Posted by: mikepearsonnz | April 20, 2010

Opening up the barcode for the consumer

Smartphone barcode scanningSmartphones empower the consumer

Almost every item we buy from a store has a barcode on it.  Since the adoption of barcodes over 25 years ago, retailers and consumers have benefited by over US$17 billion (study).   It has primarily benefited the supplier and retailer; indirectly the consumer has benefited from lower prices at the checkout scanner.

Smartphone technology now offers the consumer the opportunity to gain new value from the barcode.   A growing number of apps, such as Pic2Shop, allow the consumer to quickly scan the barcode of a product with their smartphone camera.  Using this globally unique identifier, the smartphone consumer can access product information in real-time, before making their purchasing decision.

Consumer implications

The implications of this are huge!  Here are some examples to get you thinking:

  • For the retailer – the consumer can compare pricing with online retailers.  If you have a physical stores, the consumer’s smartphone GPS will allow them to compare pricing locally, say within a 1km radius.
  • For the supplier – the consumer would like to know factual information about your product.  For example, they may want to know if your food product contains traces of peanut, if they have an allergy.  There will also be incentives to add other information which affect consumer purchasing decisions, such as “minimal packaging”  or “no animals harmed”.  How will you cope with information provided about your product, by third parties who do not agree with your business methods, e.g. “produced using exploited workers”?
  • For government – governments often act as a trusted third party, verifying information such as product safety standards.  Suppliers will need you to provide this information online, attached to their products.  How long will it take to modify your systems to allow this?
  • For consumer interest groups – product and customer reviews play a part in any purchasing decision.  Cynical consumers are less likely to trust reviews provided directly by suppliers / retailers.   How will you link your information so it is accessible when the consumer searches for product information?

GS1 barcodes

In New Zealand / Australia,  most of our products use a barcode allocated by an international not-for-profit association called GS1.

The GS1 system of standards (including barcodes) is the most widely-used supply-chain standards system in the world (Wikipedia).  The GS1 vision is a world where things and related information move efficiently and securely for the benefit of businesses and improvement of people’s lives.  They want to enable communities to develop and implement global standards with the tools, trust and confidence needed.  (GS1 Vision)

GS1 have a service called GS1Net.  It allows suppliers to upload information into a global product registry.  The GS1Net system was designed before smartphones were on the market; or the concept of Open Data (Wikipedia).  Its current terms and conditions are wrapped around a subscriber-based supplier/retailer business model.

The key to greater value

Smartphones are still not mass market, yet a recent US survey found that over 1 in 4 smartphone owners already want to be able to scan barcodes (survey).

I believe the key to this future is opening up the barcode — the global product ID  that can link factual and subjective attributes about the same object.

Business needs to help bring this concept to fruition.  If you are a member of GS1, then I encourage you to adopt a new supplier/retailer/consumer open data ecosystem, using GS1Net as a starting point.

Posted by: mikepearsonnz | April 15, 2010

The implications of SmartPhones for the enterprise and education

This post is a brief summary (Part 3) of my lunchtime presentation to the NZCS Wellington branch  about the implications of SmartPhones for the enterprise and education.

It’s smart

The iPhone is the first truly ‘personal’ computer.  The iPhone 3Gs has the following sensors:

  • Location sensor: location coordinates from GPS
  • User orientation sensor: directional heading from a digital compass
  • Touch sensors: Multi-touch input from one or more simultaneous gestures
  • Light/dark sensor: Ambient light detection
  • Device orientation & motion sensor: from built-in accelerometer
  • Proximity sensor: device closeness to other objects or people
  • Audio sensor: input from a microphone
  • Image & video sensors: capture/input from a camera
  • Device sensor: through Bluetooth

Plus its a phone too 🙂

It’s productive

I’m more enthusiastic about the iPhone than other smartphones for a reason.  A survey of more than 10,000 adults, showed:

  • 84.8% of iPhone users accessed news and information on their phones compared to 13.1%  of the overall mobile phone market and 58.2% of total smartphone owners, including Blackberries and devices that run Windows
  • 58.6% of iPhone users visited a search engine on their phone, compared to 37% of smartphone users in general and 6.1% of mobile phone users
  • 30.9% of iPhone users have tuned into mobile TV or a video clip from their phone, which is more than double the percentage that have watched on a smartphone

It’s coming

Nearly 80% of companies saw a rise in the number of staff wanting to “bring their own devices into the workplace,” the overwhelming majority of which specified iPhones.

The pressure is on

Apple continues to focus its efforts on the consumer over courting enterprise IT.  But Apple knows that people who use its products at home, will put pressure on the enterprise.

“Enterprise is just 10 percent of the market—consumer is over 50 percent. Our heart and soul and DNA is in the consumer,“
— Apple COO Tim Cook

Are you in Apple’s sights?

If you were in the music industry 7 years ago, did you forsee the impact that the iPod would have?

The iPhone is currently having massive effects on the telco industry; witness the overdemand for high-speed wireless bandwidth in the US and Europe.

It’s a safe bet that the iPad will have an impact as well; but do we know for certain which industries?

  • iPod –> music,  (recording industry)
  • iPhone –> cellphones (telcos)
  • iPad –>books (Amazon); TV(recording)

Value Chain fallout

Your organisation may not be in the digital media business, but it may not be immune from the new technology shock.

As an example, each of these Apple innovations has a direct impact on NZ Post.  More digital media, means less physical media to be distributed over the postal network.

Digital media:
  • Letters
  • CDs
  • Books
  • DVDs

The flow-on effects will include plastic case manufacturing companies, sleeve art publishing companies, shipping companies, advertising companies, etc.

School cakestalls

If the future holds truely personal computers (iPad, iPhone) , why are our schools still running cakestalls, to fund obsolete computers in schools?  Strategically, investing in school computing infrastructure and services may be less important, than allowing telcos to provide smartphone services for educcation.

If nothing else, I’d suggest that schools and communities should be ensuring good wireless broadband data access, to futureproof themselves.

NZ limitations

New Zealand’s ability to take advantage of new technologies such as the iPad will be curtailed by the characteristics of our national infrastructure.  Some examples of national differences between the US and NZ, demonstrate these issues:

  • NZ has bandwidth limits
  • NZ has poor 3G+ coverage
  • NZ does not have free wifi
  • NZ does not have differential GPS (next generation GPS)


Posted by: mikepearsonnz | April 15, 2010

The Apple Business Model

This post is a brief summary (Part 2) of my lunchtime presentation to the NZCS Wellington branch  about the Apple business model vs the Google business model.

Engineering approach

Tech bloggers have  slated the iPad for its lack of multitasking, its lack of a camera, its lack of openness, …, and the list goes on.  However sometimes we lose touch with what people want from technology.

Users want a device that:

  • works reliably
  • without artificial restrictions
  • offers new features as they become available
  • protects from security threats

Users have traditionally got new features resulting in:

  • bloat, slow performance, and introduced bugs
  • escalating security measures that inconvenience and limit users

Its not wrong that Apple has chosen to take a minimalist approach to device design.  Their decision to exclude hardware features such as USB is valid, if users have a better experience because of it.

The iPad is meant to be more of an appliance, than a general purpose computer.  If consumers accept the idea, then they won’t expect USB on an iPad, any more than they expect USB on their toaster.

Hardware vendors do not understand this, and so you will continue to see product reviews touting the latest iPad killer device with more bells and whistles.

Engineering Philosophy

The Apple philosophy is a closed system, meaning:

  • Strict control of the user experience
  • Managing all support issues itself

By taking responsibility for everything, Apple adds value to their brand.

Within their closed system, their business model involves developing an ecosystem for the content industry, especially publishers and gamers.

Using the Google Android model for comparison, the Google philosophy is an open system, meaning:

  • A wide variety of Android capable devices
  • Allows you to modify the core software
  • Allows you to install any app

From a user experience point-of-view, the brand recognition is the manufacturer, e.g. HTC or Samsung, not Android.

Google has  a business model, based on providing targeted advertising in exchange for consumer free services.

Each philosphy is equally valid — they’re just different.  Each has good and bad points, and the consumer will ultimately decide which they prefer.

iTunes store

iTunes salesI find it interesting that there has been little analysis done of the iTune store as part of the Apple business model.

The iTunes store was launched in 2003, with 200,000 items to purchase.  Today, it has 11,000,000+ songs.

More importantly, it has 125 million registered iTunes users (ie customers).  Those customers are 1-click (borrowed from Amazon) away from payment via a verified credit card with a billing address.  That’s an awesome established market.

The iTunes store has changed the way that consumers expect to buy things.  Pricing is by individual song (not by album).  The pricing is lower than stores, NZD$1.79 for music audio, NZD$2.69 for music video; and there is no subscription fee.

Apple have reused its iTunes store infrastructure, to sell Music, Videos, Ringtones, Podcasts and Audiobooks.  More recently they added Apps.  Apps are priced lower than stores, NZD$1.29  is not uncommon.

Reusing the iTunes store for Apps has created a new developer ecosystem, with 70% of the purchase price going to the developer(s), 30% going to Apple.  For Apple it created a new business with major revenues and no major costs.

As with any digital content, iTunes brings a number of information management issues, that challenge national  laws and enterprise policies, such as:

  • Finding things
  • Censorship
  • Pricing
  • Copy Protection


Posted by: mikepearsonnz | March 30, 2010

The Apple iPad: Groundbreaking or Hype?

Like it or not, the new Apple iPad is coming! Its US release date is April 3, with the NZ launch not likely to be far behind.  After months of feverish speculation and hype, Apple’s presentation of the iPad to the world was greeted with typical geekish negativity.  Tech bloggers slated the device for its lack of multitasking, its lack of a camera, its lack of openness, …, and the list goes on.  However sometimes we lose touch with what people want from technology. Maybe it’s time to put some positivity back into the picture!

This post is a brief summary (Part 1) of my lunchtime presentation to the NZCS Wellington branch  about the potential of Apple’s new device to encourage new ideas and new ways of doing things.


  • “Many analysts have criticized or worried about Apple’s (perceived) lack of netbook strategy, and its model of offering high end machines in an era where PC makers were all racing to the bottom”
  • “It’s like Yoda said, you must unlearn what you’ve learned,” he says, referring to the 40 years that the mouse and keyboard have dictated how we interact with computers
    Jeff Han, Wired

The Apple Lisa was revolutionary — the Apple iPad will be revolutionary.

  • The Lisa was first introduced on January 19, 1983 at a cost of $9,995 US ($21,693.67 in 2009 dollars). It was the first commercially sold personal computer to have a GUI (which presented the concept of menu bar as well as window controls)  — Wikipedia

The revolution is the multitouch user interface.

Mulitouch interfaces are a new paradigm being commercialised by Apple; you have to unlearn 40 years of app interface design.

The challenge will be whether developers can be innovative and develop revolutionary apps for the new interface.  The iPad screen will be of a sufficient size that a personal multitouch interface will be useful.

My thoughts about the iPad

  • The iPad is not meant to be an oversize iPhone.  It is more likely a giant iTouch for games and browsing.
  • An intuitive appliance (toaster) with no boot time and 99.999% reliability;  to read ebooks, browse the web and answer email will be popular with SeniorNet, but not with geeks.
  • The iPad’s 4:3 ratio screen size is exactly the same as traditional standard-definition TV.
  • TV episodes have not sold as well as music or apps in iTunes store; will the iPad make TV episodes more popular?

Video references:

Posted by: mikepearsonnz | February 9, 2010

Working better as you sleep

Here’s a classic example of why a smartphone is more than a phone and how technology can help sleeping people work better.

Good sleep leads to good performance

You know that you need a good night’s sleep — if you are sleep deprived,  it affects your body and mind.   It can lead to:

  • poor performance
  • increased lack of coordination
  • difficulty making decisions

That’s not just your mum’s wisdom, research has shown a link between quality sleep and good health.

A sensor platform

Smart Cycle iPhone app

Smart Cycle iPhone app

The iPhone is a platform, packing a wide variety of sensors into its slim case.  One of those sensors ia an accelerometer, which is sensitive to movement.

Using this sensor, Lexware Labs have developed an innovative alarm clock app, Sleep Cycle, that wakes you according to your sleep phase.

Why is this important?

As you sleep you go through different phases that range from deep sleep to light sleep.  The phase you are in when your alarm clock goes off is a critical factor regarding how tired you will feel when you wake up.

Being woken from a deep sleep is likely to leave you groggy and tired.  Being woken from a light sleep is more likely to leave you refreshed and alert.  That explains why you can have the same amount of sleep on two consecutive nights, but have a totally different waking experience.

Sleep Cycle monitors your movement during sleep using the accelerometer.  Based on your movements, Sleep Cycle then determines the best time to wake you up, near your alarm time.

The implication is that waking from a light sleep will lead to:

  • better performance
  • increased coordination
  • better decision making

The iPhone app business model

As a final word, its also worth noting the enterprise paradigm shift required for the iPhone app business model.

Enterprises are used to researching, procuring, operating and managing desktop productivity applications worth hundred of dollars.

This personal productivity app is currently on the iTunes store for NZ$1.29.

Posted by: mikepearsonnz | January 7, 2010

Symantec expires its Norton Internet Security

As consumers, do we want to allow software manufacturers to disable their products, 12 months after purchase?

My copy of Norton Internet Security 2009 expired the other day.

I was expecting it to behave like normal and continue to operate;  whilst warning that my subscription had expired and I would not be protected against newly discovered threats.

Instead Windows reported something more ominous:

Your computer might be at risk
Your computer might be at risk

When I clicked on Norton Internet Security, I got this message:

If you do not renew your Norton product,  your PC will NOT be protected
If you do not renew your Norton product, your PC will NOT be protected

Symantec has fundamentally changed the way in which Norton Internet Security operates.  Once your update subscription expires, the product ceases to work.

As a consumer, this wasn’t what I thought I was buying.  I’ve checked the NIS 2009 packaging and the user guide; this unusual behaviour does not appear to be documented.

The change appears to be recent, because Symantec still haven’t updated their online product help file:

Subscription expiry information

Subscription expiry information

I hope this is not the beginning of a trend that other software manufacturers will follow.

Posted by: mikepearsonnz | November 12, 2009

What if your toaster worked like your mobile phone?


Open Toaster

Open Toaster by Roger Lancefield

My toaster at home

I use my toaster at home.  I’m on the Genesis Energy network.    My toaster only works with the Genesis Energy network.  It cost me 2 cents to make some toast.

My toaster around New Zealand

I took my toaster with me, when I flew to Auckland to visit my sister.   Genesis Energy aren’t in Auckland.

I travel quite a lot around New Zealand and toaster coverage is a real issue for me.   Why can’t I plug my toaster into the other networks?

I had to borrow my sister’s toaster.  It cost her 2 cents to make my toast.

I think I need a Mercury Energy toaster, because they seem to have more coverage, particularly in Auckland.

Unfortunately the strength of their service in my home town is quite poor – it takes ages for my toast to cook.  Plus my existing toaster plan offers free toasting on the weekends.

I think the answer is that I need two toasters.

My toaster overseas

I took my toaster on holiday to Australia.   Genesis Energy activated toaster roaming for me.

When I got off  the plane, I really needed some toast.  I plugged it into the nearest power point.   It cost me $7.50 to make some toast.  WTF, thats 375 times as much as at home?

The Serious Point

Why can’t we have mobile phone networks that work like electricity networks?

The findings of a Finnish study (Marilanta and Rouvinen, 2006) suggested the potential for productivity gains from technologies as:

  • portability +32%
  • wireless connectivity +6%

If we can improve wireless connectivity for portable devices then we can reduce costs and increase productivity (because people will use their “toasters” more often).

Posted by: mikepearsonnz | November 9, 2009

iPhone Apps – Business Card Reader

Business Card Reader app

Business Card Reader app

Instant business card recognition right on your iPhone 3GS!

Business Card Reader by SHAPE Service GmbH exploits the 3-megapixel camera technology on your iPhone 3GS to deliver instant business card recognition.

The camera on older iPhone models (iPhone 2G or 3G) doesn’t have sufficient resolution.  You will need a macro lens attachment, such as Griffin Clarifi,  to improve photo quality.


Photograph the business card

Photograph the business card

Business Card Reader allows you to take a photo then “reads” it using text recognition technology.

The text recognition requires a good quality photo to do its job.

The iPhone must be correctly aligned with the business card – the app capture screen shows “This Side Up”.

The business card should be in sunlight or a bright light.  A business card with poor contrast will cause problems.

Ideally the the card should completely fill the screen without appearing out-of-focus.

Once you take the photo, there is a Preview screen, so you can simply Retake the photo if necessary.  When you are satisfied, Use starts the text recognition

App scans the text

App scans the text

Text Recognition

The text recognition scans down the image from 0-100%.

New Contact

Text is extracted and displayed in a ‘New Contact’ form, which you can edit.

OCR text for New Contact

OCR text for New Contact

In my trial the app correctly identified Mobile number, Work Fax number, Main number, Website URL  and Email Address with ease.

It recognised the address as a block of text, which required a little cutting/pasting to move text into the right sections into Postcode and Town.   It is still faster than manual retyping all the information from the business card.

The app also offers the convenient option of doing an immediate LinkedIn Lookup for the Name.

Posted by: mikepearsonnz | November 9, 2009

What ICT investment will most increase your productivity?

Broadband increases productivity, faster broadband does not

A recent New Zealand study (Grimes, Ren and Stevens, 2009) found that broadband adoption boosts productivity BUT no productivity differences were found with different speeds of broadband.  That finding is a surprise because faster internet access is often touted as a productivity-enhancing factor for businesses.

This study highlighted for me,  the need for rigorous research to quantify the benefits from investing in different forms of ICT.   It also led me to a Finnish study (Marilanta and Rouvinen, 2006) which evaluated the use of different types of “readily accessible technology” (laptops, data processing and  storage devices networked with wireless capability) at the business firm level.

New technology in conjunction with older technologies can increase productivity

The Finnish study has some important productivity principles about technology, which I paraphrase below:

  1. a technology does not boost productivity – it  possesses characteristics that do,
  2. a technology may be seen as a bundle of its characteristics, each having a separate productivity effect
  3. a technology may possess many characteristics and many of them are shared, and
  4. a technology used in conjunction with others may possess characteristics different from the same technology used separately.

“Even though diminishing returns on ICT occur as its usage expands, it is possible that new characteristics added to old technologies and new technologies working in conjunction with older ones may continuously shift the productivity frontier.”

What ICT investment will most increase your productivity?

The Finnish study found that businesses who use computers and networks already achieve the following productivity increases:

  • processing and storage capabilities, +9%
  • wired connectivity +14%

Their findings also suggest the potential for productivity gains in less common technologies:

  • portability +32%
  • wireless connectivity +6%

Their research was carried out several years ago now, when wireless was in its infancy.  Perhaps this explains why smartphones are defying the worldwide economic recession.

Are NZ businesses thinking about new ways of doing things / new opportunities – or are they just swapping 1 word processor with another 1? Research seems to indicate the latter, , faster broadband does not mean greater productivity.

Posted by: mikepearsonnz | October 14, 2009

There’s more to Technology than Information and Communication

Many people I talk to find it surprising that I scan all technology news, not just Information and Communication technology news.

I believe that we need to give the word “Technology” more importance.

It is common these days, to hear that we must use Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to increase our country’s productivity.   It’s important enough that we have a Minister of Communications and Information Technology.   I agree that we can become more productive by using technology to handle information and communications.

However, technology has a broader concept.  Wikipedia defines technology as “that [which] deals with human as well as other animal species’ usage and knowledge of tools and crafts, and how it affects a species’ ability to control and adapt to its environment.

We take “Technology” too much for granted, and we need to give it more importance.  Wordle: MoRST Statement of Intent 2009-2012We have a Minister responsible for Research, Science & Technology.    A Wordle analysis of the MoRST Statement of Intent suggests “Technology” has a lower emphasis.

Large organisations understand this.  They often have a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) responsible for assessing any new and emerging technologies that can improve their business.  For example, an airport CTO will care about ICT, but they will also care about escalator technology and baggage handling technology.

Small organisations should understand this, but often don’t.  Poor technology investment decisions can add up to thousands of dollars a year of lost productivity and increased expenses.

Here are a couple of non-ICT examples, to get you thinking about how technology can make your business more productive:

Diesel technology

By my estimates, it will cost you $90 to fill a diesel car; whereas it is only $76 to fill a petrol car.   But a diesel car goes significantly futher than a petrol car; therefore it costs 27% less for a diesel car to travel the same distance.  There are other  benefits related to productivity, such as less labour costs involved in fueling vehicles or processing fuel transactions; less frequent downtime for service due to longer service intervals.

Why don’t we see greater uptake of diesel technology?

Hand Dryer Technology

Everyone has to dry their hands!  Do you use a paper towel or a hand dryer?

Hand dryers are a much better option for public toilets than paper towels.   They eliminate the associated labour costs for ordering, storing, replenishing dispensers, collecting and disposing of paper towels.   That saving can translate into thousands of dollars a year, in larger public facilities like schools.

Most users will usually opt for the paper towel, because hand dryers usually take 30-45 seconds to dry hands and often don’t do a complete job.   I suggest that the problem isn’t the technology, but the choice of hand dryer.  Properly designed hand dryers, such as the Xlerator Dryer or Dyson Air Blade are upto is 3 times faster (10-15 seconds) than conventional hand dryers, and consequently use 80% less energy.

A more effective hand dryer technology implementation can increase user productivity.  🙂

Don’t limit yourself to information technology – use TECHNOLOGY to increase our country’s productivity.

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