One of those Energising Insights I have blogged about came one day in the mid-nineties, at a Tom Peters seminar. Tom held up his mobile phone and asked "What is this?". People called out
"A phone... a communication device... a command system....etc."
"You are all right and you are all wrong," Tom replied, "It is a computer that thinks it's a phone!"
This Insight meant that my colleagues and I were scanning for communication devices that might allow the packaging of fast moving consumer goods to 'talk' to the consumer... why? We weren't sure but there will be reasons.. it just takes time for the pieces to fall into place. In the late nineties Hasbro announced the COMMTech communicator device that enabled Star Wars models to utter a few words....
passing the reader device over the chip transferred the audio information to the speaker or into the memory and (upto four character's) phrases could be stored and replayed by pressing the appropriate buttons on the front face. The technology had been developed by Innovision R and T, who designed the custom chip. We realised that the process of transferring audio from one device to another might have other applications and we put together some ideas which were turned into crude prototypes by Innovision, as we did not have the expertise in-house. These working models or prototypes enabled us to demonstrate ideas to consumers, other departments and regions at a minimal investment compared with creating "real prototypes" that have resolved most of the issues in Design Space. These working models are designed to ask questions and change conversations, maybe even increasing the perception of opportunity without heightening concerns about risk. The prototypes can be used to mitigate perceived exposure to risk, by allowing people to seriously play with the possibilities and share thoughts about the validity of the concept and whether there are viability issues that can be worked on early in the process. Ultimately the concept(s) did not fit with business strategy and were dropped; the concepts have emerged from other maybe more appropriate organisations. What we must not do is assume that we should have done them, just because they succeed elsewhere.
It is interesting that since I began to 'Bramble' (Blog ramble) The Observer published Apple and Google ruled a year to note in your Facebook which included the paragraphs:
"The Apple phone is what corporate strategists call a 'game-changer'. It's really a powerful Unix computer in a tiny, sleek package. It happens to make voice calls, but in a way that's the boring bit. More interesting is its wi-fi capabilities and the way it makes web browsing feasible on a small screen. Its only serious drawback on launch was the fact that it is shackled to slow mobile phone networks. Its significance is that, at a stroke, it made everyone else's mobile technology look lame.......
What's next? As usual, William Gibson's aphorism ('The future's already here, it's just not evenly distributed') provides the best guide. Apple will launch a 3G iPhone and cause even greater havoc in the mobile-phone business. It will also launch a micro-laptop using the new Intel 45-nanometre Silverthorne chip, and open more stores in upmarket locations. It will, however, feel the heat of European regulators as they focus on 'interoperability' issues, in particular the way songs purchased from Apple's iTunes store will only play on iPods."
But Apple doesn't need to worry too much about opening up ... Charles Arthur wrote in the Guardian Technofile
"Music direct to your mobile is a good idea, but actually doing it with Vodafone Live! is just too painful" and ended with
"This may be the future of music for some people, but honestly, it could be so much better.
Pros: No need for a computer, lots of music
Cons: Tedious, bureaucratic, music can't be transferred"
Or to put it another way.. we create new products and services and the consumer rejects them for not "doing the job" then we are squandering our resources on failed projects, and the one resource we can't get back is time.
As Organisations are making it easier to seriously play with prototype devices so that we can understand what the consumer will find acceptable long before we commit to produce a product.. where we may have a range of options .. [the right] consumers are pretty helpful in constructive feedback. We could cost-effectively create a range of prototypes using a platform approach building on modules such as those offered by Buglabs... as they describe it
BUG helps you explore the realm of personalized devices and applications, and find ways to solve many of the problems current gadgets can't.
For example, with BUG, you can easily assemble and program a GPS + digital camera device that automatically publishes geo-tagged photos as a web service. Integrating with an online photo-sharing service like Flickr is only a few more lines of code away, and now you have your own real-time, connected traffic-enabled mobile Webcam!
The platform is designed to enable a collaborative development environment. BUGnet, our online community, is tied in directly to the BUG SDK, which allows developers to connect with others, share information, and jointly build products or services.
So we can rapidly try out combinations, adding and subtracting modules to build devices for understanding... understanding what excites the consumer by building in affordances for them to better do an existing activity or do one they hadn't anticipated.
We may not like the aesthetics of a bug-based device but we can play with affective aesthetics alongside the functional BugLab enabled explorations yielding a preliminary product brief based on VAKOG (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, gustatory and olfactory). Usually we only play with the first three so in a hand-held device we may respond to the product prototype in various ways..... this is what it looks like/what do I look like with it? What does it sound like in use (the satisfying click of....)? What does it feel like in the hand as I use it (flip it... slide it... open, toss it, etc.)?
Picture uploaded by dpika. Used with thanks under CC.
It might be that asking Naoto Fukasawa to design the "Packaging for our Buglabs platform functionality might result in this used soap bar shape... or?