Goodbye Machiavelli is about exploring technology, innovation and leadership trends in an ever increasingly online world. Why the name? Well lets just say that "the prince's" methods are out of place in the new workplace.

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Entries in Technology (15)


Putting Yourself Out Of Business

There have been countless books and articles written about industries that did not see the digital shift coming - take the music industry, or traditional newspapers as just two examples. Why didn't they see the tide turning? Why didn't they see the disruption coming and adapt? Why did they respond so late?

The major challenge faced by traditional businesses that are seeing a digital disruption is that they have to cannibalise or totally sacrifice their cash cows - and its a tough thing to do. They are typically in market leading positions - making good profits - and along comes a disruption. One of the primary characteristics of disruptive innovation is that it drives down margins and commoditises the market. One day you are selling $30 CD's in music stores, and the next you are competing with 99c singles online - or even worse - free downloads. Its a completely different business model - and adapting requires a lot of pain for traditional businesses.

As a counter-point, it has recently been reported about the potential for the iPad to cannibalise Apple's laptop and desktop sales. On one hand, a traditional view-point would be to ensure you have product segmentation and don't release products that compete with each other. Be defensive. Protect your margins.

What I would suggest is that if your products or markets are going to be disrupted, wouldn't you rather be the one doing the disruption? The only way to survive in an environment of constant disruption is to be the one making your own products extinct - even when it hurts.


Is the iPad Disruptive?

So the big day has finally arrived and Apple have released their tablet - the iPad (not the best name in the world). It has been 8 years in the making, and reactions are mixed - ranging from "wow, this is the best thing ever" through to "ho hum, its just a big iPod".

Personally, I think Apple did not take enough risk with this product - I would loved to have seen some pushing of the touch interface and some good use of gestures - but hey, its a first generation product. It is clearly aimed at the Netbook segment, and will do well. It is well designed and well priced, and will carve out a very profitable business for Apple - but is this disruptive technology?

In answer to that question I would ask - if you attended the launch of the original iPod in 2001 what would your impression have been? Video below.

I would suggest that when the original iPod launched (I still own one), that there was already a nascent market. There were already some portable MP3 players in existence (although not particularly functional), and the true potential of the iPod (including the whole content eco-system) was yet to be seen. Always 20-20 vision in hindsight!

One of the key characteristics of a disruptive technology is that it typically comes to market with less functionality than the comparable market leader (contrast high-fidelity CD's versus low-quality MP3's) - that's what makes it so dangerous - market leaders tend to ignore it until its too late. One thing that Apple is great at is defining its own markets - this is one of the hallmarks of disruption - seeking a user base that will value the current features of your new product rather than chasing the wishes of an existing user base. 

Only time will tell how successful the iPad will be, however given their track record I would suggest that Apple have every intention of making it a success.


What is the Future of Technology Interfaces?

With all the recent talk around the impending launch of the Apple Tablet, it got me thinking about human-computer interfaces. I have always been fascinated with interfaces from the first time I saw a computer punchcard, and have always believed that getting the interface right and making it disappear have a dramatic impact on how much we get out of our technology - both in terms of productivity and usability.

There has been a thirty year struggle to improve upon the basic keyboard as a method of interacting with our computers. The first real break-though was the mouse - which today does not seem overly revolutionary, but at the time was a hugh step forward. That said, the basic concept of the mouse has not been really improved upon - yes we have trackpads and now gesture based mice, however the mouse is still cumbersome to use - its interruptive - you need to stop what you are doing, use the mouse, and then return to what you were doing. For most of us, this has become second nature, however it breaks your flow.

The next major area of interface development was focused on trying to mimic natural behaviours such as speech and writing. Whilst speech recognition software has greatly improved, I doubt we will be talking to our computers "star-trek style" anytime soon. Speech input also has practical limitations - not great for an open plan office!

I did hold out hope for handwriting recognition - Apple were clearly ahead of the times with the Apple Newton - however I have come to realise that typing is overtaking writing as a natural input method. Even without touch typing skills, most people can type at a fairly fast rate, the text is always legible and it can be manipulated in a variety of ways. As sad as it is, it is likely that writing skills will take a back seat to typing skills - and as a result I doubt we will see interface designers putting large amounts of energy into handwriting recognition projects.

So what will the future of computer interfaces look like? It will be about touch!

I think we have seen a glimpse of it with the iPhone, and if Apple does release a tablet this week, you can be guaranteed it will incorporate a heavy use of a multi-touch and gesture based interface. Touch interfaces are very natural, they can change and adapt to the immediate need, and they can disappear when not needed. Below is a video from TED 2006 where Jeff Han from NYU demonstrates the possibilities of a touch interface - very cool.

Whilst its obvious that a touch interface does not make sense in every single application, I think we will see increased use of touch and gesture based interfaces - the technology has caught up to make them practical, and they are naturally understood by people - we are comfortable exploring our world through touch. So perhaps a "minority report" style interface is not that far away at all .... 

What are your thoughts on touch/gesture based interfaces? Where do you see the trend heading and what would you like to see developed in this area?


An iPod for Books: The Amazon Kindle

The Amazon Kindle is an electronic book reader sold by Amazon.com. The device has been around for a while, however is was only recently launched internationally. I got my hands on one and have been really impressed!

Whilst the device itself is nice, the most impressive part is the business model. Every Kindle ships with free wireless 3G mobile access. What that means is that you can browse the online Amazon book store and buy books from anywhere, anytime. Waiting at the airport and need a new book to read? A quick browse on the online store and 60 seconds later you have your new book downloaded onto your Kindle. You can even download the first chapter of any book for free to see if you like it, and then purchase the full book if you do.

The convenience is outstanding. I read a lot of books and usually have several on the go at once. The beauty of the Kindle is that I can carry them all with me wherever I go - in fact the Kindle will hold around 1000 books - enough for even the most avid reader. Plus you can archive books to Amazon's website and re-download them whenever you like. For students this will be a godsend - I remember having to lug tonnes of heavy textbooks around during university - and Amazon have also just released a larger, textbook sized Kindle DX aimed at this kind of use.

The reading experience itself is quite good. The Kindle has a digital ink screen - so it looks a lot like paper and is far easier on the eyes than reading off a computer screen. I thought it would take me a while to move away from the feel and sensation of paper, however after an hour or two reading on the Kindle became quite natural. You can also highlight passages, search for text and bookmark pages. Under normal usage, and with the wireless turned off the battery life runs into weeks.

For me the Kindle is a lot like the iPod. It's not just a technology device, but an end to end business model - which extends the content right through to the device and makes the user experience great. The Kindle and its successors will be as disruptive as the iPod - even now e-books outsold print books over Christmas.

Have you tried a Kindle? Did you like it? Do you think that paper books will eventually go the way of the vinyl record?

Update: Amazon has announced the Kindle DX will be available internationally from Jan 19th.



Google Wave - The Future of Collaboration?

It's rare to come across a piece of technology that is truly revolutionary, however after seeing the recent preview of Google Wave, it looks like that technology will have a significant impact on the way we collaborate in the future.

With Wave, Google are looking for an alternative to the traditional email paradigm. Email has been around since before the web, and it is not the most efficient form of communication - especially when you want to collaborate with a few people. One of the reasons I love Google Docs so much is for its collaboration capabilities - and Wave looks to extend that even further.

The other exciting aspect is that Google will make this an open system - not only via open API's (so developers can extend the functionality), but as an open protocol - so other companies can develop Wave systems, with a view to creating a federated model that could supplant email.

Google Wave is expected to be released (in beta no doubt) later in the year. Check out the video below for a sneak peak: