Pillow Talk

This is written following an exercise at work where we were asked to imagine the future of a randomly selected product (the pillow in this case) in 20 years.

What follows is fantasy/ fiction, and any resemblance to reality is a spooky coincidence. 

It’s the year 2034. 

Google and Apple are now the leading brands globally, in healthcare, apparel, furniture, banking, construction, transportation and waste management, among others. 

This week marked the launch of the next generation of the AFKAP (the Artefact formerly known as the pillow) from both companies. As with most things, Apple and Google followed very different paths. 

Over the past few years, the AFKAP has already morphed into a digital cushion that can change shape and firmness intelligently, play your favourite music which varies with your level of exhaustion, track your sleep patterns, work as a soothing alarm, and alert your digital ecosystem when you wake – i.e. switch on the news on the TV, send a message to your connected coffee machine and to your digital bathtub. 

Apple though have followed a more oneirological path and their line of iDream products have focused on your creative subconscious. Apple’s product can now track your dreams, interpret them, and in the latest version as Apple have announced with a splash, allow Collaborative Dreaming. The product can already record and store your dreams on the companies cloud for streaming to an Apple Screen of your choice. 

Google have deepened their focus on what they call the 3rd Interface. After the physical and digital world, Google sees the mind as the next interface to control and drive. Having exhausted all forms of confectionary for their version names, the company appointed JK Rowling as a brand consultant and adopted Harry Potter as their global brand ambassador as a part of the deal. In keeping with this, their new AFKAP product is called Pensieve. The principle of the Pensieve product is that although your android phone controls all aspects of your environment through the day, the Pensieve range takes over when you’re asleep, interfaces with your subconscious and continues the uninterrupted service. It measures your vital signs, monitors your health, evaluates the ideas that cross the subconscious and based on advanced algorithms, posts the good ones on Dwitter, the dream-feed most people now use. 

Under test conditions, the Pensieve product can also provide embedded learning, a process through which semantic and other knowledge can be delivered into the mind. Pensieve uses Google’s IDNA (ID+DNA) tokens to manage identity and integrates with Google’s Learning System, called Hermione. As with many of Google’s products, the Pensieve can be 3D printed wherever you are, so there is no need to carry it around. 

The products are not without controversy, though. Dreambook, the social-network based around the internet of dreams has been accused of emotion-invasion. Dreambook have dismissed this as “similar to the privacy concerns of 10 years ago”. 

In a separate move though, investors have warned that the AFKAP category itself is in danger due to developments which will eliminate the necessity of sleep. 


(Many thanks to my colleagues who participated in the brainstorming)


Google – Back Door Innovation?

Google bought Nest this week. Interesting on a number of levels. 

Let’s start with Tony Fadell. Fadell, along with Matt rogers co-founded Nest, and both were part of the team that created the iPod. The Nest team has close to a hundred ex-apple employees. According to most analysts, this is an important component of the deal. Google is trying harder to create better hardware. The Nexus hasn’t done well. Nor has it’s Motorola division. Nest brings serious consumer electronics design chops to the table. The question is, will Google be able to use this? 

Fadell, according to articles, had personality clashes with people at Apple. By all accounts great inventors and geniuses aren’t the best of team-workers or organisation-people. Let’s wait to see how it pans out for Google and the Nest team. 

Apart from the creative talent, Google may have it’s eye on the Home. Along with connected cars, where Google has a significant stake, the digital home and digital healthcare are two key battlegrounds. Nest gives Google a route to your living room, where Apple has so far dominated, with the likely exception of your web search tool. 

It’s worth noting that the other news from Google was the prototype of ‘smart’ contact lenses. These lenses will analyse the fluid from your eyes, to monitor for diabetes. This will save the user from having to do multiple blood tests. We know that the era of smart devices is coming and these are just the starting points. 

What I find interesting is that Google exited the healthcare and energy markets a couple of years ago, when they had two very good propositions. A dashboard for managing your energy information and an online service for keeping your healthcare information in one place. Given Google’s strength, and the increasing centrality of data and analytics, I find it interesting that Google would shut down these properties and then re-enter the same markets through a device route. 

Is this because Google has accepted the Apple model that you can only win by controlling the entire hardware-software-data ecosystem? Or is it that the data driven approach was prone to a significant backlash from privacy and governmental controls, especially in Europe? Or is it that consumers like you and me are much more comfortable with innovation that we can see and touch? 

Either way, I expect to see the return of Googles Health and Energy portals, this time backed by physical devices which can woo the consumer better, while distracting the attention from the real value of the information! 

Teach Your Children Well – The Real Value of Social Media

A common refrain we all hear nowadays is how technology is creating a generation incapable of human interaction. Your kids spend all their time with their noses stuck in a phone or laptop and you’re worried (or should be) that they aren’t building the skills to interact with real people in the real world. Books such as Sherry Turkle’s “Alone Together” – (which I’ve tried to read), paint this view all too grimly.

This is a misplaced fear at best, and downright wrong at worst. This post will try and explain why. 

But first, let me state that I do find it odd when I meet with young people and neither they nor their parents find it necessary to make any attempt at conversation. They slink into a corner with their phones and the inter-generational equilibrium (read: uneasy truce) is reached. I’m not defending the lack of real life social engagement skills. But is technology really to blame for this? In my book, this is a debate about parenting, which is best kept for another forum. 

But social media has a bad rep in many circles. I occasionally hear people say with a lot of vehemence (or pride?) “I don’t have time for cr*p like Facebook”. Others will say “I don’t get the point of Twitter”. Without disrespecting opinions, let’s get a few simple assertions out of the way.

Social media is first, a marketplace. It’s a market for opinions, emotions and connections. As with any market, there are buyers and sellers. Thus it is that on any platform, including the ones above, there are people who have the need to express, and those who have the desire to listen. 

Second, many of us live in a post-national world today. Our families, friends, colleagues and professional relationships all comfortably span countries and continents. On a given day we interact with people all over the world. Isn’t it amazing that we can do this? Have we forgotten already how magical this is? And how far we’ve come from the days of having to pre-book International Trunk-Calls and start conversations with “What time is it there?”. 

Most importantly, in the world today’s children will grow up in, it will be natural to have as many conversations with people across the world as with the persons next to us. No, this is not sad, or a decline in human communication. It’s the death of distance. I want to have a coffee with my colleague at work, and dinner with my friends who live in my city, but I also want to share the private joke with my college friend who happens to be working in Africa currently, and debate the pros and cons of the changes in the Indian political climate with my friends in India. I want to hear from my friends caught in the Polar Vortex in America, that they are safe and warm and to continue the debate I started with my mother about whether or not the US Dollar is a artificially held up by oil-negotiations. I want to do all of this in a single day. And I can. Isn’t that great? And if it isn’t already for you, this will be the new normal. Inability to manage in this world will be a huge challenge. 

Remember, the are entirely new skills being learnt here. Your average teenager is adept at holding multiple parallel conversations; is part of an ongoing language evolution, and is learning about an entirely new way of running trust relationships without physical interaction. All of these are life-skills for tomorrow. 

So while not decrying the value of human interaction as we know it, lets not forget that these technology enabled means of human communication are as important. Knowing one should not mean losing the other. Just as gaining a friend shouldn’t mean losing another. 

Preparing for “Mobile Only”

The speed at which the mobile market evolves is probably unprecedented. Thus it is, that a trend we were talking about 3-6 months ago, as ‘something for the future’, is now a reality for some mainstream businesses. Mobile only seemed like another vague prediction, with no clarity on when, how or even whether, when you asked the more difficult questions about data and statistics. 

Yet consider this report which says that a third (33%) of Barclays digital banking customers are mobile only. Even more so, they are app only. Your own experience with consumers may suggest a very different percentage. However, there is no denying that there is a segment of the digital client base of any bank or B2C organisation that will be a mobile only client. I have spoken to more than one well informed business who are preparing to serve the mobile only consumer. 

This world is coming at you, and fast. The question is, are you ready for it? I recently tried to set up an account for a major utility provider via the iPad and found that their registration process was not optimised for an iPad/ Safari browser combination. In general, it’s much easier to register and set up on a desktop browser and transact on the mobile phone. 

But what if the consumer wants to do the whole thing on a smartphone/ tablet? With the PC market in decline, there will soon be households who have tablets and smartphones but no PC. A simple test every business should conduct is to explore how easy or difficult it is for consumers to sign up and conduct ALL their transactions via the mobile/ tablet device. 

Alongside that you should be tracking the increasingly fragmented technology base of your consumers to keep a tab on the mobile only segment. Be mindful of course that your own data may be misleading. I have come across a number of business in the past year, who believe that the mobile app or the mobile optimised website is not as significant for them, because their customers aren’t using it. They ignore the fact that customers aren’t using those channels because they are under developed, and provide average to poor customer experience. 

The mobile only customer is a reality today and their tribe, though small, will grow. Ignore them at your own risk.