OK, it’s time to stretch the 2012 writing muscles, and what better way to do it than with the time honored “retrospective” format. But rather than try and itemize all the news and come up with a list of maybe a dozen or more interesting things, I decided instead to pick the best and the worst – events and developments that show the amazing range of the technology business, its potentials and its daily frustrations. So, drum roll, please. My personal nomination for the best and worst of the year (along with a special extra bonus category) are:
The Best – IBM Watson stomps the world’s best human players in Jeopardy. In early 2011, IBM put its latest deep computing project, Watson, up against some of the best players in the world in a game of Jeopardy. Watson, consisting of hundreds of IBM Power CPUs, gazillions of bytes of memory and storage, and arguably the most sophisticated rules engine and natural language recognition capability ever developed, won hands down. If you haven’t seen the videos of this event, you should – seeing the IBM system fluidly answer very tricky questions is amazing. There is no sense that it is parsing the question and then sorting through 200 – 300 million pages of data per second in the background as it assembles its answers. This is truly the computer industry at its best. IBM lived up to its brand image as the oldest and strongest technology company and showed us a potential for integrating computers into untapped new potential solutions. Since the Jeopardy event, IBM has been working on commercializing Watson with an eye toward delivering domain-specific expert advisors. I recently listened to a presentation by a doctor participating in the trials of a Watson medical assistant, and the results were startling in terms of the potential to assist medical professionals in diagnostic procedures.
For years I have been railing about cloud washing -- the efforts by vendors and, more recently, enterprise I&O professionals to give a cloud computing name to their business-as-usual IT services and virtualization efforts. Now, a cloud vendor, with tongue somewhat in cheek, is taking this rant to the next level.
Appirio, a cloud integration and customization solution provider, has created the cloud computing equivalent of the Razzie Awards to recognize and call out those vendors it and its clients see as the most egregious cloud washing offenders. The first annual Washies will be announced next Wednesday night at The Cigar Bar in San Francisco, and in true Razzie tradition, the nominees are invited to attend and pick up their dubious honors in person. I'm betting that Larry Ellison will be otherwise engaged.
What to do when a failed product concept still lingers, haunting every attempt at injecting it with new life? That's the problem with interactive TV, a term that grates like the name of an old girlfriend, conjuring up hopes long since unfulfilled yet still surprisingly fresh. Gratefully, it’s time to put old product notions of interactive TV behind us because this week Microsoft will release a user experience update to the Xbox 360 that will do for the TV what decades of promises and industry joint ventures have never managed to pull off.
Meet engaged TV. From now on, I will no longer need to plead with the audiences I address, the clients I meet, or my friends who still listen to me to imagine the future of TV. Because Microsoft has just built and delivered it: A single box that ties together all the content you want, made easily accessible through a universal, natural, voice-directed search. This is now the benchmark against which all other living-room initiatives should be compared, from cable or satellite set top boxes to Apple’s widely rumored TV to the 3.0 version of Google TV that Google will have to start programming as soon as they see this. With more than 57 million people worldwide already sitting on a box that’s about to be upgraded for free – and with what I estimate to be 15 million Kinect cameras in some of those homes – Microsoft has not only built the right experience, it has ensured that it will spread quickly and with devastating effect.
Over the past couple of years I have been intrigued by the concept of a 'digital wallet' that will combine mobile payments with a variety of other benefits for customers. The more people I talk to, the more convinced I am that mobile digital wallets will mark a big shift in retail payments. A mobile digital wallet is more than just a mobile payment system because it combines:
Mobile payment. Digital wallets are likely combine several different payments systems into a single service, including mobile contactless payments, online (i.e. web) payments, and over-the-network mobile payments, making it easy for customers to make a variety of different types of payment from a mobile device.
Barcode scanning. Scanning barcodes or QR codes will let customers get more information about products, and let them pay for items on their phones before showing an on-screen receipt to leave the store.
Loyalty rewards. Instead of carrying (and sometimes forgetting) a separate loyalty card, digital wallets will track customers’ spending and offer merchant-funded rewards, either on the phone or at the point of sale.
Coupons and offers. Digital wallets are likely to offer customers coupons and location-based offers.
For the next 2 minutes as you read this blog post, please try to forget about Apple the product company and instead focus on Apple the retailer. Two years ago, Apple undertook a worldwide roll out of iPod Touches to its store associates. These devices came wrapped in a sled adding a 2D bar code scanner and credit card swipe capabilities to the hardware lineup and enabled store associates to perform mobile POS transactions anywhere in the store. Ever since the retail industry has been playing catch-up with retailers like Lowes, Gap, and Home Depot recently following suit with respective rollouts of mobile POS functionality to their store associates.
Today Apple raised the bar. Customers in the US can now use their own iPhone 4 or 4S in conjunction with the Apple Store app (one of my favorite mobile shopping experiences and complete with a fresh update) to scan the bar code of most in-store products and perform a self-checkout. The feature, called EasyPay uses the iPhone’s rear-facing camera to scan a product bar code with payment occurring via a simple authentication to iTunes, just like any other in-app purchase. The core difference is that Apple is now allowing in-app purchases of physical merchandise, albeit restricted to Apple at this time. Once payment is complete, the customer simply strolls out of the shop showing their digital EasyPay receipt to a member of staff as they exit. Time will tell if EasyPay results in any increase of in-store fraud for Apple, but for the consumer that knows what they want the convenience of EasyPay is crystal clear.
HP made the right decision today to keep the Personal Systems Group. Beyond the reasons cited, supply chain and sales synergy and expense of spinning out, it's also crucial for HP to remain in the market for personal devices, which is entering a period of radical transformation and opportunity. The innovations spawned first by RIM with the BlackBerry, followed by the transformative effects of Apple's iPhone and iPad are beginning to ripple into the PC market. Apple's MacBook Air and Lion operating system, combined with Microsoft's Metro interface for Windows 8 herald the beginning of a transformation of personal computing devices. By keeping PSG, HP has the opportunity to innovate and differentiate in the PC market that will move away from commodity patterns.
For vendor strategists at vendors of all sizes, one of the lessons of HP's decision is that consumer businesses are becoming more relevant to succeeding in commercial products for end users. During the announcement call today, CEO Meg Whitman talked about the importance of "consumerization" in winning business from enterprises. I heartily endorse that view and look forward to sharing a report soon on how consumerization is changing commercial product development.
Do you think consumerization was a part of why HP kept PCs?
What effect do you think consumerization will have in IT markets?
Those of us who work in the field of customer experience are especially hard hit by the passing of Steve Jobs. He symbolized the power of experience — how much a great experience can transform a product, a business, an industry, and even our daily lives.
Do you remember personal computers before the mouse, how you bought and listened to music before iTunes and the iPod, or how many animated films you watched in theaters — with or without the kids — before Pixar?
Steve Jobs even changed the way many of us think. If you own an iPhone or an iPad, you’ve probably found, as I have, that you don’t bother to memorize very much anymore. Why should you when you can dig up facts anytime, anywhere with just a few taps on a touchscreen?
Now please don’t get me wrong: I don’t idealize the man. For one thing, many people contributed to the success of everything I just mentioned. And not all Apple experiences are perfect, and Jobs didn’t succeed at everything he did (remember the NeXT Computer?).
But to go cynical is to miss the point, or more specifically, the point of view — the one that makes Jobs an icon for customer experience professionals. He put it out there when he famously said, “You've got to start with the customer experience and work back to the technology — not the other way around.”
Frankly, “the other way around” is how most companies still operate. Not just technology companies but firms in every industry. Someone has an idea (maybe great, maybe not), and that turns into a product or service in the marketplace. The customer experience that results is whatever it turns out to be.
Today, Apple’s product strategists revealed their newest premium smartphone: the iPhone 4S. Just like the 3GS at its introduction, the 4S relies on a leap in processing power and a new interaction paradigm but eschews technology upgrades upon which product strategists building Android-based devices rely today, such as LTE and behemoth screens.
Apple’s new iPhone lineup provides a complete portfolio of products, from the premium 4S in memory configurations up to 64 GB, to the 8 GB iPhone 4 which will allow all of Apple’s carrier customers (including new partners Sprint and KDDI in Japan) to offer a mid-tier iPhone. Apple’s product strategists have opted to add an entry-level option for its GSM-based carrier partners by maintaining the 8 GB iPhone 3GS.
With the iPhone 4S, have Apple’s product strategists designed a product that will maintain Apple’s leadership in the high-end smartphone battle? Forrester believes so — even though Apple chose not to include features that its competitors use to command a premium position, including:
The name of Apple’s event today “Let’s Talk iPhone” indicates where much of the news focus is — on the new iPhone. But that focus distracts vendor strategists from understanding the deeper implications of Apple’s advances in online services and user experience.
Apple’s iCloud is an important new software platform and service that will integrate Apple’s customer experiences across their iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, and Mac products. This first version creates a personal cloud experience of the individual’s work, personal, and purchased content being seamlessly available across all their Apple products, in contrast to the fragmented experience of Google, Microsoft, and Amazon. Beyond music plus contacts, calendar, and email, Apple is supporting iCloud push in iMessage, Safari’s Read It Later feature, and push distribution of photos. Be sure to watch Apple’s iCloud concept video — that really conveys the personal cloud idea.
The Siri feature is the beginning of a new user experience built around context that will eventually create a much more personal, intimate experience for using all of Apple’s mobile and Mac products. Both of these offerings will have enduring impact beyond the latest model of the iPhone. Though only supported today on the iPhone 4S, I believe it is the beginning of a new form of interacting with all mobile devices and PCs. Voice control and input have not been widely used despite long-standing offerings from Nuance and Microsoft’s Tellme, though they do have strong adoption in specific segments. Apple’s integration of the user’s context will make the experience compatible with mainstream users.
First off, let me say this: I hope that Steve Jobs' health improves, and that he comes out of whatever challenges he's going through in the best of health. He's an amazing, visionary leader of a dynamic company -- and he's also a person with a family. Let's all wish him well.
While famously a CEO, Steve Jobs is also, it should be known, a product strategist par excellence. He's clearly been involved, in a deep way, in the development of Apple's product ideas, product designs, business models, go-to-market strategies, and responses to competition. These are the job responsibilities of product strategists. In his (and Apple's) case, product strategy has risen to the very top of the organization.
Product strategists of two different flavors are wondering how they might be affected by his resignation as CEO (and concomitant request to become chairman):
Product strategists who compete with Apple. Product strategists at companies like Microsoft, Google, Samsung, HP, Dell, HTC, and similar firms wonder if Steve Jobs' change in role might benefit them. They actually shouldn't wonder: His departure from the CEO spot won't benefit them -- not for a very long time, at least. Apple's product development road map stretches into multiple years ahead and has been shaped both by Jobs and by the organization he built. Jobs' departure won't affect Apple's product portfolio, quality, or competitiveness for a long time -- if ever.