Wednesday 30 April 2008

Shopping in future ...

The shopper of the future will have so much more consumer power than today ... Typically today people might use a price comparison tool online at home or work before going out to buy a particular item - in future they will have much better intelligent tools in their pocket or worn about their person that provide them with dynamic information as they shop.  The consumer will be better placed than the retailer to know about the availability, pricing and other parameters associated with the item in the relevant geography.  The power balance will shift from retailer to consumer.  In response, retailers will have to be prepared to make better dynamic offers to keep customers interested.  Technology will impact both parties.   The other shift may well be that the physical store becomes the shop window for online purchase rather than the other way around, as is often the case nowadays.  

Tuesday 29 April 2008

Robots are coming...

The revolution in the 80s, which resulted in car manufacturers adopting robotic production lines to weld automobiles together and spray paint them, has left many people with the idea that this is what robots do.  I have to warn those people that things have moved on rather a lot from this.  After meeting a number of robots at a Japanese consumer electronics show about 18 months ago, I am under no illusions that these machines are well capable of far more already.  Had my Japanese language ability been better, I am sure I would have been even more impressed!  And we know that future demographics will mean that we won't have sufficient people to do all the jobs we need doing (such as looking after the elderly or sick), so we can expect some applications to include these things too.  Guiding guests in corporate environments and providing security patrols are other obvious applications that are already possible.  It is not so much a case of what the robots of the future will be able to do, but more a case of what people and society is ready for them to take responsibility for.  I have no qualms about my Mother-in-law being looked after by a robot but my wife has a different opinion!   Society's acceptance of new technology is often more difficult to judge than when the technology itself will be mature enough.  

Monday 28 April 2008

To lock or unlock - that is the question!

So as the buzz starts to rise in volume about the next incarnation of Apple's iPhone, lets take a look at the clever strategy of Steve Jobs relating to this ground-breaking device so far.  When launched the first iPhone was innovative on a number of levels.  Most people focused on the touch screen interface, or just bemoaned the lack of a faster cellular network connection and better camera.  Another innovation was the revenue sharing agreements that Apple struck with the network operators that it selected in each geography.   Patents have since shown that Apple considered forming its own Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) but once it decided against this path, it needed to use existing operators to get their new device launched.  So it decided to lock the iPhone to give exclusivity to the selected operator on day one - and drove a very tough revenue sharing bargain which would have been impossible as a new handset entrant had they not had the success of the iPod before it. 

But I don't think Jobs ever saw the locking as more than an initial sweetener - unlocking an iPhone is neither illegal nor can it be prevented.  In fact it simply drives more interest in the device!  The network operator's lawyers may have got concerned about this and indeed Apple has made the right noises in public about it, but Apple's own (normally very efficient) legal team have tended to sit home sipping tea!  More than that, now that iPhone is established, I think we will see fewer exclusive deals as the subsequent iPhones are launched.   The revenue sharing Apple gets from service plans is significant but not a core part of its strategic intention as I see it.  It wants to sell as many iPhones with as much publicity as possible because that will also drive revenue in its other hardware lines, the iPod, and Mac computers.  A large proportion of switchers to Mac already have an iPod or iPhone.  

As subsequent iPhone models are launched, at lower price points and more flexible service plans, more people will buy it and other Apple products - this will re-enforce the strategy that iPhone was never intended to be a standalone product.

Saturday 26 April 2008

Why Apple buys a PowerPC Chip Designer?

So Apple buys PA Semi, who design processors based on the PowerPC architecture that Apple moved away from when they made the Intel switch in 2006.  Well it's certainly not a case that they want to move away from or damage their relationship with Intel.  However the move to Intel has meant that it is harder for Apple to differentiate its hardware designs from any other PC manufacturers.  Apple also invests a huge amount of effort in software that outsources processor intensive tasks out to specialised hardware (such as Core Graphics and Core Animation).  Adding power efficient specialised chips from in-house designers would be one way to provide performance in Mac computers which others would have trouble copying.  Similar competitive advantage could be extremely important in the portable wireless device market (iPhone, iPod) so I think this is a very shrewd move by the king of innovation.  It would indeed be typical of the clever strategic moves often made by the company but which rarely hit the headlines.

Friday 25 April 2008

Nanotubes for future processors?

While some chip manufacturers are researching the 32nm fabrication process in the search for ever more powerful processors with ever less power consumption, an American research institute has determined that carbon nanotubes would outperform copper nanowires at the 45nm process node.  They have arrived at this conclusion by performing quantum mechanical computer modelling simulations rather than empirical laws.  The performance increase comes from bundles of nanotubes having far smaller electrical resistance than copper.  Anything that improves the performance of interconnects on future multi-core processors bodes well for the optimum speed/power consumption quest.

Thursday 24 April 2008

Future of Risk Management in Business

Risk management in organisations has typically been used as an isolated function aimed mainly at ensuring compliance (e.g. with regulation) and to avoid losses.  Surveys have shown that top business executives expect the next ten years to be more complex for their organisations,  and to experience considerably more risk across most corporate activities.  There is a general feeling of inevitable increases in uncertainty, complexity and dynamism.  This is leading to risk management shifting to become a strategic tool that supports organisations.  Some companies are even appointing Chief Risk Officers at board level to report and oversee such activity.  It involves companies using techniques such as scenario planning and external unencumbered expert advice to ask questions about what the impact of investing in certain areas might be.  The external or third party input is particularly valuable when considering disruptive technology impact, as there is always a temptation to see the future through the prism of the present.  

Wednesday 23 April 2008

Power harvesting for future gadgets?

Powering devices and gadgets of the future will be one challenge that offers plenty of opportunity for innovation.  Power harvesting from the kinetic action of people or objects moving, or natural so-called green options such as solar and wind generation offer some contribution.  One innovation I came across today is a combination of solar and power harvesting from the heat of the human body.  IMEC have come up with a system that can generate 1mW indoors and can be fitted to a headphone like wearable device.  

Tuesday 22 April 2008

Device simplification through division...

The problem with many current gadgets and devices in the consumer electronics space is that they are just too complicated to use for all but the geeks and the enthusiasts like me.  They need to be easy enough for my mum to use, and everyone else's mum.  The user interface is only part of the complexity problem ... and some steps are being achieved in more natural ways to interact with devices particularly through the increasing employment of touch screens and gesture based input that devices such as Apple's iPhone have stimulated.  But this is only part of the solution.  

Further into the future, as personal area network wireless technologies and common plug-in architectures develop, I expect to see a division of current device components into co-operating elements.  Along with other advantages, this also improves comprehension for the user ... they only have to understand the individual components' functions - not the complexity in the way they work together.  An analogy is how supporters of a sports team made up of some great players may identify with the individual people in the team but rarely comprehend the complex way those players work together to make it a successful team.  

Part of the advances to be made for this division to happen is based around context-aware computing engines and architectures.  Intel may be taking steps along this path in an article I saw recently.  Such a plug-in architecture would potentially provide this facility within a wide range of consumer electronics devices and gadgets.

Monday 21 April 2008

A Nokia vision I kinda like ...

Hi again ... so what of the future of devices and gadgets? ... well I kinda like the sorts of ideas that appear in this Nokia vision that I found on the web.   It combines device material technologies of the future with scenarios of device use and so shows form factor variation with function.  I believe this aspect of new materials allowing less compromise in the design will be quite important in the radically different devices of the future.  It also illustrates some examples of how nanotechnology could be employed and demonstrates the wearable aspect of future devices.  

Sunday 20 April 2008

Weak Signals

I just got copies of the slides used by Elina Hiltunen from the Finland Futures Research Centre when I met with her recently.  Elina is a weak signal watcher to identify trends that suggest the future.  As futurists/futurologists, we are often asked about the methods employed to derive the predictions we make.  Weak signals, which manifest themselves in different ways, are one of the indicators that can be used.   

It was a pleasure to meet with Elina and to learn more about her work.  TrendWiki is one of Elina's tools she uses to track weak signals.  Oh ... and the Finnish chocolates she brought to the meeting were very nice too!

Friday 18 April 2008

London Futures Symposium

Well I finally arrived at the London Futures Symposium, despite the efforts of our national rail services ... to hear a really good presentation by David Birch (of Consult Hyperion) who talked about the future of money.  He noted that to pay with your mobile phone in a place like Zimbabwe at present could be very attractive if the currency is mobile minutes rather than Zimbabwean dollars!   As Near Field Comms (NFC) gradually becomes standard in our mobile phones in the next few years, the pieces will be in place to pay as you go literally!    Other presentations I listened to were about the future of the State, and also the future of work and management - both topics I will re-visit in this blog at different points ... being impacted significantly by the future of the Internet and new gadgets and devices.

London Futures Symposium

Hi - continuing this blog with an on-the-move entry from the train ... on the way to the London Futures Symposium organised via the Shaping Tomorrow network.  As is often the case, the rail network is proving unreliable and because of the delays there is no hurry to write this blog entry as I think I will be sitting in this carriage for quite a while!   Should be a good day spent with other Futurists - if I ever get there!

I hope to keep this blog fresh with news and ideas about various futures and gadget related stuff - I travel quite widely writing and talking on the subject.  Will be happy to get comments on the blog as the content builds up.   More soon!

Wednesday 16 April 2008

New book arrives!

Yay!  I just got my complimentary copy of the latest book I have contributed to which is hot off the press.   It's about the Future of ICT with my chapter 3 concentrating on future devices and the related technologies.  The book is published by Wiley.  A great way to start my new blog ...