Two weeks ago I experienced something awesome. My idea, Project Join, won the first prize at the Startup Weekend St. Gallen, in Switzerland.
Little did I know about the good times ahead of me when I was riding on the train that brought me to St. Gallen. I participated the weekend with the intention to make connections, to network, perhaps to talk about collaboration through Core UX with one or the other new contact. For the one and a half hour in the train I did not think about presenting an idea later that same night.
And yet, that is exactly what happened. Most participants who presented their idea on this Friday evening were thoroughly prepared. They had written down the key elements of their idea. They had repeated their speeches until they felt secure.
“Anything else?” the moderators asked after all were done. “We’d really like to hear some spontaneous ideas, or even if you found a problem you think that should be solved, come on stage and let us know!”. The crowd clapped in a driving pace and as if someone else had slipped into me, I rose from my seat.
In this instant I knew what I was going to talk about. It was something I had kept in the back of my head for years and I called it “Join”.
Instead of presenting a carefully prepared speech, I directed my attention to the audience, asking them why they came to this event. I looked at a couple of faces and asked them: “Before you came here, did you know with whom you want to talk?” No one said they did. “And yet,” I said, “all of you came here hoping to make new connections and possibly find common interests. That is what Join is about, to help you meet whom you want to talk to.”
The idea goes further, but I will write more about it when it is ready for the public. What I can say now is, that there is little competition in the area it is addressing, and yet it is exactly that area in online and mobility that is of great interest to a lot of businesses. It goes beyond of what every service alike provides today.
Yet the benefit for the end user is extremely simple, but essential to the core: meeting relevant people.
I don’t know what got into me that Friday night. But I felt elevated, delighted, happy when I returned to my seat. I hadn’t felt like this in quite some time. It was a feeling that this was right, a feeling of having found something that is of real interest to people.
So many apps today are saying they are improving people’s lives. Look at how few of them actually deliver on this promise. I’d say the majority of apps is there rather to distract you, than to extend your capabilities.
What happened next on this weekend, I can only describe as a really great experience. My idea got the second most points in the selection process right after all ideas had been presented. Clearly, people wanted to see this happening. We built groups to collaborate on these ideas, to develop them into business models and finally present them on Sunday afternoon, a presentation designed to work like an investor’s meeting.
There were lectures, lessons and group activities throughout this weekend that made me learn a lot and interact a lot with people. There is something great that happens when bright minds meet. There is an increased activity of sparks firing in your brain and your conversations. Geeks become passionate with glowing eyes when they are talking about their ideas.
This alone would have been enough to make this weekend special. But Sunday evening prove to top it all.
All teams presented their shaped out ideas, complete with how it works, a business model, competition analysis and estimated numbers. We kind of botched our presentation. Instead of 10 slides we had 19. That was way too much for the six minutes we had. Luckily, in the four minutes of Q&A with the jury that followed, we managed to pull up one or the other slide that hadn’t been shown yet. When the 10 minutes were over, we felt still confident about our idea, but we were pretty sure we wouldn’t win the competition.
The third prize was announced, then the second. We hung in our seats relaxed, looking around to see the faces light up of the team that was going to be announced as the first prize winners.
And then they said our names. My partner and I looked at each other with stunned smirks. Was this real?
Aside of everything, of meeting fellow entrepreneurs, of learning inspiring lessons, of being creative together and shaping an idea as close as possible to become reality, the one thing nothing can beat is the moment of the unexpected.
And this moment only happens when you go out there and do it. This is what I took from this weekend: You can do it, even when you are not prepared. But you have to go out there and try.
Minuum is easily the most innovative keyboard available for mobile devices, and it aims to introduce the most advanced way to type. The idea is disruptive as much as the seemingly unsolvable problem: Keyboards follow a traditional design pattern of the classic typewriter.
QWERTY keyboards are extremely inefficient for small screens. Typing on a small device, even at sizes of the iPhone 6 Plus, is still quite awkward and requires training time to get used to it.
The disadvantages of typing on a touch display actually outweigh the benefits of a tactile keyboard. But because a virtual keyboard does have some advantages for diverse mobile applications, we are willing to live with the trade-ins.
Minuum seeks to fix this issue using a drastic approach: it resizes the keyboard to a much smaller size. It looks strange when you see the keyboard shrinking and at first you may think this won’t work at all.
One would think that bigger is what would improve the experience, not smaller, but it appears the opposite is the case. At least the makers of Minuum think it is, and I wonder if they ar right. If Whirlscape, the company behind Minuum, did their homework and ran cycles of extensive user testing, not just for usability but also overall experience (testing how well Minuum integrates into the user flow), they might be onto something that could be potentially big.
Minuum let’s you use eight languages and claims to have a great predictive type engine. Personally, I find the Minuum approach more appealing than the Swype idea. We will see if it is as intuitive as it should be to be able to take off on a mass adoption scale.
To be honest, I won’t be surprised if Apple does not announce an iWatch today. The concept of an iWatch has been largely driven by competitors picking up rumors, starting their own development programs to create wearable wrist-based computers, and the media picking up on those devices, comparing them to each other only to state the obvious:
The market for such devices has not been created yet.
Sure, there are various small devices available today in the wearable computing segment. These can be accounted to the gadgets category: they are fun products for enthusiasts, which could be generously described as a geek market. It’s by far not ready for mass consumption. Apple has proven of course that it can create and establish entire market sections that didn’t exist before, starting with the original Macintosh, the iPhone and the iPad. With the iPod they didn’t create a market, but they took a very tiny segment and implemented it in a way that found immediate traction with consumers.
In fact, the iPod introduction was Apple’s first serious foray (earlier gaming and TV devices not accounted) into a lifestlye electronics mass consumer market, beyond regular pro, desktop and laptop computing.
And this is the mistake people make when they talk about Apple today. They still see the computer company that also makes music players, tablets and phones. This is clearly not Apple’s perspective. I believe Apple’s product strategy spans much wider, it doesn’t stem from a thought model of “people buying electronic devices”. It begins with the thought of how design improves people’s lives. And with design they don’t mean just how great it looks, they mean how great it works.
Apple may make a big step into wearable computing today. In doing so, they will not introduce yet another smartwatch, just like they wouldn’t introduce yet another Internet ready TV. Apple doesn’t work this way. They are looking at the market, sure, when they are expanding on product categories. But when they are thinking about new products, they think people first. They don’t see consumers, they see people and how they live and work. They look at their passions, at what excites them and what seriously improves their lives.
There is this ongoing mocking of Silicon Valley start-ups, claiming that they all want to improve people’s lives. This running gag doesn’t come out of nowhere. It basically started when Apple introduced this mantra and everyone began to follow it. Isn’t that what we all want, an improved life? The wave of start-ups with seemingly fresh ideas failing to achieve what they believe in gives you an idea of how hard it is today to really innovate.
Of course, achieving innovation as a company even as big as Apple, with many stakeholder’s interests virtually at stake, this isn’t a trivial task either. Everyone seems to be worried if Apple is still innovative under Tim Cook. That’s the wrong kind of question. Apple was always innovative, it was its management in the past that changed and either stiffled or promoted Apple’s innovation spirit. Apple has not reached it’s peak in innovation, its very nature prevents any hill or peak. Expansion doesn’t mean just growth for Apple, it means steady internal improvement.
As some people have pointed out, the fashion factor does play an important role, but I think that factor is overhyped. If Apple did its homework, they are aware that there is no mass market for watches anymore. It may be that the new device (or one of them) will be a wrist-based wearable device, which would work pretty much like a watch and maybe even shows the time. But thinking that wearable = fashion is a narrow-sighted simplification.
The main hurdle with the upcoming wearable computing market won’t be the question if it’s fashionable. Partnerships with designers and brands will help. How I look wearing something is undeniably important. But there is another, even more important layer added to wearable computing, and that is how well it fits in our life. What does it add we find indispensable after we use it?
A watch is dispensable. A phone on your wrist, or even a “smart iPod like device” on your wrist that counts your steps, is equally dispensable.
A device that integrates with a home device, with your iCloud account, joining data to enable platforms such as a unified, life long health-tracking system that ties in with insurances and the medical system—this comes closer to a future ecosystem that at some point could become indispensable. And that’s just one side of it.
The devices Apple will introduce today, whatever they may be, a new TV experience or a foray into wearable computing—they will define new categories in themselves. They will take what we thought something is (like an iWatch) and turn it into something entirely new. Don’t underestimate Apple’s strength when it comes to endure extremely long research and development processes, to come out with something that is really different.
(Image: Apple website screenshot)
Very ugly photos on the homepage (too much processing and JPEG fragments), but a really clever logo design. It is interesting to see a Swiss company entering the mail-order seafood market, considering it is 1197 miles away from the Aegean sea, the source of its products.