The Bigger Blog

Views, thought leadership, published articles & maybe even some shark facts!

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HOW MOORE’S LAW SHAPED THE FUTURE

It’s 50 years since Gordon E Moore, co-founder of the Intel Corporation, made the observation that became known as Moore’s Law. In 1965 Electronics magazine had asked him to write an article predicting what would happen in the semiconductor component industry in the subsequent 10 years. Moore was, at that time, director of R&D at Fairchild Semiconductor, and this made him something of an expert in the field.

Moore looked at the elements – transistors, resistors, capacitors, and diodes – being used in chips at the time (approximately 60), and based on their use in the preceding years, came to the conclusion that the industry would double these elements every year for 10 years until they hit 60,000 per chip.

Ten years later and Moore’s prediction proved very accurate, leading a colleague to coin the term ‘Moore’s Law’, but at this time Moore revised his prediction to a doubling every two years. Ultimately transistors came to be the dominant element in chips, becoming the most useful measure of an integrated circuit’s complexity.

But Moore’s Law wasn’t just about the quantity of elements and a chip’s resulting performance; Moore was also concerned with economics. His original prediction was based upon the number of elements within each chip where cost per component was at a minimum. Interestingly, in the past ten years, increases in transistor numbers have come to be more about cost than performance, with transistors being made smaller in order to keep costs down – although this further miniaturization has resulted in performance gains in any case. Moore’s Law economics in action!

Although Moore’s first and second predictions were, initially, a means of chronicling the industry’s progress, over time Moore’s Law became something of a driving force, encouraging semiconductor manufacturers to keep pace with the Law. Today, there are billions of transistors on chips, and this magnitude has a great deal to do with the existence of Moore’s Law. It is said that the semiconductor industry still uses it to guide its planning and to set targets for R&D.

This being the case, Moore’s Law’s impact on our lives and the progress of business and industry cannot be overstated. The way we communicate has changed irrevocably over the past few decades. If Moore’s Law hadn’t been adopted by the semiconductor industry as a call to arms, would we be working on our own individual computers, making business calls on smartphones or travelling to meetings in today’s computer-controlled cars (if we bother to travel at all: video conferencing has never been more sophisticated)? Unlikely. And there’d almost certainly be no Internet without Moore’s Law. Gordon Moore has helped to determine our technological reality and is arguably even more (no pun intended) influential in indirectly shaping our futures than Arthur C Clarke – and that’s some achievement.

By Bigger Boat Chief of Police Rob Lane. A full version of this article can be found on TechRadarPro

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HOOKED ON A FEELING

Why are so many of us choosing to return to vinyl records? Fashion has a part of play; vinyl is currently very much in vogue, thanks in part to Hipsters and their trendy retail outlets such as Urban Outfitters, which stock new vinyl. And of course, whether real or imagined, sound is undoubtedly a huge factor. Many of us know how much ‘warmer’, ‘full’, perhaps even ‘airy’ vinyl sounds compared with digital sources – but others will doubtless disagree. But something else is at play here.

It’s a ‘feeling’. Various factors coming together to create the vinyl experience: the look, feel and even smell of the sleeve; the size and weight of the vinyl (the heavier the better!); the process of easing record onto deck, of gently placing needle in groove (and the accompanying, comforting ‘du-dum’); the need to turn over to side 2 and the fact that vinyl recordings are (mostly) produced with two sides in mind.

Most of these things are unique to listening to vinyl and combine – along with the superior sound, if you buy into this – to create a unique, engaging experience. You’re more likely to sit and listen to an album when it’s played on vinyl, and as a result you’ll enjoy the experience more, existing in the moment – mindfulness for audiophiles – and perhaps even get more out of your hi-fi system too.

There is a parallel. The Gadget Show recently ran a test of e-readers verses paper books (in the same episode where my client Holo-Gauze won the ‘selfie challenge’!). Would book readers engage more fully with stories than those using e-readers? The show measured brain waves to prove that yes, reading a paper book is more engaging and therefore more rewarding than reading an electronic, digital, version of the same story. Something about the process of reading paper books – the artwork on the cover, the feel and smell of the paper, the weight in your hand – combines to produce a more fulfilling and enjoyable experience. Sound familiar? Memory tests also showed that paper book readers retained considerably more information – so people pay more attention when it’s ‘analogue’, as I do when listening to vinyl.

Interestingly, I have recently found myself also returning to physical CDs, ditching downloads and my ripped CD files. The inability to switch albums just by the click of a curser, the tangibility of the CD format compared with ripped files, the more physical selection process and the sleeve notes offer something approaching the experience of vinyl. And yet, CDs aren’t the same; they never were. In the future, when books are beamed directly into our brains, perhaps paper book readers will view the Kindle as I view CD today; fondly, but in the knowledge that vinyl and analogue is best.

By Bigger Boat Chief of Police Rob Lane. A full version of this article appears in issue 399 of Hi-Fi Choice magazine.

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THE AV INDUSTRY’S CHOICE

How time flies. 20 years ago this month I left Timber Trades Journal, the award-winning weekly business periodical, to join respected AV editor Steve May as his deputy editor for a new magazine launch – Home Cinema Choice (HCC). After a lot of hard work getting the editorial balance right and ensuring it looked the business, the fabulous first issue finally hit newsstands in September of 1995, and boy did the AV industry love it!

Sister title to AV stalwart What Video, HCC tapped into the new consumer appetite for home cinema (hence the name!), with reviews of new kit, features, how-to articles and VHS reviews.

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Yes, this was the time of video tape, CRT televisions and Dolby Pro-Logic surround sound – three or four years before DVD and flatscreen TVs turned AV on its head. It was also pre-internet – in the offices of WV Publications at least – so all AV press releases would come to us via Royal Mail! Seems a long, long time ago…

And although HCC was designed using Quark Xpress, the then industry standard, every image in the mag had to be scanned low-res, meaning that they had to be pasted to a page printout and sent down to the printer for hi-res scanning (and most images were transparencies too!). This, of course, led to mistakes: the wrong image scanned in or – horrors! –the magazine being printed with a low-res scan (basically because the image went missing between design/production department and printhouse). Fun and games!

I eventually moved on to oversee other AV titles – Home Entertainment, What Home Cinema, What Plasma & LCD, What DVD, What HDTV – and my own trade title, Home Cinema Digest (HCD) – before launching Bigger Boat PR in 2009 (itself very much geared towards consumer and pro AV). But while all these and many other AV mags have fallen by the wayside, HCC keeps on truckin’ under the watchful editorship of Mark Craven, alongside sister titles Hi-Fi Choice (HFC) – itself hitting 400 issues next month – and Hi-Fi News. But it’s been something of a bumpy ride!

Something of a nomad, HCC started life at WV Publications, run by the somewhat maverick Alan Smith. Based in Camden, next door to the office of dance pioneers Soul II Soul, WV would not pass health and safety today. A rabbit’s warren of small rooms, with very few windows and gaffer-taped carpet, WV’s fire exit was often restricted by an unhappy neighbour who disliked the idea that we’d all climb into his garden to escape the smoke and flames. Working conditions weren’t great then, but what a great time we all had working there. Many an AV journo and PR started their careers at WV, and although he was a pain to have around the office, we’ve all got Alan Smith to thank, in part, for our subsequent working lives.

Favourite memories? Playing multi-player Doom at lunchtime on very slow, stuttering Macs (although Steve’s or course ran smoothly, aiding his regular wins!); dressing up as Judge Dredd for a HCC photo shoot; drinking in Camden’s various pubs in the lovely summer of ’96 (Football’s Coming Home…); WV’s legendarily Christmas parties; amazing office camaraderie.

Smith eventually sold WV to Highbury House (becoming Highbury-WV), which is where I returned, as a freelance editor to join Steve May again in launching What Home Cinema, HCC’s budget younger brother, in 2002. We also launched What Plasma & LCD TV, before Highbury was swallowed up by Future Publishing – somewhat ironic as one of my previous titles, Home Entertainment, had been sold by Felix Dennis to Future, alongside Hi-Fi Choice, half a dozen years previously, ultimately leading to my decision to go freelance. Now I was back again with the Future crew, this time as a freelance editor.

But the HCC story doesn’t end there. Towards the end of 2009, Future realised that the future (no pun intended!) of tech mags was online, and decided to either outsource or sell its clutch of ‘specialist’ AV mags. These included HCC, What Home Cinema, What Video, What Satellite & TV, What Plasma & LCD and HFC. I’d recently let go of the reins of What Plasma in order to launch Bigger Boat PR, but that didn’t stop Future approaching me to ask if I could head-up some or all of the mags on a contract basis out of my Lyme Regis office – something I’d already been doing for a couple of years with What Plasma. Ultimately the Future board decided that this approach wasn’t viable, and decided to sell. Asked if I was interested, by now I was too busy with Bigger Boat PR and in any case had grown tired of publishing having seen my trade title, HCD, stutter and die in the wake of the banking crisis.

In the end, My Hobby Store (AKA My Time Media), publishers of The Woodworker, Homemade with Love, Horse, Military Modelling and others, snapped up HCC, What Satellite and HFC (they’d not long since acquired Hi-Fi News, so it was a good fit). HCC dep ed Mark Craven took over at the helm as long-time editor Steve May finally went freelance after 15 years, and ex-HFC staff writer Lee Dunkley was bought in as editor of the sibling hi-fi title after initially editing What Satellite, which unfortunately folded. (Lee had also been my dep ed on Home Entertainment and freelance reviews ed on What Home Cinema years before.) And it has to be said that My Time Media are doing an incredible job with both HCC and HFC.

So 20 years on, a lot has changed, but it’s surprising how much hasn’t changed. Many of the original writers still contribute to HCC, including editor Steve May, one-time dep ed (Big) Johnny Archer and ex-What Video editors Adrian Justins and Danny Phillips. And HFC retains many of the writers who have contributed to the title throughout its 400 editions – and what a milestone that is! Indeed, you may have seen one or two opinion pieces, reviews and features penned by yours truly in this most excellent hi-fi publication. I hope to also contribute to Home Cinema Choice again soon, if Mark can find room for another HCC old boy.

Happy 20th birthday Home Cinema Choice. Thanks for opening the AV door for me all those years ago.

By Bigger Boat PR Chief of Police Rob Lane – still lovin’ AV and hi-fi after all these years

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FLYING THE GLOBAL FLAG

It’s a well worn and decades old cliché, but we live in a small world. A world where, thanks largely to the Internet and more effective video conferencing, we can conduct business easily and efficiently from anywhere and with anybody. But way before the net was even a glint in Tim Berners-Lee’s world-changing eyes, we had global air travel to thank for a shrinking world. The airplane made the world more accessible for all of us, but only when individual airlines teamed up and form alliances, the clichéd hands across the water, did the world shrink. Alliances made global air travel cheaper, more convenient and more efficient.

Now, 101 years after the first commercial flight (in January 1914, Abram C. Pheil became the first paying passenger on a commercial flight), more and more of us are conducting business globally and virtually, without the need or expense of fastening our safety belts – at least, not as often as we once did. And for many global businesses this reduced requirement for air travel is thanks to AV installers who are creating the appropriate technological environments for effective and efficient virtual communication, with the best possible video conferencing applications and hardware. For large, multinational corporations, these ‘collaboration suites’ are a necessity and a burgeoning market for installers.

But how do integrators themselves reduce the need for costly air travel? For one-country operations (let’s assume London) doing business abroad, the emails, calls and video conferences will – assuming a deal has been done virtually – inevitably lead to one thing: flights. And these flights won’t just carry human cargo; a deal in Dubai will lead to integrator staff being accompanied on board by some, if not all, of the necessary equipment to get the job done. Expensive and very complicated in terms of the necessary support networks, the sourcing of equipment on the ground, etc, etc. And if this theoretical installation leads to a second, cloned installation being won at the Dubai-based business’s New York office, how does the London-based installer ensure that both installations are exact replicas of one another? Tricky.

However, there are a small number of global integrator alliances working, as the airlines once did, together to provide solutions, services and support for their clients across the globe. One huge, renowned video conferencing-facing and ‘business acceleration’ alliance, Dimension Data, has offices in dozens of countries, with many boasting sub-offices. So, corporations looking to accelerate their global business with interactive technology, data and applications can be confident that the results from Dimension Data will be consistent across all regional offices.

More modest in size and scope than Dimension Data, but no less ambitious and growing year on year, is the Global Presence Alliance… Click here to read the full article on Installation magazine’s website or here to read the latest digital edition of the magazine (the article is on page 18).

By Bigger Boat PR Chief of Police Rob Lane for Installation magazine. 

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FACING UP TO VR’s POTENTIAL

Facebook’s F8 developer conference on March 25-26 was attended by more than 3,000 app developers, many of them no doubt planning applications for Oculus Rift. Facebook’s $2billion (£1.3billion) purchase of Rift a year ago certainly turned a few heads, especially amongst those less clued-up souls who thought it was just a fun tool for games developers. Zuckerberg’s explanation at the time of purchase that he views the hardware as “a new communication platform” and “a platform for many other experiences” will chime true with those of us in the commercial integration market, of course. Fun as it might be, gaming wasn’t the only thing on our minds when the VR headset first surfaced.

Zuckerberg also had this to say in March of last year, following the acquisition: “By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face.”

It’s easy to imagine how this ethos will inform how Rift will work a bolt-on to Facebook, and equally easy to visualise how integrators will be able to develop applications to best utilise Oculus Rift into installations; whether that be public-facing, entertainment-led experiences or more commercial, business-facing corporate experience centres or marketing suites. Indeed, Andy Millns, co-founder and creative director at INITION, leading interactive tech consultants for integrators and agencies states: “The applications for the Rift and VR in general are endless; it’s as if we’ve been working with radio and someone’s just invented the TV.”

At F8, Facebook outlined how Oculus Rift will ultimately be used as a new means of communication for the social media platform, with opportunities for worldwide users to connect as if sitting together in the same room. But there’s a way to go yet, as Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer explained: “After thousands of demos we know we are just on the cusp, just getting there to get that sense of presence where for a moment your conscious brain is overruled by the subconscious that says, ‘You are not where you think you are.”

Although Facebook couldn’t (wouldn’t?) give a timeframe on when Oculus Rift headsets will be available, its newly announced ‘spherical video’ gives everyone a taste of what Rift will be able to do. Spherical video allows Facebook users to interact with immersive, 360-degree vids in their Facebook News Feeds. Videos are shot with 24 interacting cameras, allowing viewers to “move around inside” the video and view from a variety of angles. Experiential marketers will doubtless wonder why it’s taken Facebook so long to jump on board with this, with companies such as 360Globalnet providing 360-degree video for some time now; however, this is still an important marker for VR.

But Facebook developments aside, what else is new in the virtual world of Oculus Rift and the other VR competitors? Samsung’s VR Gear debuted in stores on March 27, just 24 hours after F8. Available in scores of Best Buy stores in the States, the Gear VR Innovator edition is intended to work with Galaxy Note 4 and originally debuted online-only on the Samsung website “specifically to developers or early adopters of technology.” Integrators take note!

Interestingly, VR Gear may soon have a use outside of the developer market. Next VR is working to develop real-time virtual reality displays of sporting events, starting with the NBA and NHL, and has also experimented with broadcasting Premier League matches. The company’s service will operate via mobile devices and come pre-packaged on the Samsung Gear VR headset.

NextVR holds or is in the process of acquiring 19 different patents for the “capture, compression, broadcast quality transmission, and display of virtual reality content.” These patents allow the company to transmit immersive, high-definition VR broadcasts over the internet in real time. Again, not a new concept (360Globalnet are ahead of the curve again, and the BBC produced an immersive news broadcast ‘experiment’ last June), but the confluence between VR headsets and 360-degree video presents interesting commercial opportunities for integrators.

But what of audio? Virtual reality surely deserves better than 2D sound? Tech start-up Next Galaxy reckons it has the answer and is currently seeking funding for its Ceekars 4D headphones system. This patented 4D sound technology is said to access a VR environment’s physical attributes, overlaying appropriate geometric data and haptic-induced feedback to create a ‘fully immersive and dynamic soundscape’ within the ‘phones. Gimmicky? Perhaps, but it’ll certainly add another layer of interactivity to the VR experience.

Away from innovative announcements, VR has already seen several practical uses by integrators and experiential agencies. These include a Peugeot 308 experiential tour by Arcstream AV, surgical training enhancement (MOVEO Foundation), Holovis’ RideView simulation app, viewing of museum artefacts by Cross Design Group and INITION’s incredible virtual wingsuit for Nissan, which has to be seen to be believed.

In 2014 scientists at the Neukom Digital Arts Leadership and Innovation Lab in Computer Science (DALI) at Dartmouth College in Hanover, US, were reported to be working with Oculus Rift to offer long-haul astronauts a simulated trip back to Earth, to break the monotony of space-time. They reckon that virtual trips back home will help astronauts to feel more at ease with the real thing.

More recently, Chronicles VR announced a new museum-based VR experience for the Great North Museum in Newcastle. The company has created a virtual tour of a Greek villa for Oculus Rift, which allows users to explore, inspecting virtual artifacts that are also on display in the museum, understanding how they would have looked in their original setting. Showcasing in a closed public viewing from 10am-5pm on 16 April, Chronicles VR is showing it at the Museum Next Conference in Geneva, 19- 21 April.

VR headsets are certainly set to play an important part in interactive technology installations, whether that’s experiential, entertainment-based solutions, or more practical, corporate gigs – for instance, CastAR envisages a world in which its VR glasses are used for urban planning and virtual desktops. Indeed, the guys from Magic Leap recently released a fun, future-gazing video showing how workers are likely to be distracted in the office as the technology develops.

But Facebook remains the key focus for VR, and the company’s plans for Oculus Rift will doubtless inform how the wider world utilises this game-changing technology in the months and years to come.

by Bigger Boat PR Chief of Police Rob Lane, who always feels a bit queasy when going on a VR ‘journey’ This column can also be found online at Commercial Integrator Europe.

 

 

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TECH BRANDS: THE FUTURE OF RETAIL

The retail sector is wide awake to the possibilities of technology, with virtual reality changing rooms, augmented reality furniture and decoration apps and AR apps for ‘trying on’ makeup. There has also been a growth in the use of multi-touch tables at premium retailers such as Harrods, along with exciting projection mapping, transparent display and holographic effects built into shop window displays – as regularly reported in the news pages of Installation. But this is merely the tip of a burgeoning iceberg, and integrators and developers should find themselves working on more and more retail projects going forward.

In early March, tech-led production company INITION, of London’s Tech City, held its inaugural Future of Retail evening with event partner and recruitment experts Handle’s Digital and Technology Division. INITION has a long and distinguished record providing world-first solutions for its retail clients, most recently for Arcadia Group at London Fashion Week with its VR catwalk show for Topshop and Selfridges’ Festival of Imagination.

The Future of Retail evening provided an excellent opportunity for key players within the retail space to see the latest technical and creative innovation at first hand within INITION’s unique demo studio. In addition, a series of presentations from leaders within their respective fields – including Kate Ancketill, CEO of GDR Creative Intelligence, Neil Tinegate, Head of Digital Innovation at Argos, and Adrian Leu, Head of Strategy & Innovation at SuperCommunications (INITION’S parent company) – proved very revealing.

Adrian Leu explained that “there is no doubt” that the retail sector is changing at a very fast rate, partially as a result of the high street being under attack from online businesses such as ‘tech brand’ Amazon. “Fluid and engaging customer experience together with a seamless union of the online and offline and a strong data-driven culture constitutes the ‘holy grail’ for many high street retailers”, explained Leu, adding that this is where technology is the “catalyst and driving engine”.

INITION parent company SuperCommunications (itself part of Parity Group Plc) was launched in 2014 to transform brands into tech brands, and Leu told attendees at the Future of Retail event that there “has never been a better time for retail businesses to embrace the culture of a ‘tech brand’.”

Neil Tinegate offered his thoughts on the necessity of risk for innovation in retail. Argos has an impressive history of being at the forefront of the uptake of the latest technological developments, a feat that has seen the company evolve into what is arguably one of the most digitally innovative retailers in the UK today. From the company’s first website – which won tech awards in its early years, despite seeming relatively rudimentary by today’s standards – through to its current digital in-store revolution, Argos shows no signs of slowing down.

Neil explained how Argos ensures that technology and innovation are at the forefront of the company’s thinking. Argos holds ‘Days of Innovation’ to encourage employees to come together and brainstorm “adventurous ideas”. A good example of an idea that was successful is Argos’ kids’ Christmas wish list app.

As Founder and CEO of GDR Creative Intelligence, Kate Ancketill had plenty to impart on retail’s future. The company provides inspiration, insight and advice to the world’s leading brands and retailers and considers every aspect of the retail experience in the physical and digital space, including store and service design, brand communication and social media.

According to Kate “technological advancements will see an influx of brands and retailers introducing technologies, services and products that consumers can interact with on a deeper level – be it intellectually, by proximity and interaction, or physically via tactile feedback.”

Artificial Intelligence or ‘cognitive computing’ could spur a growth in the use of in-store robots – such as Lowe’s multilingual robot – digital personal assistants for the home – Jibo – learning engines to assist consumers with making more informed decisions/purchases and workplace ‘cognitive knowledge workers’ – Amelia – that can reply to emails, answer calls and hold conversations.

Away from the store, there’s likely to be a growth of retail-style services in the home. For example, Amazon Echo dispenses information and purchasing advice via voice activation, ordering products immediately from the Amazon store; French chain Darty offers a special button for putting users directly in touch with customer service representatives; and devices such as Amazon Dash and Waitrose’s Hiku (currently trialing) enable consumers to scan item barcodes at home, adding them to their online shopping trolleys.

Ancketill also discussed ‘gesture marketing’, including concepts like the Dorothy app based around distinctive gestures – in this case, three taps of the user’s heels – which summons a service or product. With Dorothy, the gesture fulfils a pre-selected option to order an uber cab, generate a phone call or send a message to friends. Similarly, Taco Bell’s gesture app allows consumers to quickly and conveniently reorder favourite meals with a twist of the wrist.

As more and more retail businesses look to embrace the culture of the tech brand, so technology will continue to play a bigger role in the future of retail, online and in-store. Make sure you’re in a position to play your part in this retail revolution.

by Bigger Boat PR Chief of Police Rob Lane, looking forward to clicking his fingers to fulfill his chicken jalfezi order. This column can also be found in the March edition of Installation and on the magazine’s website here

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