Synchronicity

During the broadcast of the World Cup today, ESPN’s announcers mentioned that around 800 million people worldwide are tuned in and watching Germany and Argentina play. This number struck me as simultaneously both large and small — large, since we so seldomly experience things en masse at the same time; and small for precisely the same reason: football is perhaps the most global of all sports and since we’re more than 7BB strong now that does seem a tad conservative.

There’s something to be said about the unifying effects of a shared experience of such proportions. After all, what events other than major sport ones could command such an audience?  Perhaps one day soon another landing on the Moon or on Mars, but until then this pretty accurately describes the World Cup experience:

A great example of mobile customer experience

Mobile experience can be tricky to nail down if your company is not a digital native. Gucci certainly does not come to mind in the mobile frontrunners category but this example of their integrated print, offline, digital, and in-store experience all through a set of mobile/tablet apps is a fantastic use of technology. Here are Gucci’s CIO Simone Pacciarini and Marcello Vignocchi, Director of Innovative Solutions, discussing their design process, the technologies they used, and giving a demo of the spectacular final product all wrapped up in charming Italian accents:

If you’d like the short version that showcases just the apps, here’s a < 5 minute cut (although their process discussion is well worth it, especially if you’re embarking upon a similar challenge).

 

Mobile history

Most of the mobile world is en route to Barcelona this week for Mobile World Congress, where discussions of the future of mobile are sure to be plenty. This got me thinking about my own mobile history and rewinding back to the time before cellphones. Here’s an ode to all the phones I’ve owned before, largely in a chronological order, and with my best effort to actually figure out the model number*.

Late 90s

It all started with a Motorola Timeport or a candybar phone very similar to it (not sure if it was the same model in SE Europe). Motorola had a reputation for being indestructible (I remember trying to disprove that and failing with my dad’s ginormous grey ironically named Moto MicroTac flip phone). Texts were the main method of communication and the Timeport had an enviably big screen (compared at the time to the more stylish Ericsson T-18 that had one line’s worth of screen real estate – I tried it and switched back to the Timeport quickly). This phone was a workhorse and had survived, amongst other things, falling from a balcony and multiple water submersions.

Nokia 

By the early aughts Nokia was really kicking ass — after a short flirtation with the Motorola Star Tac (seemingly the phone of choice of every shady businessman in the Balkans and beyond) the Nokia 3210 became my phone of choice. It was small, light, very sleek and its operating system looked like the future compared to Motorola’s clunky and unintuitive one. I’ve had several 3210s, then switched up to the 6610 with a color screen, of which I’ve also had several. One remains in full working order — until a few years ago it was in use with local prepaid sim cards while traveling. If I could find a charger for it it would probably happily power up today.

From left: Motorola Timeport, Ericsson T-18, Motorola Startac, Nokia 3210, Nokia 6610

Motorola Razr**

There’s something inherently dramatic about hanging up a flip phone – it’s equally great for lovers’ quarrels and frustrating work calls. And the Razr at the time was unlike any other phone on the market — super-thin, fancy screen, lightweight; I went with the matte black which wouldn’t look out of place on Batman’s desk (assuming Batman has a desk and a phone in 2004). Aside from the form factor everything about this phone was frustrating: the Motorola operating system was dreadful compared to Nokia’s, the phone had atrocious battery life, and the screen was so sensitive there was a chance you could break it if you sneezed in its general direction. After only a couple of weeks I started regretting the switch from Nokia to Motorola and contemplating switching back. The experience was so bumpy I promised myself I would never get another Motorola again.

Smartphones

Hey, remember Symbian? It was the future in 2005! Nokia had launched the 6680 – a candybar with a slide to open an excellent back camera (hello cellphone photos that you can actually look at) and a front camera for video calls that showed great promise (I don’t think I’ve ever used it to actually make a video call and I still have the phone). Its web browser reminded me slightly of Teletext but it showed potential of apps and mobile browsing to come. It’s still one of my favorite phones of all time and I would have probably used it longer if Symbian wasn’t so unstable (the phone was prone to self-restarting randomly and frequently, and would freeze apps often).

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From left: 3 views of the Razr, and 3 of the Nokia 6680

The 6680 had email but wasn’t very good at push notifications so my next phone was the Blackberry Pearl. Yay super-productive email on the go! Nay super obscure keyboard that required re-learning the layout of keys and rendered me absolutely useless as a texter on any of my older phones. I became a big full keyboard fan as soon as I switched to the Curve, the next gen Curve, and then finally the Bold. It wasn’t just the keyboard: BBM was fantastic for international texting, the camera wasn’t terrible, and you really didn’t know what you were missing until the iPhone and App Store rolled around. If Blackberry had built a better browser, I might still be a customer today.

Some time in the Blackberry era I also broke my promise to never get another Motorola and got the Droid 2. The phone was so dreadful that it completely soured me not just on the device itself but on Android as a whole. The one nice thing I can say about this phone was the haptic feedback keyboard — although having used normal haptic feedback keyboards since, I think I’m being overly generous with praise. Hey Ana of the future – I know you think the MotoX looks cool with all those neat customization options but please remember that we’re never, ever, never getting another Motorola no matter what.

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From left: Blackberry Pearl, Blackberry Curve, the next gen Blackberry Curve, Blackberry Bold, and the uniquely terrible Motorola Droid 2

Oddly I didn’t like my first iPhone much and really only used it for the apps. I couldn’t type on it to save my life — things got a tad better with the 4S although I try not to type on it as much (voice recognition & dictation for the win***). Right around the same time I got the Samsung Galaxy S3 — huge leap for Android from my first experience with it on the Droid 2, and I warmed up to the phone and OS very quickly. Now a full-on Android convert, I was in for a treat when the S3 bricked itself and pushed me to get the S4: this is a phone I truly love. It’s addressed all of the things that I found annoying on the S3 (e.g. battery life, much better camera, randomly erasing SD cards, etc).

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From left: iPhone 3G, iPhone 4S, Samsung Galaxy S3, Samsung Galaxy S4

So what’s next?

Since we are in MWC season, when I look at my own mobile evolution and what I like and dislike on phones today I think the future will be much less about the device itself and much more about the OS and app ecosystem. My next purchase will probably be solely driven by battery life, screen size, and camera quality — everything else is an app and is device agnostic.

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* I’m pretty sure there are a few discrepancies since I know that Nokia had different labels for US and rest-of-world phones. I relied on an image search and then listed the phone that most looked like the one I actually own(ed). It was a fun exercise in cellphone design evolution. 

** Too cool for school. And some vowels. 

*** English Siri and I have become fast friends. He cracks me up and largely tolerates my attempts at sexy cockney speak. Oi!

Notes from the road: emerging markets edition

Some anecdotal observations from my summer holiday travels in South-East Europe/Eurasia:

  • Smartphones and feature phones peacefully coexist according to a pretty well-defined generational breakdown. Older folks tend to prefer feature phones (easier to use, more phone like, no need to upgrade). The trojan horse is camera quality and ease of sharing photos: this seems to be the main driver towards upgrades.
  • The young trendsetter demographic appears to be migrating towards high end Android devices (and Samsung reigns supreme here) over Apple’s iphone – in many areas there’s no supporting ecosystem for content (e.g. Turkish version of iTunes was only launched in Dec. 2012)
  • The war for the living room seems less pronounced and cordcutting isn’t much of a concept. Cable TV is actually a great entertainment deal with excellent sports and content options often in a variety of languages.
  • WiFi everywhere – cafes, restaurants, etc and patrons commonly ask for login credentials for wireless access. Once on, the first step is to check social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram depending on individual preference) – the entryway for most content consumption.
  • Thanks to the ubiquity of wifi many folks appear to be content with carrying smartphones w/o a data plan.
  • BBM has been replaced by WhatsApp even among Berry loyalists.
  • Shazam is amazing and we need a Shazam for everything (a few suggestions during the trip: flags, flowers, fish – really pointing towards visual search rather than audio identification).

Branding all stars – Samsung & Jay-Z collaboration

This campaign, endorsement deal, and rollout strategy spell absolute cross-channel perfection. It’s rare that a brand can leverage such a strong and pervasive cultural force like Jay-Z and Samsung manages to pull it off effortlessly — the behind the scenes content feels genuine, and the clip’s hidden camera style is fantastically engaging*:

For a campaign and brand partnership that’s as ambitious as the name of the upcoming album implies (Magna Carta Holy Grail) this is executed marvelously. Starting with a TV ad during the NBA finals, followed by digital video on Youtube, etc and culminating in the app (available 06/24) that will feature an early release of the album with plenty of opportunities for sharing & buzz-generation for that ever-important earned media category.

Definitely raising the bar for integrated media campaigns.

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* Rick Rubin lounging on the couch might be a show-stealer — so much musical wisdom is hidden in that beard.

Sage advice

On Memorial Day we were driving from Cambridge into Boston. We came upon two bicyclists who rode slowly and next to one another in the main lane — the lane that we were in — even though the road has a clearly marked separate bike lane. Since they were riding next to each other there wasn’t enough room to pass them safely so we trudged along behind them for a few minutes enjoying the beautiful summer day* (even though we’re technically still in spring). A pedestrian was walking along towards us; when he saw what was going on he stepped closer to the edge of the road ensuring that the cyclists could hear him, leaned out and yelled at them: “Don’t be a dick!”. Twice.

Such simple advice but so many applications — in business situations I’m very likely to be that pedestrian with the very same message. If we could all start our days with the conscious decision not to be dicks I have a feeling that many things would run much smoother than they do.

So there. Don’t be a dick.

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* Whoever invented the sun roof – you have my eternal thanks.

Pace of change

One of my favorite TED talks is this rumination on the increasing pace of change that Eddie Obeng presented in June 2012 in Edinburgh. His thesis is that for the first time in history changes to our environment are happening faster than we can process and assimilate them:

“We solve last year’s problems without thinking about the future.” –> this is the number one challenge for designing good products that can scale and remain sticky. You have to think of some future iteration of the product, then back into what that product would look like today and how it would address the problems you’re trying to address today.