How one boy with autism became BFF with Apple's Siri -- Illustration by Louie Chen

Inspiring reads: Mobility, Innovation, Disruption and heart

(every few weeks I contribute to a short newsletter for my blue hive colleagues about cool things in digital.  this is my most recent article)

I’ve been traveling a lot recently, so instead of a cohesive point of view about a topic in Digital, I’m sharing the raw materials: here’s some great articles, podcasts, websites and videos that have inspired me in the past few weeks:

Mobile is eating the world:  100 years ago, Trains were the innovative technology transforming the world.  That’s right, Trains.  Benedict Evans takes us through what it means for a technology to transform life, and how Mobile technology has surpassed “technology” and is more like “trains”, that is: irreplaceable, fundamental infrastructure for modern life.  DROP EVERYTHING AND WATCH this  video of Ben Speaking at a WSJ event about the year ahead on the internet.

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Digital Advertising is complicated, fake & hated, but …

(once every few weeks I contribute to a short newsletter for my blue hive colleagues about cool things in digital.  this is my most recent article)

Let’s be honest: online advertising is really, really complicated.  The most complicated and fragmented of the whole ecosystem is probably Display advertising.  It’s hard to really explain how it works, how it’s measured, how people interact with it, and how much it impacts the wider internet and digital economy — and I say this as one of the people within Blue Hive tasked with explaining it!

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hyperlapse screenshot from Teehan and Lax

What the heck is Hyperlapse?

(once every few weeks I contribute to a short newsletter for my blue hive colleagues about cool things in digital.  this is my most recent article)

I’m betting that you or one of your friends has probably already freaked out about Instagram’s new video app, hyperlapse. Why is it so cool?  Well, Hyperlapse elegantly solves a primary problem with smartphone video — the shaky cam.  Mobile phones may now contain ridiculously high resolution camera equipment, but until now, phones have not had the physical features or processing power to smooth out the videos that users shoot into something people actually want to watch. (sorry Vine)

Simply put, hyperlapse the APP is awesome.  But instagram didn’t invent it out of thin air.  So I thought I’d share part of the short and colourful story behind hyperlapse the technique (and the word).

The modern era for hyperlapse photography appears to start with a filmmaker named Guy Roland, in videos like this one.

Kino Citius from Guy Roland on Vimeo.

Cool, right?  They created video by combining time-lapse photography with a moving camera position that covers long distances.  If you read the description, they also didn’t know what to call it.

The technique caught on fast. Another filmmaker, Dan Eckert, coined the term Hyperlapse while making some pretty cool videos himself.

HYPERLAPSE World in Motion from Dan Eckert on Vimeo.

So here’s where technology gets involved and things get interesting.  Canadian UX innovators Teehan+Lax mashed up the idea of hyperlapse with one of the largest existing sources of moving-camera still images: Google Streetview.  Here’s an example of what they created with some javascript.

Google Street View Hyperlapse from Teehan+Lax Labs on Vimeo.

Remember, they didn’t take the photos, or even visit the location.  They wrote code that asked Google for photos, aligned them, and compiled a video.  You can do it yourself with any road available on google street view! Go try it out yourself.

In the last 6 months or so, Hyperlapse has become a thing in digital video. My client Ford used it extensively in the 111th anniversary video released in June (which is awesome, if you haven’t seen it).

Just a month ago, Microsoft Research took Hyperlapse even further, showing how, through image mapping algorithms, they could stabilise shakier footage — say from a GoPro — and create hyperlapse from almost any footage.

This represented a theoretical shift from ‘hyperlapse built from expensive and time-consuming shoots’ to post production processing from nearly any video source.  Watch that last video through to the end and they’ll demonstrate how it works.

Which brings us back to instagram, who, separately (it seems) has sewn all of the above ideas into one simple-to-use and brilliantly engineered app.  I’m not proposing that the above is the exhaustive history of the technique, nor linear at all, but let us marvel a bit at how quickly this technique has earned a place in digital culture.  It is also a truly remarkable feat that instagram’s engineers managed to package all of this capability into a mobile app. 

So where are we now? I’d say we’re about to see a revolution in the quantity and quality of consumer-created digital video appearing online. It’s already started, check out this awesome hiphop video:

Are you hyperlapsing yet?


When Bundling and unbundling become product features

There’s been some news about a lot of companies “unbundling” their mobile products.  It’s happened enough times, fast enough, that it’s become a thing.  For example

Unbundling and bundling is usually a theme discussed on the business side of Tech.  The startup ecosystem is essentially founded on entrepreneurs betting that if they unbundle a poorly executed feature from a larger, successful product, and they do it the best they possibly can, they’ll win. But that’s just where it starts.  It is a cycle, after all.

The most famous example is Google, which bet that they’d win if they unbundled search from portal and media content (Yahoo!, Magellan, Lycos).  Now, what don’t they do?.  Linkedin started as a simple CV network, but is now trying to become a ubiquitous part of doing business.  Evernote started as a simple, synced notes product.  Now they sell moleskines, socks and scanners, offer CRM services and even want to kill powerpoint.

Marc Andreessen took to twitter to summarise this process: ”[…] paraphrasing Harvey Dent: ‘You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the company you first competed with.'”

So who might be the new Google? Here are some recent startups who are ‘unbundling’ and going after big markets

Now back to the top — these are not cases of business-unbundling (well, maybe Foursquare).  We are talking about big companies AND startups unbundle their mobile experiences.  Why?  They’re doing their best to serve the evolving Mobile User.

Smartphones are now core productivity tools, as well as communications tools, entertainment devices, and more.  The current smartphone user considers their phone a required part of pretty much everything they do.  This reliability leads to frustration and user discontent with complicated menus and processes  Users are now more focused on ease of use and speed to information — let’s call this ‘discoverability’ — than ever before.

When the goal is discoverability, the focus becomes providing the most Direct Access to content possible.  Splitting out the most popular feature of an App’s home screen shortens that journey significantly, and potentially reduces confusion.   A few years ago the challenge was “winning a spot on the home screen”; now the challenge is to focus on discoverability, convenience and accessibility.  Taking FB as an example, before the launch of Messenger, it was 4-6 touches to reach your messages on your mobile phone.  Now it’s 2.

Are you enjoying your ‘unbundled’ smartphone experience?  Interested in more about the business of bundling and unbundling?

Check out Jim Barksdale and Andreessen discussing bundling on a recent Harvard Business Review podcast (registration required).  A16Z Analyst Ben Evans (no relation) wrote a great overview (which introduces the above concept of Discoverability) as well, focused on how Asia is still in a massive bundling moment (despite being mobile-first)

…about lots of stuff (look down). I tweet more (look right)