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Google’s Physical Web vs Apple’s iBeacon

How proximity approaches compare and a look at the flourishing proximity startup ecosystem.

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This is the second post in a three-part series looking at beacon technology and the burgeoning beacon ecosystem.

Beacosystem_webcast_imageIn the first of this series, I covered some of the basics behind proximity, Bluetooth Low Energy, and iBeacon, and walked through some use cases where proximity and iBeacon have started showing up in retail, travel, and other applications.

While iBeacon has arguably galvanised the notion of using proximity in applications and services, it’s not the only game in town.

In this post, I’ll cover one of the alternatives to Apple’s iBeacon, Physical Web from Google, and then I’ll zoom out to look at the flurry of activity in startups in the evolving “Beacosystem.”

First, a small recap on what helped iBeacon gain so much traction, so quickly and helped shape the landscape for a proximity ecosystem to emerge.

Creating an ecosystem

Apple’s iBeacon is a layer, or a “convention,” that builds on the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) Standard. Apple has spurred an ecosystem around iBeacon by doing several things, which all feed into each other:

  1. Baked support for iBeacon into its mobile operating system (iOS) so that APIs are readily available for developers.
  2. Included support for background notifications at the OS level, so that push notifications can be triggered in certain situations, but without killing your phone’s battery.
  3. Provided a certification program to enable hardware manufacturers to create iBeacon-compatible hardware. This allows third-party manufacturers to provide iBeacon-compatible hardware of all shapes, sizes, and form factors, At last count, there were more than 50 suppliers of iBeacon hardware.
  4. Enabled every iOS device to be an iBeacon. This has many potential uses, from iPad-based POS systems welcoming you to a store, to the Hailo App letting you know that you can pay by Hailo.
  5. Ate its own dog food, by using iBeacon with their Apple Store App in all their US based Apple Stores.

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IBM is banking on design’s ROI

Phil Gilbert on IBM’s deep design roots, change management, and hiring for culture fit.

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Companies of all sizes are recognizing that by taking a design-first approach to product development, they can improve profit. I recently sat down with Phil Gilbert, GM of design at IBM, to discuss how he is helping to lead the transformation to a design-first company within IBM. Adopting design as a key corporate asset may seem like a no-brainer, but for a company of more than 350,000 employees, it’s a massive undertaking. IBM hasn’t been quiet about its plans to hire 1,000 designers over the course of five years and embed design in product teams throughout the organization.

IBM’s long history of design

What I was surprised to find when reading about IBM’s latest design plans, is that the giant tech company has design roots dating back to the 1950s. Gilbert shares in more detail:

We started our first design program — and we were one of the first to really apply design holistically at scale — in 1956. In the 1950s and the 1960s and into the early 1970s, we had a constellation of designers around IBM that, quite frankly, has never been equaled.

Elliott Noyes was our first head of design. Thomas Watson Jr. hired him in 1956. He assembled people like Eero Saarinen, Charles and Ray Eames, and Paul Rand. He assembled this team of people, and, essentially, I think the reason it happened then is because humanity was addressing a fundamentally different relationship between ourselves and technology. There was a lot of turmoil and angst as a result. We used design at that time to communicate and engage in a conversation with humanity about that relationship and about our role with technology. We viewed it as a very holistic statement — we communicated it through our products, our communications, our buildings, and we did it through our exhibits at places like the World’s Fair.

Since then, I don’t think there has been as fundamental a change in the relationship between human beings and technology. The move from mainframe to mini-computer, the move from mini-computer to personal computer, the move to client-server computing — all of these things were actually fairly incremental. But I think in 2007, with the release of the iPhone and with the ubiquitous access via mobile devices, I actually think that we’re, again, in a time of real turmoil and change around this relationship of where does technology sit with human beings.

This is a real change, and I think that human-centered design and design thinking as a method to achieve human-centered design is why it’s become so important. Because our relationship with technology is, it may not be as frightening as it was in the 50s and 60s, but it certainly is fundamental. I don’t think we quite yet understand it. I think design is the primary lever that we have to understand that relationship and then to communicate that relationship.

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Emerging technologies are disrupting product design life cycles

Jonathan Follett on creative class workers, product life cycles, and enhancing company-customer relationships.

Richmond_Folk_Festival_Mobilus_In_Mobili_FlickrI recently sat down with Jonathan Follett, principal of Involution Studios and editor and author of the recently released O’Reilly book Designing for Emerging Technologies. We talked about the ways in which emerging technologies are disrupting the product life cycle and considerations for companies looking at new ways of approaching product design and development.

The age of the creative class

Follett noted the cyclical nature of the design life cycle, drawing parallels between today’s emerging technology and that which arose during the Industrial Revolution. He outlined a few ways we’re seeing technology disrupt the product design life cycle today:

When I talk about emerging technologies, sometimes I refer back to the second Industrial Revolution, where you had a whole bunch of emerging technologies of the time coming together. You had your automobile, your lightbulb, your electric power, your telephone all coming to the fore at the same time. That created the modern world we’re living in today.

When we’re talking about product design and new products coming to the fore today, we can see the same thing happening, whether you’re talking about the Internet of Things, or robotics, or synthetic biology and genomics, or any of those other exciting elements that are all mixing together. That’s one way. … [We’re] creating whole new lines of products that we’ve never even thought of.

The other way we’re seeing disruption in the product design life cycle is that we’re finding different ways to work together as creative class workers. What I mean by that is knowledge workers, scientists, designers, engineers. You’ve got all of the leverage of open source. You’ve got open source mechanical designs, open source CAD drawings, open source electrical designs that a product designer can leverage to create their new products. [We’re] doing what Isaac Newton said — he stood on the shoulders of giants; that way, he could see farther. We’re having an opportunity in real time to find a crowdsourced IP and bring it into a product design, and push the design out the door so much faster than before.

As a creative class, we’re finding new ways to work together that are not restricted to Industrial Age thinking. Open source and crowdsourcing are just two examples of that.

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6 best practices for giving a product critique

Productive critique can strengthen relationships and collaboration, improve productivity, and lead to better designs.

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Download a free copy of Designing for the Internet of Things, a curated collection of chapters from the O’Reilly Design library. This post is an excerpt from Discussing Design, by Adam Connor and Aaron Irizarry, one of the books included in the curated collection.

There are two sides, or roles, in any critique:

Recipient: The individual(s) receiving the critique (i.e. the creator or presenter of whatever is being analyzed) who will take the perspectives and information raised during the critique, process it, and act upon it in some way.

Giver: The individual(s) giving the critique, who are being asked to think critically about the creation and provide their thoughts and perspectives.

Within both of these roles, there is the discrete aspect of intention: why are we asking for/receiving/giving feedback. Intent is the initiator of the conversation and is often what separates successful critiques and feedback discussions from problematic ones.

For the best discussions, the intent of each participant, regardless of whether they are receiving or giving critique, needs to be appropriate. If we aren’t careful, critique with the wrong, or inappropriate, intent on either side can lead to problems not only in our designs, but also in our ability to work with our teammates. Read more…

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Experience design gives you the competitive edge

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Andy Budd on the rising value of design, the bright future of agencies, and designers on the brink.

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Subscribe to the O’Reilly Radar Podcast to track the technologies and people that will shape our world in the years to come.

This week on the Radar Podcast, O’Reilly’s Mary Treseler chats with Andy Budd, a partner and UX designer at Clearleft. Their wide-ranging conversation circles around lessons learned at Clearleft, understanding who your user really is, and why design agencies have a bright future. Budd also offers some insight into the people and projects he’s keeping an eye on, or rather, as he explains, keeping a look out for — the next big things probably aren’t yet on our radar, he says.

As Clearleft, a user-experience design consultancy, has matured over its 10 or so years, Budd says they’ve gotten a lot more interested in the psychology and philosophy behind design, how designers’ actions affect the world and society in general. The value of design, Budd notes, has been increasing over the past few years, becoming equal to — or even beginning to surpass — the prominence technology has traditionally enjoyed:

When I used to go to technology conferences, six, seven, eight years ago, the general narrative was around actual technology. It was around the developers as heroes around the technical stack being the main differentiator. Design was often lost in the conversation. Now, I think that’s changed. I think in the last three or four years, actually the technology stack, and the technology in general, has become a lot more commoditized, with the rise of rapid prototyping tools, with the rises of libraries and frameworks, and also just the general maturation of products. I think it’s very rare nowadays that a startup or product company will have, particularly in the Web space, will have a massive competitive advantage, just through technology alone. Read more…

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The next big thing sits between tech’s push and consumers’ pull

Pilgrim Beart on AlertMe, and IoT’s challenges and promise.

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Register for Experience Design for the Internet of Things, an online conference from O’Reilly being held on May 20, 2015, where Pilgrim Beart will present a session, Getting to simple: Deploying IoT at scale.

I recently sat down with Pilgrim Beart, co-founder of AlertMe, which he recently sold to British Gas for $100 million. Beart is a computer engineer and founder of several startups, including his latest venture 1248.

Identifying the gap between technology and consumers: How AlertMe was founded

I asked Beart about the early thinking that led him and his co founder, Adrian Critchlow, to create AlertMe. The focus seems simple — identify user need. Beart explained:

I co-founded AlertMe with Adrian Critchlow. He was from more of a Web services background … My background was more embedded technology. Over a series of lunches in Cambridge where we both lived at the time, we just got to discussing two things, really. One was the way that technology was going. Technology push — what changes were happening that made certain things inevitable, and also consumer pull. What were the gaps that technology wasn’t really addressing?

To some extent we were discussing at quite a high level the intersection of those two, perhaps not quite in that rational way, but as we talked about things we were interested in, that’s essentially what we were doing. We were triangulating between the technology push and the consumer pull, and trying to spot things that essentially would be inevitable because of those two things. Then that led us to thinking about the connected home platform and what could the killer apps for the connected home be, and isn’t it strange how, if you compare the home to the car for example, cars have a large number of computers in them, and the computers all work together seamlessly and invisibly to keep you safe, keep you secure, save you energy, and so on.

In the home, you have a similar number of computers, but they’re not talking to each other, and as a result, it’s really far from ideal. You have no idea what’s going on in your home most of the time, and it’s not energy efficient, it’s not secure, etc. We saw a huge opportunity there, and we saw the potential for some technological advances to help address those problems.

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