Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Race To The Cloud Is On

The cloud is a new Cambrian explosion: When the eco-system changes, a whole new set of animals emerge.

The cloud is a great idea. Devices can overflow their processing and storage requirements to the cloud. This frees them up to become better form factors. Less bulk, more ergonomics. Good news for humans.

And it's opened up a new gold rush: the gold rush to provide your cloud storage.

Let's think about why providers might want to get into that game. The first consideration is that it will be very very expensive to do so. The dominant cloud service providers for Europe (AWS and Azure for now) charge for storage per month, and they're cost model is a reasonable representation of the cost of running their giant server farms.

So providers have to pay every month and the more they store, the more that monthly payment will be. That's very different to buying your own storage outright. If I buy an external hard drive, for instance, I buy it once and it's mine. Effectively, on the cloud, I'm renting that hard drive forever and every time I put more stuff on it, the rent goes up.

Every consumer who's used to the wild and wonderful free Internet won't like that, so to buy their custom, the cloud service providers will have to either pay for it for them, or at least package it up and maybe subsidise it a little to make it buyable.

So why would a provider want to take on that endlessly inflating burden?

Because it gives them leverage. It gives them leverage to provide other profit-making services. Data is king, and the customer is his daddy. Get them into your system, and your system can start making money… somehow.

You might think that providing storage at a loss (let alone the processing that goes with it) sounds like madness. Surely it would be possible to make a tiny tiny profit per customer by marking up cloud storage? At the moment, it doesn't look like it. I'm not sure if they'll last, but Bitcasa are betting the farm on a flat fee of $10 / month for infinite cloud storage. Their model is all about clever compression and de-duplication techniques. If a million people are storing the same copy of Spiderman on the cloud, Bitcasa will store it once and satisfy everyone. But $10 / month?? It just doesn't seem to add up. Dropbox are having a tough time balancing loads of freeloaders with 2+GB against premium customers paying their lowest tier $10 / month for an account limited to 50GB. People who want cloud storage have a LOT of data. And photos, for instance, are original data and don't de-dupe so well.

So who will win?

I can only imagine that the winners of this crazy race will be the people with the largest vested interest. And I think that's not going to be the clever first-mover start-ups like Bitcasa, or even Dropbox, sadly. It'll be the people who have massive scale (deep pockets!) and who want to lock you into a wider infrastructure of services built around the cloud. So that'll be Apple, Microsoft and Google, then.

Good on them. But I am going to put SOOOO much data into their systems that they might regret winning for a few years.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Trends in reality TV gaming

"It could be you" was the original slogan of the National Lottery. But innovative new on to off-line hybrid games are taking the world by storm, delivering to that craving in bundles. Bundles of £50 notes.

The National Lottery fails to deliver because it's a mostly passive, non-interactive experience. You buy a ticket in a shop: great. Then you wait for Saturday to watch Dale Winton attempting to inject excitement into a bingo machine in a tiny studio making your ticket worthless. Yawn.

Compare to recent TV shows 'The Bank Job' and 'The Million Pound Drop Live', both:
  • Screened 'live' over a small number of days with a will to be 'event television'. Social media goes crazy for this stuff
  • Playing online allows you to apply to play for real in the studio within a day or three
  • Play along live at home via Internet or red button. A great 'second screen' application. Something like 40k people were online last night with Davina.
  • Real money on show. Everyone loves big bundles of £50 notes apparently - accompanied by serious-looking security guards.
  • Instant statistics from the online players available to the hosts
  • Live Twitter and Facebook updates from viewers available to the hosts
The Million Pound Drop partners Skype to bring in celebs to ask the questions live.

These shows then generate an additional big set of money from licensing. Beyond the traditional scratchcards, fruit machine, pub quiz machines and boardgames, today the focus is more instant interactive gratification: online real cash gaming sites such as Bet365 or Paddypower. Bet365 reports it sees a flood of new accounts every time Million Pound Drop is broadcast - and will make another set of money from those betting on the outcomes of the live show.

This is a new type of 'reality TV gameshow'. Small wonder both 'The Bank Job' and 'The Million Pound Drop Live', along with 'Deal or No Deal', are born of Endemol, the makers of Big Brother. With the increase in such shows, plus 'the Cube', 'Red or Black', late night poker sponsored by 'play now' poker sites, or the roulette sites that even mainstream channels hand over to in the early hours, this looks a strong trend.

The 'play along live' games are an essential component. A remarkable majority of the above games were developed by Clerkenwell-based agency 'Monterosa', a team of around 20.

What their MD Simon Brickle says is also true of Electric Animal,

"On our very early projects we realised that our reputation depended not just on delivering a project successfully, but the success of the project itself."
Where will this 'social TV movement' go next? Who Wants to Be a Millionaire has been made in over 100 countries, one that inspired the 'Slumdog' film. Do you have a killer quizshow format ready to make everyone millions?*

*Endemol are currently £2.3 billion in debt

Friday, 20 January 2012

Clever clever isn't clever

Everyone thinks that cleverness is an advantage. No... Cleverness only has one advantage. Everything I've ever seen that's clever that matters has just one characteristic that really makes it matter: it is simple.

Clever clever is no advantage.

Clever simple is really clever.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

The camera industry is smarting... because of smartphones

This year's Consumer Electronics Show is really highlighting a fork in the road for the camera industry.

The traditional camera (which has only recently become the digital camera) is being forced to evolve or die… and fast.

Smartphone sales are not destroying traditional camera sales, as this graph shows, but they sure are dwarfing it. Smartphones are the biggest spur for change that the camera industry has seen.

Source: The Telegraph

At time of writing, Kodak has nearly gone bust. Kodak, the brand that popular culture used to recognise as the one that matters in photography. Also, interesting to see that Kodak is now suing Apple for patent infringement, as it flails around resisting liquidation.

Among camera manufacturers, opinion varies as to how they should deal with this growing tide of phones with lenses. Basically, there's two schools of thought.

Route 1 - parity

"We need to make cameras that offer parity with smartphone's technological functions. Cameras need GPS, and wi-fi. Maybe even direct Internet connectivity."

This route seems to be Samsung's track.

Route 2 - distinction

"We should leverage our greater expertise in high quality imaging - smartphones can't offer anything like the same quality of image, in terms of lenses and sensors. Also, the emerging area in imaging is lower cost high quality video. Let's focus there."

This route seems to be Canon's track.

Both routes are interesting. Which puts greater distance between the camera industry and the smartphone industry? And which one gets the best customer approval and revenue?

Monday, 9 January 2012

Games that break the mould in 2012

It's great to see games that aren't just designed to pump up the average American teenage gamer with adrenalin and bullets.

Here's some new games that are either out this year or recently released. These are games that refreshingly break the mould from all that Modern Warfare same-same.

The Last Guardian

Sony/Team Ico, PS3

Following on from the same team that created Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus, we can expect haunting visuals and themes in this game about a boy exploring a citadel with a huge feathered beast. Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus were great games, but they were also explorations of mood and story-telling. It's been promised for ages, but The Last Guardian is now slated for release in 2012.


Sony/thatgamecompany, PS3

From the same company, Flow and Flower are amazing artistic games that turn your PS3 into a beautiful and calming hallucination. Journey looks set to do the same, but perhaps with more of an adventuring theme.

Escape Plan

Sony/Fun Bits, PlayStation Vita

More amazing black and white rich visuals (seems to be the Art Direction thing right now, no?) in a charming and funny lateral-thinking adventure for the new PS Vita.

Rayman Origins

Ubisoft, Wii, PS3, Xbox

No more 3d for Rayman. Instead, experience the most gorgeously animated and varied slap-stick adventure you've ever played. The themes are juvenile, but this is a very mature approach to gaming animation and graphics.


Playdead, PS3

Black and white simple visuals in a story about a boy finding his way out of… who knows where. Don't be deceived though - the simplicity is a rarified sort of perfection. It's tremendously atmospheric, very smooth, and it draws you in only in order to trap you in its devious puzzles.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

London needs to get off regular office hours. Fact.

First day back in town for the New Year.

The commute back home - even just a short distance - was really really not nice. I went into town by tube at 10ish, missing the rush hour, and it was fine. But I came back shortly after 6, right in the middle of a wad of disgruntled Londoners. And it was dreadful. Angry people feeling downtrodden and space-invaded. Full of bah-humbug. Not one person on the carriage was evil (probably) but the agitation levels were rising brutally fast.

The solution has got to be a fairly simple one, right? It's this: Where possible, encourage the commuting workforce to use working hours that are not rigidly structured 9am to 6pm.

I know it's not very traditional British - not very umbrellas and bowler hats - but in these days of Internet-enabled working and fast-rising populations, well, surely it has to happen anyway. It's the best way. And it's the only way when the city's infrastructure can't really support any other.

There's lots of ways the humble Internet can help with the change London needs:
  • Time tracking is easy on decent web-based systems. You don't need to police your workforce by stamping time cards any more.
  • Lots of jobs work better on the workers' own time anyway, and they don't need to be in the office to get the stuff they need. You get worse work out of people if you force them to use hours that don't suit them.
  • People can work remotely, and still be in easy reach via the Internet. You don't need to see their face to know they're there.
  • Always-on Internet means people are far more used to the need to personally manage their work-time versus non-work-time. I'm not saying they're good at it, but the need is there!
  • With better and better global collaboration, there is an increasing need to communicate across time zones, and that alone breaks the rigidity of 9-6 GMT.
The Internet has changed a lot of things, but it's time Londoners started to act on some of those changes.

Maybe it's a New Year's resolution for London. Let's dig ourselves out of the old patterns of working, and simply make better use of the Internet.

Alternatively, let's spend the whole of 2012 ripping up London's transport infrastructure and design a new one. Should be ready shortly after the Olympics.