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Google Glass and Augmented Reality Ads

You probably already saw this promo for Google Glass, the augmented reality mobile eyepiece that spams you with friend updates, lets stalkers know where you are and keeps shoving Google Plus circles at you. Google has announced that it’s selling the Explorer Edition to developers and will begun running off actual products in two years.

Now take a look at the Google Glass ad and see if you can spot what’s missing. That’s right, it’s ads.google-glasses

Google’s search and social offerings are just ways to shove ads at you. But you don’t see ads while the hipster heads to a hipster bookstore, gets hipster coffee and plays the Ukelele for his girlfriend. But the ads have to be there. There’s no point in a search experience without getting the ads in there.

So what will Google Glass ads look like? Who knows. Audio ads are obvious and obviously annoying, but remember Google Glass is augmented reality. It’s primitive augmented reality that functions like a basic mobile device, but if they stick around, they will get more sophisticated.

So what will augmented reality ads look like? Take a look at this augmented reality demo and remember that it was developed by an ad agency.

augmented reality

The future of advertising

Remember all those ads you run into while browsing? The weird guy wriggling his head? The half-naked girl? The bug flying around?

Now imagine those in augmented reality. And then start imagining the dinosaurs in there too. And people so real that you have to take off your glasses to realize they don’t exist. Or you can just wait for their product pitches.

Rendering those kinds of graphics will be beyond Google Glass, but not beyond many mobile devices on the market already. And the processors are getting more powerful, lower energy and capable of doing more with graphics, while graphics hardware companies and engine developers are aiming harder at the mobile market.

If Google Glass is a success, the third generation of devices will be able to shove high end graphics in augmented reality at you. And while XBox 720 may already have something like that (if not the next generation of consoles will have it for the home environment, imagine fighting battles in your living room instead of a warehouse full of crates, not too exciting, but you’re less likely to bump into walls, the living room can also be used to map out the warehouse, your sofa can be one of the crates, kick it to pop out health packs) things will start getting properly weird when you encounter this stuff on the way to work.

Remember ads play for all the tons of free internet crap you get. Mobile has made ads more challenging, but augmented reality takes away the challenge. It’s the brass ring of ad agencies and Google. Instead of a few obscure AdSense or Facebook ads that no one clicks on, you’ll meet a dinosaur on the way to work who will try to sell you something.

It’s going to be a strange world.

Crazy Old Man Baffled By Own Product Launch

steve ballmer microsoft surface

Crazy Old Man Baffled By Own Product Launch

Why am I here?

I don’t. Somebody said I should be on stage. Something about Surface. It’s a thing. Like a laptop, but different.

There’s a lot of colored boxes. They look like candy. But my Vice Presidents tell me I shouldn’t eat them.

It’s our response… to something. Maybe the iPad or Kindle Fire. Or something. It does everything, the machine with the glass screen tells me. It’s a tablet that’s like a laptop, but a laptop that’s like a tablet. Damn it, why don’t we just make a really thin laptop and get it over with?

Stop shushing me. I’m the boss here. This thing is dumber than that Courier deal. And that one at least looked pretty.

What is this video with rocks breaking and stuff falling. What’s the point? Nobody wants this thing. Hell, I don’t want it. I’m afraid of it. It looks like the thing that sometimes comes to me in my dreams. It asks me to make a wish and I wish that I could understand all that geek stuff and then I wake up screaming because I really understand it.

Anyway, you people. This is like an iPad except we made it. So it’ll be slow, crash a lot and come with a trial version of Microsoft Office. You should buy it, because if you’re going to waste money on an iPad, you might as well waste money on this. Whatever it’s called? Surface? Might as well just call it Zune HD. Oh we used that name already. Damn.

Why did the CEO of HP just announce that they’re not going to be making tablets that run Windows 8? What did I do to him?

Who Cares if Microsoft has a Tablet?

Drawing out these hypefests by leaking a little bit of information at a time works because tech websites need pageviews and that leads them to participate in the game by passing on the teasers until the big event happens… and then nothing.

windows 8 tablet

It’s like Rubik’s Cube… but with Apps

Remember when we were supposed to be excited about iOS6? iOS6 came and nothing happened. A Microsoft Tablet is even more of a non-event.

Microsoft has an operating system that’s meant to run on tablets. That is a lot more important than Microsoft putting out its own tablet. Google put out its own phone and that bombed. Microsoft has more hardware experience than Google and its tablet will be more Zune and XBox, but it’s not going to be an iPad killer. It will be competitive in the audio and video department. It may even be integrated with the XBox for more of a fused gaming experience. And that’s that.

A gaming and entertainment tablet. Microsoft’s version of Kindle Fire. And that’s the best case scenario. Imagine the Zune bigger and that’s what you get. Tied to XBox Live accounts. And it’s a stupid idea.

Microsoft is trying to establish Windows 8 as the Tablet OS in a confused marketplace. The way not to do that is to then butt in with your own branded tablet. And Microsoft has a history of doing this. It could have had its own iTunes, but it sabotaged that to launch the Zune. Now it’s sending mixed signals to hardware companies that might license Windows 8, that it’s going to compete with them directly. And why shouldn’t they light out for Android after that?

Windows is still a success because Microsoft doesn’t make a high profile PC. If it did, Dell would suddenly find reasons to promote Linux. This isn’t idle talk either. Microsoft does make the XBox and it has been shortchanging the Windows Games marketplace over that.

Windows 8’s Metro Apps have already pushed game companies in other directions. Valve is building a console and expanding hard into Mac and Linux. But that’s small potatoes since Microsoft has alienated desktop users to launch Windows 8 on tablets. If it alienates the companies it needs to make its tablet happen, it will be the most self-destructive move by a company since Sony tanked the PS3 to win the Blu-Ray battle.

 

Apple vs Google

Apple vs Google isn’t really a battle between tech titans. It’s a struggle between two flailing companies. Google is desperately looking for a way to hang on to its outdated search business and Apple is looking for a way to leverage its early, but now fading lead, in mobile devices. This is a struggle between two companies that are already dinosaurs.

Apple’s big news amounted to nothing. IO6 has nothing deserving all that hype, not the minor interface and features tinkering or the google vs appleFacebook integration. The big news, swapping out Google Maps means nothing to consumers, which says everything about how little Apple has to offer.

The Business Insider story about Apple going for Google’s jugular would amount to more if Google hadn’t already gone much more effectively for Apple’s jugular. Cutting Google Maps out of the iPhone default may hurt Google, but not as much as Android devices are hurting Apple. And Google’s strength is its integration between services that people already use all the time. Apple’s lack of reach within the PC ecosystem locks it out of being able to compete with Google’s ability to integrate desktop and mobile users together.

Siri is a failure. An attention-getting gimmick. It’s not going to kill Google. Not now, not after a few more versions. But Apple doesn’t need to kill Google, because Google will kill Google. And Apple will kill Apple. Dinosaurs fighting over the mobile marketplace aren’t fighting for the future, they’re fighting to protect their business models.

Apple is upset because Google made the mobile experience possible without Apple’s expensive hardware. Google is upset because Apple is shoving aside its intrusive and buggy search business. Both companies are giant dinosaurs crashing together, but the real competition is going to come from new companies that change the marketplace, the way that Facebook did. Apple and Google, while fighting each other, will make alliances against each other with the companies that will replace them.

 

Google vs Bing

Since the new rollout, Bing looks better than ever. And it even seems more responsive and more functional than Google. It looks like a next generation search engine should.

google privacyWill that help it? Maybe. Google has too much of a lead and too many users habituated to going to Google something. Microsoft has pulled out all the stops to change that. Bing has fewer letters and is easier to remember than Google. It’s friendlier and less cluttered. Does that make it better?

Going by personal experience, when my old Blogsome host went down, I switched over here. Google still has my old Blogsome site in the index even though it and the host have been gone for months. Bing has the new site and no mention of the old one.

Google may have the bigger index, but my impression is that Bing’s index is cleaner.

 

The Two Types of Games that will define Gaming

The split has been coming for a while, but it looks like it’s almost here. I’m not talking about RPG vs FPS or casual vs hardcore gaming. This isn’t a gameplay split, this is a design philosophy and business plan split.

One is polished and heavily locked down. A game that’s practically on rails in its gameplay, high end graphics and little user agency, and plans to monetize players outside of the purchase price with DLC and in game purchases. Its designers like consoles and apps better than the PC, and if they do publish it on a PC, they include crippling DRM and always on connections. They’re pushed into the social with user accounts and co-op and multiplayer.

The other is troubled, but ambitious. It has big ideas, big bugs and room for users to explore, expand and transform the game world. The flaws get fixed by mods, the mods expand the game beyond what it is. This type of game is PC oriented. Sometimes marketplace realities mean it’s a port, but it’s the type of game that only really makes sense and fulfills its promise on a PC.

There are plenty of examples of the first type of game. Diablo III, which is really Diablo as reimagined by Zynga, or the latest AAA FPS shooter, practically on rails, with amazing graphics, and a game where you don’t do much except push a button to make something cool happen, and then dive for cover, while your real or AI teammates yell things at you. Or something really silly like Assassin’s Creed.

On the other side, there’s Skyrim, a shambling grand mess of snowy peaks, bugs and mods that make the game something else. There’s Minecraft, which is ridiculous and ridiculously appealing. And the newest Game of Thrones game. And there’s a hundred obscurer and smaller games coming in through the cracks.

The marketplace, wedged into a handful of big companies, is aiming for the first type of game. Spend a fortune on marketing it, roll it out the door, brag that you sold more copies this hour than the entire GDP of Thailand, bribe and wow the game jornos, and pick up that bonus from the board.

The PC is being abandoned, not because it isn’t a huge profitable marketplace, but because it doesn’t fit into this business model. It’s not secure, its hardware is unpredictable, its players want more, its hardware is capable of more, it has too much piracy and too much chaos. Easier to just plan for the day when everyone who matters has an XBOX 720 or a Playstation 4 or a Nintendo DooWop or an iPad or something equally gated and shut in.

Microsoft doesn’t know what to do with PC gaming because it’s not in the business model. Neither do most companies. All they can do is tell us that the future is consoles, apps, cloud gaming, always on connections, crippled games with lots of user accounts that are always going down, no used games, lots of fees and no fun. And we better get used to it.

They have a point. If Microsoft, Activision, EA and Ubisoft want it this way, what choice do we have? What are we going to do, make our own marketplace? Invest in games that we like? Nuts. Go buy Diablo III and learn to enjoy it. Go play Frontierville and Angry Birds and Medal of Battlefields and all the rest.

But users have voted with their dollars at Kickstarter, funding the games they want to play. Forget the lame player boycotts of Mass Effect 3 or Diablo 3 that can never quantified and never get taken seriously. Boycotts don’t accomplish anything. Supporting an alternative marketplace does.

Kickstarter isn’t the solution, but it’s part of the solution, along with Skyrim mods, the whole indie game scene and an entire user created and often user managed marketplace. There’s no point in berating Activision for turning Diablo III into a Zynga game or complaining that Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age 2 are crap that were rushed out to cash in on the goodwill from earlier games.

The marketplace is splitting into two types of games. The AAA title that costs a ton to make and needs to hit the broadest and lowest common denominator target. And a range of games from big to small that are creative and unpredictable, that need work, but that open up worlds. Some are released by the big boys, but quite a few are coming in from the margins.

PC gaming isn’t dead, but it’s going to be defined by the second kind of game, more than the rest. The big boys will still dump Diablo XXXVI’s and Battlefield 61’s on the PC, while making it as miserable an experience as possible, but PC gaming will be a different place that will be defined by a different kind of game that values user agency, that is built for user modification from the ground up and that taps into the culture of PC gaming and its past.

It’s not hard to believe because it’s already here.

Privacy and its Discontents

The media gets plenty of whacks, most of them deserved. It’s loud, sensationalistic, pageviews driven and silly. But…

I just reamed an ITN producer who emailed me this clip about Google seeking a patent for using background noise in audible search requests and wanted to talk to me “off the record” (why he’d offer that, I don’t know; bad reporters’ reflex) to find out what “worries” I had about privacy and security. Note well that he didn’t ask me what I thought of the technology — whether I thought it was good or bad, how I thought it could be used positively or negatively, what its potential is. No, he showed his bias clearly by asking me to tell him what was wrong with it. Is that how a journalist should operate?

That comes from Jeff Jarvis at Buzzmachine.

google privacyThe actual problem here is Big Company Applies for Patent on Something story. And it’s just not a story. Especially not at Google, where at least in the past, employees pursued all sorts of random projects. Until Google starts using it or announces plans to deploy it, it is not a story.

A similar panic was touched off by Sony’s in-game ads. Companies want technological options. Whether they’re going to use them or not. Is there a useful application for background noise? In 1962 you might think background noise can be used for location, but locations today can be used for locations.

But Jarvis is wrong for another reason. It’s natural for reporters to want an angle on a story. A story about a Google technology with privacy implications is going to lead them to look for people worried about privacy. Having a critical angle on a technology like that is not wrong. It’s not even bias. Bias can only be seen in the final article, not in looking for someone with concerns about the implications of a technology.

What the Death of the Zune Tells Us About Microsoft

The death of the Zune is not the major story that some outlets are spinning it as. A standalone portable device focused on being a Music/Video player had no future in a marketplace trending toward smartphones. Even Apple knew that. The iTouch is still around, but at some point Apple will probably stop making them. Only Samsung has bothered to make a high profile Android portable player.

The real story isn’t the death of the Zune, but its creation and what it says about Microsoft. The Zune, like Bing, was another example of a good piece of technology coming too late to the ball game. As a media player, the Zune was better than anything Apple had to offer. HD Radio gave it an added bonus. But it had little third party support and its concept was already outdated. The marketplace was app driven, the Zune had few apps. Mobile devices were as much about finding your way around, playing games and checking Facebook, as about playing music. The Zune was great at playing music, it was bad at everything else because it wasn’t designed for those things.

Microsoft has shown that it can turn out good hardware and even good software. But it’s slow and behind the trends. It has the money to copy something popular and improve it, but it’s still a step behind and it’s left with a nicer version of yesterday’s technology for yesterday’s user habits. That’s what the Zune was. It was an iPod killer years too late to matter.

That’s not a great record, but compare it to a trendy tech company like Google, which keeps turning out much worse versions of popular services. Bing may still lag, but it’s not the joke that Google Plus or Google Buzz or Google Wave are, which can only be compared to Microsoft Passport in their intrusiveness, usability and uselessness.

XBox 360 was where Microsoft scored, because it didn’t have a savvy market leader to stomp on it. Sony and Nintendo couldn’t be written off, but they were no Google or Apple. Microsoft could take them on and did. The XBox 360, like the Zune or Bing, was just good enough. It wasn’t a great piece of technology, but it wasn’t going up against great technology or visionary alternatives. The closest to that was the Wii and Microsoft has made sure to jump on any alternative control technology since, so that never happens to it again.

The Zune failed, but it didn’t fail because it was bad, it failed because Apple was pushing too far and too fast ahead to be beaten that way. The day that Apple and Google slow down, is the day that Redmond can catch them with another XBox 360. And as Google splutters, that day might not be too far off

Do We Even Need One Steve Jobs Movie?

It’s a reasonable question because how many hours can you really spend on a guy screaming to his subordinates about getting the exact right shade of the color white? But there’s two Steve Jobs biopics coming up, because you can never have too many movies about a famous guy who just died. According to Aaron Sorkin, who is more qualified to pick up awards than he is to write scripts about anything involving technology, that’s okay because there’s room for multiple Steve Jobs movies.

“Steve Jobs is a big enough person, big enough life that there’s room for more than one movie.”

Maybe it can even be a trilogy. Or a miniseries. Maybe we can build a Steve Jobs museum on the moon.

According to Sorkin, Steve Jobs is just like the Beatles or something. But give the man his age. Back then everything important was compared to the Beatles. When JFK was assassinated, when man landed on the moon and when that stupid movie about Facebook got a bunch of awards, it was all just exactly like the Beatles.

You know who else couldn’t be kept down in one movie? Bob Dylan, who had to be played by Richard Gere, Cate Blanchett, a little black kid, also Heath Ledger and Christian Bale. As an eternal reminder of why this is a bad idea, here’s the trailer for “I’m Not There.”

The only difference between this and whatever Sorkin and his rivals will churn out to commemorate Steve Jobs is that at least “I’m Not There” is almost self-aware enough to know how ridiculous it is. That’s a level of self-awareness that Sorkin could not even begin to aspire to.

Pull back from all the hoopla over Jobs death and ask yourself whether Jobs would be getting a fraction of this attention if he had done everything he did in our universe until 1997, when Apple’s troubles allowed him to waltz back and the music industry and Microsoft’s incompetence allowed him to build a hardware business on an easy way to buy songs and some flashy interfaces? No, no and no.

Jobs pre-1997 would have been kindly remembered as a “pioneer” accompanied by Mac photos, the way Wozniak will be one day. Steve Jobs post-1997 is remembered for being successful. Not for being a genius.

An honest movie would pick up in 1997. It would focus less on his genius and more on the way that the incompetence of established industries creates openings for insurgents to revolutionize industries by exploiting opportunities. But instead we’ll get an actor delivering rapid fire dialogue while screaming about product demos and refusing to return calls from his family.

Does anyone actually need that?

Why Cloud Gaming is not the Future

Sure cloud gaming might be the future. The really distant future. The one where everyone wears jetpacks, sends clones to go to work and lives in orbit around the earth. It’s not the 5 minutes from now future. Not even the 10 minutes from now future, no matter how much NVIDIA keeps beating the digital drums for GRID.

 

1. Mobile gaming won’t integrate with desktop and console gaming

Not only are mobile games different, because they’re intended for a different type of control mechanism and a different type of environment (kill 5 minutes while waiting to skydive over Hawaii or ride in an elevator to the next meeting), but there’s a built in hardware bottleneck which leaves the idea that you can walk away from Skyrim or Battlefield 3 on the PC and smoothly pick it up on your iPad, an idea.

The only way to make this kind of cloud gaming work is to throttle desktop and console gaming graphics and controls to the level of a pad. Desktop games have already suffered from being throttled to console gaming specs, but even with Id’s scalable engine and new chips, the marketplace won’t stand still just so cloud gaming can be a buzzword.

 

2. The technology isn’t there

I don’t mean whatever NVIDIA is rolling out to impress everyone with, that doesn’t matter, I mean ISP’s are not out providing the kind of connection that makes regular cloud gaming feasible outside a small group. That’s the group leaving comments about everyone else being backward. And that’s fine. If your target audience for AAA games is now limited to 0.01 percent of the marketplace, go for it. Someone else will pick up the rest.

And mobile? Good luck downloading a 32 gig game on your data plan while waiting in line. Unless providers can suddenly gain a compelling reason to provide the bandwidth to cater to that kind of gaming, without tripling everyone’s bill, but still being profitable, then you can forget about it.

 

3. No one needs it

Sure Diablo III has made a lot of money. The Auction House will make a lot of money too, when it gets working. Maybe after all the promotional expenses, Activision will use the money to buy another marble palace haunted by demons. Maybe. But is it really worth it?

Other companies were counting on Blizzard and the unstoppable Diablo name to make an unpopular concept workable, instead it arrived broken on delivery and no amount of arguments that games are supposed to be broken on launch will change that. Diablo III was the test bed and it blew it. Sure the sales are there, but are they going to be there for companies without the Blizzard/Diablo brand? If Blizzard had trouble functioning and faced furious feedback, what happens to companies without the fanboy insulation or the online gaming experience?

NVIDIA can pitch GRID, but it’s in the hardware business. It doesn’t have to worry about launching games and when the cloud goes bad, the customers won’t kick its doors in, they’ll rage against the companies they gave their money to.

Blizzard’s fanboy shield can only cover them for so long. Bioware’s gave them a free pass for Dragon Age II, but broke on Mass Effect 3. Betting on Blizzard’s to survive another of these isn’t a good proposition. And most companies don’t have even one shield.

Sure averting piracy is a priority, but the question is how much do you want to risk doing it? And how much do you want to spend?

Always online costs money and sticking auction houses into every 50-60 dollar game will infuriate players even faster. Turning every game into an MMO without the subscription costs is financially scary and trying to sell people a 60 dollar game with crippled single-player and ordinary multiplayer and then tacking on a subscription fee, I’m not even sure Blizzard could get away with it.

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