Technology Tantrum

I have in my hand a device with which I can find out anything I want. Anything. It’s a calculator. It’s an alarm clock. It’s my satellite navigation system. It’s my default camera when I don’t have the DSLR. It’s my video player and my music player. It’s the portable tool I have to keep me entertained. And of course – it’s a phone. A mobile phone.

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Figure 1 Would you look at that – my fingerprint!

Of all the things we have invented – it’s perhaps the most versatile. Manufacturers are always finding new ways to improve on them. My opinion however, is that we have run out of ideas. Despite my general dismissal of Apple products – I do respect the company for being innovative. Well, maybe not innovative as such – but they do know how to market products to make themselves look innovative. However – the advent of the iPhone 5S has shown that even Apple has run out of ideas – I watched the video ad they published and it looked like they were struggling to really justify the reason they had decided to implement a finger print recognition system. How do I know they were struggling? It’s quite simple – there is no value add. It’s a gimmick – I can’t see it saving me time. Or saving me money. So why would I want it?

And that – is what technology is all about. It’s always meant to be trying to help us find a way to save time or money – which are essentially the same thing. When a product can no longer do this for us – or wastes our time or money – we get rid of it. Alternatively – if we find an alternative product that saves us time or money, we purchase it – weighing up which is more important to us dictates what we are willing to pay.

Don’t get me wrong – aesthetics play a massive role too. However, when we break it down – no matter how good a product looks – if it’s not fulfilling the criteria mentioned – it’s not worth buying.

If then – we go back to the phone argument. Perhaps there is some value in buying a new phone. A new phone will probably have a faster processor, a better camera, longer battery life etc. Despite the incremental baby steps we are now taking in the mobile phone market – they are still steps. Although there isn’t, as far as I can tell, any real innovation.

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Figure 2 Kinect Fashion Retail Application

Innovation comes as a result of imagination. I just don’t think we are using our imagination enough. We need to be able to look at a technology and find a different way to use it. The best example I can think of is Microsoft’s Kinect. That is one hell of a product. The range of applications is as diverse as the imagination of the human race. For whatever reason – we are finding so many fantastic ways of using the technology.

What we need to do is link technologies together in the way we have with the mobile phone. Who would have thought 20 years ago that the same device that we listen to music on is also what we use to get from A to B?

And we get so excited about such stupid things! I was in a discussion today where a car manufacturer wants an app for the iPad whereby you walk up to a car in a showroom and hold the iPad up. The camera will recognise the car – not based on the car’s shape but on a code on the car itself (invisible to the naked eye). As a result of this, a 3D image of the car will show up on the tablet and you can start to play around with the colour, the tyres, the stitching, the bla bla bla. I don’t care. Why? Because it’s not much different to using a QR code that would be on the car and linking that to an app that held a CAD model of it, one similar to what you find online on a car manufacturer’s website anyway. All we have done is removed a few processes and made it look all dazzly. Big bloody whoop. I saved 5 seconds. That adds no value to my life! This app is meant to help sell cars. Good luck!

There was another discussion talking about going through a magazine (sorry, but who reads magazines nowadays?!) and when you get to an advert, of let’s say a watch you like. You bring your mobile phone up in front of the picture and similar to the car’s tech, it will recognise the watch based on a hidden code and bring that up on your phone’s screen and have a play with it in 3D. What’s the point? I can go to manufacturer’s website anyway to have a look at all the watches they make and look at all of them in 3D – whenever I like. It’s not anything special or particularly clever.

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Figure 3 Capgemini’s 14th Annua Global Automotive Study

There are even worse applications of technologies that try and make themselves seem super innovative. The vehicle manufacturers nowadays make a what they call a “connected car”. Which basically means – cars with twitter. Why the hell would I want my car to tell me what’s going on with twitter? I’m trying to drive, making sure I don’t hit the nutter switching lanes, trying to get to my meeting on time and wondering if that pothole’s ever going to get fixed…twitter is the least of my worries. Maybe the nutter switching lanes is checking his twitter feed and so can’t concentrate on the important bit about being in the driver’s seat – DRIVING!

Let me make a few suggestions.

The stupid car recognition app for making a car look pretty…I’m going to replay the scenario. I go into a showroom and I tell the over friendly car salesman I want a new ride. He picks up the iPad from the dock and shows me around. I point to a car I like the look of. He walks towards it and aims the tablet’s camera onto the vehicle’s highly polished surface. A simple notification alerts him that the car has been recognised and he goes about asking me a few questions: what the number plate of my current car is, my annual mileage and my address. Another alert and he looks up at me with a smile. “Well sir,” he begins, “you are currently spending about £1400 a year on fuel and pay about £400 for your insurance. As this car has a downsized diesel engine, that fuel cost will go down to about £900! Unfortunately you’ll be paying more on insurance as the car has a higher value than your current vehicle, on the bright side you’ll save 2 seconds on your 0-60 time.”

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Figure 4 VW Augmented

Fantastic! Within 30 seconds the salesman has given me some facts (which need to be taken with a pinch of salt) about whether this product is worth my time or money. My number plate told him the vehicle I currently drive – there are myriad of databases containing the specifications of cars, linked to their number plates. My annual mileage gave him a good indication about how much I’m spending on fuel and he was able to work out a rough estimate of my insurance based on my address. I think this is a great way to use the technology of using invisible codes and linking simple information to databases. With the tablet at hand, he can go ahead and give me hard facts about the car. He’s going to find it a lot harder to fob off a shoddy motor and I get a product I might actually want!

Right. Next up. This magazine watch thing. I recently bought myself a nice watch actually. I had to go to the shop – because I could not judge how the watch would look on my wrist. I’ve got skinny wrists so a bulky watch looks silly. Anyway – let’s say I’m going through a magazine and I find a watch I like the look of. But it looks a bit chunky. Fortunately – with the use of the Kinect, I have a 3D virtual image of myself stored on my phone – linked to my Google account. Before I go on – you may say “what do you mean you have a 3D image saved on Google? That’s not safe!” Well excuse me! You’ve got your whole life posted on Facebook – a 3D photo of me is no big deal.

Anyway – back to the watch. I can try this watch on virtually! The 3D image of me and the watch are to scale, so I can visualise on my phone how the watch will look. The watch will have accurate dimensions generated by the manufacturer CAD data. I like this watch. Looks great. I’m going to buy it (with Google wallet – hence the reason for synching my image to my Google account)! Looks like the ad did what it was meant to. Made me buy a watch!

Last one. I know you are getting bored. Cars with twitter. Let’s just scrap twitter. I’ve got an account. No idea what to do with it. It does have powerful applications – with a touch of imagination you can do a lot with it – but that is a discussion for another time.

A really simple one for cars. One I am sure everyone thinks about. Because it is so unbelievably simple! Firstly – we don’t need driverless cars – we just need to tell drivers what’s going on.

Picture this…its 5.30pm – peak rush hour time. Everyone is expecting a mad traffic jam. However, today is a different day. It’s a special day. It’s a day of mass communication, data analysis and useful interpretation. For arguments sake – let’s say all of the town’s people in Slough either use Google maps on their phone or have it integrated into the car (that may not be far off – stay tuned!). This system has the ability to talk to traffic lights via Wifi. The cars are also all connected to a central server that analyses the location of each car and where traffic hotspots are. Instead of traffic being focused to the main roads; it is filtered and spread to every available bit of tarmac. Use of all of the space available minimises the traffic hotspot. Having the capability to talk to traffic light systems maintains traffic flow and ensures that the lanes with the most traffic – have the most flow.

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Figure 5 Google Glass Navigation

Okay. My ideas here are pipe dreams. But I could go on for ages. They are unlikely to happen anytime soon. Not necessarily because they aren’t possible. But because we are too concerned about our keeping our details private! Nevermind the fact that everyone knows everything anyway – the government, HMRC, my university, all my past employers, my bank, my insurance company, paypal, ebay, amazon, hotels I’ve stayed at, airlines…the list goes on.

We have the technology available now to really have some fun innovative ideas. Why aren’t we pursuing them? We all are trying to sell something. Let’s do it in a way that adds value – saves us time or money!

Logic will get you from A to Z.

Imagination will get you everywhere.

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Figure 6 Albert Einstein

Innovative ideas exist. We just have to embrace them.