Is E-Commerce facing a Blue or Red Pill Choice?

Is E-Commerce facing a Blue or Red Pill Choice?

This is the promised part 2 to my previous article "Why is luxury e-commerce so bland and copy-cat?".   In that article, I challenge the luxury brands to recognize that today's e-commerce platforms are not made for them.  In this follow-up article, I pose the question that Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) asked Neo (Keano Reeves) in The Matrix (Wachowski's 1999 sci-fi film):

"Do you want to know what 'it' is?  Take the blue pill ... you wake up in your bed and continue to believe whatever you want to.  Take the red pill ... I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes".  

For luxury e-commerce brands this means: Take the blue pill ... you continue to do whatever everyone else does.   Take the red pill ... I show you how you could truly differentiate your brand's e-commerce experience.  The choice is yours.

Last week's article generated great online and offline discussions with valid arguments from both the "blue" and "red" pill advocates.  In fact, I have also evolved and nuanced my own opinion on this topic.  For instance, whereas there seems to be a broad agreement that e-commerce platforms are too single-mindedly focused on conversion, several experts pointed out that 1) fear of confusing online visitors, 2) competitive benchmarking and 3) unproven new technologies are also valid reasons for luxury brands to be cautious.  And I agree fully.  Jasper van Eijck, an ace serial digital entrepreneur summarized it as follows.

We (i.e. the e-commerce community) opt for proven concepts. It will take some convincing to take that next step.", says  Jasper van Eijck, co-founder of Lire La Suite

In many ways, this is good advice to any would-be (red pill) e-commerce innovator:  Yes, innovation and even disruption is needed and welcome, but don't come with gimmicky and half-baked solutions.  The stakes are simply too high when it involves online sales.  Any new technology has to be stable and secure for the large scale and high frequency nature of e-commerce.

So, how can I agree with the above statement of caution and still emphatically advocate for the need to disrupt luxury e-commerce?  The answer is a matter of perspective of how you define e-commerce.  In my view, the goal is not to tinker with the existing proven e-commerce 'box', but rather to ask ourselves how we can redefine the box itself.  In other words, is e-commerce simply the act of purchasing products online and on a mobile device?  Or can we broaden it to be the entire digital engagement of a customer with a product that ultimately leads to a purchase?  Joshua Young, who has been instrumental in defining digital strategy at Nike said it as follows:

"Let's hope that luxury brands not only equal the shopping experience of brick and mortar retail, but that they blend it with technology in order to provide an online experience superior to anything they could have imagined in the physical world.", says Nike innovator Joshua Young.

Taking the red pill is also urgent.  Luxury and aspirational brands are relatively late to the e-commerce game.  Mass-market book, CD, electronics and bargain brands went before them.  Not surprisingly, now that luxury brands are arriving online in big numbers, they notice that today's e-commerce platforms are not made for them.  Precisely for this reason, it is now the time for luxury brands to use their creative power and become the next "Pioneering Brands ... of Digital Innovation", as I discussed in an earlier post.

The big question is: How do you do this?  Where do your start?  How do you redefine the e-commerce box?  Geri Tuneva, a Market Academy scholar in the UK, gives a great starting point in her highly recommended blog on innovation: First, try to understand what your customer fan base truly wants:

"Disruptive brands are driving new habits and human behaviors. To compete, you need to understand what your customer truly wants, in order to craft an enjoyable and memorable experience", suggests Innovation Guru  Geri Tuneva in her blog.

I fully agree with Geri, but my approach goes even one step further.  Customers may not realize that they want a new solution until it is readily available.  I would like to incorporate those unknown solutions as well.  So, one of the exercises that I perform is to analyze the disruptive moments in other, often distantly related, industries.   Then for each of those moments, I try to identify the single most innovating element and the new benefit it provided to its customers. Ideally, I try to express this innovation and benefit in one single word.  Finally, I try to see if we can introduce that same benefit in e-commerce through new technologies or new uses of existing technologies.

In the example below, I analyzed several disruptive moments in electronic gaming, then defined the key benefit in a single word and finally wonder whether this could be introduced in e-commerce in a positively disruptive way.   

  1. Pac-Man (or Donkey Kong, etc):  In my view, what made Pac-Man so unique was that it made customers want to reach the next level in a game.  It was therefore an 'aspirational' game: customers who were at level 9 desperately wanted to get to level 10.  This 'Aspirational' element is currently lacking in the typical e-commerce experience.  Any e-commerce solution that focuses on aspirational shopping could redefine the e-commerce box in a highly disruptive and positive manner.
  2. Half-Life (or Doom, etc):  In my view, what made Half-Life so significant was that it allowed customers to experience the game in a first person point of view.  As a benefit, gaming became 'Immersive'. Customers felt they were in the center of the game.  This 'Immersive' element is also lacking in today's e-commerce and could be a major disruptive driver.
  3. Unreal Tournament (and Counterstrike, etc):  This game allowed customers to be social, but in a different way from today's social media.  Rather than liking your friends' posts, customers could be in the same game at the same time with their friends while chatting live to their friends.  This is the most naturally social interaction there is.  Shopping with your friends, while chatting to them in real time, is not yet an integral part e-commerce.  Yet, it is possible to do and could dramatically redefine what online shopping means.
  4. Minecraft:  Yes, this "open world" game is unique in its own right, but in my view the truly disruptive moment came when gamers started to create videos of themselves and their friends playing Minecraft on YouTube and when millions of people started to watch those videos.  The top Minecraft video maker Sky Does Minecraft has more than 11m followers.  The key benefit that these videos bring is humor and entertainment.  Again, this is a benefit that is not yet prevalent in e-commerce and could be a driving force for positive disruption.

In conclusion, I recommend that luxury brands are cautious and spend 60-80% of their budgets on true and tested e-commerce solutions.  At the same time, I also recommend that they spend 20-40% on bold and intrepid e-commerce projects that try to create an aspiring, immersive, social and entertaining experience that differentiates their brand online.

In this forum, I cannot provide specific recommendations for each luxury brand, but I hope that the above approach helps luxury brands to set their own unique course.  Of course, if I or others in my network can assist your organization in person with a specific innovation project or you wish to engage for a longer period, please feel free to contact me directly.

Why is luxury e-commerce so bland and copy-cat? Opportunity for change? You bet!

Why is luxury e-commerce so bland and copy-cat? Opportunity for change? You bet!

Imagine you are a top retail executive at Giorgio Armani, and you announce at a board meeting:  "This year we will re-design all our retail stores to make them appear identical to Abercrombie & Fitch."  There will be stunned silence, followed by a request to leave the room and close the door firmly behind you, never to be invited again.

Yet, looking at the image above, how can it be that the top e-commerce executives at Armani and A&F have done exactly that?  They designed an online shopping experience that is almost identical to each other and that bears no obvious resemblance to either of their unique and iconic brands.  So how can it be that these executives are not fired on the spot? 

"Once you pass the beautiful landing pages, the e-commerce pages of luxury brands look bland, brand-less and identical to each other."

Just to be clear, I am picking - unfairly - on these two great brands.  But in fact, the following can be said for all online stores of high-end brands: "Once you pass the beautiful landing pages, the e-commerce pages of luxury brands look bland, brand-less and identical to each other."

And it gets worse: Please go ahead and compare the e-commerce experiences of your favorite luxury brand with those of mass-market bargain brands.  You will soon realize that e-commerce sites of luxury brands, such as Armani and A&F are not just copying each other, they are copying all brands, including Costco and Walmart, even though the latter retail brands are fundamentally different.

Yet, here in also lies the answer:  The fact is that after 15 years of e-commerce development and hyper-growth, the only type of e-commerce platforms that exist today are the ones focused on mass price-comparison and transaction-completion. In other words, even if luxury e-commerce executives would want to (and believe me they do) design an e-commerce site that is truly unique to their brand, they cannot do it, because almost all the leading e-commerce platform companies are focused on high-volume, low-cost, cookie-cutter solutions rather than creating exclusive and one-of-a-kind luxury experiences.

There is a 'Unicorn' opportunity for a new generation of startups and investors to disrupt the e-commerce space by creating high-end mobile commerce experiences where the main focus is  not on price and transaction, but on multi-sensorial, immersive and aspirational shopping.

So, what does that mean for investors and entrepreneurs:  In my view, there is a 'Unicorn' (re: investor speak for a $1B+) opportunity for a new generation of startups and investors to disrupt the e-commerce space by creating high-end mobile commerce experiences where the main focus is not on price and transaction, but on multi-sensorial, immersive and aspirational brand experiences that captures the essence of each unique brand.  This will lead to both high margin 'price-is-not-an-issue' and impulsive 'got-to-have' purchases of branded and luxury goods. 

Fortunately, there are already technologies emerging that could disrupt e-commerce in this way, including mobile Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality.  It could soon be commonplace to walk through a photo-realistic virtual Armani store using a VR-enabled mobile phone.  Customers can then finally experience the high-end ambiance, exclusiveness and personal service of Giorgio Armani, or at least his virtual self.

In the next post, I will dive deeper in how the above problem, and subsequent opportunity, can be resolved with several of today's existing and emerging technologies.  I won't start with the technologies themselves (I am not a believer in technology for technology sake), but instead I will try to analyze how consumers actually shop and how brands like to present their products, so that we can then create the right strategies and identify the right technologies for each brand.

Internet of (Virtual) Things: Less celebrity endorsements; More virtual product discovery

Internet of (Virtual) Things: Less celebrity endorsements; More virtual product discovery

This is a follow-up on my previous article What is Internet of (Virtual) Things.

In this article, I argue that Internet of (Virtual) Things, may dramatically change the way you and I learn about new products in the near future.  It may overtake the dominance of TV commercials, a $500B industry, and celebrity endorsements, a $50Bn industry, because highly connected virtual products that have a digital identity (=IoT) can interact with consumers directly in an intimate way as if experiencing the real product in our daily lives, which I argue is the best way to test products.  Today's emerging technologies that could make this happen are advanced 3D printing and Augmented Reality, provided they develop past their current niches (designers and gamers respectively) into mass-market technologies that work seamlessly with mobile and wearable devices.  Google Glass, Oculus Rift and Microsoft Hololens are still niche devices, but once they become smaller, simpler and easier they have a real chance to change product marketing forever.  This article explains why I think so.

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Take a moment to think back how you used to discover new products?  It has changed dramatically over the years, but the guiding principles of product launch marketing have stayed the same: Timing ('be first') and Trust ('trust the messenger').

For some new products you only find out about them when a friend or colleague shows them to you at home, school or work.  In fact, not too long ago, before mass media and internet, this was the only way to launch products.  Yet, it is the slowest, riskiest and most expensive method for the product manufacturers, because they have to build and distribute the products upfront and hope that it catches on.  Yes, they can do some upfront focus groups, but it remains a long and risky process.  Still, the positive aspect of this approach is that the new product is introduced directly to consumers via close friends and shown in the context of how the product is used.

With the emergence of mass media as well as e-commerce, the product manufacturers have been able to speed up the time-to-market and therefore reduce their upfront costs and risks.  This has made TV, Radio and E-commerce ads the most popular method to launch new mass consumer products.  But the negative about this approach is that the product is introduced indirectly by an unknown product spokesperson.  True, this is why product manufacturers often hire well-known celebrities to endorse their products, but it is still not the same as having your friend show you the product.  

So what is the the solution?  How can you introduce products 1) directly to consumers in the context of how the product is used and 2) with the fastest time to market?   Advertisers have taken to social media to allow them to position their products as if coming from your close friends.  And crowdfunding sites introduce (virtual) products to consumer-investors before they are built.  However, none of these has been able to do both.

Could Augmented Reality and 3D printing fill this void?  Could early product concepts gain a digital identity and then connect directly with consumers in what I call an Internet of (Virtual) Things?

If this is possible, what could this mean in 5-10 years?  Well, imagine that when Apple CEO Tim Cook unveils a new product, such as the Apple Watch, instead of seeing a fancy product video introduction at a press conference and then having to wait 6 months for the Apple Watch to hit the stores, consumers can immediately after the press conference try on and experience a virtual Apple Watch on their own wrists using Augmented Reality or advanced 3D printing.  Consumers can then familiarize themselves with the device in a real setting.  For instance, when they go for a run with the virtual watch, they can experience how an Apple Watch helps them while exercising.  If the experience feels real, word of mouth about the product will spread very quickly without a single TV commercial or celebrity endorsement.  Most importantly for Apple, all of this happens long before the actual watch is manufactured and distributed to the stores, reducing the upfront risks and expense.

In short, there is an enormous potential to disrupt how we launch new products by building a connected world of Internet of (Virtual) Things and then using Augmented Reality and advanced 3D printing technologies to allow the consumer to test the product very early.  The reward is the disruption of a $550B industry.

What is the "Internet of (Virtual) Things"?

What is the "Internet of (Virtual) Things"?

This month Fox will debut its "Minority Report" TV series, an adaptation of the 1956 science fiction short story by Philip K. Dick and Steven Spielberg's 2002 film adaptation that starred Tom Cruise as Chief of PreCrime John Anderton.  I hope this series is a success, not just for its action, but also for its potential to  influence the future of technology, if it is as visionary as Spielberg's film was.  

If you have the chance to see the 2002 film again, you will notice that almost all the futuristic technology gadgets in the movie have become real consumer products in the 13 years since, from curved transparent screens (e.g. Samsung), navigation with hand movements (e.g. Microsoft Kinect) to context-personalized advertising that follows you around (e.g. Internet Ads), let alone the emergence of driverless cars (e.g. Google).

However, I wish to focus on one particular aspect that "The Minority Report" relies on: the realization of the "Internet of Things".  This is a concept, first coined by British entrepreneur Kevin Ashton in 1999, where all 'things' in our real world (far beyond laptops and mobile devices) are connected and where these 'things' can communicate to the internet and to each other, which allows for new services that are not possible without it.  In short, Internet of Things makes any basic device into a 'smart' device, not unlike Apple iOS and Google Android turned basic mobile phones into 'smart' phones.

One of the best existing examples of 'Internet of Things' is NEST, a home thermostat (ordinarily a rather basic device) that can now be controlled remotely over WiFi and uses sensors to learn your temperature preferences and then adjusts your thermostat dynamically to the most cost efficient setting at all times (which turns it into a very 'smart' device).  Another successful example is the OnStar system, that turns an entire General Motors car into a smart device.  For instance, the OnStar device has sensors that detect automatically when a serious accident occurs and then immediately calls emergency services, which can be critical when you are trapped and cannot reach your mobile phone.

All that said, I would like to expand the 'Internet of Things' by including 'Things' (in particular products) that haven't yet been made (i.e. Virtual). I'd suggest to call this additional group the 'Internet of Virtual Things'.  This opens up Kevin Ashton's original concept up to an area where I and many others have worked for the last 15 years: virtual prototyping (VP), 3D product visualization (3D Vis) and product lifecycle management (PLM).  Yet, "Internet of Virtual Things" will turn these sectors completely on their head, just like the internet has already done with music, publishing and retail.

What do I mean?  Imagine that an independent fashion designer sketches an idea for a new shirt and adds a #uniqueshirt tag to it and drops it in the "Internet of Virtual Things".  From now on #uniqueshirt can connect and communicate with the internet and all relevant devices and services that it needs to grow into a real #uniqueshirt product.  These services and devices can automatically find and communicate with #uniqueshirt and are neither necessarily owned by one company nor controlled by humans.  The Internet services that may find and help #uniqueshirt are focused on market research, design, manufacturing, marketing, advertising, logistics, retail and customer service.  For instance, a market research service may run a test to find out how popular #uniqueshirt will be with certain demographics and report the results back to #uniqueshirt.  #Uniqueshirt's popularity in a particular demographic may trigger an Internet Finance service to sign up #uniqueshirt automatocally for a credit line so that it can go into production.  Once #uniqueshirt has secured financing, it may be noticed by Internet Manufacturing services that sign up #uniqueshirt automatically for production of its first 100,000 units.  Next it will be picked up by Logistics, Marketing and Retail services, until the real product is purchased and delivered to actual consumers.  The journey was successfully made in small steps, where specific Internet connected services found #uniqueshirt and offered it its services, leading to other services finding it next.

This would create a far more efficient and dynamic Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) workflow in a device-to-device connected world where Chief John Anderton would feel right at home.

Influencer Marketing: be part of a 'local barbershop community' to reach your audience online

Influencer Marketing: be part of a 'local barbershop community' to reach your audience online

Exasperated from a particularly long digital strategy meeting, a colleague sighed to me last week: "Oh my ... marketing used to be so much simpler".   At some level, he was right:  Gone are the days when 'place' in Neil Borden's 4-P Marketing-Mix (product, price, promotion, place) simply meant to find the best corner shop close to your customers.  However, even in today's ever-more-complex digital marketing buzz, it is still simply about how best to "corner the market" for your product.  In fact, it is not coincidence that in my native Dutch the word "shop" actually means "corner".

This also applies to Influencer Marketing (IM), the art of connecting products with influencers who can spread your product's word-of-mouth:  When explaining IM to my clients, I tell them to compare it to marketing via local village corner shops or more specifically, via local barber or coffee shops where customers come together to chat and share stories.

In the analogy, each barbershop is a digital platform (blog-, video-, picture-sharing, etc); each patron is an influencer (blogger, vlogger, 'plogger', etc); and each patron's story is a digital discussion or video, in which you would like your product to be mentioned in an organic non-pushy way.  So in essence, marketing is still as it was 60 years ago, except that our corner shops are now online.

With this analogy it is easier to understand the complexity.  There are millions of corner-, coffee- and barbershops, all with a different local clientele, different local stories and different local buildings.  Finding the right corner shop with customers who would be interested to talk about your product is hard; and the same is true for Influencer Marketing.  This is why it makes sense to use Influencer Outreach solutions that help brands connect their products with the right bloggers, vloggers and instagrammers.

Of course, Influencer Marketing actually goes much further than old fashioned brick-and-mortar marketing.  What is unique and attractive about IM is that you can be at all your favorite barbershops at once, while listening carefully to the conversations, understanding and respecting the patrons' points of view and becoming a positive contributing member of those communities.  You can then experience not only who re-tells which stories to whom but also who becomes a genuine advocate of your views (that supports your product).  In other words, a successful Influencer Marketing campaign makes sure that the content stories, the advocates and real-time measuring of the content and advocates are included.

For more information or advise for marketers or technology investors, please feel free to reach out to me via linkedin or directly at

Pioneering Brands are the Heroes of Digital Innovation

Pioneering Brands are the Heroes of Digital Innovation

Much attention is given to the technology companies that successfully introduce disruptive innovations.  And rightfully so, especially when the products are consumer focused, they should receive the sole credit.  However, for business-to-business innovation, the initial customer company that is the very first adopter of the new technology, deserves just as much credit.  If you are the corporate executive in charge of such a go/no go decision on whether to implement an untested emerging technology, you deserve all of our heroic respect, especially when the innovation later becomes an industry standard.  

In 2005, while Apple and Google were in the midst of rolling out 'your-life-will-never-be-quite-the-same' products, such as iPod, iTunes and Maps, Analytics respectively, one leading corporate brand adopted a digital innovation that would revolutionize its industry worldwide.  No, it did not happen in Silicon Valley; neither was there a celebrity CEO on stage at a user conference to announce it.  No fanfare, no news.  Yet, 10 years on, if you are not well versed in 3D visualization, virtual garage, computer graphic imaging (CGI), rendering, augmented reality and virtual reality, you will have a tough time (or have to catch up very quickly) working for an Automotive brand in either marketing or design.  In fact, in an earlier post, I wrote about Apple and Google getting into this sector as well with billion dollar investments.

True, prior to 2005, computer visualization had been used in Automotive Engineering already.  But in order to use it in other areas such as marketing, advertising, commercials, sales, digital, interactive, mobile and design, the critical hurdle was to prove that computer graphics could achieve photo-realism. Can computers render not just a car exterior, which was hard due to a car's layered metallic and glossy paints, but also in particular a complete car interior photo-realistically, which was until then impossible due to the complex visual properties of light bouncing off different materials.  The human eye and mind is incredibly adapt at noticing even the smallest mistakes and picking out a fake. So the challenge was to create a rendered image at such a high quality that even a car enthusiast could not see the difference between a photo and a computer generated image.

In 2005, the above image of the then pre-launch Lexus LS 460 was the very first advertisement image that was made solely with computers (no photography) that fooled even the most experienced photographers.  In fact, once it was understood what this achievement meant, it spread very quickly to other automotive brands.  It set a true revolution in motion that would fundamentally change the automotive marketers' and designers' toolbox.  It opened the door to online Build-Your-Own car configurators and the subsequent introduction of a new industry term: Virtual Garage, a digital place where automotive brands 'park' their virtual vehicles, carefully prepared and ready to be used for marketing or design visualization purposes.  

The Lexus LS image that I used above is a lower resolution version than the original, but the fact that I was able to find it online after ten years shows its timeless quality.  I can assure you that the original ultra high resolution image would still blow you away if you were to see it up close.

With thanks to all corporate executives that adopt innovation early.

Companies to watch

  • Lexus, a luxury automotive brand and digital innovation pioneer.
  • Dassault Systemes 3DExcite, a real-time, high-end 3D visualization company, whose software was used in the above image.
  • Autodesk, a 3D visualization company, whose software was used in the above image.
  • A & M Creative Services, a high-end industrial CGI, Animation and VFX services company.

Happily surprised what I saw at SIGGRAPH

Happily surprised what I saw at SIGGRAPH

Walking through SIGGRAPH, the long-running annual Computer Graphics conference that took place at the Los Angeles Convention Center last week, there is always a small worry that there won't be anything too exciting.  Luckily this time, the exhibiting companies did not disappoint.  And the reason is quite obvious:  As mentioned in my previous post the Visualization sector is hot due to recent $billion+ investments by Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft into Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technology.

What surprised me at SIGGRAPH: Headsets, headsets, headsets!

The most obvious was the sheer amount of immersive demonstrations with various Virtual Reality headsets from Oculus Rift to Samsung VR to HTC Vive to Goggle Tech and Google Cardboard.  On the higher end of these experiences, especially if you are - like me - also interested in industrial applications, was the Ford Immersive Vehicle Environment, where you can shine a virtual torch while exploring the car from all angles.  In fact, when I bumped into design friends from Teague, I heard that Boeing's VR environment is an incredible 30ft x 40ft and allows two people to walk through a virtual aircraft simultaneously - a truly stunning feat. Yet, Ford and Boeing will be the first to admit that their environments require a relatively large amount of computing power, whereas tomorrow's tectonic shift is happening on the consumer side with the likely mainstream adoption of VR by Sony Playstation and Microsoft Xbox, both of whom want to own the next generation immersive VR game console; with Facebook, HTC, Samsung, Apple not sitting idly by.  Similarly, we can safely expect that in the next 3 years, the first 360 degrees VR movies and games will be released to a wide consumer audience.  Movie watching (and movie making) will never be the same.  The industrial applications will rapidly follow suit.

Companies to Watch

  • Nurulize, a startup that is making fascinating strides in 360 VR movies & interactive experiences as well as groundbreaking realtime environment rendering innovation.  The development team includes several award-winning programmers, with whom I've had the pleasure to work in the past.
  • Nozon, a VFX studio, that has released PresenZ, a very effective solution for adding parallax to 360 VR Movies, which removes the motion sickness that most people feel when using a VR headset. Therefore, it is a critical solution for encouraging wider consumer adoption of headsets.
  • Nokia last month announced OZO (pictured above), the first commercially available virtual reality (VR) camera designed and built for professional content creators. This will be the first of many professional VR cameras, another clear sign that 360 movies are coming soon to a theater near you and that Microsoft is betting big on VR with Xbox, Nokia and Minecraft.

3 Trends at Siggraph: AR, VR and VFX studios productizing their secret sauce

3 Trends at Siggraph: AR, VR and VFX studios productizing their secret sauce

True, SIGGRAPH (Special Interest Group for Graphics and Interactive Techniques) conference may not receive a lot of mainstream media attention. Yet, it is massive and international renowned: If you are an Agency Creative Director, Consumer Product Marketer, Industrial Designer, Technology CEO, Game Designer, Hollywood Director or an Technology Investor, and you want to understand the next disruptive trends before your competitors do, than you have to visit the largest annual computer graphics conference in Los Angeles, for the last 40 years.

Be forewarned: Siggraph can be a highly technical event.  The people managing the exhibitor booths are often very friendly and enthusiastic techies, temporarily relieved from their often 80-hour project weeks working on the next groundbreaking CGI-enriched Hollywood blockbuster or marketing campaign.  So they love to talk and explain in algorithmic detail how their latest innovation works. But half-way through you may realize that you should have brought a techie-talk translator or at least an acronym dictionary.

So, yesterday I did this for you.  I braved my way through half of the booths (Thursday I will visit the other half) at the Los Angeles Convention Center, including the small ones where often the 'yet undiscovered' big ideas are.  After translating and decomposing the technical descriptions, I summarized my findings and thoughts of how these innovations could be applied in real-world industrial settings creating interesting competitive advantages. Note that my focus is primarily on industrial & consumer product company applications rather than media and entertainment.

After the first day, I saw three major trends:

  1. Augmented Reality (AR) - The technology and art of blending virtual reality objects within real environments.  Perhaps the best known commercial application of this is in sports broadcasts, where only the TV viewer sees additional (virtual) advertising boards along the field that have been blended into the live broadcast. AR is on the rise due to the emergence of tablets and devices such as Google Glass, that are ideal for AR. But many of the commercial applications so far have been clunky, too obvious or too gimmicky. So the search at Siggraph is for groundbreaking, beneficial and stable applications.  Austin-based Image Metrix using its sister company's Faceware software seem to have done so and crossed into the mainstream with their very realistic and robust L'Oreal MakeupGenius app. This is a company to follow for anyone interested in Virtual-Try-On e-commerce solutions.
  2. Virtual Reality (VR) - The technology that puts the user in a completely virtual environment that is alive (moving video or interactive) and all around (you can turn and view 360 degree).  Although VR has been around for decades, it is suddenly receiving feverish R&D attention with the emergence of low cost consumer VR devices from Facebook, Google, HTC, Microsoft and Samsung.  Although many companies at Siggraph had noteworthy VR demos, some of which I will mention in my next posts, the VR videos from Google using their super low cost $10-$50 Cardboard device were the most impressive (they were very realistic, yet not complicated or hard to emulate, and therefore all the more exciting in terms of mainstream potential).  It showed you inside a moving ski gondola in the midst of your fellow gondola passengers or on a mountain trail as part of a  expedition, shot with 360 degree cameras.  This is a trend to follow if you are a Agency Creative Director or Movie Director and you want to be one of the first to create a first-person point-of-view (POV) live action film or ad campaign. Each person in the audience is transported into the middle of each scene as a observer with the freedom to look around at any time - just imagine how a Director could use this in a suspense movie.  The potential for completely disrupting how we watch movies or advertisement in the near future is enormous.
  3. VFX Studios Productizing their Secret Sauce - A very noticeable trend is that many traditionally service-only oriented CGI and VFX studios were offering their proprietary in-house developed software as a licensed or a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) subscription offering. In my next post I will highlight several companies that are worth mentioning in this trend.  For illustration, I spoke to BUF, a well-regarded Paris-based VFX studio, famous for its development of the 'bullet-time' effect in the Matrix franchise. They have released their own sequence playback software, BView, this week, followed later by the rest of their software suite.  Of course, transforming your in-house proprietary software into a commercially viable product is a very hard task, and therefore many of these will not become a commercial success. But this trend is still very healthy and exciting, because it opens all this know-how and technology to mainstream creative artists.  And that is certainly an interesting development to follow if you are an investor, because several of these products will become the next unicorns.

Tell me your thoughts and feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Which visual computing trends you see in your personal and work life?

The Next Big Idea for Consumer Goods Visualization?

The Next Big Idea for Consumer Goods Visualization?

I will be at Siggraph 2015 Conference in Los Angeles this week, reviewing the next wave of emerging industrial visualization technologies.  For those interested, I will publish a post on my selection of the most promising new innovations at the show, giving my unique perspective on how to turn it into the next big idea for a consumer goods company.

What is your favorite new technology?  Tell me which company you want me to visit/interview?