The Great Smartwatch Shoot Out

Posted on Sep 9, 2015 in Industrial Design, Interaction Design, Opinion, Trends

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When Apple enters into a new market, it attracts a storm of attention, both for itself and the category as a whole. Things were no different following the announcement of the Apple Watch. In the second quarter of 2015, the wearables market exploded with 223.2% growth and Apple is now number two in the category after Fitbit.

With all the noise and excitement, one persistent question remains: “what does it do and why would I buy one?” So far, the best case in favor of smartwatches is that they help you keep your phone in your pocket. When the device is on your wrist, you can stay in the moment, thus avoiding those rude pauses in conversation when you pull out your phone to check your latest call, text or tweet.

But how far can you actually push this idea? How many tasks can you perform on a smartwatch only? At what point does the watch fail, finally forcing you to dig out your phone? Which smartwatch offers the best overall experience?

With so many choices, there is no shortage of reviews and technical comparisons out there, but all they do is compare the specs. Artefact set out to compare the experiences in a head-to-head Smartwatch Shoot Out.

The Rules

There were four contestants: Tom, wearing the Moto 360, Jon, strapping up with the Apple Watch, Neeti, the control contestant, was working with a regular smartphone and just to keep it interesting, I was using an analog watch.

We were given a set of tasks to complete, which were sent from Artefact HQ via text, voice and email. I had all of my instructions in the form of a printed list and I recorded my tasks using only pen and paper.

We scored 10 points for successfully completing each task. While each contestant could use their smartphone to complete a task, 5 points were deducted from their score each time they did. The person who completed all of the tasks in the shortest amount of time was also awarded 10 bonus points.

Watch the video below to see who came out on top:

This article was first published on Artefact’s blog.

2015? You Mean We’re in the Future?

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Those of you who know that I am quoting Marty McFly with the above headline, also know that he will land in Hill Valley, California, at 4:29 pm, on Wednesday, October 21st, 2015.

“Our” 2015 is utterly different from the one that Robert Zemeckis sketched out in the “Back to the Future” series: there are no self-lacing sneakers (but kudos, Nike, you’re even more awesome than Zemeckis imagined!), working hoverboards are being sold by Lexus, instead of Mattel, and how on earth could they miss out on predicting Facebook in 1985?

30 years later, we are again – or still – discussing “The Future of the Future” at this year’s IDSA conference that just wrapped up in Seattle. We are trying to anticipate how the role of industrial design can play a role in the future of innovation. We are working to map out the type of skills the next generation of designers will need to bring to the table to advance the state of the art of the objects that surround us.

There is a strong interdependence between trends and design. The former influences both the design profession and the results it produces. By shaping experiences and changing behaviors, the latter in turn sparks new trends. Taking stock of where we are headed, six technological, social and economic trends stand out for their potential to impact design and demand new sets of skills and capabilities that industrial designers must acquire and cultivate in order for the industry to remain relevant in the years ahead.

Technology

Building the Internet of each and every thing

Consumer products that we will design – may they target Millennials or other users – are more likely than not going to be part of the ever-growing and much-discussed Internet of Things.

Connected objects have started to help us with tasks that nobody wants to perform, like vacuuming our homes or cleaning our gutters. Some products even “come with skills,” self driving cars promise to operate safer than any person would, smart appliances automatically cook our food to perfection and connected drones act as cameramen, consistently framing and filming their subjects to provide footage from the perspective of a third person… ehm… thing.

Connected products offer much broader value propositions, which means we need to change the processes used to define these objects beyond their immediate form and function. Unlike the old-fashioned toothbrush, a smart toothbrush aims to change behavior, so the design team behind it has to truly understand what motivates us in order to be able to create an object that delivers on its promise in a way that will be considered a positive outcome.

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Rethinking everyday objects is a new frontier for technology designers. The Internet of Everything, together with our demand for easy and intuitive experiences with technology leads us to the Design of Everything – objects that fell outside of our expertise area before like furniture, buildings, toys and educational tools, are suddenly becoming a ripe opportunity for us.If someone had told me a few years ago that we would be designing a piece of jewelry, a backpack, a device for the visually impaired, I wouldn’t have believed them. In a way, sensors have become the “Open Sesame” magic that provides access to a bottomless barrel of design opportunities.

Consumerization of technology inevitably leads to consumerization in the industrial space, creating opportunities to finally make a difference in areas like manufacturing and industrial automation, where industrial design has largely been an afterthought.

Shaping helpful homes

Home, hearth, heart. We want to come home to a warm house, one where we can enjoy our family lives in safety, a house that is rich with the experiences we love and that is connected to the people we care about, both at home and afar.

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Facilitated by broadband saturation and increased connectivity through smart phones and sensors, every major company – from Intel to Qualcomm – showcases their “smart home” at events like CES. Their systems aim to provide improved comfort, energy efficiency, and security in our homes by helping to control heating and air conditioning, lighting, entertainment, door locks, and to monitor things like activity or air quality in the home. Knowing that Alphabet bought Nest for $3.2 billion dollars and squinting at this ever-increasing product landscape, one could be led to believe that home automation has reached its peak, but when you think about it, how many people do you know that have a truly smart home? And what is the overall experience for those who are getting closer to achieving that state? As exciting as the space is, several factors are slowing down adoption:

  • Lack of future proof standards: For a lot of us, our home is the biggest investment we would make in our lives. Yet, with strong competition among vendors like ZigBeeZ-Wave, or Insteon, each pushing for their individual standards, none of them is truly future-proof, which limits adoption rates by consumers. Design has to be the advocate for the consumer and in the early stages of product development has to ensure that new systems are created “open” so that new products play nicely with one another, regardless of where they originated from. In this Wild West era of standards, design has to be the advocate for the consumer, ensuring in the early stages of product development that the new systems are created “open”, so that new products play nicely with one another, regardless of where they originated from.
  • Early adopter value and price: System components are fairly costly, especially when measured against the value that they propose: replacing 20 light switches in a home with Belkin WeMoswitches would cost $1,000 and allow users to turn connected light bulbs on or off from wherever they are, set lighting schedules, or control them via IFTTT recipes. Yet, none of these features is a “must have” or has a “want” factor for many customers and the high expenses for this type of gadgetry certainly limit the penetration of home automation. As designers, our role and opportunity is to define a meaningful value proposition that will drive adoption. Nest’s thermostat is a great example for such a product. While it may be slightly more expensive than some of the competition, it promises to learn its user’s behavior and can thus reduce the size of their utility bills.
  • My smart home is not my castle: The idea that your home is your castle is no longer applicable when it can be hacked and the data it generates extracted and used by others. It is easy to envision a future where everything is connected, while turning a blind eye to the potential abuse that this will inadvertently bring. If big corporations and even governments can be hacked, a connected home that allows remote access can be as well. What happens if someone gains illegal access to your CCTV cameras, your smoke detectors, or your smart door lock? Design, again, needs to be the voice of reason, resisting the temptation to create technology products just because we can. And this may mean that a “physical token” a.k.a. “keys,” may still be the most secure option when it comes to locking our homes.

Traditional industrial design skills around the definition of shapes, colors, and materials remain relevant for the connected home. Yet, to retain the emotional connection and meaning of the home while we bring all this technology in it, we need to develop skills that go beyond traditional formgiving capabilities. We need to help find the answers to the big questions and link products directly to improvements in safety, comfort, or our relationships with family and friends.

Making real wearables

Another subcategory of the “Internet of Things” ripe to shake things up for industrial design is wearables. Wearable devices exchange data with services or other connected objects, and promise to improve your health and fitnessrecord your lifemake work easierhelp you find thingscommunicate more efficiently, etc. Yet, despite claims of personalized experiences and meaningful value, most of the products in this category are still primarily devices, in which technology plays a central and very visible role.

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Looking back a decade, when desktop computing became truly mobile with the first smartphones, the instinct was to “just shrink it”. We ended up with miniature keyboards, reduced file systems, and portable pointing devices. Apple heralded a paradigm shift in how we think about mobile experiences, when it removed all these items and created something new entirely with the first iPhone. Looking at wearable technology today, it seems to me that we have forgotten the lessons we learned back then, as we are shrinking screens, interfaces, and information structures once again to create “smaller mobile phones” to be strapped onto our bodies.

Rather than incrementally innovating, we have to reinvent the paradigm once again, focusing on small interfaces that provide less information and output. These interfaces should emphasize brevity if touch interaction is used, and can introduce new ways of interacting with technologies, such as in-air-gestures or voice.

Ultimately, for wearable technology to be truly successful, it cannot result simply in “devices,” in that it has to truly emulate other items that we wear – it has to be as timeless as a piece of jewelry, and it has to be small and affordable enough to be embedded into each and every shirt we have in our closets.

Industrial designers must resist the temptation to “objectify” each and every superpower that wearable technology gives us and turn us all into “Batmen of the new millennium.” Rather, we have to learn the skills and adapt the mindset of – gasp – fashion and jewelry designers to truly create “wearables,” that are not simply “devices.”

Building the world of tomorrow with contemporary tools

The emergence of industrial design can be directly linked to the industrial revolution more than a century ago. An increasingly urban population had different consumption needs than its rural counterpart, and industrial manufacture was a set of tools that could be used to satisfy these needs. Industrial design connected the two counterparts and helped to develop a new vocabulary of form and function, one that evolved the output of the craftsmen of the past.

One hundred years later, our needs, wants, and our consumption patterns have changed – the Millennials for one, are not satisfied with aesthetically pleasing, functional objects. And while much of this change cannot be addressed by the industrial design craft itself (more on that later), I find it striking that products are still being manufactured in the same ways as they were decades ago.

Emerging manufacturing techniques, such as CNC machining, laser cutting, and 3D printing have all found a firm spot in our design process. We use them to build proof-of-concept prototypes or one-offs, yet they have not changed how we think about the physical artifacts that we help to ship.

While industrial design has enabled CNC machining to become a process feasible for mass manufacture of consumer electronics, I am still waiting for 3D printing to be used to produce commercial products on a large scale. The advantages could be groundbreaking: mass customization, rapid implementation of improvements over the course of a product’s lifecycle, crowd-sourced adaptations of parts, just to name a few.

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Ultimately however, 3D printing has the potential to free the industrial design craft from traditional mass manufacturing constraints; draft angles, and undercuts will be things of the past, and there is – once again – the chance to develop a fresh formal vocabulary, and to shape products exactly the way they should be.

Society

Helping Millennials save the world

In the spirit of user-centered design, let’s start with the people we are ultimately working for – the ones that live, work and play with our creations day in and day out. And now that we are looking at potential consumers, let’s focus on a user group that has sparked the creation of such products as the selfie stick.

“Millennials” are more narcissistic than the Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers before them – hence the selfie stick – but they are also much more optimistic, connected, and most importantly for design, they believe that every individual can make a difference. In Zemeckis’ 2015, they’d be the first to buy a car that runs on a banana peel and half a can of beer.

While it is debatable whether design can change the world, I believe that Millennials and their desire to impact the world is something that Design can capitalize on, by shaping products that connect a vision for a better future with the ones that desire it.

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The first step to conceiving such products is to thoroughly understand the context of these consumers, and while younger designers inherently understand the needs and wants of “Generation Me,” older folks will have to practice empathy more than ever before. Thinking about the impact of our designs becomes not only a moral imperative, but a business one, as the next generation of consumers equate the quality of the experience with the impact the product or service has on the environment, culture, and society.

Economy

Designing objects to be shared

Riding on the wave of services like Airbnb and Uber that incentivize consumers to share transportation and accommodation capacity with others, similar offerings have been sprawling: Bitlock enables cyclists to share their bikes, and city dwellers in the U.S. are able to take a Breatherin someone else’s space. Elsewhere on this planet, in Sweden, five people can buy and share an Audi and pedestrians in rainy Hong Kong can take a stroll underneath someone else’s umbrella.

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This, of course, makes total sense in the affluent world we live in. Design can certainly help to identify new types of objects and spaces to be added to the “Sharing Economy,” from leisure equipment to household appliances. But in doing so, we need to consider human nature and our sense of ownership in order to guide the conversation around what items consumers will want to share. We also need to evolve products to really work for multiple users. What, for example, would a car need to look like if it was meant to be shared by five people that happen to live in the same neighborhood?

Much more interesting than the above, however, will be the answer to the question: How will the Sharing Economy shape what we do? We currently live in a world where objects like cars or consumer electronics are designed with an obsession about the most intricate of details.

Enabled by an incredible amount of manufacturing know-how, we create things too delicate and fragile to be shared. Leading manufacturers continue to push the envelope towards ever more sophisticated forms, details and finishes that result in the most amazing products for “me” in the 20th Century. I believe that industrial design will need to become an advocate to “do the right thing” and design for “us” in the 21st Century.

So what’s next for industrial design?

Remaining too attached to the “industrial” part of our profession can be detrimental to our future. While our work will continue to be produced, using industrial methods – old and new – we cannot be overly focused on the aspect of sculpture that our profession has traditionally encompassed.

Consumers and enterprises alike will not purchase objects just because they’re nicely shaped and perform their essential functions: these aspects of industrial design have become table stakes. Regardless of our classical designer training, we need to think about the end-to-end user experience or otherwise run the risk of becoming ”designosaurs.”

More than ever before industrial design cannot exist in a vacuum. Each connected device – from your couch to your fitness bracelet, the hospital room to your wallet – demands we think about connected experiences. The shape and form of our design impacts the object’s meaning as much as the underlying software architecture and the services that can be built on top of it. In a sense, industrial design becomes the ultimate platform on which to build tangible experiences that connect the physical and digital worlds.

Unless someone hands us some sort of 2050 design almanac, we cannot predict the future, so all of this may seem like a challenging task. But unlike Zemeckis’ “Back to the Future” production crew, we don’t have to design for what may be in 30 years, but can instead focus on what’s immediately down the road.

Oh wait…

“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”

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This article was first published on Artefact’s blog.

Lights, Camera, EVIL


If you are a camera buff, the holiday season for you starts in January, when Las Vegas opens its doors for the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, where among other things, camera manufacturers show the latest and greatest of their lineups. Simultaneously, at the concurrent PMA conference, photography experts will get together to discuss upcoming trends that will shape the industry.

EVIL on the Rise

One of the themes that are bound to become a hot conversation topic is the recent success of EVIL cameras (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens) and what it means to the industry. My EVIL primer “EVIL on the Rise: The Demise of SLR Cameras?” explores the origins of these camera systems and takes a look at the opportunities EVIL offers manufacturers, professionals and prosumers.

In the report, I review the lasting advantages of Single Reflex Cameras and conclude with recommendations to manufacturers that will help them master the EVIL opportunity, and give consumers more to look forward to.

This article was first published on Artefact’s blog.

The iPhone 5: Is It Boring or the “Next Big Thing”?


If you do not live under a rock, you know that the iPhone 5 has arrived and that it is thinner, lighter, larger and faster than its predecessor.

And if you, just like me, belong to the growing crowd of nerdy tech-blog followers, you have known this for quite a while. The fact that iOS 6’s new features had already been introduced during Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference earlier this summer, in combination with the wave of leaks, took a bit of the fun out of the announcement.

In addition, at first glance it seems that the innovation that the iPhone 5 brings is rather incremental.  Wired‘s Mat Honan argues that it is a boring device and Forbes thinks that the iPhone 5 is not “the next truly big thing“. There is, however, an interesting nuance that seems to go largely unnoticed and the number “Five” might mean more than one assumes. Here is what caught my attention:

The Incremental Improvements

  • The screen: The “biggest thing” about the iPhone 5 is obviously its larger display, using in-cell touch screen for better color accuracy and saturation, and a thinner form factor. While the new aspect ratio is very close to the 16:9 HD standard and thus better suited for the consumption of media, app developers are probably in frantic update mode as I am writing these lines…
  • From 30 to 8 pins: The original 30-pin dock connector had a great run of 10 years, but it was time for a change. In an industry where slimness is a key advantage, the size of the dock connector became an obstacle for slimmer products. Apple’s move to provide two types of adapters will salvage the millions of accessories already on the market, even though David Pogue expects some “grumpiness in iPhoneland” and wishes that these adapters came free with the purchase of an iPhone 5. The additional costs will certainly be a consideration for “upgraders” that own multiple accessories…
  • 4G: After most of its competition features LTE for quite a while already, the faster wireless standard finally arrived on the iPhone and it comes along with a smaller “nano-SIM” card. If you travel intercontinentally on a regular basis and want to get “the 5″, you’re up for a tricky purchase decision, though, as there are three region-specific devices available… I for one am holding off with my order until unlocked devices become available in the U.S.
  • Camera: Being the photography geek that I am, I was interested in seeing how Apple would improve what is the most popular camera on flickr. Except for the scratch-resistant sapphire glass, the hardware seemed unchanged and it looked like improvements were made only with the inclusion of a panorama mode and better low-light performance. DPReview has, however, found that Apple is also using an updated image sensor that is slightly larger and improves on the minimum light sensitivity. Altogether, this seems to offer an all-around better experience of the industry-leading feature.
  • 600 people to test and develop the EarPods: To me – and to many other users that gave the iconic white earphones a measly 2.5 star rating in the Apple Store – the redesigned EarPods are merely righting a wrong.  They never really did fit or sound too great and I hope that all that testing, did bear fruit – pun intended.

Five: What’s In The Name?

Apart from these “boring” improvements to the class leader, ASYMCO’s industry analyst Horace Dediu was quick to point out that the iPhone 5’s name holds an important clue as to how Apple views its halo-product. Prior to the event invitation that revealed the product’s name, there had been speculations on whether Apple would move away from a number-based naming for the iPhone.

After changing the iPad naming to the brand-subbrand scheme (iPad 2 vs. “the new” iPad) that the rest of Apple’s hardware follows (e.g. “MacBook Pro” and “MacBook Air”, “iPod Touch” and “iPod nano”), the iPhone is now the sole hardware product in Apple’s line-up that still bears a number in its name and this means two things:

  1. There will not be an iPhone “nano” or “mini,” and tiering the product line will continue to be achieved through several generations of the product being sold at the same time. Currently these are the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S and iPhone 5.
  2. More interestingly, the nomenclature could indicate that Apple sees the iPhone more as a platform, much like its operating systems iOS6 or OS10.6. The platform could play host to an increasing portfolio of software and services, like Siri.

This could be a disruptive shift, creating new interesting opportunities for the iPhone and even more so for its users. Here are four hypotheses of what could lie ahead for the iPhone:

  • Apple Maps could see extensions with Apple-proprietary or third-party location-based services and augmented reality.
  • Apple’s Passbook service could develop closer ties with e-commerce websites and other forms of payment to become a true digital wallet.
  • With the addition of sensors and wearable technology, Apple could develop the iPhone platform into the leading hub for Digital Health & Wellness.
  • Along the same lines, the iPhone could become the gateway into that elusive Internet of Things, and connect not only to the personal computer and TV, but to pretty much everything one owns.

With these – and many more – potential additions to the platform, I do not think that the iPhone 5 is boring at all and while it may not be “the truly next big thing” itself, it might well be what the next big thing for Apple will be built upon.

This article was first published on Artefact’s blog.

Googlerola

Posted on Aug 18, 2011 in Design Strategy, Industrial Design, Opinion, Research, Trends


Since Monday’s announcement of Google’s multi-billion-dollar acquisition of Motorola, the media has been buzzing on what is the largest deal in Google’s history. While Google continues to reiterate that it is a protective move that allows using Moto’s patents to protect its Android OS from anti-competitive threats, it is fascinating to speculate about the fate of all players involved. So what might be next for “Googlerola”, for its partners and competitors, for Android and – last but not least – for the consumer?

Reading the media reaction to Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility, it becomes clear that the move is not solely “defensive” as Google’s PR machine is trying to suggest. Sure, after losing the 6,000+ Nortel-patents to the Apple-Microsoft-led consortium just a little over a month ago, Motorola’s intellectual property of some 17,000 patents comes as a welcome infusion for Android, but more importantly Googlerola will now be able to build truly market-leading mobile devices that finally deliver a fully integrated Android hardware and software experience.

While it might be too early to sell your Google shares, not all is good in Mountain View: Google has just increased its workforce from 30,000 to 50,000 employees and has acquired 90+ low-margin hardware factories in an information-centric world that it dominates.

More importantly, beyond the mere numbers, it will be challenging for the search-giant to cope with the obvious looming cultural clash that might in the end tip the scales.

Android Partners and Competitors

Upon acquisition of Android, Google founded the Open Handset Alliance – “a consortium of 80 hardware, software, and telecommunication companies” (Wikipedia), the most important device manufacturers of which certainly have reason to feel threatened by Googlerola. The suspiciouslyuniform partner responses seem to spell trouble:

 “We welcome today’s news, which demonstrates Googles deep commitment to defending Android, its partners, and the ecosystem.”
JK Shin, President, Samsung Mobile

“We welcome the news of today’s acquisition, which demonstrates that Google is deeply committed to defending Android, its partners, and the entire ecosystem.”
Peter Chou, CEO, HTC

“I welcome Google’s commitment to defending Android and its partners.”
Bert Nordberg, CEO, Sony Ericsson

“We welcome Google’s commitment to defending Android and its partners.”
Jong-Seok Park, CEO, LG Mobile

Even before the news broke, Nokia’s stance against Android (and for Windows Phone), HP’s attempt at reviving Palm’s WebOS and Samsung’s move to create their own “Bada” OS late last year raised quite a few eyebrows.

While Nokia yet has to deliver a Windows Phone product, the Finnish market leader detailedaspects of their plans for the platform today. Samsung has shipped an estimated quarter of its 20 million smartphone shipments in Q2 powered by Bada (with a year-by-year growth rate of 355%!). Furthermore, two days after Google’s big shopping spree, Samsung’s chairman Lee Kun-hee demands from its company to “enhance its software prowess”. Wow!

So now that Samsung is showing that it can work and others are in the midst of trying, what keeps the LG’s and HTC’s and Sony Ericsson’s from attempting the same – especially now that Google has turned into a full-fledged competitor?

And what about Microsoft? As of today, they are the sole provider of a mobile operating system that does not come with integrated hardware and will have to figure out how to play in the mobile space once again. Maybe it’s time to produce some Redmond-designed phones?

The previously stale mobile phone market is suddenly fresh and exciting again and I expect the players to reevaluate their strategies and to react to the changed situation with enthusiastic new plans.

The Android Platform

I am wondering what the move means for Android as a market-leading platform that seems to dominate with “quantity” rather than “quality” (think: number of features, manufacturers, carriers, handsets).

Not even three years after the release of HTC’s “Dream”, Android feels more bloated and obese than Windows ever managed to become (“Longhorns” never were the most nimble of animals).

Android is extremely fragmented and doesn’t allow for much differentiation between Google’s partners (read: competitors), unless they inflate customize their flavor of the operating system even more.

There is certainly some word of caution in historic attempts to integrate hardware and software in this arena: Steve Jobs stopped the “Apple Clone” program after his return to Cupertino at the end of the 90′s, Microsoft never built their own laptops and Nokia’s acquisition of Symbian marked the beginning of the demise of that operating system. According to asymco’s Horace Dediu, “This is classic channel conflict and never ends well.”

Android will certainly not fade away, and it will probably not lose its market leading position either. However, the acquisition might however strengthen some competitors and will spark others to appear in the arena.

The Consumer

So what’s in it for us? Gizmodo is quick to point out “Samsung, HTC, et al, are going to need another avenue of attack, since Motorola branded products are going to theoretically have a major advantage”.

All these possible “avenues” are what will make Google’s acquisition of Motorola so interesting in the coming months and I strongly believe that the event will act as a catalyst in the development of a multitude of new and improved mobile products.

Paraphrasing JK Shin, Peter Chou, Bert Nordberg and Jong-Seok Park “I welcome the news” and hope that in the end the consumer will win.

This article was first published on Artefact’s blog.

Cameras Connect

Posted on Mar 14, 2011 in Design Strategy, Industrial Design, Opinion, Research, Trends


Wireless LAN, Bluetooth, GPS, compasses and other receivers are a given with mobile phones – these components not only help to interconnect different devices and untether the overall use experience, they also connect users to each other through the use of social media. Users will demand for this experience to transcend beyond the realm of their mobile phones. While the traditional camera model has been simply to capture images, post-processing, sharing, and other activities will find their way into digital cameras.

The full report shows you how mobile connected services centered on photos are growing, early designs for new camera connectivity that will soon be commonplace like WiFi, GPS, and battery charging, and new device relationships allowing remote control.

Cameras Connect

Rich with examples, all Artefact Reports also include conclusions about business opportunities and exercises you can use to understand how this trend may affect your products and services.

This article was first published on Artefact’s blog.

Big “App-ortunities” for the Camera Industry

Posted on Feb 28, 2011 in Design Strategy, Opinion, Research, Trends


Camera makers still think of the embedded software on their devices as “firmware,” whereas the mobile phone industry has taken the next step and sees their offerings as “operating systems” or “software platforms.” While it is thus still somewhat of an afterthought within cameras, software enhances the imaging-related capabilities in smartphones and sometimes turns them into the better camera. This creates a demand for the same interactivity within the digital camera arena. We believe the embedded software that comes with cameras will be more integrated with the device and it will be expandable through apps. Digital Cameras will become “smart cams.”

The full report shows you how the rise of photo-related phone apps are making them camera competitors, how more interactive camera hardware sets the stage for more complete experiences, and what ‘open source cameras’ reveal about creating more capable devices.

Big App-ortunities for the Camera Industry

Rich with examples, all Artefact Reports also include conclusions about business opportunities and exercises you can use to understand how this trend may affect your products and services.

This article was first published on Artefact’s blog.

Digital Photography, where will you go? (or why aren’t you there yet?)


As one would expect from any self-respecting creative consultancy, Artefact has a deep interest in photography. For some of us it is a hobby we are passionate about, for others it is a social or creative tool, some actually earn decent income on the side with it.

This leads to a lively conversation (and sometimes spirited debate) about the topic and we thought we’d let you in on our conversation. We will do this in the form of a series of blog posts: We aim to assess and analyze both the history and the status quo of photography, discuss areas of opportunity for the industry and – after having outlined our point of view on the topic, share our thoughts on what we consider could be a compelling product for the aspiring hobbyist in the year 2013.

Cycles of Disruptive and Sustaining Innovation

Invented nearly 200 years ago, the camera industry took it’s first series of experimental steps during the 19th century. After William Fox Talbot invented the positive/negative process in 1816, the first color photograph by James Clerk Maxwell was shown in 1861 and the Kodak Brownie made photography accessible to the masses at the end of the 1800′s.

The introduction of standards like the 35mm format and the 135 film cartridge after the turn of the century led to market growth and a commoditization of the technology started in the 1950’s with the release of cameras like the Agfa Optima and Kodak’s Instamatic. In most recent years, the industry changed from film to digital.

During this history one can clearly see alternating waves of disruptive and sustaining innovation: times where the introduction of new technology opened up photography to new users, followed by periods of more sustaining progress, where incremental improvements and price drops dominated the market.

The digital age has caused a major shift in the industry. It has fundamentally changed who the major players in the industry are by wiping out film. It has taken photofinishing out of the (specialty) store and brought it into our homes. Since the cost per picture has been reduced to zero, the volume of pictures we take has increased by an order of magnitude which gives rise to new tools. Where we used to share pictures only in person, we now share them online.

Yet for all these changes, digital photography has not sparked the transformational change it could have brought for the photographer. It has not yet changed how we take photographs.

Product Architecture and Technology: The Status Quo

Over the years, different form factors have been explored. The industry has now settled on two stable architectures: cameras with and cameras without interchangeable lenses.

The former segment is comprised of single lens reflex cameras and the – currently very “hot” – EVIL systems.

For the most part, cameras with non-interchangeable lenses could be categorized as point-and-shoot devices, even though that term does not do justice to cameras such as the Leica X1 or the Fujifilm FinePix X100.
Today’s digital cameras feature sufficiently high resolutions and the technical challenges of the past (such as low-light capabilities, vignetting, etc.) are constantly being improved.

Author and camera expert Erwin Puts sums it up nicely in his review of the recent Photokina 2010: “We have now the situation that every camera produces image quality that is better than what you need and even a small EOS 550 can create quality that is not that far removed from what you get with a 1Ds.”

All in all, the manufacturers work on incremental and predictable improvement of proven systems bringing these closer and closer to perfection, yet hesitate to truly innovate. We cannot but agree with Puts who provokingly states, that “A vision for photography would be nice too.”

Digital Technology’s Impact (and Lack Thereof)

Critically looking at the past two decades in which the photographic medium has gone through a tectonic shift from film to digital, it is somewhat surprising that the impact on photography as a whole is not as vigorous as it could be: While the post-processing has been altered with the advent of digital technology, the act of taking photos has remained the same for the past 100 years. The most significant change is that photographers are now looking at an LCD screen instead of through a viewfinder.

We find this rather disappointing and think that there are both technology potential as well as untapped user needs that could spark a disruptive change.

The Grass on the other Side of the Fence

Where do the camera industry’s prospects lie? On the search for a point of view, some might say it is too easy to point to other industries, but let’s go there just for clues: mobile consumer electronics have embraced new technologies and opportunities more enthusiastically than the static camera industry.

Mobile electronics leverage wireless connectivity and make extensive use of sensors (e.g. location, proximity). They take advantage of the integration of software and hardware, and blur the boundaries between still and video functionality.

For these reasons today’s smart phones are in many ways the better image capturing device. Traditional camera manufacturers will face greater pressure and threat of obsolescence from increasingly capable camera-enabled mobile devices. Not surprisingly, mobile phone giant Nokia has been the world’s largest producer of cameras for the past number of years.

Opportunities

To sum things up, based on our observations, we see missed opportunities in three main areas:

  • Product architecture: To date, the shift from film to digital has created merely incremental changes – what other opportunities still exist?
  • Connectivity: most of our electronic devices are connected, why not the camera? The digital camera of the future will be linked in multiple ways, allowing for photography devices to communicate with each other and with “the cloud”.
  • HW/SW integration: In most technology areas, hardware and software combine to produce better results and better experiences. Camera manufacturers cannot afford to continue to only use software as an “afterthought”. Going forward, hardware and software must be integrated into a tightly knitted system and great user experience.

“Now what does all this mean?” you might ask. The three areas highlighted above will enable exciting new possibilities and novel use scenarios for photographers. And we will get back to these after looking both at the user needs and wants, as well as guidelines for an ideal camera in the next part of this series.

This article was first published on Artefact’s blog.

A Handful of Thoughts on Consumer Electronics

Posted on Jan 14, 2010 in Design Strategy, Opinion, Research, Trade Shows, Trends

Having visited the past three editions of the Consumer Electronics Show, I am now looking back at a “Vegas hat-trick.” While I just won’t warm up to the artificial lights of Sin City, the trade show itself has become all too familiar and has ceased to hold surprises. Yet there are a few things worth mentioning – five of them to be precise.

1. Personal Favorites

Apart from products somewhat detached from bigger strategies like Haier’s completely wireless TV (no electricity or video signal cables needed) or Asus’s notebook study sporting translucent fabrics, the company that most impressed me was Lenovo – their Skylight and Ideapad U1 seem to break the paradigm of what netbooks have been for the past years, by introducing new architectures, interfaces and with that also new usage proposals. I also got to play briefly with Lenovo’s 乐-Phone (pronounced “Le-Phone”, meaning “happy phone”) that looks like it will be a rather decent Android-device. In combination with a large amount of product releases, the company did position itself as an innovator on an otherwise dreary marketplace.

While those personal highlights might seem to be utterly “small picture”, I concluded that this is due to a complete absence of bigger ideas. My personal theory behind this finding is, that technology has gotten in the way of well thought-out consumer products, which leads us to the second point that I am making.

2. Technology vs. Consumer Electronics

To start with examples, there are two categories of consumer products that have seen drastic changes in their technical possibilities during these past years at CES:

  • TV’s were thinand bigin 2008, got even thinnerand biggerin 2009 and they now seem to disappear into 2-dimensionality, while at the same timenot fittinginto any living room. 3D TV technology on the other hand was a big topic in 2008, became more apparent at last year’s CESand the devices were omnipresent in 2010 with announcements that there might well be a 24-hour 3D TV channelin 2011.
  • Besides incremental innovations in television technology during its last three editions, the CES has seen the “Tablet PC’s” of the early 2000′s being named “MID’s” in 2008 and after another round of re-christening, the same devices are now marketed as “Slate PC’s“. Gizmodo states that Dell’s version looks like a big iPod Touch, and it appears that the product will indeed not have much more functionality than the gadget from Cupertino.

Trade show booths have been flooded with new products and new technologies year after year, yet strong attitudes and points of view of consumer brands seem to have no access to the fairground and consumers are left to wonder what to do with all that promising new technology.
How beautiful would it be if electronics makers would use the technology and turn it into beneficial products for the consumer, rather than blindly implementing what’s out there? It seems like the market is waiting for someone to step up and make a strong position, so that the rest will be able to follow.

3. The Rapid Slide of the E-Reader

And since we are already talking about “Slate PC’s”, I was baffled by the steep decline of the value of E-Readers and by how blazingly fast a rather new product category went from novelty to commodity. The first Kindle went on sale a mere two years ago, soon to be followed by its second generation and an entire hive full of Sony’s, “nook’s” and “Alex’s“.
Roaming the trade show floors at CES, it is impossible to avoid yet another little company introducing half a dozen “me too” e-readers.
Don’t get me wrong, I think there is great merit in new technologies like Pixel Qi’s displays in a reading device and – being a product designer – I obviously appreciate the object that is Plastic Logic’s Que Reader.
That said, it seems that the industry is making the wrong choice, while trying to sell their devices to a broader audience: The incremental innovation that can be observed (additional screens, larger displays, bigger storage,…), coupled with a smaller price tag just doesn’t cut it, as the overall user experience, attached services and new use models that in their combination could make for great products, are left completely untapped.

4. Mobile Computing: Hard- and Software at the Tipping Point?

When it came to information technology products over the past 20 years or so, the choice of an Intel/Microsoft combo seemed imperative and while a shift has been noticeable for the past few years, I believe that a few observations from this year’s CES indicate that the industry is approaching a tipping point, that give consumers new choices for the truly mobile information age, which – according to Gartner – is imminent.
After selling its XScale mobile microprocessor core technology to Marvell in 2006, Intel has been facing strong headwinds in the mobile arena and at this year’s CES it have been Qualcomm’s and nVidia’s technologies that arguably powered the most exciting mobile gadgets, as opposed to Intels’ battery-hungry Atom platform.
On the user interface side of the equation, the market has been searching for an alternative to the Windows-desktop paradigm, which just does not want to fit the bill for small-screen use scenarios. Ever since the advent of netbooks, it have been mostly Linux derivates like Jolicloud that attempted to compete with Windows XP, but new competitors emerged over the past few months. And while Android and Chromium cannot yet keep the user experience promises that the operating systems are making, they will very soon be able to.
I do not expect the marketplace powerhouses to stand still and am looking forward to seeing the goodies that will come out of Redmond and Santa Clara in the near future. I am sure that this competition will be great for the consumer and hope we will have products at hand that will have truly changed the landscape of consumer electronics come 2013.

5. Product Design

So what about the design of consumer electronics? While the shift from classical industrial design to experience design that began a decade ago is now omnipresent, I cannot help but being utterly disappointed by the lack of accomplishments that my profession can post. While I found products and their interfaces in 2008 and 2009 “not very touching“, I can only but report that nothing much has changed since then.
Next to a general lack of figurative transparency, interfaces on handheld devices are quite obviously not made to be used byhands, with interaction elements still being too small and cluttered to help users achieve their tasks. And don’t get me started on the experiences you get from the silver screen: UI and graphic design seem to have mostly been standing still in the mid 90′s and interactions are confusing and clumsy at best… it’s pitiful.Every now and then Hollywood shows us that user experience could truly be natural, but in reality most novel interactions that we come up with are eye-candy features like BumpTop that don’t add much value for the user, are limited to a certain area of the experience and impractical for everyday tasks.
Unfortunately, truly novel and game-changing graphical user experiences like 10/GUI‘s study have not found their way into mass-produced gadgets yet and were absent from CES. The excuse of the discipline still being young simply does not hold water. It is time for a shift on a broad scale towards better user experiences.

Parting Wishes

I certainly do not want to part without expressing a wish for Consumer Electronics Shows to come and hope that CES 2011 will have major headlines other than Elvis’s 76th birthday or the availability of fluffy phones in additional colors to pink.

I wish for new products to be convincing not only in one or two aspects but holistically, starting from technical specifications, industrial and interface design up to integrated services and I wish for consumer electronics companies to make choices and decisions for their customers, so that they become advocates for the user rather than just impersonal institutions that sell “stuff.”

This post was first published on Carbon Design’s blog.

Viva Las Vegas

Posted on Jan 7, 2009 in Research, Trade Shows, Trends

I simply cannot believe how quickly 2008 has flown by and am amazed at all the wonderful events that have made the past twelve months without any doubt the most event- and wonderful year of my life.

Just four days after arriving in the Pacific Northwest last year, I set out to visit the CES and – hoping that this is a good omen for another fantastic year – I am doing the same thing in 2009, with the only difference being that there aren’t several days, but mere hours between my arrival in Washington and my departure to Nevada.

Having just come back yesterday at around midnight, I found myself back at SeaTac just 15 hours later, boarding a plane to Sin City. Now I am sitting here in my hotel room at Circus Circus, cranking away on work for a meeting tomorrow…

While Vegas certainly has a more familiar air to me the second time around, I am still dazzled by the random accumulation of lights, colors and styles and by the absence of good taste… Vegas will probably always be a fascinating place for me and I believe I will never get over the constant dose of culture shocks that it offers.