Object Trackers – Two Approaches

Nokia announced, the Treasure Tag, new hardware to go with their Lumia phones sporting the latest update. The tag is a small piece of hardware that communicates with the phone via bluetooth and an app on the phone that monitors proximity, alerting you when the device falls out of bluetooth range from your phone. Until you turn it off (which you can do via the app) the connection between the phone and a paired Treasure Tag is constantly monitored. Nokia says a battery can keep the Tag running for up to six months.

Each phone can support up to four Treasure Tags. The idea is that you attach a tag to something you want to have close-by. Keys, purse, whatever.

The Nokia Treasure Tag app description mentions that you can use, “Audio alerts to find a tag, or a tag to find your phone” but I’m not clear on how a phone can activate the audio on a tag or visa versa if either is out of bluetooth range.

Nokia Treasure Tag

What would be cool is if the Treasure Tag could broadcast GPS coordinates much like an iPad or iPhone can when you activate the Find My iPhone feature on iCloud. Unfortunately, such functionality would be cost & power prohibitive on such a small device that retails for $30. As a work around, the Treasure Tile can put a pin on a map and show you where it last had a connection with it’s phone. Useful if you misplaced an object but useless if someone’s walked off with your purse.

Tile

The Tile is taking a different approach. Instead of looking for a paired device, the Tile can pair with any device running the Tile app. For example, if someone’s walked off with your bag and ends up at a party where someone else is running the Tile app, their app will send time and location of that occurrence from their phone to yours via their phone’s GPS. This is, of course, useless again if the thief discovers the Tile and throws it in the trash but the approach is innovative in its crowdsourced approach. There needs to be a critical mass of people running the Tile app for it to be truly effective but one can imagine the Tile being able to tie into the iOS Beacon sensors in every iPhone & iPad as a quick way to get to scale.

The Tile is also different is a couple of other ways. There is no replaceable battery. A tile lasts for a year, then you replace it. It also features a, “where you last saw it” function that pushes a pin into a map so you can figure out where to begin your search. There is also an audio signal that you can activate to find a Tile that might be hidden under your sofa cushions or in your laundry. Finally, there is an on-screen feature on the app that gives an indicator when you are getting closer or further away from an item when you’re within 150-50 feet of the item.

Tile Getting Warmer

I’m not sure which approach wins here. The goal is to sell a small accessory that you can attach to an object that lets you keep track of an locate it. Each has its own strengths but my gut tells me that form factor is pretty important. If the prime use case is attaching a sensor to your keys, wallet, (or, as my daughter said, television remote), size is pretty important. While the Tile wins on size, it’s unfortunate that you have to landfill the tag every year and would keep me from buying a set.

this yor folt

moerk

The Reply Allpocalypse is something everyone who has ever been on a large email list (NYU, Columbia). It’s an amateur mistake but it starts out with someone send an email to the entire list but is then compounded when people on the list (the larger the initial list, the more chances they’ll be some jokers in there that don’t understand how email works) start to reply and, instead of replying to the sender, decided that everyone on the list needs to see their response.

As the thread continues, everyone’s inbox starts to fill up with further replies of things like “unsubscribe” or “stop spamming me!!” that are also sent to the entire list. This can spiral out of control and bring a mail server to it’s knees and totally take out any mobile mail clients that are frantically trying to keep up.

At some point, people begin to realize that the list is a way for anyone to push a message to everyone at the entire company so you get and “open mike” situation where everyone who has had anything to stay will jump on the bandwagon with their own one-liner they just had to share.

The graphic above is from one such incident that happened while I was at Nokia. I don’t even remember the initial email but it was sent to a large list, could have been the entire company which I think is over 100k souls. As the Reply Alls started to pile on, everyone’s inbox was momentarily taken over and then someone helpfully decided to make an infographic of the type of responses that piled up.

Most famously was the “this yor folt” which came from someone in one of the Central European offices. English was obviously not his first language but his one-liner kicked off a whole new thread of people who started a new thread to poke fun at his butchering of the language as a representation of the folks who kept hitting Reply All to vent and complain,  not realizing that they were actually compounding the problem.

If you’re going to send out a mass email, the BCC is your friend.

Back to Base

Today is my last day at Nokia. The great mobile adventure is over. More accurately, the need to define a mobile web as something other than the internet at large has mostly vanished.

I left Yahoo for Nokia with a vision of building services to connect the social web to phones that knew more about you and the world around you than a desktop PC could ever hope to know. I built a few prototypes and white-boarded many more. The potential is rich and the rush of apps and services that are “location aware” is only the beginning of what we will see in the years to come. In many ways it feels like 1995 all over again and we’re all re-discovering developing for the web browser. All that’s missing is a “View Source” to bring in the masses.

It’s been an amazing experience highlighted by a two year assignment to Helsinki which gave me, my wife, two kids, and our little dog Mimi an experience of a lifetime. Nokia is a global brand and the multitude of languages and cultures that you bump into day-to-day in the hallways and canteen is mind-boggling. Helsinki is a global hub with many families moving in and out of Finland exposing us to a broad group of people from all over who became our friends. We hope to continue to keep in touch with as they move around the world. My Finnish colleagues too were gracious in taking in this relatively bombastic Californian, tolerating my bubbly “Good Morning!” greetings and gently instructing me in gentler, more subtle methods of salutation.

But now we’re back in California. While the new Nokia offices in Sunnyvale are beautiful, the commute is not. While I learned heaps from Nokia about the mobile phone business, particulars in mobile UI (design for the one-handed strap-hanger in Bangalore), as well as unique aspects of localization (make room for long German place names, right-to-left Arabic script, and currencies in Europe use a comma, not a decimal), the excitement for me is further up the stack with the applications.

I’ll take a few days off then start anew at GigaOm on Monday where I have accepted their invitation to be Product Manager of their premium subscription product, pro.gigaom.com. In many ways this is a return to my roots when I was a PM for Factiva.com – another premium news subscription service. Coming full circle from a time when content was screaming to be free, we are entering an age of content factories where well-edited media and curated content will be something worth paying for. Anyone can sit and read everything coming through on ReadWriteWeb, TechCrunch, and yes, GigaOm and branch out to regional tech sites such as Arctic Startup and Asiajin that do an excellent job of covering their region but who has the time to read it all? Algorithms are getting better (check out Summify) but social networks that mix up family, friends, and professional contacts are getting muddy as filters and we all run the risk of building filter bubbles around ourselves.

There is a market for summaries and curation and I want to build a platform that enables that. The internet has made infinite distribution available at little to no cost. The challenge (and opportunity) is for publishers to maximize revenues by offering ever greater premium upsells to their True Fans on a steep value curve so that everyone wins. The folks I’ve met at GigaOm totally get this and I’m psyched to get cracking on building out  features to meet the demand. This is going to be fun!

It’s not that bad

The inevitable layoffs announced today at Nokia (where I work) were not as bad as expected. The trick of how to keep the Symbian development teams churning away when you’ve already announced that you’ll be ramping it down was solved by shifting a block of 3,000 employees over to Accenture where they can continue to work or re-deploy their talents on to other Accenture projects.

Nokia CEO Stephen Elop did an great job on Finnish TV this evening easing worries, popping conspiracy theory bubbles, and boosting confidence. The entire 20-minute interview is on the YLE site. YLE is the state-funded broadcast network, similar to Japan’s NHK or the BBC in the UK.

Addressing dead on the nagging concern Symbian engineers had about future employment is a brilliant tactical move. This takes the wind out of Finnish employees and press who were bracing for bad news or worse, something suspiciously too optimistic. This keeps the teams’ eye on the ball which is to ship 150 million devices, not look for work elsewhere.

Finns love to rally around stories of the bleakness and unfairness of life. This is something Jim Jarmusch nailed in his 1991 movie Night on Earth clipped below. I encourage you to watch both parts if you want to get an insight into Finnish culture.

Back in 1997, when Apple was $4 a share, the CEO at the time, Gil Amelio, left journalists unsatisfied with his half-answers to their burning questions.  It took Apple years to find it’s way again and only then, with the return of their iconic co-founder. Hopefully Mr. Elop’s transparency and directness will shortcut the process for Nokia’s return.

Driving around with lasers

I heard about this cool project from a Nokia colleague on the Maps team using some amazing hardware used by Navteq. I promised not to blog about it but I discovered today that it was shown off last year so I guess it’s OK to talk about what’s already been reported. Apparently this was all the buzz at CES 2010 but I was in Finland and Mapping isn’t really my field so I didn’t know it was public. Any excuse to blog about a car mounted with lasers!

The image above is the output from a specially equipped car that scans the road and surrounding buildings with an array of 60 lasers on it’s roof. Think of it as an über-version of the standard camera cars you see mapping the streets today. It’s insane. Here’s how it’s described in a post by CNet.

One big part is a LIDAR (light detection and ranging) system that uses lasers to construct 3D maps of the world out of a sea of data points. The company boasts that its True system uses 64 rotating lidar lasers, captures 1.5 million 3D data points per second from features as far as 150 meters away and works even when the data collection vehicle is traveling at highway speeds.

There’s more that can be done with the hardware than what you see above but I better not go into that. Rest assured, it’s mind-blowing. I was joking with a colleague, combine the plane and landscape database from the Flight Simulator guys at Microsoft with the street view database from Navteq and you’ve got a hyper-realistic gaming environment.

If you want to learn more about LIDAR and the technology about it, there’s a talk by two folks from Navteq at the upcoming Where 2.0 conference in Santa Clara, CA in April.

Why We Hack

Reposted (with modifications) from ouluopenhack where I’ll be tomorrow.

It all starts with an itch. Something that bugs you. It’s some kind of “pattern” that you identify. A manual task that you find yourself doing over and over again that you want to automate. Why is the color  printer always default to printing in black & white? How can I patch the OS on my phone so that it pauses the music player when the headphones slip out of the audio jack? Software engineers are inherently lazy and are always looking for ways to optimize the world around them, automate menial tasks. This itch is motivation to hack.

To back up, “hack” is not, what Hollywood tells you. It’s not about breaking into a mainframe to steal data or wreak havoc. No, the modern term for “hack” is the software equivalent of duct taping some things together to try out an idea. You know that site There, I Fixed It – it’s kind of like that but with software. Definitely not ready for prime time but it gets you thinking of what’s possible.

Why Oulu. Why November. Who’s behind this anyway?

This all started when I  joined Nokia and found myself in Helsinki posting to an internal mailing list about this thing called Hack Day that was a fun thing they did at Yahoo to let off steam and try out new ideas. Kristian Luoma bit and he and I worked together to put on the first, internal Nokia hack event in Oulu which we called a “Hackfest” in November of 2009.

A follow-up event was held in Helsinki the following year and then Kristian left Nokia to work at his start-up and I got busy with other projects. With the gentle nudge of Ville Alatalo, Jyrki Laurila and others from the original Hackfest in Oulu, the project was brought back and because 11-11-10 is a nice pattern falling conveniently on a Thursday, Ville, Jyrki, Kristian, and I set the date for the 2nd Annual Oulu Hackfest and got to work.

Slideshare presentation of previous Nokia Hackfests

In order to involve the greater Oulu community (why keep all the fun to ourselves?), we decided to open up the event to non-Nokia people for a greater exchange of ideas. While no one knows really what to expect at these events, like any good dinner party, we all look forward to making it come together as we go along and making sure everyone has fun. Who knows what ideas will be dreamed up and tried out? What problems will the group tackle? What is broken in our world? How can we make things better?

The fun starts on November 11th at 11am on the Center for Internet Excellence campus in Oulu and find out. If you just want to drop by at Noon for the final demo presentations, join us at Noon on November 12th. For all the details, follow the links at ouluopenhack.org. or tune into twitter at #ouluopenhack.

Nokia N8, Big and Small

The promotional drumbeat grows ever louder as we get closer to the release of Nokia’s new handset, the Nokia N8. Nokia’s marketing machine is a wonder to see in action. Two promotions I thought particularly clever are both world record breakers and nicely bookend the catchphrase for the device, It’s not technology, it’s what you do with it.

Dot, the world’s smallest stop motion video. Commissioning the folks behind the Wallace and Gromit movies (Aardman Animations), the Dot short is made up thousands of frames shot on a mounted N8 using its 12-megapixel camera. Painstakingly, the team managed about 4-seconds of footage a day. When they were done, these were stitched together into a minute and a half stop motion movie.

Rosengård, the world’s largest projection screen. Going from micro to macro, a nine-story screen hoisted between two cranes served as the screen for an HD video signal projected from four massive projectors. Over 2,500 people (1,000 from the comfort of their balcony) were able to enjoy Prince of Persia, the Sands of Time fed by the HDMI port on an N8.

Viral Video – Two Approaches

My aunt Karen is in the advertising industry and she forwards me snippets where our two industries cross paths. It’s always interesting to see something you know really well from another perspective. In this case, she sent over an article from Advertising Age, Why Microsoft Killed Kin After Just Six Weeks

While the article’s conclusion is probably correct, the pricing was too high for the limited features (no GPS?), I think they went too easy on the viral video marketing campaign which rang false from me right from the beginning. Granted, I am way out of the target segment but if I can see through a staged scene, I am sure the teenagers who ran across the YouTube clips did too.

the campaign followed 24-year-old Brooklynite Rosa Salazar as she used her Kin to connect with her friends via text messages, Facebook, MySpace, Windows Live and Twitter, with her friends’ updates rising to the top of her feed. The campaign used insights from more than 50,000 20-something consumers to appeal to the hipster, metropolitan crowd.

Take a look at the piece below and tell me if you’re convinced this wasn’t completely staged.

When you view this video on YouTube, you’ll quickly find out, from the related videos column on the right of the page that Matty, the subject in this video, is actually a professional stand-up comedian. From that point on, the bubble is burst. You notice that the shaky camera is a professionally shaken camera. You realize the ambush scene where Rosa meets Matty has two cameras that had to have been set up in advance. You realize that what’s supposed to be intimate and a cool little insight shared with just me is actually a slick ad produced by Redmond. You feel dumb for even thinking this was genuine.

The alternate approach is to just get weird. These videos by Nokia (where I work btw) are super slick too and it’s hard to tell if they are even about a phone. I am not a marketer and I have no idea how effective they were in driving sales but they sure are fun to watch!

N900 – The Journey Starts Here

Why Good Navigation is Important

Must have been fun to be on this set. I like the navigation at the end of the clip, like a mini-site embedded in YouTube. I guess, subliminally, you could think of the N8 as looking kinda like a foosball table so maybe there was a message in there somewhere.