Oprah time: The Inevitable: understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape our future by Kevin Kelly

I re-read Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants and then decided to revisit The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future. The books make sense as ideal companions for each other, despite some overlap in terms of proof points.  On the face of it The Inevitable is a less ambitious book than What Technology Wants.

The inevitable

In the book Kevin Kelly touches on the kind of areas one would expect in  typical presentation given by an innovation team at an advertising agency. He is an unashamed techno-optimist and The key difference is two-fold:

Kelly pulls it together as a coherent idea rather than 12 slivers. He provides in-depth cogent arguments that bind the trends together. Kelly argues that transparency in governments will compensate for the erosion of privacy. I don’t agree with this particular viewpoint. If you are interested in how technology is shaping our world buy What Technology Wants; if you are still hungry for more follow it up with The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future.

Apple Special Event and Security

@ WWDC

Apple’s facial recognition has spurred a number of discussions about the privacy trade-offs in the iPhone X.

Experts Weigh Pros, Cons of FaceID Authentication in iPhone X | Dark ReadingOne concern about FaceID is in its current implementation, only one face can be used per device, says Pepijn Bruienne, senior R&D engineer at Duo Security. TouchID lets users register up to five fingerprints. If a third party obtains a user’s fingerprint and reproduces it, and the user is aware, they could register a different unique fingerprint.

Can Cops Force You to Unlock Your Phone With Your Face? | The Atlantic – Even if Face ID is advanced enough to keep pranksters out, many wondered Tuesday if it would actually make it easier for police to get in. Could officers force someone they’ve arrested to look into their phone to unlock it?

How Secure Is The iPhone X’s FaceID? Here’s What We Know | Wired – Marc Rogers, a security researcher at Cloudflare who was one of the first to demonstrate spoofing a fake fingerprint to defeat TouchID. Rogers says he has no doubt that he—or at least someone—will crack FaceID. In an interview ahead of Apple’s FaceID announcement, Rogers suggested that 3-D printing a target victim’s head and showing it to their phone might be all it takes. “The moment someone can reproduce your face in a way that can be played back to the computer, you’ve got a problem,” Roger says. “I’d love to start by 3-D-printing my own head and seeing if I can use that to unlock it.” 

Now lets talk about the Apple Watch, which I consider to present more serious issues.
 
The Apple Watch 3 is interesting from a legislative point-of-view. The software SIM in the Apple Watch clones the number of your iPhone. The security services of the major powers generally don’t broadcast their capabilities. Politicians are generally untroubled by knowledge of what is possible. Giving politicians an inkling is likely to result in broad sweeping authoritarian power. 
Imagine what will happen when Amber Rudd goes into parliament looking for real-time access to everyone’s phones. She now can point to the Apple Watch 3 as evidence that LTE and 3G connections can be cloned. What kind of legislation will her special advisers start cooking up then?

Secondly, it will only be a matter of time before criminals either work out how to do it themselves, or co-opt mobile carrier staff. Two factor authentication that depends on SMS is already compromised. This allows it to be compromised and undetectable.

The Apple Watch 3 may have royally screwed us all.

Can too much ‘design thinking’ be a bad thing?

First of all, what’s ‘design thinking’?

It’s a term that has been popularised by IDEO to encapsulate user-centred thinking. Wikipedia does a good explanation of how it differs from the scientific method

Design thinking differs from the “Scientific method”, which begins by stating a hypothesis and then, via a feedback mechanism, continues iteratively to form a model or theory, by including consideration of the emotional content of the situation. While feedback in the scientific method is mostly obtained by collecting observational evidence with respect to observable/measurable facts, design thinking feedback also considers the consumer’s emotional state regarding the problem, as well as their stated and latent needs, in discovering and developing solutions. In scientific methods with a heavy emphasis on math or physics, emotional elements are typically ignored. Design thinking identifies and investigates both known and ambiguous aspects of the current situation in an effort to discover parameters and alternative solution sets which may lead to one or more satisfactory goals. Because design thinking is iterative, intermediate “solutions” are potential starting points of alternative paths, allowing for redefinition of the initial problem, in a process of co-evolution of problem and solution

So design thinking builds on the scientific method to also include human factor consideration (beyond physical ergonomic considerations of industrial designers).

The attraction for businesses is that it allows a wider range of intellectual tools to be thrown at a problem. Business problem solving traditionally has borrowed from the scientific method: data is used to form a hypothesis, which is then tested. The lack of consideration of human factors becomes a problem as an organisation tries to become marketing or customer-orientated.  In digital organisations the iterative nature of design thinking mirrors modern approaches to development on software and digital services. Short bursts of iterative work that are then refined regularly. Digital products and services don’t necessarily need to be built by the organisation; banks don’t need to build their bank statement system, restaurants their digital menus or phone companies their billing design interface.

The blind spot that I see in the process is when we forget that the promises made through a proposition built via design thinking has to be delivered in the real world.

Here’s a case in point.

By the 1970s Japanese quartz watch movements with miniaturised watch batteries  had proved an existential threat to the Swiss watch industry. The Swiss had embraced quartz technology alongside their tradition offerings as far back as 1969. 20 Swiss manufacturers came up with the beta21 movement which they released soon after Seiko’s Auctron. Overall the industry was slow to go into large commercial production of quartz watches.

By Museumsfoto (Deutsches Uhrenmuseum) [CC BY 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

By 1974, the price of gold shot up fourfold and the dollar dropped by 40%. These two factors hit the premium market hard. From the end of the war until the rise of China, America was the largest single market for luxury goods, though the Japanese gave them a good run for it. Luxury watchmakers were hit by both rising costs and dollar price inflation in their largest market. Low-end and premium brands disappeared left, right and centre.  In 1978, the number of quartz watches manufactured passed that of mechanical watches as part of what the watchmaking industry still calls the ‘quartz crisis’.

IWC ended up being bought by VDO. At the time VDO was an independent German company that specialised in making speedometers and gauges for both cars and the marine sector. It still makes electronics and instrumentation, but is now owned by Continental (of Continental tyres fame). It was the VDO connection which connected IWC with Porsche Design.

Porsche Design had a reputation for making watches that had a focus on user experience. They adopted a focus on minimal design, legibility and innovative materials.  Their first design was a chronograph which had an innovative  first black steel watch, they used PVD (physical vapour deposition) to provide a stronger surface than paint. They made an innovative model with a compass hide underneath its watch, the watch lifted up

The next watch would be a dive watch, it was partly aimed at a German Navy requirement for dive watches that had a sufficiently low magnetic signature that combat divers could safely work with naval mines.  IWC had invested in machines for working with titanium. Dive watches that perform are usually pretty chunky products.

Panerai PAM 347 + Rolex Sea-Dweller Deepsea 116660

These two designs by Panerai and Rolex respectively are good examples of the typical design approach. Enough metal is used to keep the immense pressures under control.

IWC Ocean 2000
IWC Ocean 2000
IWC Ocean 2000

Porsche Design took a radically different approach. They managed to make a smaller device by using the water pressure to improve water resistance. The pressure would squeeze the case tighter and tighter. This made it slimmer and necessitated the design of curves. This also make it exceptionally comfortable to wear.

It was a nightmare to the manufacturing function at IWC. Titanium is exceptionally hard to work; to the point that these watches were sold at or below the cost of sale (manufacturing, marketing, logistics etc). The Porsche design literally had no straight edges on the case making it exceptionally hard to manufacture.

In subsequent models of dive models IWC went back to more muscular hard edged designs that make life easier for the manufacturing line.

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What becomes apparent is that Porsche design was very focused on the end customer experience, but it was at the expense of business considerations. This brings us back quite neatly to design thinking which loses that process function over time.

Apple’s design team not only focus on the product design, but how it can be made. It mean’t thinking laterally about possible process improvement. They went to sweet factories in order to work out how to cast seamless transparent  plastic surfaces. Apple spent large amounts of its cash pile to forward purchase in-demand components and machine tools for factories. Foxconn had thousands of CNC machines working cranking out iPhone cases that would have been unthinkable from other manufacturers.

But most companies aren’t organised like Apple. They have limited resources to implement processes for customers. Conventional business thinking usually tries to reduce costs or outsource as a non-core product.

Christina Xu on Chinese user experience and consumer behaviour

I’ve been a big fan of Christina’s work for a while and this presentation is a great example of his work. Bookmark it; watch it during your lunch break its well worthwhile.

Great examples of online to offline (O2O) interaction in processes and services that are continually expanding.  Interesting points about the lack of social norms or boundaries on the usage of online / mobile service in the real world. I’ve seen people live their online life in the cinema there are NO boundaries as Christina says.

Five for Friday | 五日(星期五)

Things that made my day this week:

Dubliner Rosemary Smith is a 79 year old woman who owned her own driving school. But from the 1960s through the 1970s she was one of the world’s foremost rally drivers. With the right support, she could have done so much more. Renault decided to put her behind the wheel of a single seater racing car. Rallying and racing are different disciplines, but Smith still had some of the magic as you could see in this video

Westbam featured in a short film talking about how he started off and the intersection of music and culture in Berlin during 1989

American Petroleum Institute has put together a video reminding the public of all (ok just a small amount of) the stuff that oil actually goes into. When Teslas rule the roads, we’ll still need oil

The sound track of my week has been various mixes from DJ Nature

Campfield Futon – Snow Peak – I love the design and quality of Japanese outdoor brand Snow Peak. The Campfield Futon is an amazingly flexible piece of furniture that would be great outdoors or in an apartment

Internet of Things or Internet of Sh__?

Wearables as a category has not met the (perhaps unfair) expectations of the technology sector. Smart home products have had issues and consumers have rightly been concerned about the implications of ‘cloud with everything’. Here is what some of Silicon Valley think

Living with the Apple Watch

I got the first iteration of the Apple Watch and managed to put up with it for about 48 hours before giving up on it. I have managed to persevere with the the Apple Watch 2.

Apple managed to speed up the performance of glanceable content, but it still doesn’t have the use case nailed. Watch 2 tries to go hard into fitness, which is a mixed bag in terms of data and accuracy. I am not convinced that it is any better than Fitbit and similar devices.

They did improve the product in two design areas. The Nike straps make the watch less sweaty to wear on your wrist. It is now comparable to wearing a G-Shock. They also managed to life-proof the Watch. You can now wear it swimming (but I wouldn’t advise snorkelling or scuba diving) and in the shower.  The battery life is still meh.

I upgraded the OS to watchOS 4 public beta but haven’t managed to use the Siri powered contextual face yet. As a concept it promises to be a step in the right direction to provide the kind of transformation wearables needed.

watchOS 4 made me realise something that had been nagging me for a while.

The Apple Watch doesn’t have any personality, or at least traits of a personality that I’d care about. It’s a detail that disappoints me. Mostly it’s invisible as a device, with the occasional glances. It gives me the occasional messages that sound like a vaguely resistant teen or like bursts of micro-aggression.

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It wouldn’t take that much effort to have a bit more manners or personality in the copywriting. How about some icons?

Susan Kare was the icon designer for original Apple Mac, back in 1984. She came up with icons that were useful and gave the machine a personality. You got a sense of the personality behind the developers who created the machine. This was the kind of detail that Apple was known to obsess over.

dogcow

Some of the icons like the dogcow, the bomb and the sad mac became iconic shorthand amongst Mac users. The dogcow was used in printer utility to show page orientation.

Like the early Mac, the Apple Watch doesn’t have a clear killer app and defined use case. It would benefit from manners, humour or even a bit of Siri wit. What’s more using well designed icons would reduce the effort in terms of product localisation.

You could argue that limited device resources don’t allow it. But I don’t buy that theory, an Apple Watch has more memory and computing power than the original Mac. I think its about that legendary attention to detail that Steve Jobs had (and drove everyone else made with. Apple has tried to codify this in their process, but you can’t bake in quirky obsession.

I guess I am old school Apple. I use an iPhone because it works well with my Mac, rather than the other way around. I still come across things where I see ‘Ahh, Apple’s thought about…’ in my Mac. My iPhone is a portable extension of my data, and doubles as a mobile modem for the Mac as needed; it gets in as the Mac’s plus 1.

By comparison the Apple Watch has less of a connection to the Mac and leeches off the iPhone. For a product that has little use case, it needs to work harder at building loyalty through my relationship with it as a device.

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Of time and networks

Communities have marked time in different ways. It used to be marked by the bells of a church or the clock on a local factory. At that time, it didn’t matter that the clock told the precise time, but that it was consistent. This meant that different ‘time zones’ existed in areas separated by little distance.

The amount of reference time pieces expanded as mechanical clocks were installed in churches, farm estates and early factories. In the case of factories the change of shift was often punctuated by the blast of a fog horn.

I can remember this being the case even during my early childhood at the nearby Unilever factory. The change of shift signal marked my walk to infant school.

Over the centuries canals sprang up throughout the country as the first mass transport link, facilitating the movement of heavy goods such as coal and iron ore in a more efficient manner. Canals were transformative, but the boats still only moved at the speed of the horse. Railways broke the ‘horse speed’ barrier. This was transformative because it suddenly shone a light on inconsistent time keeping across the country. Railway timetables couldn’t incorporate all the variations in time zones between stations, so it became the arbiter of accurate time.

Over time radio and television played their part, audiences could set their watch by the start of key news programmes, for instance the time pips in the run into BBC Radio 4’s today programme or the Angelus chimes on RTE Radio  1.

The telephone came into play when looking for an exact time (to reset a watch or alarm clock) outside the broadcast schedule.

The popularity of mobile phone networks didn’t have as much of an impact as one would have thought. NITZ (Network Identity and Time Zone) was an optional standard for GSM networks. It has an accuracy in the order of minutes. A competing standard on CDMA 2000 networks used GPS enabled time codes that were far more accurate.

Modern timekeeping for the smartphone toting average person goes back to NTP; one of the earliest protocols in for the early internet that was created some time before 1985.

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Back in 2001 when I installed the earliest version of macOS (then known as OSX 10.0 ‘Cheetah’) the date and time settings made reference to Apple owned NTP servers that were used to calibrate time on the computer. This infrastructure has since provided time to Apple’s other computing devices such as the iPhone and the and the iPad.

We are are now living on the same time. Time synchronisation happens seamlessly. We tend to only realise it when there is a problem.

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Three takeaways from Cannes and VidCon

I had the chance to read around a lot of the stuff that happened at Cannes and listened to Ogilvy’s webinar on VidCon. Here were the key things that struck me.

There is blind faith amongst brand about the benefits of influencers and social.  I find this particularly interesting because it represents a number of challenges to the status quo:

  • This first struck me when I saw Heather Mitchell on a panel at the In2 Innovation Summit in May. Mitchell works in Unilever’s haircare division where she is director, head of global PR, digital engagement and entertainment marketing. I asked the panel about the impact of zero-based budgeting (ZBB) and the answer was ducked. ZBB requires a particular ROI on activity, something that (even paid for) influence marketing still struggles to do well
  • The default ethos for most brand marketers is Byron Sharp’s How Brands Grow: What Marketers Don’t Know. Most consumer brands are in mature categories, engagement is unimportant; being top of mind (reach and repetition) is what matters
  • Brands were looking to directly engage with influencers at VidCon with trade stands and giveaways at the expo. This was brands like Dove. Again, I’d wonder about the targeting and ROI

Substitute ‘buzz marketing’ for ‘influencer marketing’ and this could be 15 years ago. Don’t get me wrong I had great fun doing things like hijacking Harry Potter book launches when I worked at Yahoo!, but no idea how it really impacted brand or delivered in terms of RoI. Influencer marketing seems to be in a similar place.

Publicis and Marcel. Well it certainly got them noticed. There has been obligatory trolling (some of which was very funny). I tried to make a sombre look at it here: Thinking About Marcel (its about a nine minute read) – TL;DR version – its a huge challenge that Publicis has set itself. One interesting aspect to point out is the differing view point between WPP and Publicis. WPP has spent a lot of time, effort and money into building a complete advertising technology stack including advanced programmatic platforms and analytics.

WPP hoped that this would provide them with an unassailable competitive advantage. The challenge is that the bulk of growth in online spend is going to Facebook and Google – who also happen to have substantive advertising technology stacks.

I can’t help but wonder if this shaping is Publicis’ top line thinking? Scott Galloway posted a very sombre chart about this. If Google and Facebook hit their combined revenue targets this year, it will have a dramatic effect on the number of people employed in the major advertising groups.

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To put Galloway’s numbers into context, the projected number of jobs lost in the advertising industry  this year would be roughly the equivalent of every man and woman around the world currently employed at vehicle maker Nissan. And that’s just 2017.

If you paid attention to the Marcel concept film you would have noticed that the client service director is partly displaced when a client uses Marcel to directly reach out to Publicis experts.

If Marcel, just makes information easier to access internally; it could save the equivalent time  equating to almost 1,600 employees (out of Publicis’s current 80,000 around the world).

People equate to billings as these marketing conglomerates are basically body shops in the way they operate. So it will adversely affect the value of the major marketing groups.

If that isn’t grim enough, Galloway doesn’t even bother to take into account the Chinese ecosystems which is digitising at a faster rate than the West. China also has a longer history of platforms and clients being directly connected – cutting out the media agency.

These changes in the advertising eco-system has huge implications about the erosion in brand equity over time. Amazon’s move to surpass other retailers also is about the erosion of brand power. Combine this with the increasing ubiquity of Prime and all brands start to look the same as private labels.

Thankfully the disciples of Byron Sharp still realise that there is power (and lower CPMs) in using television as a mass-advertising medium which is why FMCG product still spend 90% of their budget offline.

The best thing IPG, WPP, Omnicom and Publicis could do right now is spend a lot of money ensuring that every marketing and MBA student have copies of Mr Sharp’s books. If they haven’t been translated into Chinese, that might be an idea as well.

SnapChat is in its difficult ‘second album’ phase. Back when music came on physical media and record labels invested in developing artists as a longer term proposition than a reality TV series there was the ‘second album’ phase. Artists often struggled to bottle the lightning that gave them a successful first album. They usually had the money and resources to throw at it, but it was hard to be a consistent performer.

For example Bruce Springsteen only really became successful in the U.S. with his third album Born To Run – that level of record label support wouldn’t happen now.

On one level SnapChat has matured. It had a big presence at Cannes and its Snap glasses displaced VR technology as the worn product. It has been under assault. Major content providers like the BBC are choosing Instagram’s stories over SnapChat’s offerings. Even Twitter is getting back in the picture. Ogilvy’s team at VidCon talked about how Twitter had been successfully engaging with influencers and offering them support and attractive content monetisation offers.

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My decade of the iPhone

Last week has seen people looking back at the launch of the iPhone. At the time, I was working an agency that looked after the Microsoft business. I used a Mac, a Nokia smartphone and a Samsung dual SIM feature phone.  At the time I had an Apple hosted email address for six years by then, so I was secure within the Apple eco-system. I accessed my email via IMAP on both my first generation MacBook Pro and the Nokia smartphone.

Nokia had supported IMAP email for a few years by then. There were instant messaging clients available to download. Nokia did have cryptographic signatures on app downloads, but you found them on the web rather than within an app store.

At the time BlackBerry was mostly a business device, though BlackBerry messaging seemed to take off in tandem with the rise of the iPhone.  The Palm Treo didn’t support IMAP in its native email application, instead it was reliant on a New Zealand based software developer and their paid for app SnapperMail.

Microsoft had managed to make inroads with some business users, both Motorola and Samsung made reasonable looking devices based on Windows.

The iPhone launch went off with the characteristic flair you would expect from Steve Jobs. It was a nice looking handset. It reminded me of Palm Vx that I used to have, but with built in wireless. Whilst the Vx had a stylus, I had used my fingers to press icons and write Graffiti to input text. It looked good, but it wasn’t the bolt from the blue in the way that others had experienced it.

But in order to do work on the Palm, I had a foldable keyboard that sat in my pocket.

By the time that the iPhone launched, I was using a developer version of the Nokia E90 which had an 800 pixel wide screen and a full keyboard in a compact package.

Nokia e90 and 6085

I had Wi-Fi, 3 and 3.5G cellular wireless. I could exchange files quickly with others over Bluetooth – at the time cellular data was expensive so being able to exchange things over Bluetooth was valuable. QuickOffice software allowed me to review work documents, a calendar that worked with my Mac and a contacts app.  There was GPS and Nokia Maps. I had a couple of days usage on a battery.

By comparison when the iPhone launched it had:

  • GSM and GPRS only – which meant that wireless connectivity was slower
  • Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth (but only for headphone support)
  • No battery hatch – which was unheard of in phones (but was common place in PDAs
  • No room for a SD, miniSD or microSD card – a step away from the norm. I knew people who migrated photos, message history and contacts from one phone to another via an SD card of some type

I wasn’t Apple’s core target market at the time, Steve Jobs used to have a RAZR handset.

As the software was demoed some things became apparent:

  • One of the key features at the time was visual voicemail. This allowed you to access your voicemails in a non-linear order. This required deep integration with the carrier. In the end this feature hasn’t been adopted by all carriers that support the iPhone. I still don’t enjoy that feature. I was atypical at the time as I had a SIM only contact with T-Mobile (now EE), but it was seemed obvious that Apple would pick carrier partners carefully
  • There was no software developer kit, instead Apple encouraged developers to build web services for the iPhone’s diminutive screen. Even on today’s networks that approach is hit-and-miss
  • The iPhone didn’t support Flash or Flash Lite. It is hard to explain how much web functionality and content was made in Adobe Flash format at the time. By comparison Nokia did support Flash, so you could enjoy a fuller web experience
  • The virtual keyboard was a poor substitute for Palm’s Graffiti or a hardware keyboard – which was the primary reason that BlackBerry users held out for such a long time
  • The device was expensive. I was used to paying for my device but wasn’t used to paying for one AND being tied into an expensive two year contract
  • Once iPhones hit the street, I was shocked at the battery life of the device. It wouldn’t last a work day, which was far inferior to Nokia

I eventually moved to the Apple iPhone with the 3GS. Nokia’s achilles’ heel had been its address book which would brick when you synched over a 1,000 contacts into it.

By comparison Apple’s contacts application just as well as Palm’s had before it. Despite the app store, many apps that I relied upon like CityTime, MetrO and the Opera browser took their time to get on the iPhone platform. Palm already was obviously in trouble, BlackBerry had never impressed me and Windows phone still wasn’t a serious option. Android would have required me to move my contacts, email and calendar over to Google – which wasn’t going to happen.

 

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Thinking about Marcel

Publicis Groupe announced two things in the past week that caught the attention of the industry:

  • Withdrawing for 12 months from all promotional activity spend including the Cannes Lions awards
  • A Groupe-wide 12-month digital transformation fronted by a personal assistant app

You can’t look at either in  isolation, they are both linked together.

Why the withdrawal from promotional activities?

There are various speculative takes on this:

  • Other groups doing better at Cannes Lions this year had caused them to ‘take their toys to go home and sulk’. I hadn’t looked at the Lion awards scores, but I wouldn’t think that this is the reason. Clients would react negatively to it. Clients have egos too
  • Cannes Lions have gotten too expensive. Running events on the Côte d’Azur has never been cheap. The hotels can charge premium rates, due to demand being greater than supply. The GSMA World Congress moved to Barcelona in 2006 for this reason. Cannes can still run a good event and the infrastructure is ideal for advertisers. Other groups like WPP have pared back their spend but not cut it completely
  • It’s designed to focus spend on the things that matter for the next 12 months. This was one reason articulated by Publicis. The spend involved isn’t going to make a significant difference. At least, not on a project of the scale outlined by Publicis
  • It’s designed to focus staff on the things that matter over the next 12 months. I think that this is a key factor. Marcel is a software layer for a wider culture change the ‘Power of One’. Forcing the agencies to work together to provide a full deep offering for the client. This creates an internal market for services, skills and knowledge. There is no use having a development team if you can tap into Sapient. This also leads to a de-duplication of capability, increase in efficiency (% billable time).  It also reduces duplication of knowledge creation – tap into it wherever it is. You would need to balance this against client confidentiality
  • It’s a PR stunt. If handled well Publicis could gain a lot of positive coverage from this. It’s a classic example of what Sun Tzu called ‘The Void’. It’s also a bloody expensive PR stunt – so one would have to presume this is a collateral benefit. What happens if Sapient doesn’t match what’s in the concept video 12 months from now? If it does succeed then Publicis ends up with a solution would help market their business – business eating its own dog food, as advertisement

Let’s move on to Marcel itself

It’s hard to deconstruct a corporate video to get a firm idea what the underlying form might be. The truth is that the underlying form may not even exist yet as a product brief. It takes time to coalesce an offering from high concepts to prototyping these concepts with a sampling of users. From then on you go to mapping out the functional requirements of the product and build it in a series of short sprints. Once you have a minimum viable product and tested it, you may want to tweak your project direction further.

However, when you dig into it, Marcel isn’t only about an app, but re-engineering most of the IT infrastructure as well in order to support the machine learning capability. Marcel will find it harder to learn if the data is fragmented in drives with different permissions, online services or even offline.

Carla Serrano describes Marcel as:

A professional assistant that uses AI machine learning technology across our 80,000 people in 130 countries to connect, co-create and share in new and different ways.

This won’t be like Alexa Home managing your calendar and your Spotify playlist.

AI is put in there for audience members who wouldn’t know what machine learning is. A nice succinct definition below via TechTarget:

Machine learning is a type of artificial intelligence (AI) that provides computers with the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed. … The process of machine learning is similar to that of data mining.

Let’s tease out the functions

  • Connect – could be anything from an intranet directory to a social network a la Facebook Work. The key element for success would be to get people to complete their profile and for the content to be validated. From personal experience, it is best if you get people to do this right at the point that you are on-boarding them. Getting a mass-push on employees doing this would be a campaign of attrition since there is always a client call to do, pitch to write or creative concept to develop. The information could be pulled across from HR systems, business planning, time-tracking / accounting systems and scraping LinkedIn profiles but all the data will be sub-optimal. How do you ensure consistent quality data on staff expertise? The key benefit of machine learning would be pulling information capacity and personnel career ambitions alongside mining the profiles.  What I’ve talked about in this paragraph is a major undertaking of data integration in itself

I’ve ignored messaging as a function as most agencies use multiple channels for messaging including Slack, email, Skype/Lync or SMS. A messaging service might be built in, some of the interfaces could be ‘call-and-response’ chat bot style interactions.

  • Co-create – Co-creation could just be building a virtual team through the connection functionality, if its a platform in its own right what would that mean? Google co-creation platforms and you get 14,900,000 results. There are lots of options, opinions and descriptions of how to implement a platform to do it. Publicis could use some of these commercial off-the-self platforms. Decisions would have to be made if the co-creation would facilitate synchronous or asynchronous co-creation. Where do you want to have it involved in the process? Discovery, strategy, creative briefing, ideation, concept development? Is bolting Box.net accounts, Basecamp or Jira co-creation and where would the co-creation process benefit from machine learning?
  • Sharing – Back in the mid to lated 1990s knowledge management was a thing for technology marketers selling into enterprises. The idea was that a mix of data mining software (Autonomy or SAS Institute) would allow you to tap into the written knowledge across your company. Of course, it didn’t work out that well. Google tried a similar thing with its own Search Appliance hardware sold to enterprises. For a business like Publicis whose product is data, insights and ideas, the potential implications are huge

Based on Google’s Return on Information: Improving your ROI with Google Enterprise Search white paper here are some rough numbers that I came up with.

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The notional productivity gain is worth well over $400,000,000 in additional billable time, or like having almost 1,600 additional staff at little additional cost. The key word in all this is ‘notional’.

So what’s the downside to the factors outlined in the top-level view of Marcel?

  • Client confidentiality – imagine if you’re a client and you realise that your documentation within an agency can be searched for beyond the account team and could be used in ways that you don’t know about? This isn’t an unsurmountable problem, but it is something that I am sure Publicis would be thinking about
  • Changing working habits and culture – the most valuable files will be spread across Dropbox-like services, in email exchanges, on file servers, personal computers (Mac and Windows), USB sticks and optical media.  Software can look at unstructured data to try and make sense of it. But it needs access to the files first. As a manager how would you feel that you lose control over work assigned to your staff. How would you assess their work for their appraisals?
  • A marathon of sprints – this a huge IT undertaking across hardware infrastructure, networks and access. That’s before you’ve considered software development. On its own it would weighty task – in reality it will be a large amount of iterative tasks, any number of whom could delay or damage Marcel

Understanding the context for Marcel

The second half of the video is concept film of how Marcel would work in practice. It was likely put together to give voice to functionality rather than also thinking about tone. I would not be surprised if this was reused from an internal presentation to showcase the vision of Marcel to key stakeholders. The film has tonality in it is a bit concerning, I suspect it’s unintentional. If Marcel works as promised we would be in new territory for corporate culture however.

Having watched it reinforced to me:

  • The technical scale and ambition Marcel represents. It is a huge undertaking from a technical point-of-view
  • Marcel is just the start of the hard work for Publicis.

How do you ensure a culture that continues to attract and retain the top talent as the organisation gets Marcel operational?

  • What does it say to women (or men) who might want certain amount of work life balance due to family commitments or a desire to upskill?
  • How would it handle organisational politics?
  • Lesley might be requesting talent for his energy client but how would his demands be balanced against those of their line managers or other people in the business?
  • How might it redefine the role that line managers play for colleagues?

The partial removal of client services as a gate keeper between Jamie the client and Publicis talent was interesting. It would make client services job to get their arms around all the business opportunities in the client much harder. It would also be more attractive to certain clients who would feel more in control of their account.

Themes in the film:

  • Marcel is being used at night or in the twilight – usage massively extending the working day. Agencies aren’t really a 9 – 5 lifestyle at the best of times, but this video implies even less work-life balance as standard working practice. The introductory dialogue is shot at twilight and Alex the Asian American strategist, sits in an empty office at night time. Lesley is in the artificial time of an subway station and even the Arc de Triomphe dropped in is shot in twilight
  • Marcel is mobile – and being used out-of-the office in most of the film. This implies that the work day has no boundaries. Does it imply that mobile devices are no longer for reacting to urgent emails, has the balance of work expectations changed to zero-downtime always on proactive working? How would an agency team be able to keep their thinking fresh over the medium and longer term?
  • Marcel is desktop – Alex uses Marcel on a desktop computer and the web service provides a Statista like set of visualisations for data. The implication being a large amount of research source integration (social insights, market data, Kantar media data???). This would also affect third party licenses as information is pooled
  • The dialogue implies a ‘Siri’-like experience on the mobile app, except that it understands what you’re saying. Marcel is far more articulate conversationalist than Siri, Google, Alexa or my banks interactive voice system. He’d probably score highly on Tinder due having a personality. I suspect most of this is a plot device for storytelling. Alex gives voice to his key strokes and Marcel is manifested as a search box rather like Bing using a desktop computer. Lesley the South African client service person is not talking to his phone as he moves up the escalator – he is literally giving voice to his thoughts. He sounds stressed.
  • Jamie the client from a bank is an interesting vignette. She has direct access to Marcel as a client facing tool and it is suggesting Publicis contacts to her, normally you would expect a client services person to be that interface.
  • Ines, the copy writer in Brazil has the most positive experience portrayed. Marcel understands her complex career aspirations and offers her opportunities to work on an Indian project. It looks as if she is doing this work at home, again reinforcing ambiguous message on work / life balance?
  • All of the people are alone, Marcel is not shown being used in a normal office environment. Marcel becomes your team?

TL;DR

Marcel is the business equivalent of playing high stakes poker. If it is pulled off successfully it would put Publicis in an excellent position versus it’s competitors. However there is a lot that can go wrong from a technological and organisation perspective.

I don’t know how much of this can be realistically achieved in the 12 months that Publicis seems to have given itself? It strikes me that this is likely to be a transformation that would require much more time in order to fully match the vision outlined.  From a cultural perspective the challenge of ‘break, build, bond’ hides the level of complexity and change going on.

The biggest risk is what happens if Publicis doesn’t meet the wider industry expectations of success with Marcel? How will that affect client perceptions of them, or their ability to hire talent? How would it affect Sapient’s standing as a technology company?

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Technology is way ahead of interface designs

This post has taken a while to write. When I started we were on the cusp of Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference. If you’re interested in technology, but aren’t an Apple fan it still matters as it sets the agenda. Apple’s moves affect wearables, smartphones, tablets and OTT (over the top) TV services.
 
The New York Times published an interesting article Apple Piles On the Apps, and Users Say, ‘Enough!’.
 
Ignore the title of the article itself, which is a function of clickbait rather than content. Instead, it provides an good critique of interface design across platforms. It highlights:
  • The difficulty in finding and installing other apps inside Messages. Many users aren’t aware of the functionality. This is different to the ‘interface as oldster barrier’ that SnapChat had. DoorDash – a Deliveroo analogue dropped a support after a few months due to a lack of users. Apple took a second run at this with iOS 11 trying to improve discoverability
  • Apple 3D touch isn’t used to drive contextual features by app developers
  • The Apple Watch’s mix of crown, button and small touch screen made ‘lean in’ interactive apps hard. The Apple Watch interface isn’t learned by ‘playing’ in the same way that you can with a Mac or an iPhone. Apple’s forthcoming watchOS update looks to have Siri ‘guess’ what you want. It wants to provide contextual information to users (and reduce interactions)
If you ignore 3D touch for a moment, these problems are cross platform in nature. (Some vendors like Huawei have attempted a similar 3D touch feature in their own apps. They did not try to get developer adoption.)
 
Thinking about Messenger app developers struggle to integrate disparate features into the interface. The exceptions are:
  • LINE
  • WeChat – the take up of mini-apps in WeChat have been disappointing performers. Is this indicating a possible ceiling for functionality?
Wearables as a category looks thin, with Apple being one of the largest players. Pebble got acquired by Fitbit. Jawbone seems to be a dead company walking. Their blog was last updated in October 2016, Twitter in February. It’s ironic: their original BlueTooth headset business would now be a great opportunity.
 
I’ve tried Casio’s BlueTooth enabled G-Shock, four Nike Fuelbands and a Polar wearable. I am on my second Apple Watch and I still don’t know what the real compelling use case is for these devices.
 
So how does this stuff come about? I think its down to the process of creation, which affects analysis and critical analysis of the product. Creation in this case is essentially throwing stuff up against the wall until it sticks and then the process becomes reductive. As a case in point, look how smartphones have evolved to the slab form factor. 
 
Throwing stuff against the wall
 
I’ve worked enough times on digital products to understand the functionality is king. It’s the single most important thing. I’ve worked on products that wonderful functions but:
  • Consumers didn’t know they had a need, its hard to get consumers to build new habits. Forming habits can be hard
  • They were a bitch to sign up with. Yahoo!’s sign-up process killed products. It’s a fact. We’d get consumers hyped up, we’d deliver them to the relevant page and they wouldn’t convert. I didn’t blame them, if I wasn’t an employee or digital marketer I’d have done the same
That’s how products are now built. The focus is on speed of execution of the idea. It isn’t about thinking through the complete experience. Agile methodologies with their short sprints puts emphasis on function. Away from data to feed into big picture optimisation. A function focus means that you end up with ‘lean in’ interaction designs as default.
 
There aren’t many organisations that get it right. I’d argue that the early Flickr team and Slack ‘got it’. Though there are common factors:
  • Both Flickr and Slack had common key team members
  • Both products fell out of failure. Flickr came out of tools for Game Neverending. Slack began as a tool in the development of Glitch
Where are the ergonomists and futurists?
 
There are people who can provide the rigorous critique.
Back in the day organisations with large R&D functions like NASA and BT employed writers to envisage the future. Staring into the future became a career. People like Syd Mead provided a visual map of the future. Mead and others did a lot of work thinking about the context of technology to users. At the present time lots of criticism levelled at VR glasses is it being anti-social. This comes as no surprise to anyone who has read William Gibson’s Neuromancer. Social interaction is more likely to come glasses wearer to glasses wearer. It will happen in a virtual third space. Neal Stephenson explored this third space in Snow Crash. The Black Sun was a virtual night club.
 

Bill Moggridge, designer of the GRiD Compass computer – the world’s first laptop thought a lot about ergonomics. The laptop had a 11 degree slope from pop-out leg to the keypad. This is something that your MacBook Pro or Surface doesn’t have. There is a lack of depth in technology design compared to what Moggridge had. He brought in psychologists and studied human computer interaction. He eventually co-founded IDEO.

Whilst the elements that Moggridge looked at were well known the thinking doesn’t seep into product categories. We are very good at asking can a product be made. We are poor at asking what does the product really mean. Apple’s viewpoint on the tablet segment is a case in point.

The vast majority of tablets are used for lean back media consumption from watching films and reading books to reviewing emails. It can work as a productivity device in specific circumstances with custom built apps – say field sales or replacing a pilot’s flight paperwork. The keyboard and power of modern Macs (and PCs) provide a better tool for content creators; whether its analysing a spreadsheet or writing this blog post. 

Yet, since its launch by Steve Jobs, Apple has viewed the iPad as a new PC. The iPad Pro has been designed to try and catch up in features with the Mac. It is ironic that Microsoft has moved a slim ‘MacBook clamshell design’ analogue into its latest Surface range.  It is very different to the pragmatic design ethos of China’s ‘shanzhai’ gadget markers who came up with both laughable and smart solutions. Everything from the dual SIM phone to the phone / electric razor hybrid. Successes bloomed and oddities slipped into the night.

Oprah time: True Names by Vernor Vinge

New York Times journalist John Markoff was interviewed by Kara Swisher on the Recode podcast in February and talked about reading science fiction to better understand how technology is likely to affect us.
Untitled
It’s actually a great piece of advice. Back in the day, large corporates used to employ authors to write stories based on scenarios as part of their research programmes. Many people have attributed the clamshell mobile phone to the Star Trek TV series and the flip communicator devices.

Markoff outlined his favourite stories.

“Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson (1992): “The premise is, America only does two things well. One is write software, and the other is deliver pizzas. [laughs] What’s changed?”
“The Shockwave Rider” by John Brunner (1975): Markoff said he built his career on an early understanding that the internet would change everything. He said, “[The Shockwave Rider] argued for that kind of impact on society, that networks transformed everything.”
“True Names” by Vernor Vinge (1981): “The basic premise of that was, you had to basically hide your true name at all costs. It was an insight into the world we’re living in today … We have to figure it out. I think we have to go to pseudonymity or something. You’re gonna participate in this networked existence, you have to be connected to meatspace in some way.”
“Neuromancer” by William Gibson (1984): Markoff is concerned about the growing gap between elders who need care and the number of caregivers in the world. And he thinks efforts to extend life are “realistically possible,” pointing to Gibson’s “300-year-old billionaires in orbit around the Earth.

I had read Snow Crash relatively recently and Neuromancer was revisited last year. I had a vague recollection of The Shockwave Rider and True Names, but hadn’t read them in over 20 years.

Vinge’s True Names is published by Penguin with a collection of essays from a range of technology thinkers including

  • Chip Morningstar and Randy Farmer who founded Habitat one of the first massive online multiplayer games, back when dial up bulletin boards were the bleeding edge. Farmer worked at Yahoo! when I was there and was involved in Yahoo! 360 and still consults on community / social platform issues
  • Bruce Schneier wrote about how security products fail us. Bruce is one of the world’s leading commentators on all things hack and cryptography related
  • Mark Pesce is better known now as an Australian-based computer academic, but two decades ago he invented VRML – a way of representing the internet as a 3D thing and prescient in the light of Oculus Rift and others.
  • Marvin Minsky; was a pioneer in AI and machine learning provided an afterward to the story

That True Names managed to attract essays from these people should be an endorsement in itself.  Re-reading it two decades on, Vinge’s story echoes and riffs on the modern web. Hacking, cyberterrorism, constant government surveillance and the tension between libertarian netizens versus the regulated  real world. The central theme of Mr Slippy; a hacker who is identified by US government officials and co-opted as an unwilling informant and agent provocateur feels reminiscent of LULZSec leader and super grass Sabu. It’s amazing that Vinge wrote this in 1981 – although he envisages the web as being rather like a Second Life / Minecraft metaverse – with NeuroSky style interfaces.

Penguin’s careful curation of essays riffing on the themes of True Names is where the real value is in my opinion. For someone who cares about technology and consumer behaviour. It is worthwhile keeping this book on the shelf and diving in now and again.

More information
Want to understand the future? Read science fiction, John Markoff says. | Recode
Habitat Chronicles – thoughts on gaming, online products and community building by Chip Morningstar and Randy Farmer
Schneier on Security
Mark Pesce’s professional website and his columns for The Register
Vernor Vinge lecture on long-term scenarios for the future via The Wayback Machine

I watched Apple WWDC so you didn’t have to

There was a mix of hardware and software updates. Apple put a lot of focus on  virtual reality, augmented reality and prepping their operating systems for handling larger amounts of data.  There was work done to further optimise video and photo usage on device.

The event offered bad news for online advertisers and a number of consumer electronics manufacturers. Online advertising using retargeting or autoplay video is going to be blocked in Safari. The new HomePod speaker took aim at ‘casual hi-fi’ like Sonos, Bowers & Wilkins and Bose.

Apple is working very hard to try and understand user intent, which is one of the first pieces it needs to put in place to develop the experience of a truly programmable world. What do I mean by a programmable world? A ‘web of no web’ where device intelligence behaves as if it understands user intent like a good valet. It is moving in a stepwise manner towards this.

What was more surprising is how Apple has gone big on VR and AR creation and consumption. Whilst video post-production houses probably have the most to complain about when it comes to Apple’s Pro equipment, they are not name checked. Apple has started to move to address their concerns. The external graphics support in macOS implies that a furture Mac Pro will have the software to match hardware.

More details by platform:

macOS

The name High Sierra implied an OS update that might seem incremental to consumers, but has major technology changes under the hood.

  • Data – Apple File System as default (many features similar to Sun Microsystems’ ZFS). Faster for file swaps and giving a faster computer experience
  • Video – better quality video algorithms with smaller file sizes and integration with
  • Graphics – upgraded Metal API – Apple had been using it on machine learning applications within the OS. Metal 2 has been used to accelerate system level graphics and provides access to app developers. There is OS support for external graphics accelerators. The external graphics developer kit is based on AMD Radeon card.
  • MacOS supports VR through Metal for VR. Steam, Unity and Unreal supporting VR on the Mac. Apple seems to believe that VR and AR content is the desktop publishing of the 21st century, they have gone hard on making the best creators platform that they can
Safari
Focus on being the fastest browser experience, even in comparison to Chrome
  • Autoplay blocking – which will impact advertising network video views
  • Intelligent tracking prevention – positioned to target advertising retargeting and cross-site tracking
Mail
Productivity refinements including a split screen view
Photos
  • Uses machine learning to improve searching and photo recognition and integration with photo-editing

tvOS

  • 50 media partners integrated into TV app
  • Amazon is coming to Apple TV. Interesting move of detente between Apple and Amazon

iOS

iOS 11 – focus on underlying technologies:
  • Machine learning APIs – to help adoption of CoreML on device for third party apps
  • ARKit – to aid AR in apps. Clever work done on scaling and ambient light. This about providing a market for the content which which would be created on the Mac
  • Chinese specific features: including support for QRcodes, SMS spam filtering. Chinese users have a particular set of contexts and these innovations could become popular in the west
  • Interface tweaks in control centre and the lock screen.
Messages
  • Improving discoverability of app stickers and apps – much needed
  • Automatic synchronisation of Messages across devices, delete once, delete across all devices
ApplePay
  • Person-to-person payments as an iMessage app. Obvious competitor would be WeChat in China and PayPal in the west
Siri
  • Improved expressive nature of the voice.
  • Follow-up questions, presumably to improve context
  • Provides translation services
  • Siri integration into a wide range of apps including WeChat and OmniFocus They’ve tried to use on-device learning to try and improve context and being helpful. Siri knowledge is synched across devices. Uses web history to improve Apple News and custom dictionary spellings
Apple Maps
  • Indoor navigation for airports
Photos
  • Better image compression to save space on device. New depth API that can be accessed by 3rd party apps
  • Video autorotates a la Snapchat / Snap glasses
App Store
  • Apps now reviewed in less than 24 hours
  • First app redesign in nine years. Tweaks to improve discoverability and merchandising of apps including in-app sales
 watchOS
  • The biggest feature in watchOS 4 is the Siri-powered face. The Siri-powered watch face provides contextual information on the ‘home screen’. It takes into account past habits, time, location etc. Apple’s language around this was interesting, they described it as an ‘Intelligent proactive assistant’.

More details by hardware

Mac hardware
  • iMac – improved displays, brighter and support for 1 billion colours. Moving to Kaby Lake Intel processors. Up to 64GB of RAM on the iMac and 2TB SSD. Discrete Radeon graphics cards on larger iMacs. – big focus on VR development.
  • MacBook – Kaby Lake processors. Pro machines get updated graphics as well. The MacBook Air gets a processor boost.
  • iMac Pro – single piece machine with workstation specification including 10Gbit Ethernet. Presumably as an interim measure until the Mac Pro arrives next year. How upgradeable would the iMac Pro be, which is a key consideration for workstations
iPad hardware
  • iPad Pro – 20% bigger screen, 120Hz screen refresh rate. Doubling default memory sizes up to 512GB
 
Apple HomePod
Apple is going after Sonos and brown goods companies like Bose, Bowers & Wilkins and Bang & Olufsen. The Siri functionality is a hygiene factor rather than a serious competitor to Amazon Echo. There was a big emphasis on the privacy functionality of Siri in HomePod
Further reading

WWDC 2015: you know the Apple news, but what does it mean?
48 hours with the Apple Watch
Eight trends for the future: web-of-no-web
Eight trends for the future: contextual technology