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MWC 2012 – Hardware March 12, 2012

Posted by reto wettach in gadgets, light, mobile, physical interaction design.
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(own image)

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…:

(view at 0:43)

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:

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Charging your e-Car while Driving February 23, 2012

Posted by reto wettach in new technologies, physical interaction design, sustainable interaction design.
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One of the big project we at IxDS did last year was about the user experience of owning an e-car. Of course the charging (and the fear of running out of energy) were important aspects of our design research.

Today, I found an interesting concept for a racing car described in the NewScientist: most exciting to me is the idea of charging the car while driving. Based on the wireless charging technology developed by HaloIPT, the idea of the concept car is to embed this technology in the racing track:
Drayson wants to populate the racing line on racetracks with the pads, so cars charge from the track during races.


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Imagine, what this means for the user experience!!!

M2M for very beginners February 17, 2012

Posted by reto wettach in gadgets, new technologies, physical interaction design, prototyping tools.
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As I wrote a couple of months ago, I am currently preparing a new research project which focusses on the easy access for non-engineers to the so called “Internet of Things”-technology.


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The other day I stumbled over a wonderful project called “Ninja Blocks“. This is basically a piece of open source hardware, which can easily be connected to the internet and allows basically anybody to set up simple rules based on “triggers” and “actions”:

Example Triggers:
“Movement has been detected”
“The temperature has risen above”
“You’ve been tagged in a photo on Facebook”
“You’ve sent a new tweet”
“A button has been pushed”
“Sound is detected”
“Your friend has checked in”

Example Actions:
“Display text on an LCD display”
“Play a sound”
“Send a tweet”
“Open a relay”
“Turn on a light”
“Send an SMS to my phone”
“Post a message on Facebook”
(source)

What a great idea!

The block itself contains an RGB LED, a built-in temperature sensor and an accelerometer, four expansion ports and a regular USB port allow you to add further inputs and outputs.

The basic design philosophy follows quite a high-level approach, not comparable to Arduino. I guess that is the way to go: though this kind of plug&play approach even more people will be attracted to work creativily with hardware.

All the best for your kick-starter initiative, Ninja Blocks!

 

Review of Steve Jobs’ Biography January 9, 2012

Posted by reto wettach in entrepreneurship, innovation process, jobs, methods, physical interaction design.
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Over the holiday I had the chance to read the biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. I really enjoyed the reading, especially as I have been influenced by Jobs’ work very early on. I also enjoyed the description of the Californian culture as lived by Steve Jobs, being barfood, trying weird diets and networking with the most interesting people in the Bay Area, as e.g. Steward Brand, who was a huge influence for me as well.

Here a couple of observations/inspirations I am taking from reading this book:

Tools vs. Results:

The first mission of Pixar was to develop and sell high-end grafic hardware and software. The first product was called the Pixar Image Computer:


(Pixar Image Computer, image source)

This computer was price at 150.000 $ and targeted towards professionals in the grafic design industry, but also for specialized applications as computer tomografie.

Jobs vision was to make this product accessible to masses – at a price of 30.000 $.

Same was true with the Pixar’s rendering software called Reyes (“Render Everything You Ever Saw”): Steve Jobs was planning to make this software also available to the mass market.

But with both ideas he failed. However, Pixar had a small department desiging animations to show off the power of the Pixar hardware and software. One of these films was Luxo Jr., which was first shown at an adacemic conference (!), at Siggraph 1986:

When all the hardware and software projects at Pixar  failed, Jobs had to fire most of the people. Interestingly, it was the small creative deparment, which not only made Pixar survive, but turned the company into a huge success.

The question of selling tools or the results of the tools is quite an old one: Raymond Scott and Bob Moog were both involved in the invention of the synthesizer. However, Scott saw himself as a composer and therefore wanted to keep his tools as secret as possible:

Electronic music for commercials and films was my living then – and I thought I had this great advantage – because of my sequencer. (source: unaddressed letter written by Raymond Scott, late 1970s)

Moog on the other side started to build and sell products – and his company is still around today!

Computer as Bicycle

When Jobs took over the Mac-development form Raskin, he also wanted to get rid of Raskin’s suggested working titel “Macintosh” – named after Raskin’s favorite apple.

So, Steve Jobs suggested “Bicycle”, because the computer is kind of the bicycle for our minds:

I really like this metaphor, especially as riding a bicycle is a strong image I am using when talking about Physical Interaction Design. In the important paper “How Bodies Matter: Five Themes for Interaction Design” (2006), Scott Klemmer et al. use the bicycle to talk about how the WIMP-interface is not taking advantage of our ability for “motor memory”. They suggest: “Assigning dedicated actions to different functions of a user interface can take better advantage of kinesthetic memory.”.
I always get a laugh when asking the audience to imaging to ride a bycicly by using drop-down-menues…

Market Research and Prototypes

Did Alexander Graham Bell do any market research before he invented the telephone?
– Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs is talking here about quantitative research, because when you look into his process it becomes clear that he did a lot of what we call qualitative research:

For example when developing the Apple Stores, Steve Jobs set up a steady changing prototype of a store in an empty warehouse in Cupertino. And he forced a lot of people to come over and give feedback. Larry Ellison, founder and CEO of Oracle, is quoted to have said: “He was obsessed by every detail of the aesthetic and the service experience. It got to the point where I said, ‘Steve I’m not coming to see you if you’re going to make me go to the store again.’”

Jobs really like prototypes and their were basis of his discussions with Jonathan Ive and other product developers and managers – as Ive describes it:

This great room [main room in the Apple design center with six long steel tables for displaying and playing with works in progress] is the one place in the company where you can look around and see everything we have in the works. When Steve comes in, he will sit at one of these tables. If we’re working on a new iPhone, for example, he might grab a stool and start playing with different models and feeling them in his hands, remarking on which ones he likes best. Then he will graze by the other tables, just him and me, to see where all the other products are heading. He can get a sense of the sweep of the whole company, the iPhone and iPad, the iMac and laptop and everything we’re considering. That helps him see where the company is spending its energy and how things connect. And he can ask, “Does doing this make sense, because over here is where we are growing a lot?” or questions like that. He gets to see things in relationship to each other, which is pretty hard to do in a big company. Looking at the models on these tables, he can see the future for the next three years.

Much of the design process is a conversation, a back-and-forth as we walk around the tables and play with the models. He doesn’t like to read complex drawings. He wants to see and feel a model. He’s right. I get surprised when we make a model and then realize it’s rubbish, even though based on the CAD [computer-aided design] renderings it looked great.

He loves coming in here because it’s calm and gentle. It’s a paradise if you’re a visual person. There are no formal design reviews, so there are no huge decision points. Instead, we can make the decisions fluid. Since we iterate every day and never have dumb-ass presentations, we don’t run into major disagreements.

And – of course – Jobs did not really like Powerpoint: “People would confront a problem by creating a presentation. I wanted them to engage, to hash things out at the table, rather than show a bunch of slides. People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.”


(I couldn’t find a picture of the Apple Design Studio, but this one by Edwin Tofslie showing the evolution of Apple products is nice as well)(image source)

Physical vs. Digital

Steve Jobs was always into real products as Issacson writes: “Jobs liked to be shown physical objects that he could feel, inspect, and fondle.“.  But Jobs was also in what I would call “Physical Interaction”:

“There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat,” he said. “That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.”

I really support this quote and therefore the space for creativity is really important! We need more thinking into this area.

Last but not least

Deciding what  not to do is as important as deciding what to do. That’s true for companies, and it’s true for products.

Kate Hartman on Bodies, Plants and Glaciers December 18, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in gadgets, physical interaction design, poetic, theory.
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(Botanicall is a device, which allows plants to twitter or to make phone calls) (image source)

Kate Hartman, one of the inventors of the Botanicalls, gave a very entertaining TED-talk on her work:

At 1:03 she makes a wonderful statement on “Why bodies matter”:

Everybody got one. All of you […] have bodies! Don’t be ashamed! And this is something that we have in common. And they act as our primary interfaces for the world. 

 

Merry Fritzmas! December 13, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in physical interaction design, poetic.
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Stefan Herman, who is working with us on Fritzing, developed this wonderful geeky Christmas star.

With each Starterkit the Fritzing team is shipping such a star.
Order fast – I just hear that there are only 35 left…

 

Feel the Touch Screen December 10, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in physical interaction design.
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Last week I wrote a post on how to make screen more tactile. Today I stumbled upon this nice project: “TouchFire – The Screen-Top Keyboard for iPad“:

A nice project; I am excited to see that it has gotten quite a lot of funding on kick-starter!

And it reminds me very much of the project SLAP Widgets by Jan Borchers (et al.) from 2009, a colleague at the university in Aachen:


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Jan is not only suggesting key boards, but also sliders and knobs. He is also outlining in his paper the great advantage of having “dynamic relabeling”:

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M2M for beginners December 3, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in entrepreneurship, innovative interfaces, new technologies, physical interaction design, prototyping tools.
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I just re-submitted a fund application for developing an M2M-development environment for non-engineers, following the philosophy of Processing, Arduino and Fritzing. Today, my colleague Stefan Hermann pointed out to me the project Twine, which is currently applying for crowd funding.


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Twine was invented by the two MIT-grads David Carr and John Kestner and already received more than 160K in funding! Well done and good luck!

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Feel the Screen December 3, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in innovative interfaces, new technologies, physical interaction design.
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One major challenge with touchscreens is the tactile feedback, which is enriching any Human-Computer-Interaction. A lot of diffenrent approaches have been developed, ranging from Ivan Poupyrev‘s touch engine (2002) to Chris Harrison’s and Scott Hudson’s pneumatic displays:

Now, a new solution is hitting the blogosphere, by a company called Senseg: They are using dynamic electrostatic field to create changing sensations on the finger tips of the user. They call this system “tixel” – derived from “tactile pixels”:


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Too bad, I didn’t have the chance so far to try this system, but according to CNET it really feels great. A great advantage of this system is that there are no mechanical parts involved. The system should be on the market with “12 to 24” months…


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(via Robert Siuda on incom; thanks!)

Smart Phones vs. Dedicated Hardware… November 26, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in making the invisible visible, physical interaction design, sustainable interaction design.
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At the event “Positions on Interaction Design” this year at my university I tried to explain why I moved from Physical Interaction Design to Service Design. One of the reasons is that the hope in dedicated mobile devices with innovative forms of physical interaction did not really happen – and that mobile device – thanks to Smart Phones – went the same way as the PC world: one hardware – many applications!

Today I found this nice collection of images of disassembeld gadgets, which are not only very beautiful, but which also remind me on how much waste is produced for theses single application devices:


(image source)(via boingboing)