Last week, Facebook launched its video chat, and it once again reminded me that CEOs really should read the book Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, because Zuckerberg was really boring. Saying that this was going to be an “awesome” announcement and showcasing basic video chat and group text chat was, and I’m being kind, disappointing. Still, Facebook does have something amazing here — I just don’t think it’s worked out yet. But I do think this is the beginning of something big.
Public safety is becoming a vastly more visible issue, as concerns about terrorist retaliation grow. There also appears to be a rapid increase in murders and other violent crimes in city centers, coupled with a massive drawdown in law enforcement. Citizen reporting and video technologies are moving in to fill the gaps — and this could be even bigger.
Tablets are hot, but they aren’t done yet. Multitouch and pen are being blended into new products, and tablets are evolving from consumption to creation devices.
Finally, the biggest technology wave may be something you haven’t even heard of yet: the influx of capacitors to augment batteries and provide for peak power needs, allowing the batteries to last longer and be more reliable alternative energy solutions.
I’ll close with my product of the week, the Mango release of Windows Phone 7, which potentially takes this platform from catch-up to contender against iOS 4.
The Coming Video Wave
Facebook made the same initial mistake with its video chat feature that virtually every company has made so far with similar services. It assumes that people want to see who they are talking to and be seen while they’re talking.
After millions of dollars in trials and post mortem reviews on a number of similar products, I can say categorically that this common belief just isn’t true. However, what people do want to do is increasingly share experiences — and that is at the core of what Facebook does. Video is part of that, but more along the lines of showing what the speaker is seeing and talking about than the speaker themselves.
Think of this more as a blend of Live Meeting, video and Facebook content under the remote control of the folks in the conversation — that is, I can show what I’m talking about, and the person or people I’m chatting with can do the same.
It is critically important to this that the application be mobile and allow me to show captured video streams rather than just live ones, so I can talk about past events. And there is clearly an opportunity to fire up both cameras on a twin camera smartphone or tablet to get both the speaker (in a small window) and the subject matter at the same time, for real-time chats and citizen video journalism.
Through its partnership with Microsoft, Facebook has all of the pieces. Let’s see if it puts them together before Google does.
The combination of more murders and violent crimes (I stopped a burglary-in-progress myself a few weeks back) and less police, coupled with the inability for city 911 and video capture systems to integrate, suggests we have a huge change coming.
The events of 9/11 showcased how bad our systems were, and they still aren’t much better — particularly with regard to being able to forward videos and pictures citizens are now capturing from crimes in progress.
I recently had lunch with James Cape of InterAct Public Safety, a company led by ex-Intel heavy hitters, which is putting together a Cisco effort to close this technology gap. I fully expect another 9/11-like event to suddenly catapult technologies that will better integrate our smartphone-carrying citizens and distributed video surveillance systems into a more tightly integrated crime early warning and response environment.
EMC is quietly putting massive resources into video surveillance that will play a huge role as this all rolls out.
There have been a number of instances in which people who could have helped, and were willing to, weren’t able to. Communications systems couldn’t talk to each other, and dispatchers either couldn’t locate their first responders or they couldn’t give them the critical information being captured by folks at the event site in a timely way.
While it may take a major event to fire up the market to put this technology in place, it is only a matter of time till we have another Columbine or World Trade Center event, and suddenly law enforcement will be connected. My hope, of course, is that this time we actually think before acting — but unfortunately, historically, we tend to act first and make a mess of the result.
Multitouch With Pen
Tablets are coming in waves, and there is little doubt they will soon collide with and begin to aggressively replace notebook computers. To do that, they have to become creation devices rather than just consumption devices, and damned if that doesn’t remind me a lot of the Newton.
The next real generation of tablets will need to have better ways to create information, and it is their nature to use a stylus rather than a keyboard, because they are a slate after all. While you can get stylus products for the current set, the touchscreens we have today just aren’t accurate enough. However, companies like Stantum and N-Trig are bringing to market displays for everything from smartphones to monitors that do both touch and high-resolution digitization on the same screen.
This means you can use a tablet as a true canvas to create art with coming applications from Adobe that allow you to almost play the tablet like an art guitar — selecting brushes and colors with one hand and drawing with the other.
Of course, this allows students to annotate directly on their emailed documents with ink rather than having to print anymore, and whiteboard projectors that can use these tablets as their user front end will likely take over in schools.
In the end, the perfect Newton is coming. Funny thing is that word is, it may be coming from the ThinkPad group in Lenovo. Now wouldn’t that be ironic?
Capacitors and Power to the People
Batteries are the big limiter for much of the technology we are talking about. They are OK with slow drain — but if they drain too quickly, they perform poorly and wear out faster. Just as bad is that you have to buy enough of them to handle peak loads even if those loads only last for a few seconds.
A little company called Maxwell Technologies in San Diego is actually shipping products that can be used in large trucks and power grids to handle peak loads for starting cars and flattening the power curve (potentially reducing the need for additional power plants).
Capacitors are vastly more efficient than batteries; they don’t wear out as quickly, and they can dump their power very rapidly. A hybrid solution of capacitors and batteries (to hold down cost) could make your electronic devices more reliable; their batteries last longer; and allow a cellphone to be personal defense weapon (think Taser).
This could be the beginning of the end for batteries as we know them, and that’s huge.
Facebook is on the cusp of doing something really big if it thinks a bit outside the box and combines the Microsoft tech it has access to with its concept of social networking and the need to share live video stream, among other things.
InterAct is reminding me a lot of Cisco in the very early years. Its Intel-tested leaders could create the next super company, addressing the massively growing problems with public safety. If they don’t, someone else will.
Stantum and N-Trig are putting together touch and pen hybrid screens that should define the next huge step in tablets.
And finally, Maxwell Technologies is solving the critical energy storage problem that limits what we can do with portable technology.
Taken all together, this means technology will be used to truly digitize our social experience, make us part of the security solution and not just victims, allow us to create and share more widely and often, and have the power we need where we need it to make this all work. In 10 years, we’ll look back at now and wonder how we got by.
Product of the Week: Windows Phone 7 ‘Mango’
I used to love my Windows Phone 7 Dell Venue Pro like most folks love their iPhones, and I actually think I often have a better experience. Windows Phone 7 initially had some issues with regard to multitasking, but generally I loved it. That was before I played with Mango, and now I’m not as happy.
Mango does multitasking wonderfully, and while this is a catch-up capability, I’m good with that, because before it sucked. Mango does things that are just so much better. Let’s take music — vastly improved, more Zune-like. (Zune was actually better than iTunes — it was the hardware that sucked.)
I’ve always hated searching for contacts on the phone, so much so that I generally just don’t do it. Mango allows you to form contact groups making them vastly easier to find.
Emails, which are also often really hard to find, can now be grouped into conversations. You get a unified in-box where you can aggregate your email services (I have way too many email services).
One thing that’s huge for me, because I have an Exchange server for mail, is the ability to search for mail on the server and not just on the phone (which has limited capacity).
The only application I was really missing on my Windows Phone was “Angry Birds,” and that showed up recently. (Unlike with Android phones, Netflix worked on day one.) The only problem I have with this phone at the moment is that it is in beta, and so this version isn’t on my primary phone yet. I’m not the most patient guy in the world.
But because Windows Phone 7 Mango turns the phone I love into a potential Android killer and a real contender for the iPhone crown, even though it hasn’t been released yet, it is my product of the week. (I still think this would be wonderful on a tablet).
By the way, the only real question from those of us reviewing this platform is whether the hardware makers will step up and provide better hardware to go with it when it ships.