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5 Theses on IT and the (near) Future of Retail May 2, 2012

Posted by reto wettach in mobile, social computing, theory.
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Together with my friend Ilaria Forte, CEO from RadicalFuture, I prepared a short talk on how technology will have an impact in retail, especially for large multi-channel retailers. We developed the following 5 thesis on that subject:

FUTURE WAVE 1: technology –> access to information –> give power and control to the customers

NOW: new technologies provide to the customers fast and easy access to tremendous amounts of information upon which to base their buying decisions.  The tech-empowered consumer “knows everything already“ and is often more informed about a given product than most of the staff within the store. Above all, knowledge means power and control (e.g. negotiate purchase at the lowest price in the market).


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  • Instant information on products as e.g. price check App by Amazon or the goodguide App, which give instant information on the sustainble aspects of a product
  • Support in the entire context of the product as e.g. “Project Help” by Lowes.com, with tools to help archieving complex tasks in your home with amongst others a project “Calculator” or a “How-To” or a buying guide.

TOMORROW: consumers are getting wiser, access to information will be easier and faster. Consumers will demand higher service standards, offline and online.

IMPLICATIONS: consumers will expect staff excellence, superlative service and proved expertise. Retailer will need to get smarter, transparent and trustworthy. Upgrade store staff skills through training might be too expensive and not enough.
By using innovative technologies that integrate information assets and business processes, retailer will improve service levels at relatively low cost.

FUTURE WAVE 2: technology –> automation + simplification –> make easier everyday life tasks

NOW: new technologies and improvements make the overall shopping experience faster, more simple and more flexible for the customer. Consumers are looking to connect with retailers anytime, anyplace & anywhere. They can decide where (virtual or physical space), how (mobile, online, in-store), when (24/7).


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  • Shopping experience seamlessly integrated between online, mobile and offline as e.g. “Buy Online – Pick Up at Store” by HomeDepot or Apple EasyPay (“While in an Apple Store, quickly purchase accessories on your own with EasyPay (requires iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S)”)

TOMORROW: the whole purchasing and buying process will become simplified and faster thanks to integrated applications (online, mobile and in-store).

IMPLICATIONS: consumers will expect easy shopping experience, 1-click shopping especially for low involvement, low price and frequent purchase product categories.

FUTURE WAVE 3: technology –> access to real-time data –> make consumption a truly personal experience

NOW: personalized-shopping thanks to real-time data is mainly used by online retailers. Personalized tools include public profile, community settings, registries, gift and shopping lists, product reviews, personalized content and shopping lists.


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  • Audience detection for more personalized shopping experience as e.g. .g Intel AIM Suite, which “is able to discern a person’s gender, race, approximate age and, based on the contours of the person’s face and positioning, just how long he actually looks at the screen.” (White Paper: “Video Analytics for Digital Signage Deployments”)
  • Strong integration of store staff for personalized retail experience as e.g. concept “Identitymine Store”, presented by Microsoft: “Customers Create Preferences On App For Tailored In-Store Experience” und “The shopper can use their app to create a profile, browse products and make a shopping list. When they arrive at the physical store they can check in using the app and contact the store assistant, who views the customer’s profile, shopping list and purchase history using the app on a Windows tablet. The assistant can identify the customer in-store from their profile picture.” (source)

TOMORROW: address the needs and preferences of individual consumer online and in-store

IMPLICATIONS: access to data will be more and more the lifeblood of any retail marketing operation. Real-time interactive analysis of customer‘s preferences will deliver rapid customer insights. It is important to personalize a customer’s experience in the store.

FUTURE WAVE 4: technology –> network supported social exchange and interaction–> make shopping more social

NOW:  social shopping is a pervasive trend. Consumers share products, purchases, and deals with friends and family.  Recommendations mainly based on purchases and searches, reviews from other customers and friends.


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  • Social Shopping goes beyond recommendations as e.g. Ticketmaster’s feature of seeing where you friend are seating when purchasing a ticket

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  • The fun part of shopping is to be social as e.g. the TweedMirror by Nedap – even though the implementation of this concept is too nerdy from my point of view, but the direction is right!
  • Social Experience must be enabled as e.g. wiht Triptrotting, “who will help you feel like a local when you travel.”

TOMORROW: social commerce is expected to grow (forecasted $30 billion in 2015). The role of social media will continue to grow in the world of online shopping and beyond. From online to offline: the social aspects of the web will improve shopping experience in-store.

 IMPLICATIONS: put together all forms of commerce and channels (mobile, social networking, e-commerce, email, and in-store) into one “syndicated” experience. Customer deals, offers, promotions, and experiences must be one with the brand and the brand experience.

FUTURE WAVE 5: technology –> participative tools –> enable customers participation and co-creation

NOW: creating is a global trend: the active consumer, develops solutions and shares them with the community, which then again can learn and improve. Crowd-sourcing, liquid democracy and open-source are hints toward this trend.


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Consumers like to create and share  as e.g. in the DIY-scene, but also in recipes as e.g. Food52, the „the first crowd-sourced cookbook“

TOMORROW: customers will become more active. we will see more and more co-production, involving consumers in the whole process. consumers will want to have support in their active approach to consumption and they might even want to share the revenue, which is generated through their activities.

IMPLICATIONS: retailers will need to clearly identify the key areas for active consumption. Enabling the consumer to create needs to be applied both, online and offline, from design to selling.


MWC 2012 – Software March 13, 2012

Posted by reto wettach in exhibitions, mobile, new technologies.
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Second part of my MWC-Report:

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The App-Planet was not at all what its name promised – in fact, there were hardly any apps being shown at this year’s MWC. Talking to my colleague Johannes Landstorfer we assume that this is related to the fact that today more and more app vendor do not have to sell through the large telcos, but through the app stores directly to the customer.

As Apple did not participate, the MWC felt like a big Android party – (sorry guys at Nokia…)

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Actually, the only booth, which showed Apps, was Android.However, for somebody in the field, it was not really exciting. The presentation also lacked any form of excitement: no new releases etc:

(own image; I am not sure, why Google presented this material exploration wall, as nothing is less haptic than the smartphone world…)

A large part of the software offerings were related to easy-creation and easy-portation of apps:

iTude is one of these companies. They have a good description of why they do what they do: Mobile apps are coming of age. Simple brand presence apps no longer captivate consumers. Consumers expect mobile apps to have the same functions as online services. At the same time, companies are struggling to catch up with developments in mobile apps. Lulled by a decade of stable internet technology, they now find it hard to adapt to the fast changing mobile world. iTUDE has developed mobile apps and mobile websites since 2006 and has a proven track record of professional, successful apps and websites. (source)

AppSpotr was one of these service providers: their claim at MWC was: “Build your native app in 5 minutes”.
Their apps run on iPhone and Android and can be update “anytime, anywhere for everyday changes.”

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Additionally to the easy-development of simple apps, specialized easy-to-use app kits were presented:

AR was very prominent amongst these specialized kits. The best I saw was Metaio, a software, which could recognize and augment (in real time) 3.d-situations. The demo was a model city, where augmented fires started a various buildings. This technology could be very interesting for a lot of use cases, unfortunately most AR-applications presented at MWC were around augmenting ads, packages or magazines…

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Ads seems to be the driving force in a lot of offerings at the MWC:

Smaato is offering the integration of ad in your apps.

Mobile Marketing was also a huge topic, even though I never really understood, what it is. I guess these companies make it very easy to send out your message via all available mobile chanels, be it SMS, Bluetooth, App or Websites. CyTech is such a company.

MWC 2012 – Hardware March 12, 2012

Posted by reto wettach in gadgets, light, mobile, physical interaction design.
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Here my personal report on the Mobile World Congress this year in Barcelona:

1. Even though by the end of 2012, the number of mobile-connected devices will exceed the number of people on earth (according to Cisco), M2M is still just for the industry: None of the exhibitors understood that M2M (Machine-to-Machine or ‘Internet of Things’) could be an interesting field for inventors, startups and  small or medium sized companies. All the ready-to-use-technologies that I saw were pretty heavily directed towards engineers – at not (as with Arduino or Fritzing) towards the community of creatives.

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Of course one can find the good old use-cases as home-network, health and car, and very little applied and innovative M2M-products. So, you can imagine how happy I was when I saw Glowcab by my friend David Rose. Next to his product, At&T showed Garmin GTU, a pet GPS–tracker, and Amber Alert GPS, the same for kids:

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2. Mobile phones are getting boring – just more of this and more of that:

– More Pixels

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Even though the 41-Megapixels offered by Nokia 808 PureView are not meant to be stored directly, but to improve the quality of the images, I just want to show that it is all the same, but more in the details.

– More Computing Power

It has been long time that I got excited about the performance of computers – but at MWC this topic was – as expected – huge. Wow, a quad core 1,5GHz mobile phone – please show me, for what we can use all this speed!!!

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– More Design

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The mobile phone industry decided to go down the lane of the wonderful black monolith (known form the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”) – and now some of the major players are trying to add some design to this object:

Nokia is very proud of the “one-piece polycarbonate body”, which comes in various colors. For me it rather looks like an unnecessary add-on:

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Sony shows with its Xperia U another mobile phone with an interesting feature, similar to Philips AmbiLight from 2002: the transparent bar is illuminated and “echoes” the major color currently on the screen. I couldn’t find out, why – besided on looking different…:

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Medias, the mobile phone brand of NEC, is showing a double-screen-smartphone “Medias W”. Well, “pixel everywhere” – who knows, maybe we will be seeing it one day in real live!

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– Finally: Mobile with Projector

IxDS, the company where I work with, did already in 2008 a project on exploring the potential of pico-projectors in mobile context. We came up with a couple of ideas and concept, none strong enough to make our client launch such a product right away. But now, Samsung came up with Galaxy Beam. A long line of visitors had to wait to experience this device in the dark-room. I was rather disappointed as the use-cases were nothing special: projecting slides from a presentation, home made videos or downloaded stuff…

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3. Mobile Sensing – still exciting!

Just one example – to not turn too nerdy here: ST Microelectronics presented a 10-axis-accelerometer-board. I first was not sure for what this should be good (another tilting-based game) until they explained to me that with this technology, they can “determine location reliably to within a few metres even in the absence of GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite Systems) satellite signals.” (source) – which is good for indoor location tracking. Wow!

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4. Mobile Actuation – there’s hope…

I finally had the chance to meet some guys from Immersion: they were displaying their “HD Haptics“, which was pretty impressive: Their demo was a selection of musical instruments on a touch screen, you choose one and then shake the mobile and can really feel the instrument. It is hard to describe, but it really gives me hope for richer tactile interaction. Technologywise, the system is based on piezo – I guess similar to my friend Ivan Poupyrev’s touch engine from 2002.

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Well, another interesting approach to mobile actuation was presented by the Japanese company ChatPerf. They propose an mobile actuator, which sprays perfume:

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Currently they only have a prototype:

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5. Body!

Well, there was very little real “Physical Interaction” at the MWC – more or less as expected. So it was nice to meet the friends from Oblong Industries: they presented their new intuite interaction tool called Mezzanine:

The Uncanny Valley of Mobile Services December 12, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in innovation process, methods, mobile.
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In 1970 the Japanese researcher Masahiro Mori presented the concept of the Uncanny Valley:

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The uncanny valley is applied to human-like robots or to 3-D computer animations of humans.

Mori describes it in this translated version of his original paper (pdf here) as follows: the appearance is quite human like, but the familiarity is negative. This is the uncanny valley.

A lot of research has been done since 1970:

Some are trying to understand the origin of the Uncanny Valley as Karl F. MacDorman (2005) who relates this feeling of estrangement to the “Terror Management Theory”, which is concerning “how human beings manage their fear of personal extinction“.

Others are expanding the original model as Christoph Bartneck et al. , who are doubting that the uncanny valley in its quite simplistic approach really exists and are demanding a more complex discussion of this hypothesis. In his paper “My Robotic Doppelgänger” (2009) he compared a real person with his robotic Doppelgänger and could not confirm Mori’s hypothesis, however, the “participants were able to distinguish between the human stimulus and the android stimuli“, which I do not think was too difficult… 🙂 However, in my understanding of the uncanny valley, this estrangement is happening in the moment where you are not sure whether something is a robot or a human…

(image source) (Note: Hiroshi Ishiguro is a co-author of the paper)

Hiroshi Ishiguro is even suggesting to expand the framework and to take “behavior” and “appearance” into consideration (“Android Science – Toward a New Cross-Interdisciplinary Framework“, 2007):

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I am quoting this research because the behavior aspect of the uncanny valley can also be applied to human-like behavior, which is not visible as an robot or computer generated 3-D-person. In many “intelligent” services one could have the feeling that they come from humans, e.g. in the area of location based services:

Fjord, an agency, which “designs transformational digital services” – mostly for mobiles, explored the “Uncanny Valley”-hypothesis to mobile context:

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The sweet spot 1 “include simple, focused applications like local search or sat nav systems. They provide clear benefits at low cost to the user, and tend to be transparent about their limitations or how they make decisions.

The sweet spot 2 is like a “close friend”: “incredibly context sensitive, but also has very good sense of discretion, appropriateness and knows how to honour privacy.

At IxDS we developed a tool for prototyping contextual mobile services, which we called CWS (Contextual Web Services). This system is based on the concept of Wizard-of-Oz-Prototyping, which means that the user does not know nor experience that a human is controlling the contextual web service on his mobile. The operator is working with a PC-based dashboard which shows the profile of the test person, his/her location, the history of interactions and an easy-to-use interface to send/push a notification – with or without interactive elements. The user can give direct feedback whether he like a certain service or not:

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We also observed an “uncanny valley” when the suggestions became too personal. In the qualitative feedback following a three-week-test-period many test users indicated that they didn’t like too personalized suggestions – they found them “scary”…

IxDS’s “Bad Connection”-concept presented at TED Global November 8, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in mobile, poetic, service design, social computing.
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IxDS has been working for many years with Dr. Gesche Joost, leader of the Design Research Lab at Deutsche Telekom.

In 2008/2009 we conducted together a large design research project called “Woman’s Phone” (or Gender Inspired Technologies)(or Call Girls), where we investigated the specific relationship of women and their mobile phones. Based on the assumption that women conceive of their phones differently than manufacturers want to make believe, we developed a number of concepts to uncover this perspective.

One of the outcomes of the “Woman’s Phone“-project is Bad Connection, which was shown at TED Global last year in Oxford (starting at 3:22):

Bad Connections allows the user to induce noise into a phone call. This helps to end unpleasant calls: “Sorry, I can’t hear you anymore…”

I like the fact that Gesche did show this concept, because it proves that doing a design research project based on co-creation with a certain group (in this case women) does not mean that the results cannot be useful for people outside of this group. I would love to have such an app!!!

IxDS is currently developing a feasibility study of this project for Android.

IAA: Smart Phones and Cars September 22, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in gadgets, innovative interfaces, mobile, physical interaction design.
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A big topic for interaction designers at this year’s IAA was the marriage of smart phones and cars. I found the following scenarios:

1. SmartPhone –> Key –> Car

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Delphi is proposing their “Key Fob Technology“: in the scenario presented at the IAA the user looks up a route on his smartphone. In the next step, he holds his car key to the smart phone, which transfers the data to the car key (via NFC). And then, when staring his car with this key, the information lands in the car and the in-car-navigation system.

Well, I am not sure why the car key acts as data tranferer. I liked the blinking at the slot for the car key. And I like the observation that there are two situations – the planning of a journey and the journey itself.

Talking to the people from Delphi I also discussed the following scenario, which they completely refused as they don’t see the necessary security standards being implemented in normal smart phones.

2. Smart Phone <–> Car

Continental is suggesting in their solution called AutoLinq to use the smart phone not only to open your car (!), but also to control vital functions of your car. One scenario they are suggesting is to personalize your dash board with you phone by dragging icons of features in the direction of the dashboard:

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Reminds me of the work by my old colleague Jun Rekimoto, who suggested already in 1998 the so called “Pick and Drop“-system, which allows to drag digital items within a multi-computer environment.

Another scenario with AutoLinq was the idea to check the pressure in the tires through your mobie phone:

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Other companies are suggesting to control the seat through mobile phones…

I guess this is the right way to go, but I also think that there are security and privacy aspects which needs to be resolved. I am not talking about encryption and other technical security issues (I take those for granted), but through the interface: who is allowed to do what? how does the owner knows what is happening? etc. Interesting challenges!

IFA: Air Racer September 13, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in innovative interfaces, mobile, physical interaction design.
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As I wrote before, I am quite interested in innovative hardware in Human-Machine-Interaction. With the raise of smart phones and tablets we could observe a disappearance of interesting interfaces based on hardware: everything was based on wiping your finger on a screen…

(images source: leaflet handed out at IFA 2011)

But slowly one can see new innovative interfaces popping up, especially for those devices. On the IFA this year I saw “Air Racer” by cideko:

It is a steering wheel interface holding the iPad in the center – meant for racing games. It not only adds a real haptic experience to the game (not just holding the iPad in the air), but also gives the player additional buttons.

I really like to deployment of own sensors (as the buttons on the wheel) with the sensors of the iPad (accelerometer).

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Mixed Reality with Mobiles July 5, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in gadgets, innovative interfaces, mobile, physical interaction design, play, poetic.
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The Japan-based Mobile Art Lab developed a nice low-tech extension for mobile phones: a book:

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Here a short video of how the concept works:

I really like the project as it represents a flexibility of mobile devices beyond just the software – extended in the direction of hardware. The current sensor system of the iPhone does not really allow an elegant interaction through this book-extension: so when flipping the pages of the book, the user has also to flip the content on the iPhone.

Unfortunately Apple is really not offering an interesting and open hardware interface. I guess that with more USB-based interfaces between mobile phones and specialized hardware we will see more interesting innovative harware extension for mobile phones.

I gave this sensor problem a thought and then discovered a nice feature with my new Windows phone: when you talk to somebody and hold your phone to your ear the light of the display switches off. So, maybe it would be possible to have a little hole for this sensor in the book and each time the user flips a page the sensor can recognize the pattern of changes in light value and then also switches pages… Wow, what a great idea 🙂

This project reminds me of the project Bird Box by my friends Durell Bishop and Tom Hulbert from Luckybite:

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My friend Julia Leihener pointed the nice “phonebook” concept out to me. Thanks!

Square – the future of banking? May 6, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in mobile, new technologies, service design.
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Square is an interesting service, which allows credit card payment on smart phone.

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Technically they are very interesting as they use the headphone jack to connect a hardware device to a smart phone. Through this approach they avoid the limitations of focusing one hardware environment as e.g. the proprietary iPhone connector. Furthermore they avoid paying licensing I guess: “Apple has a program called ‘Made for iPod’ under which manufacturers get a license to sell accessories for devices. Apple collects a royalty of 20 percent to 25 percent from each sale of a licensed accessory” (quote source)

Square is a growing business and quite successful: ” In Q1, Square did $66 million in payment volume (the company expected $40 million) and plans to triple that in the second quarter of 2011.” (quote source)

Interesting is the fact that Square is basically collecting data – far more reliable, interesting and social data than “just” search engines. I guess their data is even more interesting than amazon’s data as transactions are not restricted to any offerings.

Regarding privacy Square keeps it exciting:

“We will not share your information with anyone except as described in this Privacy Policy. […] We may change this policy at any time.” (source)

“Square may use certain information about you without identifying you as an individual to third parties. We do this for purposes such as […] and personalizing content.” (source)

I am looking forward to these personalized contents…

Tutorial TouchStudio April 16, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in innovation process, mobile, prototyping tools.

The last event at the Microsoft Software Summit in Paris was the Tutorial of TouchStudio by the Microsoft researchers Nikolai Tillmann Peli de Halleux and Michał Moskal.

They gave a nice introduction, starting with the Commodore 64 and how the main experience was to have to program this device. Exactly this experience made the C64 so successful. However, in today’s mobile phone, there is no programming environment, despite the fact, that all over the world for many people the mobile phone is the only access to computer technology.

Then they pointed out, how today’s IDEs are really supportive and have a lot of intelligent features which support the programmer while typing. However, text input on smartphones is not really suitable for programming. So, they invented TouchStudio, a programming environment for the mobile phone, where on can program with “one finger only”.

I really like the idea behind TouchStudio – and the first demo was quite impressive. It took the programmer less than a minute to program an app, which would turn off your music player when you turn the phone with the display facedown.

When working with the TouchStudio I was quite impressed with a couple of text editing features they build: the zooming to a specific line of code works extremely intuitive, the selection and completion of commands is also well executed.

(Here is a video about TouchStudio)

They already implemented some interesting access to the phone’s internal technology as the camera or music player.

The performance is also good: I programmed some Processing-like animations and they worked fine.

The code itself is still displayed as text. I am wondering whether it would add to the joy and clarity if the code would be displayed a little more visually, similar to scratch.

In some cases one needs to provide the software with too much details, e.g. a given color in the draw commands would be sufficient.

Currently scrips cannot be shared with friends or sold in the marketplace, which is another downside, but they are working on this.

And not all sensors of the phone are accessible, yet, but I guess that this will also soon be changed.

One thing I could not find out was how to change parts of the code, which are in the middle of the code, e.g. I wanted to change a “while”-statement to a “for”-statement and could not find a way to do this.

I love this tool and I am looking forward to the innovations which will happen, once lots of people can play with it!