The future of books… scratch that. The future of reading

16 04 2010

Winnie the Pooh on the Ipad

While most of us focused on the implications of initiatives like Google Books, we may have overlooked the elephant in the room. The story is not about the future of books but rather how people will consume written content – if at all! Whether you read your book on your Kindle, Ipad or whatever, you are still consuming knowledge the same way your ancestor did: reading one line at the time with 90%+ of your brain activity dedicated to this activity.

Audiobooks were the first real challenge to this very principle. You can consume knowledge while driving your car, moping your floor, etc. While quite prevalent in the American culture, audiobooks did not change the book industry – rather it created a new revenue stream. The matter of the fact is that knowledge consumption remained untouched: still a one-way street.

This is why Paul Carr’s recent review of the IPad in TechCrunch got my attention. Paul makes the interesting argument that the Ipad will not only kill the Kindle but it will also kill “the experience of reading for pleasure.” Why?

“The iPad is emphatically not a serious readers’ device: the only people who would genuinely consider it a Kindle killer are those for whom the idea of reading for pleasure died years ago; if it was ever alive. The people who will spout bullshit like “I read on screen all day” when what they really mean is “I read the first three paragraphs of the New York Times article I saw linked on Twitter before retweeting it; and then I repeat that process for the next eight hours while pretending to work.” That’s reading in the way that rubbing against women on the subway is sex.”

His point is that our experience of reading has changed with our attention span. Reading is no longer as entertaining as it used to be; especially on a platform on with awesome games just one click away. The immediate consequence is that you will see more and more video and interactive content integrated in your reading experience. Reading will then become more and more like surfing the Web – a two-way street knowledge consumption. Read the rest of this entry »

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Small, Gray and Feminine – The future of aging in the US

2 04 2010

Skydiving at 92? (Source: Faded Tribune)

As part of the MIT Future Freight Symposium on March 11th, I attended a talk from Dr. Joe Coughlin of  the MIT Agelab. Dr. Joe Coughlin is a leading expert in demographics and behavioral changes due to aging – I highly recommend his blog disruptive demographics for more data and insights on aging. In his talk, he painted a picture that resembled a “nation of Floridas.” In a nutshell, trends are pointing towards a small, gray and feminine future.

Small

The fastest growing household in America is the single person category. 30% of the Americans above 65 now live alone and this trend will only accentuate, as one out of five baby boomers is currently living alone. While we can expect some of them to downsize and move closer to urban centers for convenience and fun, we foresee that most of them will downsize their habitation in the same neighborhood they grew accustomed to. For your reference, 70% of Americans live in suburban and rural areas. Naturally occurring retirement community in urban centers (NORC) is a currently observed phenomenon but will remain a niche segment.

However, small only applies to the size of their homes; not to their purchasing power. On the contrary, trends show that baby boomers will want to stay active and will want to enjoy life to the fullest. It is then worth noting that older adults control $1.6 trillion in buying power in the US, and that’s expected to increase by 29% over the next five years. Read the rest of this entry »





The end of retail as we know it. A scenario of virtualization.

21 03 2010

Health toilet in Japan - Source: ideaconnection.com

It is always interesting to see how pushing some trends to the limit create challenging scenarios. While most people will agree about the existence of a trend, few will care to walk through the unintended consequences. Here is a great example of how our mental models if unchallenged can leave some gigantic blind spots in our understanding of what the future may hold.

Pr. Sanjay Sarma from MIT recently gave a presentation to an audience of supply chain executives on the state-of-the-art of sensing. Sensors are now ubiquitous: in you car, your house, your cell phone, etc. There is a clear consensus that this is just the beginning. More complex sensors are becoming more affordable everyday. The computing power and infrastructure to handle the data is also getting exponentially cheaper. With your IPhone, you can already scan the bar code of the product you want to buy, and search on the Internet where to find it at the cheapest price. We are just a couple of years away from sensing appliances in our homes. Your fridge will sense when you will be out of milk or Diet Coke and will signal it to you. The sensing toilet is a reality in Japan. After analyzing your “body fluids,” the toilet makes recommendations for your diet and will give you information that you used to only get through a blood test i.e. sugar level, etc.

Everybody in the audience bought into a future where sensing was omnipresent. The supply chain executives could already experience in their businesses how sensing has become a pervasive innovation – from GPS tracking to RFID tags. However, when asked about the potential implications in such a future, they quickly concluded that dynamic routing would be the most important impact in their respective industries. Sure, being able to reroute your fleet to avoid congestion will allow saving a lot of money. But, is it really the most dramatic impact you can think of for this type of technology? Read the rest of this entry »





Geeks have done their share; it is now up to you, business leaders, to innovate!

5 03 2010

Cleantech Gap, Source: Clean Horizon Consulting

In their recently published book “Wired for Innovation,” MIT Professor Erik Brynjolfsson and Wharton lecturer Saunders contend that: “even if all technological progress were to stop tomorrow, business could create decades’worth of IT-enabled organizational innovation using only today’s technologies.” As a society, we all expect technology innovations to bring more progress to everybody, and at a faster pace. However, we rarely reflect on whether our business leaders innovate enough to match the high expectations we have for the technology community. How many times have you heard of a revolutionary technology vs. a revolutionary business plan?

Humor me on this one: should a technology be discarded because its benefits under the current business model does not overweight its costs? or should it be discarded because we could not think of any business model in which its benefits overweight its costs? Let’s take the electric vehicle as an example. In a previous post, I have shown some reserves regarding electric vehicles adoption because the technology still does not make economic sense in the current business models. However, I also affirmed that it could become a reality, today, with a company like Better Place which offers a revolutionary business model. Electric vehicles only make economic sense if you look at the total cost of ownership i.e. car’s price tag + fuel cost + maintenance cost. Therefore, Better Place knew they needed to find a business model that would leverage this challenge as a strength instead of a weakness. Instead of selling you a car, Better Place will sell you kilometers to drive, which translates into charged batteries. Like with a cell phone, you will buy the hardware (the car) and you will choose a plan that best fits your driving needs. Better Place owns the batteries and will provide you with a network of charging stations to recharge them – monitoring your consumption while doing so. cye88sebwgzu CYE88SEBWGZU Read the rest of this entry »





A new model for technology innovation: “Search and Development”

7 02 2010

Source: today.ucf.edu

Cleantech is on its way to potentially become the next transformative wave of innovation. As often, anticipating what the future will hold is about understanding how the past unraveled. Indeed, there is much to learn both in terms of investors’ mental models and potential analogies from past waves like the Internet and Biotech.

The emergence of Information technologies marked the triumph of the VC-backed model. The business and mainstream media helped build the myth of the geeky tech entrepreneur and the all-powerful venture capitalist. The lesson we all learned was that an idea could quickly move from concept to a reality – potentially unleashing millions of dollars while doing so. Of course in the process, numerous shaky business plans were funded; people saw value where there was just wind. Yet, tech entrepreneur/VC tandem survived the bubble and still embodies in our subconscious the perfect combination to generate technology innovation.

As a consequence, people still believe that this is the model to go for the next technology innovation. That is why, you see cleantech entrepreneurs and VC striving to walk the cleantech “revolution” along the same path i.e. funding, IPO, etc. However, savvy investors and business pundits raise some valid concerns as to the validity of the analogy. The beauty of the IT revolution was, and still is, that the development costs to reach scale are very limited. On the contrary, most of the cleantech requires longer development lead time and thus funding up to 10 times what was necessary for the proof of concept in the IT world. How many firms can realistically raise 100 million of dollars through the VC world to develop a conclusive prototype? The analogy falls short and begs for another point of reference. Read the rest of this entry »





Car Wars: The return of the Electric Vehicle

2 02 2010

Better Place Car (Renault) - Source: socialearth.org

While covering the 2010 EDTA Conference in Washington on electric vehicles for Clean Horizon Consulting, I learned that the first cars were actually electric vehicles. It is only under Thomas Edison’s advice that Ford chose to develop a model around a combustion engine. Edison knew that in terms of energy storage, it is hard to be more efficient than fossil fuels. Then, the technology struck back in the aftermath of the 1973 and 1979 oil crises. This eventually led to some product developments – for those who remember the infamous GM EV1. At that time, electric vehicles with its multiple drawbacks (range constraints, time to charge, lack of infrastructure, etc.) could not threaten the more flexible and established technology that was the combustion engine. Can the story be any different this time?

During the conference, even the most adamant electric vehicle (EV) evangelist knew that mass adoption of EVs will come down to one thing only: customer experience. Early adoption is never an issue especially for a technology that can appeal to both geeks and environmentalists. The real trick though is to secure mass adoption. This is actually where the technology failed in the past. You have to provide the average consumer with at least an on-par experience compared to what she is used to getting with her current car. This is all the more challenging that a seamless customer experience requires the emergence of an ecosystem linking a nebula of actors. If you wake-up at 7AM to get to this important meeting and your car is not  charged up, who should you call? The car manufacturer? the utility? the charging station manufacturer? All of them? For those of you who tried to get a Google Nexus while conserving your current T-Mobile account, you know that seamless interactions between companies’ customer services rarely self-emerge.

While the industry is still fighting to define standards, a self-emerging ecosystem seems like an utopia. As a consequence, EV will struggle through the next decade, slowly grabbing market share but growing slower than some could have expected. However, we should be aware of two important wild cards: Better Place and Smith. Read the rest of this entry »





The future of fuels – Natural Gas

24 01 2010

Shale gas drilling site in Pennsylvania, Source: MIT Tech Review

Natural gas has always been the poor cousin of oil: always the bridesmaid but never the bride. Why is that?

A high-level glance at a few indicators may provide you with quite a rosy picture. Not only can natural gas diversify your energy portfolio away from oil but it will also reduce your CO2 emissions – especially compared to coal for power generation. The upstream picture is quite attractive too. With plenty of proven resources and potentially game changing reserves just discovered below the US oil (the infamous shale gas), one cannot but wonder why natural gas does not become The fuel to transition our society out of fossil sources. Read the rest of this entry »