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Jun 2011

Why does a next-gen product qualify business-worthy?

Posted in Business tactics, Technology | 0 Comments

Today is the first day of E3, for for those outside the spectrum of games industry knowledge, the Electronic Entertainment Expo. This three-day conference (five, for the press) centres on new games and technology produced by the big three – Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo. It also saturates games news sites with lots of smaller (or sometimes equally important) announcements and news bits from individual games or gaming tech developers.

One of the biggest topics will be Microsoft’s Kinect Sensor, something I’ve written about here recently, as their conference starts at 5:30pm today. Also today, BusinessWeek published Lee Yi’s three-item list by which someone could confirm whether or not an app or piece of technology would benefit a business well enough to justify keeping it in play. Given that, outside of the hacking community, Kinect is struggling somewhat, it’s an interesting time to think about these criteria.

The first is thus: Is the app or tool a fad, or does its provider have long-term potential?

This is a major issue for me when considering purchasing new technology, one that was recently relevant to my shopping list as I braved the negativity surrounding Sony’s Playstation Network data security issues and bought a PS3. For items designed by small businesses, it’s especially relevant – there are countless companies producing new apps, and some will end up like Rovio (creators of Angry Birds, and now one of the richest apps-only developers around, as of 2011 at least), while some will fade. However, how can we judge whether it’ll stick around? The second qualifier for a long-lasting product helps with this.

The cost of education and transition.

This is crucial – for example, I’m considering switching from Microsoft Word to Scrivener for the purpose of writing and researching. I am considering this because Scrivener allows me to put my notes, research, images, plans and outlines all into the one program, as a single project file, whereas Word requires me to open multiple document windows and a browser – possibly more programs, if I need them. However, if it takes too long for me to learn Scrivener’s intricacies, I will abandon my attempt because my time is worth money, and I can’t waste too much time trying to shift between programs. It’s pick-up-and-play, or cut-and-run.

The third sign of how your product will perform in the long-term? Current employee behaviour.

Now, for a business, the individuals using the app or technology matter, because if your office is full of people who have a hard time adjusting to new ways of doing their jobs, this could make using a new concept extremely difficult and potentially far more costly than you could justify to investors or shareholders. “The key to productivity is user adoption,” states Yi, “so finding out what your employees like to use or are currently using should be a factor in your strategy.”

I couldn’t agree more. Now here’s the final test, tonight – will people finally see the merits of adopting Kinect, or Scrivener, when simpler alternatives, like conventional controllers or the old favourite, Word, are right there and ready to go? I’ll follow up on the Scrivener experience from a writer’s perspective, but for now I’d love to hear your thoughts. What software packages or bits of tech made your business better, and how worth your time and investment was the transition from the old to the new?

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May 2011

5 interesting uses of Microsoft’s Kinect Sensor.

Posted in Technology | 7 Comments »

I love this thing. I own an Xbox 360, but I don’t want Kinect, for the simple reason that I bought a games console so I could sit down and be entertained with minimal physical involvement. Jumping around doesn’t quite fit into that. However, Microsoft have, quite surprisingly, encouraged people to mod and hack seven shades of [expletive] out of their sensor bar in order to find new uses for what is clearly the new standard in sensor technology. Here are five uses I think are particularly amazing, and go to show that the games industry is not about training teenagers to shoot up their educational establishments. Enjoy.

1) A post-earthquake assistance robot.

Seriously, I’m not joking – here it is. It uses the sensor to help it find its way through the rubble and assist the various brave individuals who save so many lives after an earthquake. They could really make good use of this in Japan right now, and personally I think it’s an incredibly touching display of putting gaming tech to use in a real-life environment.

2) Controlling someone else’s body.

This sounds rather sinister, but it’s actually pretty clever. By using the sensor to read his movements, artist Choy Ka Fai has enabled himself to send nerve impulses to the arms of a volunteer, triggering movement in someone else’s body. Soon, we shall call him The Puppetmaster.

3) Controlling a robot.

Okay, to some this may not be as jaw-dropping as acutally controlling another human being. But when you consider the fluidity of the robot’s movements, this could be great for a variety of uses. Bomb disposal being the first one that comes to mind – camera goggles and a Kinect robot? Zero-risk bomb defusal operations, at least for the person doing the defusing.

4) A robotic assistant in surgery.

In a surgical environment, being calm, unwavering and extremely precise is a requirement. Trust me, I watch Grey’s Anatomy. So when you’ve got a robot helping you out with a surgery in progress, it can really help the process along and even minimise risk due to a lack of human mistakes.

5) Helping the blind to see.

For me this is definitely one of the best. By attaching the sensor to the head of a blind person, these people have worked out a way to help them detect obstacles, which negates the need for a golden lab trotting around everywhere. Okay, sure, it means no lovely pet dog, but it affords the blind a sense of independence that I feel is really a step in the right direction.

These are just a few, but if you know of any, don’t hesitate to comment and tell me about them. Enjoy the next step towards virtual reality, everyone.

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