer Nokia to other brands. It’s also down in the other markets, which are traditionally our strongholds: Russia, Germany, Indonesia, UAE, and on and on and on.

How did we get to this point? Why did we fall behind when the world around us evolved?

This is what I have been trying to understand. I believe at least some of it has been due to our attitude inside Nokia. We poured gasoline on our own burning platform. I believe we have lacked accountability and leadership to align and direct the company through these disruptive times. We had a series of misses. We haven’t been delivering innovation fast enough. We’re not collaborating internally.

Nokia, our platform is burning.

We are working on a path forward — a path to rebuild our market leadership. When we share the new strategy on February 11, it will be a huge effort to transform our company. But, I believe that together, we can face the challenges ahead of us. Together, we can choose to define our future.

The burning platform, upon which the man found himself, caused the man to shift his behaviour, and take a bold and brave step into an uncertain future. He was able to tell his story. Now, we have a great opportunity to do the same.

Stephen.

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Filed under android, Apple, blackberry, Google, iphone, microsoft, mobile, Mobile Application Stores, mobile commerce, Nokia, smart phone, Smartphone, Windows, Windows Mobile, wireless

Scanning your Life

It is not often that someone shows me something in tech that makes me go “WOW!, that’s cool”.  I had such a moment recently when I met Jonathan Bulkeley, CEO of ScanBuy.  Regular readers of this blog know that I rarely promote products and services, but rather just give my “guy on the street” views.

Unless you are George Bush Senior, you know that there are barcodes on everything.  There are the ubiquitous  1-D UPC codes that you see in the supermarket and a host of new 2-D barcodes.  With the inclusion of barcode readers in smartphones (my Android is very capable in this area) you can go to a store, scan the barcode and be linked to product information websites, Google shopper, Amazon, etc.  You can do instant online price comparison in a store, and if you like purchase the product.  It seems that stores are catching on and are starting to put there own barcodes on products that then links back to their own website, not a competitor’s.  This is not the “WOW” part.  I’ve been doing store scanning  for some time.  Its fun and seems to thoroughly annoy sales staff (and sometimes my wife!)

The company that Bulkeley runs is the one that produces the Android app that I use to scan barcodes.  You can think of a barcode as a web url that directs the application to go to some specific website or activate an application.  You can imagine that the directory service of linking codes to a website is an interesting business area.

Now for the “WOW” moment.

When I was talking to Bulkeley,  he showed me his business card that had a 2-D barcode on the back.  He said, “go ahead scan it”.  When I scanned it, the application opened up the contact manager on my phone and auto-populated all of his details and asked me to confirm.  That was WOW.

You see ScanBuy and its consumer facing ScanLife website gives you the opportunity to have your own personal 2-D barcodes that link to a website or launch a contact application.  There are codes you can make for websites, phone numbers, SMS, Twitter, and even a menu of items.

Here is my contact 2-D Barcode:

And here is another that links to my personal Website:

And yet another that I made to link to my favorite Youtube video. I bet you can’t guess which one?

You can even change the destination website of any barcode on the ScanLife website.  If you have a smartphone with a ScanLife application, you can scan these codes directly from your computer screen.

He told me his daughter has a barcode on her dorm door and changes the website with her mood and likes.

I could envision a whole new market in fraternities, sororities and dorms.  No need to put a piece of clothing on the door knob as the signal of an “overnight” guest.   Just make sure your roommate scans before he enters!

But as they say – Wait –there’s more to this story….

A day later I was taking the train back to New Jersey from New York.  The train was full and I was sitting alone in two facing seats.  Three others came to occupy the other spots.  There were two young women – maybe 22 – one with bright purple hair and lots of interesting body art and the other very blonde and pixie-like.  Their androgynous boyfriend rounded out the group.  Needless to say, I did not have much in common or much to say as the went on about their art exhibits and music performances.  This was not the “Hey! how about those Yankees?” crowd. And I was not up on the latest exhibit in the Village.

This all changed when Miss Pixie took out her Android phone.  Ah!, now something of a connection.  We had a long discussion on apps and her favorites. Her two interesting friends also had Androids, but older models (at least 6 months) and seemed behind the curve.   Pixie liked the same apps I did.  I am not sure what to conclude from that, so moving on…..

She had Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Skype and Google Navigation.  Her really favorite “cool” app was, you guessed it –  ScanLife.  She did not even know the name of the company, just that she could use it when she shopped.

At this point her rather purple,  pierced  and tattooed friend perked up and said , “I always wanted to get a barcode tatoo.”

Not wanting to waste a good promotion opportunity for Mr. Bulkeley’s company, I explained how she could have her own personal barcode that linked to something that she could pick, and even change.  She was delighted and copied down the info.

For this group of avant-garde artists, it was one more cool thing to adorn their body with , and something they could scan with their phones.

The train pulled into my stop and my new friends, who were brought together by our Droids and barcodes, parted ways.

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Filed under advertising, android, Apple, Droid Incredible, E-Commerce, facebook, Google, iphone, mobile, Mobile Application Stores, mobile commerce, mobile games, new media, New York, Rangers, sex, skype, smart phone, Smartphone, social networking, Twitter, wireless

My excellent iPad adventure in the land of Les Habitants

During the past couple of weeks I have been using an iPad and trying to figure out where it fits in my digital hierarchy.  For the record my technical stack includes an iMac , a  MacBook,  a netbook and, an HTC Droid Incredible and a Kindle.   While at home the iPad was a toy.  It was something to use while watching television.  Thus it was slightly more convenient than having a macbook or net book  for light browsing and email.  As a book reader it was much nicer than my Kindle (which I still like).  I installed the Kindle app on the iPad and read  a couple of books on it.   It was aggravating that movies that I can watch online easily with my Droid phone cannot be watched on the iPad due to the lack of Flash support.  When will we have an Android Pad?

The interesting part of my iPad experience came when I had a business trip last week.  Instead of taking my laptop I went cold turkey and just took the iPad as my second device, in addition to my Droid phone.  This decision shocked my colleagues, including the one who lent me the iPad to try out!

The iPad did well on the plane as I read the New York Times.  This was especially interesting since the person next to me had the paper version and lusted after my alternative format.  After finishing the Times, I read USA Today, played a couple of games and started to read one of the books I had downloaded via the Kindle app.

I could also imagine that the iPad would make a great personal Video device for longer flights.

At the business meeting I was the cool kid at the table.  After all, what do you really do with a laptop at a meeting? You browse the web, check email and possibly access a presentation.  Since I did not have a presentation to show, the later two were just fine.  For the record if you want to display a power point presentation on your iPad the easiest way is to upload it to Google Docs and then access it directly from the Web.   The iPad is really shines as a net connected device and thus using cloud services is the way to go.  If you don’t have Web access then converting the presentation to JPG images or video also works.  I also installed dropbox on the iPad and it worked great giving me access to my Cloud virtual drive.

The funny part of my day occurred as I was leaving to fly home.  My meeting was in Montreal and that day was also the first day of  iPad sales in Canada.  At an airport sports bar I was killing about an hour why reading on my iPad.  I attracted a crowd of very interested on lookers.  The waitress even brought her boss out to have a gander (Canadian Goose reference…)  Again, I was the cool kid.    This was similar to elementary kids who have their school lunch sandwiches cut on the diagonal, instead of squares.  (Or at least that is what I was told by my kids)

When I passed through Canadian security I was asked if   I had a laptop and I of course proudly proclaimed, no – I have an iPad.  At that point Ihad no less than 4 inspectors handling my device.  They made me turn it on for “security” reasons.  Once I had it on I demonstrated some apps and the book reader.  I was decl

ared safe.   It was a slow day in Montreal for air travel.  This had the makings of a real live Apple commercial.

Note to Steve Jobs:  Get that security tape and air it – great publicity.

When convinced that I no longer was a threat to Canadian airspace with my iPad, I proceeded to the gate.  The flight was an hour late and I began to read my book on the iPad.  Again I drew a crowd when a little kid pointed and yelled – Look DAD, that’s an iPad , cool! I was then obligated to give another demonstration and let some of my fellow passengers check it out.    Just when I was feeling my coolest someone asked me – “hey it looks cool, what does it do?”  All I could thing of was – “It will do whatever you want, once someone figures out what you want”

Understand ? Ehh?

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Filed under Apple, AT&T, cloud computing, Droid, Droid Incredible, Google, HTC, HTC Incredible, humor, Incredible, Incredible, iPad, iphone, Ipod, MAc, mobile, mobile advertising, Mobile Application Stores, mobile commerce, smart phone, Smartphone, social networking, Steve Jobs

Augmented Reality? Really?

I have tried over 100 apps on my new Super-Droid, the HTC Incredible.  One of the more interesting and  hyped areas is that of Augmented Reality.  Here is the  Wikipedia definition for AR –

Augmented reality (AR) `is a term for a live direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment whose elements are augmented by virtual computer-generated imagery. It is related to a more general concept called mediated reality in which a view of reality is modified (possibly even diminished rather than augmented) by a computer. As a result, the technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality.”

On my Droid, most AR applications are a mash-up of GPS, Google search, camera viewing, compass heading and overlay visuals.   The overlays are anything from tourist locations, buildings, roads, bars, restaurants, and of course Starbucks.   You look at your phone as the phone’s camera looks at the world and adds its own heads up display (HUD).

While these apps have an “Ubber-Cool” factor, AR does not yet seem to have found its mainstream raison d’être.  Its fun to show your friends and get them to say  -“ooo”, and “ah”, but then what?

Who is going to walk around holding their 4 inch screen in front of them while looking for something and following an arrow in their AR world?  All sorts of enhanced navigation programs, either for driving, walking, hiking or public transit already exist with great mapping displays.  The potential fro AR is likely huge in the future as the applications further develop.  But for now, it is early days.

If you want to try out AR for and judge for yourself here are 5 programs you can download for free on a Droid.

-Layar

A Legal Neighbor listed as a "Bar" - needs some work..

Layar  (get it –  LayAR) is an environment that permits others to development AR functionality on displays and maps. It is in essence an AR aggregation platform – an AR browser- that is mostly ad supported with some premium subscription services.  I can use my virtual Droid HUD to find everything from apartments, nearby Tweeters, Foursquare locations,  local wikipedia entries and even the weather.  Weather?  Yep – look through the HUD and see an AR cloud superimposed in your view with the temperature on it.  There is even a weather app for tornado warnings.   If you have to look through the phone to determine you are looking at a Tornado, its may be Darwin Award time.

A Landmark on Foursquare

Just because you can do something with technology does not mean you have to do it!  Similar to overall smartphone apps, let a million apps bloom and something good will happen.

Here is the web catalog of all Layar powered AR apps.

-Laser Level

The program superimposes perpendicular red “laser” lines in your HUD to help you straighten that picture you just hung.  The app works pretty good, but not really efficient for hanging pictures and I would still want my contractors to use a physical level.

-3D Compass

This app floats a compass and a map on your screen, along with speed and altitude.

Its fun to play with this app when I take NJ Transit into NYC.  For the record, the trains hit a top speed of around 60 mph, New York is east of New Jersey, and the train rarely gets airborne.

-Zagat NRU

This is a curious app that displays all Zagat rated venues within circular range bands, arranged by compass heading.  Its great to showpeople, but then what?  Okay gang lets go to this new Italian restaurant; we have to walk at 37.6 degrees  NNE for 1.5 km?

-NYC Wayfinder

Hold up your HUD display and it will point out subway entrances.  Does it also paint a target on your back and add a European carry-all to you, virtually?

The potential for AR applications exists and like any technology in its early phases, many potential uses will be explored.  What is amazing is how relatively easy it is to make this apps with the basic tools and capabilities of the Android (and yes, iPhone too)

What will the killer AR apps be?  I have two predictions for AR apps.

My first prediction is for massive multi-user, AR enhanced games.  Pick your favorite version of Human/Zombie, Capture the Flag, etc –   and have all the players be able to track each other in an AR enhanced world and even “shoot” each other and record “hits”, all in augmented reality.  This can take the collaborative gaming experience of the XBOX 360 and get everyone outside actually running around and exercising.  Just like kids did before computer games.  Ironic…..  Of course this is what he U.S. military does, for real. So who would be most motivated to fund and produce such an app?

Another interesting app, assuming the key development enabler of cheap AR viewing glasses will be virtual tours.  Instead of holding a small screen, view the AR world all the time?  I could easily see tourists using these to get around various venues and even have embedded virtual tour guides pointing out local areas of interest.  Imagine visiting the ancient Roman port of Caesarea in Israel and having your virtual guide enhance your view to show you what it really looked like 2000 years ago – virtually. For Real.

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“Where” is that Secret Facility on Foursquare?

One of the really interesting aspects of smartphone apps is the innovation and product mutation process.  Over the past couple of weeks I have downloaded over 100 apps on my Droid.  Some apps were good, many were not.  With the exception of Skydroid (99 cents), all were free.  For the record the Skydroid golf GPS program worked really well on my recent golf outing.  It did not help my game at all, but it was useful ad fun to use.

"Where" Local Information Portal

One of the more interesting and useful apps I have been using is “Where”.   “Where” aggregates all the most important mobile search and information functions in one app that utilizes your location for giving you the most relevant results.    Weather, News (including micro local news!), Places (a combination of restaurants, hotels, shopping, bars, etc), Movies, Gas prices, Yellow Pages, Traffic, and even a dedicated icon for the nearest Starbucks.  For the city-folk, it includes an app to locate a Zip Car.  All of these come with easy lists, or are searchable via text or voice input.

Instead of going into several dedicated apps to do the same “on the fly” searches, you can just stay within the “Where” dashboard.   They also have a widget for the Droid that will give you the latest alert on any of the categories you have displayed.  The widget still needs some work, but is useful.

There is a similar function to “FourSquare” that encourages venue checkin and reviews. Foursquare is  the much bigger app for the “hey look where I’ve been crowd”, but “Where” should be watched.

What is interesting about both “Where” and “Foursquare” is how they took a

Foursquare places near me - Interesting...

working model on mobile and morphed it into something more useful.   “Where” actually went backwards to go forward.  They observed that the single function search and LBS apps were good but cumbersome to use in a real life use case.  For example, let’s find a movie to see, a place to eat and maybe a club later on.  “Where” handles that use case.  “Where” re-invented the information portal.

For the record I have no idea what the top secret Delta Facility or the Mothership are in my list.  But I will now have to check them out!  If this is my last blog article you will know why!

My Mother's Day Trip - on Foursquare

Foursquare capitalized on the fascination with Twitter and tweeting your status and focused it on venues.  This creates a social scene network.  Where are your friends?  Do you want to see them?  What do they think of that bar, restaurant, deli, etc?  It is a real time social networking app that is part Twitter, part Zagat’s, and part dating and hook-up.  Foursquare also uses location based services to locate you and give you a list of close by venues for you to check-in.

Both of these apps are using geo-located search technology to make their apps very easy to use.  They are both ad supported.  “Where” has a coupon tray for local coupons on products and services.  They both provide functionality that is superior to a vanilla Google search.

So what do they need to move to the big time?

Foursquare is clearly in the Zagat space.  Foursquare is what the mobile version of Zagat should be.  Foursquare and Zagat announced a partnership in February.  The combined application should be interesting!  To the leading edge augmented reality crowd –  yes I have tried Zagat on NRU – its very cool and the whole subject of augmented reality will be the topic of a future article.

“Where” needs the venue reviews and overall utilization that Foursquare and Zagat enjoy.  Additionally “Where” can benefit from the social networking features of Foursquare.   What I am not to subtly suggesting is that while Foursquare and “Where” have definitely moved the bar (no pun intended 🙂 ) , they are much more compelling together, and eventually even more compelling in a real partnership with Zagat.

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