Thursday, 26 April 2012

Regus Office Hire PoS

Proof that pretty much any service can be 'boxed up' as a service - Regus sell office space hire from a newsagent.

The Palm Pilot Experiment

Edited extract from Pretotype It (e-book PDF), 2nd Pretotype Edition, Alberto Savoia, Oct 2011

Introduced in 1996, the Palm Pilot was a palm-sized digital device with four basic functions: a calendar, an address book, a to-do list and a simple note taker.  The Pilot was the first successful PDA. According to a March 1998 story on Time magazine:

Hawkins, Palm's chief technologist and Pilot's creator, designed one of the first handheld computers, the GRiDPad, a decade ago. It was an engineering marvel but a market failure because, he says, it was still too big.  Determined not to make the same mistake twice, he had a ready answer when his colleagues asked him how small their new device should be: "Let's try the shirt pocket." Retreating to his garage, he cut a block of wood to fit his shirt pocket. Then he carried it around for months, pretending it was a computer. Was he free for lunch on Wednesday? Hawkins would haul out the block and tap on it as if he were checking his schedule. If he needed a phone number, he would pretend to look it up on the wood. Occasionally he would try out different design faces with various button configurations, using paper printouts glued to the block.

People must have thought he was crazy. But that piece of wood with paper printouts convinced Hawkins that he was on the right track. He had answered the first, and most important, question: “If I had a Pilot, would I actually carry it with me and use it?”  And his answer was a definite “yes!”  Now he could focus on the next set of questions, such as: Can we build it this small?  How much would it cost to build?  How long would the batteries last? 

The IBM Speech-to-Text Experiment

Edited extract from Pretotype It (e-book PDF), 2nd Pretotype Edition, Alberto Savoia, Oct 2011

I probably got a few details wrong, but in this case the moral of the story is much more important than the details. A few decades ago IBM was best known for its mainframe computers and typewriters.  In those days, typing was something that a small minority of people were good at – mostly secretaries, writers and some computer programmers. Most people typed with one finger – slowly and inefficiently. IBM was ideally positioned to leverage its computer technology and typewriter business to develop a speech-to-text machine. This device would allow people to speak into a microphone and their words would “magically” appear on the screen with no need for typing. It had the potential for making a lot of money for IBM,  and it made sense for the company to make a big bet on it.

However, there were a couple of major problems.  Computers in those days were much less powerful and more expensive than today, and speech-to-text requires a lot of computing power.  Furthermore, even with adequate processing power, speech-to-text translation was (and still is) a very difficult computer science problem. Tackling it would have re-quired a massive investment – even for IBM – and many years of research.  But everyone would have wanted such a device.  It would be a sure-fire hit.  Or would it?

Some folks at IBM were not convinced that all the people and companies who had said they “wanted and would definitely buy and use” speech-to-text machines would actually end up buying them. They feared the company would end up spending years in research and lots of money developing something that very few would actually buy: a business disaster. After all, people had never used a speech-to-text system, so how could they know for sure they would want one?  IBM wanted to test the business viability of such a device, but since even a basic prototype was years away, they devised an ingenious experiment instead.

They put potential customers of the speech-to-text system, people who said they’d definitely buy it, in a room with a computer box, a screen and a microphone – but no keyboard. They told them they had built a working speech-to-text machine and wanted to test it to see if people liked using it.  When the test subjects started to speak into the microphone their words appeared on the screen: almost immediately and with no mistakes!  Actually the computer box in the room was a dummy.  In the room next door was a skilled typist listening to the user’s voice from the microphone and typing the spoken words and commands.

So, what did IBM learn from this experiment? Here’s what I’ve heard: After being initially impressed by the “technology”, most of the people who said they would buy and use a speech-to-text machine changed their mind after using the system for a few hours. Even with fast and near perfect translation simulated by the human typist, using speech to enter more than a few lines of text into a computer had too many problems, among them: People’s throat would get sore by the end of the day, it created a noisy work environment, and it was not suitable for confidential material.Based on the results of this experiment, IBM continued to invest in speech-to-text technology but on a much smaller scale – they did not bet the company on it.

As it turned out, that was the right business decision. Keyboards are proving hard to beat for most text entry tasks. Thirty years ago most people could not type; but look at any office today and you’ll see people of all ages and professions typing away.  In devices where a full-size keyboard is not possible, such as mobile phones, speech-to-text can be the  right  it, but otherwise the keyboard is still the device to beat.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Social Cues

A good bit of psychology. "Over 115,000 people receive our newsletter. You should be one of them!"

Sunday, 8 April 2012

KMart - in-store laundromat

Kmart has announced a test program they will be rolling out at one of their locations in Iowa City this June. Shoppers will now be able to do their laundry at an in-store laundromat named K-Wash. While they wait for their laundry to finish, customers can shop online. purchase orders are compiled and made available for pickup an hour after they are placed. there will also be a full-service Kmart register inside, along with drop-off service and free WiFi.

Info source: PSFK Future of Retail report
Image source:

Hair Salon Offers Skype Consultations

Realizing that their clients might appreciate speaking with a stylist prior to heading to their hairdressers, Plan B Salon in Cambridge, Massachusetts offers 15-minute Skype web-video consultations with the stylist and can get an idea of what their options are or how receptive the stylist is to their requests.

Source: PSFK Future of Retail Report

Trunk Club - try on a selection of clothes at home

Each individual is assigned a style expert who mails them apparel and accessories based on their personal profile and an initial webcam consultation. Customers can then choose to buy or send back any of
the selections.

Source: PSFK Future of Retail report

Miele Concept Store - personalised tour by iPod

Gives customers iPod Touch when they enter the store, which guides them on a tailored journey based on their needs.

Source: PSFK Future of Retail Report
Image source:

Singapore - see which doctors are busy

"In an effort to lessen waiting times and prevent overcrowding at Singapore’s health clinics, the country’s Ministry of Health has developed Queue Watch, an online service that provides a real-time picture of what’s happening at each location. an interactive map reveals not just the number of patients waiting for registration and consultation, but live webcam images show the waiting areas for registration, consultation and pharmacy payment."

Source: PSFK Future of Retail report,

Mappiness - the happiness app

Interesting LSE project to use an iPhone app to track where and when people are happy.

A British site that goes beyond AirBnB - rent space for people to camp in your garden!

Edison's Concrete Piano

Not all Edison's ideas were successes - as owner of the Portland Cement Company he tried making affordable concrete pianos (he was mostly deaf) and concrete furniture. Neither were entirely successful.

Source: The Week's extract from Pigeon-Guided Missiles by James Moore and Paul Nero

GroceryIQ App - quick shopping lists

"Grocery IQ is an iPhone application that gives users a simple method for tracking and organizing the groceries they buy. Upon first use, items from a shoppers’s list are automatically sorted to match the rows of the store they shop. Over time the application learns the user’s purchase habits and default items to arrange shopping lists even more efficiently."

Source: PSFK Future of Retail report, p18