Friday, July 31, 2009

Beyond Basic Bar codes

A few years ago when I was in college, SMS marketing was the new thing on the block that was making a buzz. Now everyone uses SMS short codes – those numbers that you send a text message to, to get information or take part in a competition. Today, people even want SMS codes on websites, bridging the web and offline marketing activities. Yet one thing that is yet to be tapped in the Indian market space is the new developments in what I call next-gen bar codes. Whether QR codes or Semacodes, Indian marketers are yet to invest in these technologies.

What made me to start to think about these new age bar codes as the next marketing tech tool was an episode of CSI where a QR code is recovered at a crime scene. According to the story, the Quick Response - QR code or Semacode has an embedded link to a website, which is read by a scanner. I thought of little of this until I saw a colleague of mine trying to scan bar codes with his i-phone, which automatically searched for the cost of the products online.

Most cell phones come with built-in cameras these days. If a Semacode can be read from a photo by a cell phone application then marketers have an altogether new and fun way to promote products. In fact this is already quite popular in Japan, where Japanese cell phones read these codes using their camera. What this means in the Indian market space is that we could see ‘Collect the Semacode’ competitions for example, promoting FMCG products or providing information about offers.

Just having Semacodes linked to website landing pages will be a step forward in the right direction, what with more and more people hopping onto the mobile internet bandwagon. These smart bar codes can even be used in both print medium and hoardings. What makes them so ideal is that it reduces the pain of having to type in a URL.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Global Technological Crisis

With the Global Financial Crisis ravaging the globe, its far reaching consequences are yet to be understood. One corollary to the crisis is what could be nick named the Global Technological Crisis. Some people blame the speed of rapidly disseminating information to various audiences as a contributing factor to the uncertainty of the current financial crisis, though this is not the technological crisis I speak of. With the average consumer facing reducing levels of disposable income, tech companies are facing a challenge the weary customers.

One innovation we have seen is the popular netbook. Launched initially by Asus, every computer manufacturer has their version of the netbook available. These stripped down versions of laptops are not only cheaper but smaller in size, lack optical drivers and are much easier on the pocket of the consumer who just needs a solution to simple mobile computing. Some may see this as adopting to the consumers needs, but in terms of the human race growing technologically, could this be a step backwards, though a minute one at that? The BBC video below portrays some of the plus and minus points of the netbook, for those interested.

On the bread earning front, it is said that the financial sector accounts for 18% of the financial sectors IT spending. With this sector being the worst hit and spends coming under the microscope, the IT giants who make their bread and butter from the financial sector are likely to be hard hit and find new segments to cater to. A Business Week article I came across provides a few facts and figures worth considering.

Even robotics has been hard hit with Japanese factories reducing their robotic work force due to lack of demand for products. With robotics integrated in manufacturing Japan, it takes less and less people to assemble things. Even the massive manpower of China can not match the effectiveness of these robots who work tirelessly and don’t grumble of overtime. In fact in Japan at the Yaskawa Electric factory on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu robots are used to manufacture even more robots. Yet the global slowdown means there is less demand for robots, which if it continues could lead to less advancement in the field of robotics. So those dreaming of an I-Robot like future, will have to wait a while.

On the flip side of the coin, products that offer more value for money are growing more popular. The X-Box 360 console is said to be the most popular console in Australia this year. Perhaps this is because of its cheaper price point than the PS3, yet another indicator of how price conscious the public has become.

Friday, July 24, 2009

When Smart Smarts.

I have been pondering whether it is time to upgrade to a new phone. The world seems to have taken to the smart phone like a fish to water. Everywhere you look everyone is either touting an i-phone, a blackberry or a Nokia smart phone. But is having one of these so called smart-phones a boon or a bane?

Mankind has already sold its soul and long with it privacy and free time to the invention known as the cell-phone. Reduced to puppet on cellular chains, we are at the beck and call to every Tom, Dick and Harry who decide to interrupt us at any minute at their choosing. People can not comprehend when people decide to unplug themselves and be incommunicado like the good old days when you stepped out and be unreachable. In fact this state of affairs has even led to a television commercial that parodies the phenomenon of walking while talking.

If all this is to be, isn’t the smart phone the incarnation of all things technologically evil. An excellent example of technological determinism, the smart phone goes beyond just enslaving you like other phones by providing you features such as managing your schedule and giving you an incessant urge to check your mails every minute. So you have the working lady who starts reading her mails the moment she steps into a lift or the executive who keeps an eye on his mail whenever his phone pings.

Gone is the age of relaxation. Mankind seems to be eager to invent devices that while making things easier, make us work harder enslaving us in a vicious circle. So to join the madding crowd and invest in a smart phone or keep things simple and silent when need be. That is the question.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Painful Truth

Some of us wonder why India is not developing fast enough. With the recent opening of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, Mumbaikars have been going into a tizzy calling it one of the city’s greatest achievements and an urban national landmark. Whatever it may be, this is just a drop in the ocean when one considers how fast China was able to build an airport for the Olympics not to mention the rest of the infrastructure. At the end of the day it is attitude and discipline that makes the difference.

Can technology be the much needed catalyst for change? Perhaps. Apparently electronic tolling akin to that found in cities like Singapore where toll is automatically deducted from a pre-paid card for vehicles that use the bridge is going to be put in place. This should reduce traffic snarls at the toll gate.

Another innovative invention came to mind the other day while I was walking home, that might teach Mumbaikars a thing or too. Traffic in Mumbai pay little heed to pedestrians crossing the road. This can be quite annoying as even though the light is green for you to cross, you find cars tearing down on you at break neck speeds. Solution? Some form of punishment seems to be the only way, yet the Mumbai police force is too overstretched (or too lazy?) to implement a fine for everyone who jumps a light at EVERY traffic signal there is in the city. So the ingenious idea yours truly had was to lay spike strips on every intersection which lowered whenever the lights turned green. Try to jump the light and yes you are likely to shred your tires.

This will need to be supplemented by a system of barriers which actually prevent a speeding vehicle from crossing into the intersection with shredded tires which would cause more harm. Still if such a system was in place then maybe people would respect the rules of the road more. It would also take care of those pesky cyclists who think the traffic light isn’t for them and who flaunt every traffic rule ever written and go scot-free every time. Truth of the matter with the amount of corruption in the city this is never likely to happen and there are always going to be ‘light jumpers’. Still we can dream.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Trapped within patterns and paradigms

We all become accustomed to patterns in our life. Whether these patterns manifest themselves in daily routines, procedures we follow at work or ways we interact with each other, patterns exist nonetheless. The same holds true with the way we search for information. Two things happened recently which were an eye opener to this.

I walked into the British Council Library, a library that I frequent often and headed to a shelf where advertising related books usually reside. To my trepidation I discovered that the books had be re-arranged. As I went through the rest of the library I discovered that the reshuffling was like a plague that was slowly seeping through the entire library shuffling things here and there. This paradigm shift lead to me having to re-discover the library all over again, a not too bad thing.

Later I witnessed something similar online. A social networking site that I frequent – italki decided to expand its wings and add more features. What this meant however was (as in the case of the library) some information needed to be reshuffled and the global navigation re-thought. The site seems to have stepped in the right direction with an L-shaped navigation, resulting in a layout that was very Facebookish. Unfortunately the new layout, like a re-arranged library can be confusing. The mind naturally leads you to a particular shelf or an area in the navigation and when you land there and do not get what you want it can be disconcerting to say the least. The most popularly used navigation items shouldn’t be shifted to a new location.

Consistency in re-design has never before been so critical. We take if for granted in most of the revisions of sites that we visit that when it works we think nothing of it. The Amazon’s and MSN’s of our world have evolved into streamlined offerings that we think hey its not big deals. Yet it is times like this when re-designs are a little inconsistent that you sit back and wonder why is it that things not where they are supposed to be… logically.

Monday, July 13, 2009


Google’s announcement of a free operating system sent the web world in a flutter. Google seemed to have thrown down the gauntlet to tech titan Microsoft. If you think about it, an operating system is the logical next step for a company that already touts a wide range of office like applications (Googe notes), an immensely popular mail and chat service, analytics and much more. What makes it unique is that Google focuses on browser based application development. One of my previous articles or pondering covered how everything about everyday computing is moving online. From word processors to graphic software everything is available for free within the confines of your browser, and Google’s Chrome OS is set to be an extension of this.

The new OS targets net-books, the cheaper stripped down of the laptop that has becoming immensely popular over the last year. Yet based on a Linux platform, it is unlikely that the new OS from Google will sway the masses who are unlikely to step out of their ‘windows’ to new vistas that Google’s Chrome OS. What will make the new OS tempting is that is likely to be a free distribution. Perhaps the OS will be advertising powered to offset the developmental costs? That’s a thought that tickles.

The search engine giant’s move makes you wonder, is Google turning into the Microsoft of yesteryear and will be hearing any anti-trust war cries being hollered at Google any time soon. Wouldn’t it be interesting if in the not so distant future you plug in your Google USB and access your entire computing needs by a synergy of your online account and USB.