Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Economics of Technological Development

I was leafing through the latest issue of the Economist and I came across a startling discovery. Apparently in North America a lot of people pay for incoming calls! This seemed to be a throwback to the archaic days when cell phones were a luxury. In India this thought is now absurd (unless you are on roaming.)

This made me start thinking, its not that man fails to progresses technologically. It is how fast mankind adopts new technology, how fast it becomes economically viable for a technology to percolate to the grass roots level of society.

We often hear the whisper of next generation fuel sources, electric cars and hybrids and though they have started testing these cars in the US, it is far from becoming a reality for the common man. We are still dependent on fossil fuels now matter how long strides we have taken in alternative fuel sources. It is not that we lack the know-how as the human race. It is because we lack the economics to grow fast enough. For man to innovate he needs to research and that costs time and money. Basic economics. 101 - exhaustive research and effort is expensive hence adopting a technology is also expensive. Yes we can delve into marketing mumbo jumbo about early adopters and product pricing and how this is profitable for the companies but I won’t touch upon that here.

The question I ask you is take Arthur C Clarke and his vision of the future. 2001 has come and gone and 2010 is at our doorsteps, yet man fails to have achieved space travel on the scale Clarke envisioned (the Virgin Galactic Space Ship One is a step in the right direction). Similarly how is the human race going to progress technologically in leaps and bounds when cutting edge technology is under wraps because of defence applications or other commercial applications is so expensive. Robotics is an excellent example. There are so many intelligent robotic toys – Robo Sapiens being a popular toy being sold. Yet we can’ t afford to have a robot in our homes even if Honda started manufacturing them as butler or nannies an I-Robot future is still very distant.

The solution? Your guess is as good as mine. Where is our next big disruptive innovation that’s going to solve this technological and economical problem? Should we be entering into the next generation of technological communism? In a sense that’s what Open Source is all about isn’t? Developing things faster in a free manner thereby reducing the burden on the end consumer. For now I can just be glad that tariffs based on technology, as in the case of cellular phones is definitely looking better in India than overseas.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Going Ape Over Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality, at the first take it sounds like something out of a science fiction flick, like Minority Report. What you may not realise is that Augmented Reality is already here, part and parcel of our lives. Augmented Reality is where ‘computer graphics objects are blended into real footage in real time.’ 

The latest Google Smart phone uses Augmented Reality to help provide information about different destinations. Most of us have witnessed Augmented Reality without realising it. The most common example being the “third empire” graphics during that gripping cricket match or tennis tournament. Though these days, these graphics have been replaced by complete CG versions, in the early days of cricket broadcast LBW’s for example were depicted over shot television footage. 

What India needs is a system of Augmented Reality that is mandatory for all drivers, no matter what they drive. This could help bring order to the kind of chaos that we see on the roads today. Something akin to an easy to use heads up display that not only advices one how to drive, but cautions and penalises a person for breaking the law – jumping lights and cutting lanes for example.  

In India Augmented Reality is even employed in low tech form. Take for example the recorded guided tours in the Prince of Wales Museum in Mumbai. True this does not fall into the classical definition of Augmented Reality – but it is perhaps another way to think about the application of technology. Augmented reality has a lot to promise for the average marketer, something I will delve into at a later date. 

Friday, August 7, 2009

Shazam - The Sound of Music to Marketers Ears

Here’s another one for all you music lovers out there. My colleague Sayed proudly whipped out his Apple i-phone to introduce me to a music identification service known as Shazam. Shazam provides downloadable widgets to cell phones that allow you to search music album information on the go. Imagine yourself listening to a song while at a music store and liking it but not knowing the artist is. Now with Shazam all you need to do is record a clip and viola album information at your fingertips. Available for Apple i-phones, i-touch iPods, BlackBerry it is now even available for Ovi by Nokia.

The service is pretty impressive. All it takes is for the phone’s built in mike to record a part of the clip. The widget then connects to the internet and searches an online database for a match. This service is no new kid on the block having been launched back in 2002. Already Shazam has a social networking model built into it being connected to Facebook, allowing you to share songs with friends and an e-commerce angle that allows you to purchase songs online.

What could be interesting if advertisers could tie up certain advertising jingles with downloadable offers / advertisements? Imagine you are listening to the radio and an advertiser plays a jingle which he records to his phone. Or you are walking through a mall and the in store jingle has discount offers embedded in them for first five downloaders that hour. And that's just the tip of the Iceberg, envision musical treasure hunts across retail chains for starters, the possibilities are limitless.

Using a service like Shazam the phone sends the person’s phone number to a database as an interested user and provides the users with some downloadable content – jpeg image, discount coupon or whatever. For now Shazam is yet another exemplary example of bridging the gap between mobiles and internet.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Can technology turn over a new leaf in the book?

Books have come a long way with the advent of the internet. With the dawn of the e-book came the invention of several e-book readers like Amazon’s Kindle. Logical progression? Perhaps, but the cost of an average Netbook today works out to be cheaper than a Kindle.

A friend of mine showed me that there was an e-book fair going on in a website. This was a novel concept. Yet what it turned out to be was a list of PDFs you could download from a website (without thumbnails even!). Somehow, going through an e-book fair failed to have the same amount of serendipity that you have when visiting a real book fair. I went to a book fair last weekend and I literally had to get my hands dirty digging through piles of books, something you don’t do online, in fact in a few minutes and clicks I was out of the online book fair.

This made me start thinking. What is in store for the book in the future? Technology has definitely made an impact on word-smiths, what with word processors having replaced pen and paper for the average author. The internet has become a boon for authors today. Every leading author has a website to promote their books and blog about how they are writing their next novel. You can now even pre-buy a novel as is the case with the next Dan Brown thriller, The Lost Symbol from and visit the book’s website even.

On the tech front, there is talk about flexible displays that mimic the feel of a book, which is an interesting thought. E-book readers haven't caught on due to their steep prices. Perhaps something in today's Netbooks could be adopted for a cheaper e-book reader?

The internet is also a bane, what with the number of illegal e-books one can download – scanned copies of originals, its likely to hit publishers sales. A colleague of mine prefers to get his books this way, printing out a few chapters at a time and reading them.

So for now the internet largely remains as a medium that promotes books and technology is yet to find a substitute for the good old book that you can snuggle up with on a rainy day. Which is altogether not too bad a thing.