“[Smartglasses] are not going to happen,” wrote Hayley Williams in her article posted in April 2016 on Gizmodo. The article contains a roundup of various Kickstarter projects, most of which live in obscurity to this day. Several commentators under the article shared her views and expressed their disinterest in the arguably dorky technology that first became available to public on May 15, 2014, with the release of Google Glass, an optical head-mounted display designed in the shape of a pair of eyeglasses.
At the time, the $1,600 gadget seemed to be spearheading an entirely new category of wearable devices, one that could fundamentally alter the way we interact with one another and the world around us. But in January 2016, Google has decided to suspend sales of Google Glass, ending the product’s brief and quite unsuccessful life. “The problems Glass created outweighed the solutions Google thought it could solve. It’s strange and unsettling to consider how disconnected Google was from the real world with Glass,” commented Nate Swanner.
Arguably, Google Glass failed as a product because of the company’s over reliance on early adopters willing to spend big bucks, developers of apps and solutions for which there was never any real audience to begin with, and support from large business partners, such as Twitter, who were all quick to drop the technology as soon as they’ve realized where it’s heading.
What the world needed wasn’t a large ecosystem and an entirely new way of living; it was merely a useful, simple-to-use product that wouldn’t be out of reach for most folks. That product is now here, and its name is Snapchat Spectacles.
Spectacles came as a surprise announcement by Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel, along with the launch of Snap, Inc., a camera company with a goal to empower people to express themselves. Priced at $130, the simple, plastic glasses with a camera inside neatly fit into the upper echelon of the impulse buy price category of novelty gadgets and toys, which is also occupied by products such as Amazon Echo and devices from Fitbit.
The idea behind the glasses is simple: you shoot a short 10- to 30-second long video clips that instantly upload to Snapchat via your smartphone. Because the camera shoots 115-degree wide-angle footage, you can view it either in landscape or portrait—the app will automatically level the view as you spin your phone around. Why would Snapchat implement a feature like this? Because it’s fun. And that’s what the glasses are all about.
There’s something captivating about capturing the world around from the eye-level perspective; something that even a GoPro mounted on the head can’t replicate. The familiar field of view brings with it an unrivaled degree of intimacy and emotional connection. Even relatively mundane, daily events are interesting to watch when replayed on your smartphone or computer, not to mention sharing them with your friends and family.
It also helps a great deal that the Snapchat Spectacles look completely non-threating, which is something Google Glass utterly failed to achieve. They are made from plastic yet well-built, have very prominent circular LED lights to let people around you know you are recording, and they even come in a colorful case that doubles as a charger. The fun design brings the best out of people, making everyone want to participate in your short snippets of recorded memories.
Snapchat has also decided to go with a very unorthodox distribution method: the Spectacles are sold through vending machines known as Snapbots. Snapbots are yellow, rectangular, vaguely resembling the Minions. These vending machines travel across the United States, never staying too long in one place. You can visit the official website of Spectacles to keep track of the Snapbot’s current location (it seems there’s just one Snapbot at the moment).
Despite everything that’s great about the product, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. The video quality could be better, it would be nice if Spectacles could shoot photos, and many people would certainly like to see a few extra styles of the glasses. But as a revival of a dying breed of wearable gadgets, Snapchat Spectacles deserve our praise.
The idea behind the project isn’t to throw away Cardboard into the pits of technological obsolescence, but rather to offer customers the next logical destination on their journey towards an immersive VR experience. Clay Bavor, Google’s vice president of virtual reality, commented, “We knew that Cardboard would only go so far, because there’s only so much you can do in terms of immersiveness and interactivity with—let’s be serious—a piece of cardboard, and a phone that was really only meant to be a phone.”
Google is going to keep Cardboard around as a highly affordable way how VR newbies can get a glimpse of what the once futuristic technology is all about. When the same customers reach the limits of what’s possible with Cardboard, they will know exactly what to buy next: Daydream.
So, what is Daydream? According to Bavor, Daydream is about enabling very high-quality mobile VR. The key word here is “high-quality”. Google is well aware that any truly immersive mobile VR experience will require a suitable hardware to run on. Not only that, but the entire ecosystem – apps, operating system, VR glasses – has to work in unison.
That’s why Google is working with their industry partners and in-house developers to create a VR platform the world has not seen before. The first Daydream-compatible smartphones – the ZTE Axon 7 and Asus Zenfone 3 Deluxe – are right around the corner, and so are the other two pillars of Daydream.
Three Pillars of DaydreamDuring his presentation at Google IO 2016, Bavor explained the steps Google took to create “our platform for virtual reality.” To succeed, Google needs to have a total control over the VR experience. Customers must know that when they purchase a Daydream-certified smartphone, they won’t run into any compatibility or performance issues.
There’s simply no more room for guesswork like there was (and still is and will be) with Cardboard. Samsung, with their Gear VR, has shown that customers are willing to pay extra for a smartphone that does something extra. But Samsung’s problem is the inability to control the experience from top to bottom. Users have to fight an operating system not meant for virtual reality and apps developed with only a vague idea of the kind of VR headset the apps are going to be consumed through. But all that is about to change.
SmartphonesGoogle doesn’t want any redundancy in their platform. The company expects smartphone manufacturers to bake all the functionality and features necessary for a smooth VR experience directly into their devices.
This entails powerful hardware capable of pushing demanding graphics at 60 frames-per-second, low-persistence displays with little to no lag to eliminate ghosting, and high-quality, latency-free sensors to increase the sense of immersion when inside a virtual reality world.
Prominent smartphone manufacturers, including Samsung, HTC, LG, Xiaomi, Huawei, ZTE, Asus, and Alcatel should have daydream-ready smartphones available this fall. The beauty of this approach lies in the fact that the whole platform can evolve in a similar way as video game consoles do. All that Google has to do to take Daydream to the next level is to bump up the reference specifications and call the result “Daydream 2.0” or something similar. With enough time, Daydream could start competing with PC-tethered headsets.
Headset and ControllerThe current mobile VR experience is held back by the chaos that reigns among the headsets. The market is flooded with headsets ranging from a few dollars to few hundred dollars. Some are compatible with devices up to 6”, others can fit only smaller smartphones; certain models have a wide field of view and high-quality optics, but there’s a slew of other headsets that don’t even come close.
With Daydream, Google has taken their experience and created a reference design that others can use as a blueprint to come up with something of an equal quality. The sketch they showed at Google IO 2016 depicted a sleek, clean headset that should appeal to regular smartphone owners and tech enthusiasts alike.
To complement the headset, Google has also created a VR-optimized controller that’s both powerful and intuitive. Its DNA can be traced back to the Wii Nunchuk Controller, as a consequence of its minimalistic appearance and built-in orientation sensor that allows for intuitive motion control. A circular clickable touch pad is designed to bring touchscreen gestures to the virtual world, and two buttons – a home button and app button – provide all the essential functionality without overwhelming users with options.
AppsThe team behind Daydream has been working with the core Android team to include VR capabilities in the next version of the mobile operating system. Starting with Android N, users will be able to put their smartphones into a special VR mode, which will change the UI, making the device easily controllable even while still in VR. Substantial changes have also been made under the hood to allow for a very low latency of less than 20ms and increased performance.
Clay Bavor said that Google will take a strong stance on quality and not allow badly written, designed, or optimized apps to enter into the Daydream ecosystem. “We want to make sure that we’re representing good VR to our users.”
Google wants to lead by example with their apps. The Play Store, YouTube, and Street View are all going to be optimized at launch to deliver an uncompromising user experience. A new face among Google’s increasingly larger collections of apps is the Daydream Hub, a kind of home screen that acts as a gateway to all games and virtual reality apps.
More VR apps are expected to pop up in the near future, thanks to Google’s partnerships with the New York Time, WSJ, USA Today, Netflix, Hulu, IMAX, NBA, MLB, and many others. New VR games from EA, Ubisoft, NetEase, and OtherSide Entertainment are also on the horizon, so there’s no reason to doubt that there won’t be enough compelling content available when Daydream takes off.
It’s ComingThe release of Daydream is planned on Autumn 2016, shortly after Android Nougat is out. Given that Cardboard headsets hover around $10 and Gear VR currently goes for $100, Daydream will probably be positioned right above the Gear VR, in terms of its price.
Google’s vision of the future seems to involve ultra-powerful smartphones that act as keys to countless invisible virtual worlds around us. They recognize that once we reach the point where we no longer need to own a laptop or PC just to get more processing power, smartphones and mobile operating systems will become the only thing that matters.
But this $45 billion company led by a man who happily admits that being greatly influenced by Steve Jobs doesn’t want to be regarded as a smartphone business. Xiaomi insists that they are an internet company – a new kind of company that deals primarily with rapid innovation, community building, and lifestyle.
They see that in our post-mobile, interconnected world, tech companies have become much more than providers of useful gadgets. Our entire work and personal lives revolve around tightly integrated ecosystems developed by companies such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and, of course, Xiaomi.
But to understand how Xiaomi got there and where the company is going, we have to understand how they managed to sell over 70m smartphones in 2015 alone.
High-End Products Without High-End PricesXiaomi is often compared with Samsung and Apple, even though the company targets a substantially different market. Their bread and butter are devices with high-end specifications and affordable prices. Such products appeal mainly to tech-savvy people and members of the younger generation who don’t have enough disposable income to afford often obscenely expensive flagship models from premium smartphone manufacturers.
In India alone, there are more than 700 million consumers under the age of thirty. When Xiaomi’s devices go on sale in this market, the company often sells their entire stock in just a few seconds. For example, the entire first batch of Mi 4 smartphones in exactly 37 seconds, according to GSMArena.
A flagship device from, let’s say, Samsung is going to cost you around $600, but a device with similar or even better specifications from Xiaomi sells for just $400. And if you lower your expectations just a little bit and look at Xiaomi’s mid-range smartphones, then you are suddenly dealing with prices and value unrivaled by any established mobile manufacturer.
The younger market that Xiaomi targets is also a lot more passionate and vocal about their gadgets. There’s no need for Xiaomi to spend large sums of money on advertising – their own fans will spread the word out.
Lifestyle CompanyIn an interview for Wired, Lei Jun said, “Think of Xiaomi as a company that is bringing innovation to everyone. We put an emphasis on high-quality products that help to create a connected lifestyle for everyone as we move into a new era of technological innovation. This doesn’t only mean smartphones, tablets, TVs, routers — we invest in startups that form what we call an ecosystem. They make products that are sold on Mi.com, ranging from power banks to wearables to air and water purifiers, so we have hundreds of products that come together to create a lifestyle.”
This “lifestyle approach” could be the key to Xiaomi’s total dominance in the second part of this decade. As their core audience gets older, they are going to settle and shift their collective gaze from smartphones, tablets, and laptops to refrigerators, microwave ovens, water and air purifiers, air conditioners, smart light bulbs, smart weighing scales, and all those other products that Xiaomi is investing their time, money, and effort into.
In this new environment, a smartphone is going to be a sort of central hub that brings everything together. Similarly, a Mi account is going to be a form of personal identification that unlocks not just an online cloud storage – but the entire world around us.
In other words, Citizen Developers are problem-solvers with a varied set of skills, most of which don’t have anything to do with traditional coding. The term has been floating around for a while, but it’s only with the influx of modern rapid development tools that we begin to see how it will impact businesses around the world in a very near future.
Karen Devine, vice president of marketing at QuickBase, says, “There’s such a big skills gap in the marketplace and so much competition for the opportunities in the coding space. But what we were surprised to find is that only 8 percent of the respondents say they have formal coding experience, but nearly 70 percent develop apps as part of their day job.”
According to a 2015 Gartner report titled Citizen Development is Fundamental to the Digital Workplace, at least 70% of large enterprises will have established successful Citizen Development policies by 2020. That’s a considerable increase, given that only 20% had these policies in 2010.
The report also found that most organizations leveraging Citizen Development ranged from small and mid-sized enterprises. In fact, 37% were from companies with less than 100 employees, and 35% were from companies with 100 – 5000 employees.
The biggest player in this landscape is QuickBase, a low-code application development platform provider headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In her interview for Forbes, Allison Mnookin, CEO of QuickBase, went on to say that “The low code market has finally arrived.”
With QuickBase, non-technical business users are empowered to create and customize secure cloud applications that can solve unique business challenges without compromising IT governance and control. “92% of QuickBase Citizen Developers have no coding background,” said Mnookin.
The only technical skills Citizen Developers need is the ability to mix and match various existing technological solutions and use them to solve previously identified problems and inefficiencies. Typical problems that users of QuickBase solve revolve around Excel files and Microsoft Access databases.
Companies who encourage their employees to take a pro-active role in software development reap multiple benefits. “We don’t have to interrupt our IT department to build an application. We just need a good idea, collaboration from the end users and some productive quiet time,” says Bruce Squibb, senior director of program development, Sodexo. As such, the total operation efficiency greatly increases, boosting ROI and reassuring employees that their work produces noticeable outcomes that benefit the whole company.
Of course, larger enterprises don’t expect that employees without deep IT knowledge would build and maintain mission-critical applications or integrate their compartmentalized solutions into the company network. Trained technical personnel is still expected to assist with these tasks. According to Gartner Research VP Mark Driver, the sweet spot for citizen development is for simple applications that are stand-alone and not mission critical.
But in the world where the foundational infrastructure is often outsourced to third-party companies, it’s precisely the non-critical stuff that matters and influences how employees accomplish their daily goals and how the company as a whole deals with upcoming challenges. As such, the role of Citizen Developers will only rise in importance, as the technology behind it improves over time.
At the core of gamification is game theory, a branch of mathematics that seeks to understand why an individual makes a particular decision and how the decisions made by one individual affect others. Using concepts and techniques from game theory, gamification aims to engage participants with activities they find appealing, in order to influence their behavior.
Common elements of gamification include various points, reward badges, and leaderboards where users can strive to outperform others. A properly implemented gamification has a lot of advantages ranging from an increase in customer engagement to higher customer loyalty and access to in-depth data that can give further insights into users’ interests and passions.
Let’s take a look at some real-life examples of gamification to understand just how omnipresent it really is.
ArmyConceived in 1999 by Colonel Casey Wardynski, the U.S. Army has developed and published a first-person shooter (FPS) game called America’s Army with a single goal: to support U.S. Army recruiting. The gameplay mechanics are very similar to other tactical shooters. Players are divided into squats and use realistic weapons as they fight against one another for a set number of rounds. Featured in the game is the HMMWV, Mk 19 grenade launcher, and Browning M2, among many other contemporary weapons from the arsenal of U.S. military. One game historian commented that the game has “grown in ways its originators couldn’t have imagined.” Indeed, its rating of 82 on Metacritic and the large number of industry awards confirms its great success among civilians from all over the world.
LearningLearning platforms, such as Treehouse or Doulingo, revolutionize how people learn how to code, speak other languages, or how they gain professional knowledge and skills to advance their careers. Individual subjects and courses have clearly outlined paths for users to follow. For each completed lesson, users are rewarded with points and badges, which demonstrate their achievement. Points are usually multiplied if the user logs into to the side for multiple consecutive days in a row. This increases user retention and motivates people to keep studying.
HealthcareHealth insurance companies and health care providers are using gamification to stir people toward a healthier lifestyle. According to Gamification.co, United is working on an app called United Healthcare Motion. “People carrying insurance will be given wearable devices that will track their daily activities, including the number of steps they walk. Participants will be given financial incentives for meeting certain goals.” Other apps, such as Fitbit, MyFitnessPal, and Nike+ work on a similar principle. Nike+ allows people to track their runs and challenge friends – all to encourage them to top their personal records.
ShoppingRetailers have been using gamification for a long time, but they are only recently started to embrace technology to take it to the next level. Starbucks, for example, is now rewarding customers by giving them stars for their purchases. Each star fills up a virtual cup by a small bit. Once completely filled, the customer gets a free coffee.
Government ControlBut perhaps the most sinister application of gamification comes from China. The Chinese government has created a social tool named Sesame Credit to gamify obedience to the State. Using this tool, people are given scores based on how well their actions align with the official government policy.
The tool pulls data from social networks and online purchase histories, judging if people share articles that praise the Chinese government, purchase domestic products, and many others.
The tool is currently in a testing phase, but it’s expected that it will become mandatory by 2020. When that happens, the rating given by Sesame Credit could have real world consequences. Users with low scores could have their internet speeds restricted, and those with good scores could gain access to more lucrative jobs.