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Sony’s stealthy approach towards interactive augmented reality

Through luck or foresight, Sony appear to be converging on something of a home technology miracle – but to see their approach clearly we should first step back and take a look at the development of 3D.

Do we believe in 3D yet?

We’ve had 3D video content for a long time, it just wasn’t good enough to become more than a novelty. A few years ago I caught a screening of The Creature from the Black Lagoon in the original old-school anaglyphic (red/blue) 3D. While it was an interesting novelty, it was clearly not a compelling  enough experience to beat movies in 2D and colour.

Despite it’s naysayers, the modern 3D cinema experience has gained so much traction that on any given trip to the multiplex you’re almost certain to find at least one new 3D release or another, and the box office takings continue to be respectable; the business case for cinemas to upgrade their projectors conveniently boosted by also including an upgrade to digital, killing two birds with one stone. It seems that audiences are prepared to accept the costs (financial, but also the inconvenience of wearing the glasses, not being able to tilt your head, and a slight reduction in brightness) since the result is (usually) sufficiently impressive. The fact that the conversation has moved on to the quality of the 3D (or lack of it, as seen in the hasty post-production processing 3D of the recent versions of Alice in Wonderland and Clash of the Titans) is surely a good sign for acceptance of the medium. Designer and prescription versions of the glasses also suggest that we are at the next stage of technology adoption.

On other screens, the field is still nascent. Predictably, the first consumer version of autostereoscopic 3D, with it’s look-no-glasses magic, is due to appear on a small screen (to make the cost bearable) designed for a single fixed-position viewer (as is at required by the technology), backed by an experienced player in innovative interfaces: the forthcoming Nintendo 3DS.

In television, active shutter 3D at first seems to be a strange proposition: each viewer must have a pair of active shutter glasses, which will seem expensive in comparison to the well-established polarisation glasses used in cinemas and available for some 3D TVs. On the other hand, the advantage is that many 120Hz televisions are already able to produce active shutter 3D imagery. Despite the perception of being uber-early-adopter territory, 3D televisions are effectively already here.

Then there’s the equally amazing fact that a few months ago Sony rolled out a PS3 upgrade to support 3D, removing another hardware barrier – 3D players are already here, in the form of 38 million PS3 consoles.

Meanwhile, in the console wars

Here’s where things get really interesting. Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony are all pushing for new modes of interaction for the games console. Nintendo took a huge gamble but secured an early lead with the Wii in 2006 (remember how the name first sounded to you and you’ll probably experience a flashback to just how crazy the whole idea seemed at the time).

Microsoft claim to have achieved interface nirvana with the entirely controllerless Kinect. Even the oft-cited screens of Minority Report needed a peripheral to operate, although it remains to be seen if it is as incredible as it seems, and accuracy remains a question.

Given the above, Sony’s decision to back what is widely seen as just a more accurate version of the Wii’s system seems a bit baffling. Being a PS3 owner myself, and curious to understand what Sony is thinking, I recent picked up the Move Starter Pack myself.

The answer became abundantly clear as soon as I tried the demo of Tumble, a very simple stack-em-up knock-em-down game. Your movements of the controller – including depth and rotation, which feels somehow much more impressive than movement in the plane – are mapped to an on-screen version that can pick up each brick (see image at top). It’s an impressive technological trick, but it then immediately demonstrates the next problem to solve: there is no depth perception, and you have to rely on a virtual shadow that indicates exactly which part of the playfield is directly below the object you are holding.

And so it suddenly becomes clear that Sony has brought all the ingredients together for interactive augmented realisty. The 3D TVs are already here, the players are already here, and with the Move we suddenly have our 3D controller, which means the hardware for proper augmented reality in the home is pre-installed, just waiting for the right software. The final ingredient is the active shutter glasses, which simply paired with 3D viewing may seem expensive and clunky, but I suspect that image will fall away if you can put them on and then see yourself holding a lightsabre and interacting directly in a 3D virtual environment.

The fact this only works within a field-of-view that includes your TV screen is a limitation, certainly; and the question of whether or not all this can actually be used to create compelling games or usable interfaces remains to be seen – but we can rely on Nintendo to begin exploring this space intelligently with the 3DS, possibly followed by Apple, since the tablet form factor is the natural successor in autostereoscopic 3D.

Or Sony could just have got here accidentally, in which case I can only hope they read this blog.

October 8, 2010 Posted by | interactive | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why your fundraisers are your biggest competition

People are changing their giving habits, fast. So what’s happening? Time to wise up to the new world, says Rik Haslam

(Note: this is an article I recently wrote for the International Fundraising Conference’s magazine – here’s the original article).

Here’s the thing.

I am a charity. I’m not registered. I have thousands of fundraisers, but I don’t pay any salaries. I have advanced technology and communication systems, yet zero overheads. Nor do I pay business rent. I have my own in-house media production studio: it’s my camera phone, bargain basement netbook and some free, open-source software. I create dozens of ads but wouldn’t dream of shelling out on media placements. Instead I put my messages on email, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, my blog and fundraising platforms like YOCO and JustGiving.

There are millions like me. And we are your real competition. If it feels like we have an unfair advantage, we do. If it feels like we’re a threat to your business model, we are. If it feels like we think you’re irrelevant, maybe we do. Don’t panic though, there is some good news later. Kind of.

And here’s another thing. I’m a regular giver. Each month a sizeable amount automatically transfers from my current account. But, that money doesn’t go to any particular charity. It goes into a dedicated charity account I’ve set up. Then, whenever a friend emails me announcing they’re running a marathon, climbing Mount Fuji, cycling across the Sahara, or doing a fun run, I dip into my account and happily support their fundraising efforts.

I now have no direct relationships with any charity. I can’t be acquired, up-sold, cross-sold, retained. I’m not a customer, supporter or prospect, as far as I’m concerned you don’t exist. All that exists is the causes my friends and I want to support. I don’t support Macmillan, Save the Children or Amnesty. I support friends, colleagues and family. I support beating cancer, protecting children and an end to political torture.

To be clear, my relationships are with people and causes, and no longer directly with brands. However, even though I don’t want a relationship with you, I do want you to continue your good work, and I do know you need funds – I just prefer to siphon the money via my friends. It’s a bit of a terrifying paradox, isn’t it? Or is it an opportunity?

For a little while longer (maybe two years max) your business model isn’t completely broken. There are still many people, perhaps even the majority who still behave in traditional ways. Still like direct mail. Still prefer to speak to a person on the telephone. Still think the Internet is a bit pointless.

That’s all about to change in a very dramatic way. Here’s why…

Until the beginning of April this year, the Internet wasn’t really a mass market proposition. You had to buy a complicated machine with GHz and NVIDIA and Bluetooth, and other weird techno-babble nonsense. I love it, but I’m a geek. My mother, on the other hand, hates technology (more on this later). For people like her the internet was (at best) in a cold, spare bedroom, plugged into the wall and never moving. Setting up wi-fi was an intimidating business, so the Internet never really came into the centre of most homes. Mobile Internet was even worse. Expensive data-charges, even more complicated set-up processes, and, on the majority of devices, an awful experience. And the screen’s too small for my mum’s eyesight anyway.

At the beginning of April all that changed. The iPad arrived. It’s not a computer or a mobile. It’s a TV, a book, a photo-album, a chess board, a record-player. It’s the internet in your handbag. You don’t need an instruction manual. There’s no keyboard, mouse or complicated cables. It’s just a screen. You touch it and stuff happens. The iPad and dozens of other devices like it (they’re coming later this year) change everything.

Suddenly the internet is a mass market consumer phenomenon. Suddenly the internet is everywhere. Suddenly everyone can do all the things I talked about at the start of this article. Suddenly my mum likes the internet. I actually had to pull my iPad from her hands. She loved it. And so will millions of other ordinary, everyday people – i.e. your best customers.

And that spells big trouble for your business, because now (well, since April 3rd when the iPad launched actually) there’s a people-friendly version of the internet. And that means it’s not just the minority who will do the scary things mentioned earlier, but everyone.

Suddenly nobody needs you as the fundraising intermediary between their money and the cause. They can cut you out. So…how the heck do you stay relevant in this consumer-empowered environment? It’s simple, but not easy.

You need to join in. You need to give people the tools that help them connect with one another and achieve their own objectives. You need to deliver experiences that involve them and their friends directly with the causes they’re concerned about. You need to encourage the formation of like-minded networks, to stop thinking about customers and start focusing on influencers, to stop pushing messages and start building engagement. Tools and experiences are your new best friends. The age of marketing communications is over. Your job as a marketer now is to deliver value, not to sell, incentivise or persuade.

It is a fundamental shift, but without it your business model will come under increasing pressure, and your brand will become an increasing irrelevance. Already a number of charities are having significant success by embracing the new landscape.

A good example is how some fundraising brands reacted to the Haiti earthquake. Christian Aid generated 25% of its web traffic by harnessing the power of Twitter (whose top demographic is 45-54 year olds by the way).

A single embedded link in a YouTube video generated £35,000 for Oxfam. YouTube incidentally has over 300 million users and 46% of them are over 35.

Médecins Sans Frontìeres recruited 24,000 prospects through its Facebook fan page. And if you think social media isn’t a mass market channel yet, ponder this – during the first week of April, 14% of all US based web traffic went to only two sites – Google (of course) and Facebook. Most of it went to Facebook.

The message to charity brands is clear. Discover a role in the new landscape, and invent new tools to help facilitate the connections and interactions individuals want to have with one another and the causes that are close to their hearts.

July 1, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 3 Comments

Why the iPad is a hands-down winner

Perceiving myself as a non Apple fanboy, and a tech-loving neutral, I’ve tried to hold off entering into the iPad debate, but much of the venom directed at Apple and its latest incredible device is so ill-conceived that I can’t help weighing in with my point of view. So here are a few thoughts:

1. iPad versus other tablets/slates (or Apple win)

It would be idiotic to suggest that the iPad is the be all and end all of tablet devices. Technology moves on and at some point somebody will develop a better device than the iPad (it may even be Apple themselves). But for now the iPad is hands-down the best tablet device and will stay so for a long time (minimum 18-24 months). Why? Partly the OS, partly Apple’s superb application of multi-touch, and partly Apple’s unerring commitment to user experience over technology for technology’s sake. HP’s slates will be ponderous, heavier, less pleasant to use. Windows 7 is not a multi-touch, tablet OS. The JooJoo is doo-doo. Android/Google Chrome tablets will not come close (in the short term, and possibly ever) to creating a user-experience that will match the iPad, which leads me on to point 2.

2. The point of the iPad is the user experience

Forget technology, forget flash, forget multi-tasking (though with OS 4 that’s now a non-issue pretty much), forget any debates in developer circles. The iPad is a consumer electronic product. It is revolutionary, because it takes the most common use-cases (video, web browsing, creating simple documents, email, gaming, etc) and hides the technology – it just works, and it works beautifully. That’s all the vast majority of consumers are interested in. And so far there’s hasn’t been a device that delivers such experiences in so compelling a manner as the iPad… and thus onto point 3.

3. Screen size and the everything, anywhere revolution

Here’s the biggie. Increasingly we all want to be connected, all the time, wherever we are. We want our media, our files, our social lives delivered to us regardless of our location. The iPad is the perfect device for those who want constant connectivity. The form factor is the reason why. True the Iphone offered a pleasant web browsing experience, but it wasn’t perfect. The screen size is the core reason. And don’t get me started on watching a movie on an Iphone. I’ve done it (many times), but it’s a far from perfect solution. Laptops are too heavy. Netbooks are OK, but see points 1 & 2 for why the iPad wins here. The iPad’s screen size defines its utility. It’s a size we’re comfortable and familiar with – it feels novel like, it gives a close to full field of vision viewing experience. There’s very little I can’t comfortably do within the limitations of it’s screen size. For some reason that hasn’t been the case with netbooks – probably lack of multi-touch and pinch to zoom, etc.

4. The best mobile OS and purpose built tech

This is also vitally important. No other device has had so much love poured into its operating system. Apple has understood that mobile devices create new behaviours and demand new operating systems and new user interfaces. If you’ve ever played with a google phone, watch how that processor drains the battery, see what a leach Flash is, see how multi-tasking is a power vampire, see what a crappy, confusing and inconsistent menu system apps employ. The iPhone and iPad OS on the other hand aim to resolve such problems. Does that come with some compromises, sure (eg can’t import fonts into Keynote application), but once again the over-arching experience is very compelling.

5. The ‘it’s not a real computer’ argument.

Let’s just get over this. A tiny proportion of the population needs all the computing power of a real computer. But if you do want to use the iPad as a real computer, you can. Simply install a VNC app and the Ipad becomes a window onto your home PC or Mac, letting you run applications, open documents, and heaven forbid open a browser and browse flash sites. For more details on how to access your entire computer from an iPad see here.

6. Is it too expensive?

No, but it is expensive. In the same way a BMW is expensive, or a good coffee machine costs that little bit more. But is it value for money? I’d say yes. For now, it’s almost the perfect marriage of form and function. As I said above, at some point it will be superseded, but for a while nothing gets close to the iPad experience – and that’s what commands a price premium.

7. Phone, netbook, laptop, desktop… why do I need a tablet?

This is a tough argument. The only answer is to hold the iPad in your hands, perhaps borrow one from a friend for a weekend (if you can prise it from their fingertips), and see how quickly it becomes your default device. My iPhone now seems puny, my netbook is in the cupboard, my laptop is now just my desktop, and my three year old girl refuses to play with her mother’s iTouch anymore – she simply says, “I want Daddy’s big phone.” Relegating other excellent devices to the sidelines is surely a triumph in this respect.

OK, that’s me almost done. In my view anybody who has a childlike fascination with the way technology is changing our lives, can’t possibly fail to appreciate how amazing the iPad is. It is like a vision of the future, here today. It is a triumph of invention. And most importantly it is a challenge to competitors. If the iPad forces others to make more compelling devices then excellent (I’d love to see Microsoft’s Courier become a reality), we’ll all be the better for it.

Comments as always appreciated, but please let’s try to avoid a flame war.

April 20, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 11 Comments

Google Buzz – enabler of location-based flame-wars

Google Buzz example - Leicester Square 2010 Feb 21st

Now that the dust has settled and the initial spike of test activity has dropped off, we’re starting to see what the fascinating combination of having both a wide pre-installed base and some very interesting functionality is achieving for Google Buzz.

It turns out that Buzz has all the key ingredients (functionality, convenience, and users) to kick off public location-based discussion, which is a pretty big deal.

Recognising that first impressions count, Google haven’t yet allowed visibility into this brave new world from the browser, although it is possible to use a workaround and get a taste of what this means – see the example screenshot above.

Here’s a bit of theory. There’s only two dimensions that really matter – time and space. And the most relevant ends of those spectra are right now and right here. Part of the appeal of Twitter was that you could find out about things happening right now. Google Buzz now takes us the final step of the way.

Just consider what this could look like a few years from now.

The world of evening venues suddenly becomes an efficient market. Buzz will tell you which venues are empty, which are too crowded and where the really interesting people are.

Imagine shoppers operating with a hive mind, honing in collectively on the most compelling local special offers, guided by the invisible hand of Google’s algorithms that highlights only the most relevant buzz – and imagine shops monitoring and reacting to that buzz.

Finally, imagine decades of quiet resentment between neighbours too polite for direct confrontation suddenly exploding into all-out Buzz-enabled flame wars over late night music, post stealing, and territorial hedge issues.

Saying that this is one to watch is an understatement.

February 22, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

When social media goes bad

I spoke recently at a NMA Live event on Online PR and reputation management. Here’s the video of me talking. The case study I shared was around how not to do social media and how easily brand reputation’s can be destroyed by ill-thought out social activity.

Warning: You’ll need some stamina to watch the video. It’s over 20 minutes long.

October 28, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 1 Comment

Blue Peter ‘Send a Smile’ Appeal

Picture 4Some projects are an absolute delight to work on. Our send a smile campaign for the Operation Smile charity is one such wonderfully inspiring project.

Operation Smile funds medical treatment for children in developing countries who suffer from cleft lips and cleft palates.This is a condition that really blights young children’s lives, destroying their confidence and often meaning they can’t speak properly, don’t attend school, and often can’t even smile.

Earlier this year Operation Smile approached Rapp and asked us to help them develop a campaign that would persuade the BBC to base their famous annual Blue Peter Appeal around Operation Smile’s work.

We developed the ‘Send a Smile’ idea and proposed that Blue Peter encourage the UK’s schoolchildren to make surgical gowns out of their own clothes. Each gown would save Operation Smile £3 which would go towards funding more operations.

Blue Peter loved our idea and this week (Wednesday 21st November) they dedicated an entire programme to the launch of the appeal (you can watch it here in iPlayer - warning: this link will expire in a couple of weeks). That’s 25 minutes of prime time exposure for the charity brand. It’s almost impossible to put a value on that kind of media exposure.

As part of the campaign we’ve also mailed schools across the UK and developed an education pack which thousands of teachers are now using in classrooms, while also encouraging their pupils to support the charity by making gowns.

Hopefully all this great work will lead to many children undergoing the medical procedure which will transform their lives.

October 22, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Singing Pets

Picture 1Like singing dogs and cats? This new campaign we’ve just launched for the Blue Cross animal charity features a bunch of pets doing a cover version of Staying Alive. Production courtesy of the inimitable Joel Veitch – whose new singing kittens video is also tremendous.

The singing pets campaign, follows last year’s hugely succesful talking pets campaign – see the running theme? Any suggestions for the third execution in this campaign gladly received ;)

October 19, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

E-commerce comes to Facebook

I wrote a little while back about the Facebook beta test in the US, allowing a small group of retailers to sell real goods through Facebook’s gift application. Well very soon, Facebook is going to become an e-commerce platform in a major way. See this techcrunch post here.

That’s because of a number of developments, the most interesting of which are Paypal’s opening up of their Adaptive Payments API. This allows developers to build applications that can accept and distribute payments. The first interesting application is Payvment which enables anyone to set up a retail storefront on Facebook. For small retailers this is huge news, as there is pretty much zero infrastructure cost now to opening an online store. But even for bigger retailers a facebook storefront will be interesting. More and more brands have a presence on Facebook – now they can monetise that presence by allowing facebook users to make purchases for themselves or their friends.

Payvment features a regular shopping cart and has the huge advantage over previous Facebook e-commerce applications of keeping the transaction within the Facebook environment. In the past users had to jump out of Facebook to complete a transaction, which is why so few retailers have built e-commerce Facebook applications.

That is set to change very quickly. Payvment is opened up to the public from November 1st. It wouldn’t surprise me if we very quickly saw quite large shopping portals opening within Facebook.

October 15, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Volkswagen Fun Theory – excellent viral campaign

DDB Stockholm’s Fun Theory campaign for Volkswagen is excellent. The piano stairs viral shows how you can change human behaviour just by making something fun. Simple insight, really on brand, over 1 million views on YouTube already. Excellent work.

October 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Google sidewiki – the web gets even more social

Awesome. Now the entire web can be co-created. A few weeks back Google introduced Google Sidewiki – a browser extension for Firefox and Internet Explorer (coming soon to Chrome).

What Google Sidewiki allows you to do is comment on any webpage or content on any webpage. That means any user can correct information, add more useful information or links, make a comment, etc, etc.

Google Sidewiki appears as a sidebar so you can see the content alongside the page you’re browsing. There’s also some very cool additional functionality and of course it’s all on an open API so other developers can play at will.

I’d be very happy if somebody installed the Sidewiki extension and used it to leave comments on this site.

October 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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