November 2010 Archives

I was honored to be invited to keynote SEE, Symbian's developer's conference, in Amsterdam last week. Although there's a lot of turmoil in the world of Symbian right now, it's still the most popular mobile phone operating system in the world, and it's now open source. I think that makes it very interesting as a technology platform and a source of significant innovation. Most of that innovation will not come from making another app store-based smart phone operating system. I believe that it will come from creating a service-based operating environment (whatever you want to call the stack of services that goes from basic memory management to clearing microtransactions) that will allow developers to create services that transcend a single device. Services like the Kindle service, or the Netflix service, or new kinds of payment services and games (i.e. stories) that transcend a single device or delivery mechanism. I believe that the end product will look more like Facebook and less like Windows. So that's what I talked about. The first part of the talk is taken from my Mobilize 2010 presentation on service avatars. In the second half, I list what I believe are the key qualities that a next-generation "mobile" (i.e. ubicomp) operating environment will have, and what it needs to emphasize.

Download the PDF (850K) or follow along on Slideshare.

Full transcript

Good morning! Thank you for inviting me.

First, let me tell you a bit about myself. I'm a user experience designer and entrepreneur. I was one of the first professional Web designers in 1993. Since then I've worked on the user experience design of hundreds of web sites. I also consult on the design of digital consumer products, and I've helped a number of consumer electronics and appliance manufacturers create better user experiences and more user centered design cultures.

First, let me tell you a bit about myself. I'm a user experience designer and entrepreneur. I was one of the first professional Web designers in 1993. Since then I've worked on the user experience design of hundreds of web sites. I also consult on the design of digital consumer products, and I've helped a number of consumer electronics and appliance manufacturers create better user experiences and more user centered design cultures.

In 2003 I wrote a how-to book of user research methods for technology design. It has proven to be somewhat popular, as such books go.

Around the same time as I was writing that book, I co-founded a design and consulting company called Adaptive Path.

I wanted to get more hands-on with technology development, so I founded ThingM with Tod E. Kurt.

We're a micro-OEM. We design and manufactures a range of smart LEDs for architects, industrial designers and hackers. We're also spinning off a new company that's going to apply this technology to the consumer space. I have lots to say about that, but this talk is about something else, so talk to me offline if you'd like details.

This talk is based on a chapter from my new book. It's called "Smart Things" and it came out a couple of weeks ago. In the book, I describe an approach for designing digital devices that combine software, hardware, physical and virtual components.

Three trends

I want to start by talking about three trends that are combining to create a new class of digital products which are distributed through the environment and linked by cloud-based services. These devices not only create many opportunities for innovation, but they represent a new way of thinking about both products and services.

The first trend is a product of Moore's Law. Normally people think of Moore's Law in terms of processor speed, but the same technologies that makes the latest chips powerful push the price of older technology down. We have now reached a point where many powerful technologies are priced like basic commodities. For example, the Intel 486 was the processor that the Web was built for and with. It cost $1500 in 1989. Today you can get as much processing power for about 50 cents.

This new System on a Chip from Microchip has about as much processing power as that initial 486, but is also has an onboard video controller that can drive a VGA-class screen, a USB controller for peripherals, a 24-channel analog to digital converter for sensor, and a capacitive sensing driver that can drive a touch screen. It costs about $5, uses less power than a keyring LED flashlight, and fits on a chip the size of your fingernail. It's also not unusual. Almost every semiconductor maker makes similar products. This means that you can now include powerful processing and networking in almost anything, and start rethinking the design of everything in terms of embedded digital technology. The "how" problem of creating ubiquitous computing has almost been answered. Now the questions are what to create, and why.

The answer to these is being driven by two other shifts.
First, is a shift from generic devices and software to specialized devices and software. When computing was expensive, you had one or two general purpose devices that had deal with almost every situation. This necessitated design compromises that resulted in devices and software that could do almost everything, but did none of it well. It was then up to the user to take these generic tools and making them appropriate to the current situation. Now that processing is so cheap, you can have a combination of 10, 20, or 30 computing devices and apps for the price of that one device, and you can acquire new functionality as needed. This means that every device and software package can have a narrower purpose.

The third trend is that the lasting legacy of the Web has been a shift in the value digital technology from being primarily local to being primarily remote. The Web demonstrated that moving functionality online enables access to more compute power, continuous updates, real-time usage analytics, and (of course) social connections. It also created a shift in people's expectations. Today, most people understand that the experience you see on one device is often a part of something that's distributed throughout the world. There's no longer a need to pack everything into a single piece of software, and there's no expectation that everything will be there.

If we chart these last two tends, two broad classes of digital products emerge. If we follow the general to specific axis, we see a shift is to more narrow-function devices that are designed to do a small, specific set of things really well. They primarily differ in what those specific things are. I call these devices appliances. If we follow the local to remote axis, we find general-purpose devices that do roughly the same set of things, and differ primarily in size. They exist to provide access to online services, in a form factor that's appropriate to the context in which they're used.
I call these devices terminals.

What I think is most interesting, however, is that these shifts appear to be the first part an even larger transition, one where devices are simultaneously specific AND deeply tied to online services. In this model, the service provides the majority of the value, and can be represented either as an inexpensive dedicated hardware device, an app running on a terminal, or anything in between. It's an approach that combines the precision of appliances with the flexibility of terminals to create a fundamentally new class of products that can fill every possible niche where a service may be appropriate. I call these devices service avatars.

As value shifts to services, the devices, software applications and websites used to access it--its avatars--become secondary. A camera becomes a really good appliance for taking photos for Flickr, while a TV becomes a nice Flickr display that you don't have to log into every time, and a phone becomes a convenient way to take your Flickr pictures on the road. Hardware becomes simultaneously more specialized and devalued as users see "through" each device to the service it represents.

For example, you can now get Netflix on virtually any terminal that has a screen and a network connection. You can pause a Netflix movie on one terminal and then upause it on another. This seems natural. Why? Because to the Netflix customer, any device used to watch a movie on Netflix is just a hole in space to the Netflix service. It's a short-term manifestation of a single service. The value, the brand loyalty, and the focus is on the service, not the frame around it. The technology exists to enable the service, not as an end to itself.

Netflix appliances are created for a single reason: to make it easier to access Netflix. That's what Roku does. It turns every terminal that's not already Netflix enabled into a Netflix terminal. The Boxee box does that for the Boxee service. The new Apple TV does it for iTunes.

Let me give you another example. This is Vitality's Glowcap, which is a wireless network-connected pill bottle appliance that's an avatar to Vitality's service for increasing compliance to medicine prescriptions. When you close the cap, it sends a packet of information through a mobile phone-based base station to a central server and it starts counting down to when you next need to take your medicine. When it's time, it lights up the LED on the top of the bottle. However, the real power is in the packet of data it sends. That packet opens a door to the full power of an Internet-based service. Now Vitality can create sophisticated experiences that transcend a single piece of software or a single device.

For example, another avatar of the Vitality service is an online progress report that can be used interactively or delivered by email. It's like Google Analytics for your medicine.

Health care practitioners get yet another avatar that gives them long-term and longitudinal analytics about compliance across medications and time. To me, this kind of conversation between devices and net services is where the real power of The Internet of Things begins.

Vitality has developed a complete system around this service that includes a social component, and different avatars for patients, patients families, health care practitioners and pharmacies. Each avatar looks different and has different functionality, but they're perceived, and designed as a single system.

I think it's a model of how many everyday things are going to be designed in the future. Soon designing objects that have significant social lives in the cloud will become just how everything is made. Terminals, such as what we call smart phones or connected TVs, will of course be part of this world.

So if you're a developer I recommend you shift your thinking away from whether to make an app, a mobile web site, a platform, or a dedicated device, and to start thinking about how you design your service, and what avatars will best facilitate that service.

Service avatar operating system

But what does the operating system that enables this kind of service avatar model look like? What is the infrastructure that makes a service avatar ecosystems functional and profitable? How does it incentivize developers to create services for it?

I made a list of the qualities of a service avatar operating system that I believe are important. And before I give you that list, I want to warn you: I'm not a mobile developer, and I'm not much of a mobile designer, but I've designed a lot of user experiences across a wide range of devices and have felt the frustration of infrastructures that prevent me from meeting my business goals, rather than supporting me as I try to build products that people will like and pay for.

So please excuse me if the following ideas are obvious, or wrong or obviously wrong, but I wanted to give you some things to think about, or argue over lunch as we contemplate the near future of digital technology.

  • Experiences that span devices
    The service avatar operating system I'm thinking about will need to support experiences that span devices as a core part of its services, on a layer that's largely invisible to users and developers, like providing network connectivity or memory management. Inter-device experiences should be part of the basic value proposition. Doing something like the Netflix pause, or how the Kindle service automatically opens to the last page you looked at, regardless of what avatar you last used, should be almost free. I should be able to take an experience on one avatar and throw it onto another one and have it just work. The interaction techniques for this have existed for a long time.

    Jun Rekimoto of Sony had pick and drop--where you pick up a window from one device, "carry it" in a stylus that conceptually serves as a temporary container, and drop it on another device--working in Sony's labs in 1997. There are dozens of methods to create a single experience that transcends multiple devices, but they're all incredibly hard to implement, because they have to be done from scratch. This OS needs to make it so easy to create such experiences that you forget about it.


  • Identity and control sharing. As the number of devices and services increases, so does the number of people using each device or service. Problems of identity and control appear. This service avatar operating system will make it very clear about who is in control of what avatar when, how much of their personal information is being utilized at the moment, and how to shift the locus of control from one person to another. Think of how the locus of control shifts in a business meeting, or friends talking to each other on the subway.
    Video games are the model here. They have been multiuser experiences for a long time. One thing to learn from video games is that this is not a n-person problem. We're not talking making systems that can scale from one person to a stadium at the blink of an eye. Instead this operating system should make it easy for, say, five people to have an experience together using a variety of in-person avatars, and perhaps a couple of dozen folks peripherally participating online.
    This operating system will make it easy to create such experiences by taking care of synchronizing everyone's avatars and managing identity. Smart phones, or whatever the device is that smart phones become, play a particularly important role here as proxies for identity. As personal terminals, they're the perfect locus for doing all of this identity management, even if they're not the primary avatar that the group interacts with.

  • UX tools that make it hard to fail.
    Most digital experiences are designed by the people coding them. Interaction designers are few and typically overworked. A service avatar operating system will have to make it very easy for engineers to create avatar user experiences that don't suck. These experiences don't have to be super awesome, but it has to be easy to make an OK one without really thinking hard about UX design.
    One way to do this is through the application of draconian standards and to have an enforcement mechanism. The other way is to make tools that make it easier to do the right thing than to do the wrong thing. Developers know what a good interface is, but they may not have the time to design an elegant one from scratch. Good, well-constrained, design tools will both enforce good experience design hygiene and describe what that is.
    For service avatars this is more than just creating a widget library and a layout tool. It means creating tools that allow developers to explore experiences as they are lived in all avatars, rather than just how the pixels are laid out on one terminal or another. This is a slide of d.tools, a project that was developed at Stanford's d.school. It integrates in a single environment a hardware prototyping and programming environment, usability testing that synchronizes people's actions with video of their actions, plus a facility for analyzing the relationship between the two. It also has a great learn-by-doing system. You can, in effect, say "When I hold the device like this, and I hold this button while shaking it like this...that's how I want to trigger some effect." I think it really points the way to what a future ubiquitous computing development environment looks like.

  • Support both terminals and appliances.
    My imagined service avatar operating system supports both terminals and avatars using essentially the same code. And I don't mean this in an abstract "hey, it has a linux kernel" way. I mean that from the developer's perspective, the same environment can be used to develop for a wide variety of devices, and the operating system abstracts the vast majority of differences away, leaving only the appliance-specific functions, which should be easy to identify.

    A developer should be able to quickly deploy a new service idea on a terminal platform, say, a phone or a TV, and then, if it takes off, deploy a specialized avatar that does that one thing particularly well. Say my prosumer photo sharing app becomes a big hit; I should be able to make a deal with Sony to deploy a cobranded version of their high resolution camera that will natively runs my app and be able to release it nine months later because it uses most of the same technology as the app running on my phone. Yeah, sure, the camera also work like a smartphone, but who cares? Pretty soon anything will be able to run anything, that's to be assumed. The question is: what is it good for?

    We have the technology and infrastructure for this. What's missing is an easy way to tie to together.


  • Rapid iteration.
    I'm a big fan of fast failure. The faster you can make an idea fail, the faster you move on to the next idea, which will hopefully fail less fast. Eventually you get ideas that take a really long time to fail. We tend to call those successes.

    In today's technology marketplace, developers should be able to succeed or fail quickly. This requires an ecosystem where new service and avatar ideas can be quickly developed, quickly deployed, easily evaluated and rapidly updated. A service avatar operating system has iteration of business models a core part of what it delivers. This is what we have learned from the success of Web 2.0 startups: fast development, deployment and usage analytics are the key to identifying the key combination of designs and features that represent market success. People talk about what pieces make up the magic of successful products and companies: is it the social graph, is it the technology, is it the design? I think that in most cases it's the ability to rapidly iterate on a business model.

    This, by the way, is an image of a project by a furniture designer Martino Gamper who spent a year making one chair per day out of other chairs he found on the street.

  • Microtransactions.
    In a service world, microtransactions are king. The current app market is flooded and apps that are getting cheaper all the time. That does not bode well for most app developers because acquiring new users becomes increasingly expensive while per-user value stays the same or falls. It's a losing game. I think this create a significant opportunity for an operating system that wants to compete with the two app-based OSes in terms of attracting developers.

    If you look at a traditional service, such as a credit card, the basic service is free, but the ongoing revenue stream of small transactions creates a revenue stream that's not based on new user acquisition. Microtransaction management at the operating system level opens up the practicality of services that have exponentially growing revenue with a linear customer acquisition effort.


What all of this adds up to is an ecosystem where services are the key creators of value for developers. The operating system provides the necessary infrastructure for developers to build services on top of. It does not build the services for them. It serves no map tiles, or address books. Those are all services that it enables someone to build and charge for. It primarily exists to enable the easy creation, deployment, monetization and interoperation of such services and their avatars.

This model shifts the burden of identifying user needs and meeting those needs to developers, and rewards them with continuous sources of revenue.

Ultimately this shift to services and avatars is being driven by technology and people's changing use of it, but for an operating system to be successful it only needs to do one thing: it needs to create a great user experience for its developers. That means giving them great developer tools, lucrative business models and then getting out of their way.

Thank you.

As you can tell from the recent batch of talks, I've been giving variations of the "Information as a Material" talk a lot. I gave this version at Mobile Monday in Amsterdam. They challenged me to focus on the broader impact--the bigger ideas, in essence--of information as a material and to tie it into their theme for the evening, "Data." Most of the talk is identical to the UMich/Stanford version of the talk I gave a couple of days earlier (so I'm not going to put the whole transcript here), but it goes into more detail about information as a decorative material, and how I believe that's going to change people's relationships to such technology.

Download the PDF (1.2M), which has all the notes, or flip through it using Slideshare.

I was very honored to be invited to speak at two world-class educational institutions in the same week I gave the following presentation, which I presented at the University of Michigan on November 1 and at Stanford on November 5. It pulls together two of my major presentation topics (and topics from my book): information as a material and the relationship between products and services. If you have been following my other presentations, there's little here that's totally new. I did take the opportunity to make some changes:

  • I talk about communication as a core property of information as a material and show an example using adidas_1 shoes and the Nike+iPod about how swapping emphasis of one material property (actuation) for another (communication) completely changes the experience of a product.
  • I expand my discussion of object oriented hardware a bit to talk about how device teardowns of modern electronics show how object oriented current electronics already are.
  • I discuss how information, when used as a decorative material, creates new relationships with objects and how this could lead to what Matt Cottam calls heirloom electronics.
  • I try to dovetail the notion of service avatars to the notion of information as a material, and tie it into my "dotted-line object" discussions (see my 2009 Etech presentation, The Dotted-Line World).

You can Download the PDF (1.3M PDF) or follow along with the Slideshare embed below. All the notes are on Slideshare, too.

Full transcript

Good Morning! Thank you very much for inviting me. It's a pleasure to be here.

First, let me tell you a bit about myself. I'm a user experience designer and entrepreneur. I was one of the first professional Web designers in 1993. Since then I've worked on the user experience design of hundreds of web sites. I also consult on the design of digital consumer products, and I've helped a number of consumer electronics and appliance manufacturers create better user experiences and more user centered design cultures.

I sat out the first dotcom crash writing a book based on the work I had been doing. It's a cookbook of user research methods.

And 2001 I co-founded a design and consulting company called Adaptive Path.

I left the Web behind in 2004 and founded a company with Tod E. Kurt called ThingM in 2006. We're a small ubiquitous computing company and we design, manufacture and sell ubicomp hardware.

This talk is based on a chapter from my new book on ubiquitous computing user experience design. It came out in September and it's called "Smart Things" and it's published by Morgan Kaufmann.

This book is my attempt to create a framework for the different kinds of activities, and the products of those activities, involved in the design of devices that use information processing, but which are not general purpose computers. As a designer, I find it useful to have interesting constraints, and this book is my way of trying to create some.

The book has lots of illustrations, techniques and in-depth case studies of a number of commercial products, but also what I consider to be important concepts. This talk is largely from the conceptual side of it.

This talk is based on a chapter from my new book on ubiquitous computing user experience design. It came out in September and it's called "Smart Things" and it's published by Morgan Kaufmann.
This book is my attempt to create a framework for the different kinds of activities, and the products of those activities, involved in the design of devices that use information processing, but which are not general purpose computers. As a designer, I find it useful to have interesting constraints, and this book is my way of trying to create some.
The book has lots of illustrations, techniques and in-depth case studies of a number of commercial products, but also what I consider to be important concepts. This talk is largely from the conceptual side of it.

I want to start by mentioning a curious phenomenon. If you any of you follow developments in microprocessors, you'll notice that the clock speed of today's new CPUs is basically the same as that of CPUs from five years ago. For those of us who used computers in the 80s and 90s, this is very confusing. We watched clock speeds go from 6MHz in 1983 to 3GHz in 2003. During that time, we became used to clock speeds as the measure of power and value in information processing.
But after 20 years during of a logarithmic increase that spanned 3 orders of magnitude, suddenly clock speed abruptly stopped going up in 2004. The industry went from exponential growth in clock speed to no growth, zero growth, in one season. It's like someone slammed the emergency brake.
I call this phenomenon Peak MHz.
Unlike oil, we're not literally running out of CPU clock cycles, but we are seeing a reevaluation of how we understand the value that computers provide, and this has resulted in a shift in the strategy of microprocessor makers. What happened in 2004 was, broadly speaking, that chip manufacturers saw that we were running out of uses for big, energy-hungry, hot processors, and they shifted the game. Since 2004 the competition has shifted from raw CPU to making smaller, cooler, cheaper chips that can do as much work as older chips, while using fewer resources.

Here's a slide from a talk Paul Otellini, the CEO of Intel, gave last year. Notice that instead of talking about numbers going up, processor manufacturing has become all about pushing numbers down. Instead of competing on doing more with more, they are now competing on doing the same with less. Less power, smaller size, and lower cost.

One of the main effects of this shift is that in addition to pushing the price, size and energy consumption of the latest CPUs down, it also pushes the price of all previous processing technologies down along with it. For example, at the beginning of the Internet era we had the 486 as the state of the art and it cost $1500 in today's dollars. It's the processor that the Web was built for and with. Today, you can buy that same amount of processing power for 50 cents, and it uses only a fraction of the energy. That decrease in price is the same 3 orders of magnitude drop as the increase in speed to 2004. This is not a coincidence, because both are the product of the same underlying technological changes.

When a technology falls in price this much, it opens up enormous possibilities for new products, while creating fundamental changes in society as the new technologies displace established social systems and networks.
Steam engines, for example, lowered the price of harnessing energy by orders of magnitude...and the Industrial Revolution was born as people found all kinds of new uses for mechanical energy. Mechanization suddenly became an option for making and using things where it never existed, or was highly impractical.

You can see similarly transformative effects if you look at what happened when the price of extracting aluminum dropped by two orders of magnitude in the late 19the century, or when electric motors became significantly cheaper and smaller in the 1920s. When something becomes cheap, it quickly joins the toolkit of things we create our world with. It becomes a design material. Sometimes for better and other times for worse.
In the last five years cheap, small processors have drastically lowered the cost of taking information in, evaluating it, manipulating it, rearranging it, and acting on it. It is no longer unthinkable to have an everyday object use an embedded processor to take a small piece of information--say the temperature, or the orientation of a device, or your meeting schedule--and autonomously act on it to help the device do its job better

This new System on a Chip from Microchip has about as much processing power as that initial 486, but is also has an onboard video controller that can drive a VGA-class screen, a USB controller for peripherals, a 24-channel analog to digital converter for sensor, and a capacitive sensing driver that can drive a touch screen. It costs about $5, uses less power than a keyring LED flashlight, and fits on a chip the size of your fingernail. It's also not unusual. Almost every semiconductor maker makes similar products.
Products like this mean that information is quickly becoming a material to design with. Enabling objects to make autonomous decisions and act using arbitrary information has now joined the palette of options a product designer has to work with when trying to create a compelling, effective new product. Regardless of what that product is.
I believe that this is as deep an infrastructural change in our world as electrification, steam power, and mechanical printing. Maybe it's as big of a deal as bricks. Seriously, it's a huge change in how the world works, and we're just at the beginning of it.

If information is a design material, what are its material properties? Sure, at some level there are basic information theoretic properties such as bandwidth, noise and complexity, but those are the microscopic properties, the equivalent of basic nuclear forces in material science. They won't help us design a Tickle Me Elmo Extreme, which is a device that's only practical to make using cheap information as a material. What are the MACROSCOPIC properties of information that we can use to design with?


  • It can sense the world. There are thousands sensors that convert states of the world into electrical signals that can be manipulated as information. This also includes sensors that sense human intention. We call these "buttons", "levers", "knobs" and so on.

  • Actuators, which is the generic term for anything that can make a physical change based on input, can be triggered based on information. Thus, information can be used to autonomously affect the world in a way that no previous material was capable of.

  • Information can be used to store knowledge about the state of the world and act on it later. This could be just a single piece of data, such as what a mechanical thermostat does when it stores the temperature you'd like to keep your house at, or something much more sophisticated, say, storing an image of everything you look at, which is what justin.tv was doing a couple of years ago.

  • One of the most transformative qualities of information is that it can be duplicated exactly and transmitted flawlessly. This has already changed the music and video industry forever.

  • But it also means that device behavior can be replicated exactly. We've become acclimated to it, but--stepping back--the idea of near-exact replication in a world full of randomness and uncertainty is a pretty amazing thing, and is a core part of what makes working with information as a material so powerful.

  • Networking technology enables devices made with information to communicate autonomously. The cactus on the left in this photo is a cell tower in the desert that enables mobile devices in cars passing by it to communicate to the world at large. That communication, as we know, can be machine to machine telemetry, Google Map tiles, pictures of your friends, or new firmware for the devices.

  • Information enables behavior that's orders of magnitude more complex than possible with just mechanics, at a fraction of the cost. This is a modern small airplane avionics system. It consists of a bunch of small fairly standard computers running special software. Compare that to a traditional gyroscopic autopilot where every single component is unique, it does very little, and to change its behavior you have to completely reengineer it.

  • Finally, information lets you encode knowledge. Modern cars doesn't stall or need chokes because automotive engineers have installed specific sensors and actuators that embody their knowledge of internal combustion engine thermodynamics into a set of algorithms that adjust the car performance dynamically in response to data. This is a Blendtech programmable kitchen blender. With it you can program a specific sequence of blender power, speed and duration and associate that sequence with a button on the blender. it allows you to embed experience and knowledge about food processing into the tool, which can then produce that as a behavior, rather than requiring the operator to have that knowledge and develop the experience. Jamba Juice's business depends on such programmable blenders so their staff don't have to be trained in the fine points of blending. It may seem like a small thing, but consistent blending is the cornerstone of their company and this embedding of knowledge into the tool wouldn't have been possible if the blender wasn't made with information. The behavior is the value.

If you just thought, "Wait a minute. I know all this and, besides, Norbert Weiner covered this in Cybernetics in 1948." you're right. This is not new. We are intuitively familiar with these properties because we've been using computers for a long time. You can probably come up with many examples of products that exploit each of these properties.

However, now it is more relevant than ever, because now these qualities can be distributed throughout the environment in a way that's never been economically feasible before. It's like the difference between Leonardo Da Vinci writing about mechanized flight and Douglas using new manufacturing techniques, and materials such as aluminum, to made widespread commercial flight practical.
We're now at a point where theory can become reality, and we're now in the position where we actually have to make it happen.

Now I would like to speculate about treating information as a material that affects design.

First, it changes the way that we think about hardware. Because information can encode knowledge, it makes it easier to reduce complexity, including the complexity of information technology itself. Embedded processors make it possible to create an abstraction layer around basic sensing, processing and actuation components to creates building blocks that are meaningful in human terms, rather than just electronic terms. Each block is an atom of functionality that has a CPU and communicates with other blocks over a network. This is the start of object-oriented hardware. What you see here are mostly all prototypes that make it easier to demonstrate this idea, but this is already how many modern devices are constructed.

A modern digital device is already more like a small network of interacting components than a monolithic product of a single ground-up engineering process. Here's iSuppli's teardown analysis of the Nokia N8. Nokia itself makes almost none of the components. They buy them off the shelf like Lego bricks and combine them to create a final product. From an interaction design standpoint, object oriented hardware means that rather than starting from basic principles of electronics, you get to focus more on what experience you're trying to create, rather than which capacitor to use. Most designers don't smelt their own iron to make things out of steel, or grow their own hardwood trees to make things out of wood. Similarly, object-oriented hardware turns information from a raw material into a design material.

ThingM, my company, makes a set of such atoms of information processing that emit light. Our BlinkM line of smart LED products makes it very easy to put controllable RGB light into arbitrary locations with no electronics knowledge or color theory. Pick some up today at fine electronics retailers worldwide. OK, end of sales pitch.

So what's made with these atoms? On the next larger scale, we see new personal tools. Today we have digital pedometers, Internet connected bathroom scales, networked parking meters, and cars that don't stall, but there will be many more. Pick nearly any object, add information to it, and you get a new object. My favorite example of this the adidas_1 shoe, which was put out 5 years ago and then almost immediately discontinued. It has a pressure sensor that a small embedded processor uses to estimate the qualities of the surface being run on and adjusts the heel in between strides to optimize the resiliency regardless of what surface you're running on. The buttons adjusts how it responds. Sensing, processing, acting on the world. For me it represents how a small amount of information, carefully deployed can profoundly change an object.

Nike and Apple took this same basic concept and shifted the emphasis on actuation to an emphasis on communication. Now that tiny bit of information enables your shoe to becomes the key ingredient in transforming your shoe from something you run with, to the entry point to a new way of experiencing the world. You get analytics, a social network, and all of the other things that the Web does well.

At a still larger level, we see information used as a decorative material. Just as you can use wood to hold up a house or make a sculpture with it, so information can be used to create incredibly beautiful, profound esthetic experiences. It has already revolutionized music and cinema, but treating it as a permanent material, rather than a medium, creates fantastic new opportunities.

This in turn is causing our relationship with electronics to change, as we start to see objects made with information more than just disposable consumer electronics, but as something that becomes an inherent part of our lives. Matt Cottam, an industrial designer, has started exploring the concept of heirloom electronics. What does it take to create devices made with information that have both the operational longevity and long-term utility of traditional heirlooms? How can we integrate the functional and esthetic properties of electronics such that our digital devices do not less interesting and useful with time? These are all questions we're going to have to think about.

Next, our understanding of what a device does, and where its value lies, is changing when devices are made with information. We already have some experience with connected devices that are so tightly coupled to digital services in the cloud that they're useless without them. An ATM is a computer that's useless without the network it's connected to, and mobile phones are nearly useless.

We will see many more such devices. I call them service avatars. They are the physical representatives of a services that's in the cloud, rather than being useful as standalone devices. The value of the device dissolves in favor of the service itself. A camera becomes a really good appliance for taking photos for Flickr, while a TV becomes a nice Flickr display that you don't have to log into every time, and a phone becomes a convenient way to take your Flickr pictures on the road.

Let me give you an example. You can now get Netflix on virtually any terminal that has a screen and a network connection. You can pause a Netflix movie on one terminal and then upause it on another. This may feel a bit novel, but it also seems natural. Why?

Because to the Netflix customer, any device used to watch a movie on Netflix is just a hole in space to the Netflix service. It's a short-term manifestation of a single service. The value, the brand loyalty, and the focus is on the service, not the frame around it. The avatar exists to enable the service, not as an end to itself.

Netflix appliances are created for a single reason: to make it easier to access Netflix. That's what Roku does. It turns every terminal that's not already Netflix enabled into a Netflix terminal. The Boxee box does that for the Boxee service. The new Apple TV does it for iTunes. This is a fundamental shift in our relationship with everyday devices.

One final example of how our relationship to everyday objects changes once they're made with information. Once you start making things with networked trackable information, those things develop information shadows. Once you can digitally identify an object, first you can get all kinds of information about it. You can know where it was made, what it is made of, what your friends think of it, how much it sells for on Ebay, how to cook it, how to fix it, how to recycle it, whatever.

More importantly, however, you can turn that object into service avatar. Most airlines, for example, don't own their own planes and haven't since 1965. They lease them from General Electric, sometimes complete with flight crew and ground crew. GE actually owns them and, as I understand it, in turn leases the engines from another division of itself. When an airline needs more capacity, it leases some more. What an airline owns is a promise from GE that it will provide the service of flight to the airline for a specific period. GE's engine division, in turn provides the plane division with the service of thrust. When you make thing with information, you make this kind of affordable and profitable at ever smaller scales.

When you buy into a car sharing service such as City Carshare or Zip car you subscribe to a service.
Each car is connected to a central network. You can only open the car and start the engine when your specific keyfob RFID is scheduled to open and start it. It uses a GPS to track where the car is, whether it's been dropped off at the right location, and how far it's been driven. All of that is transparent to you, the subscriber. The relationship you have with these cars is different than with a rental. It's much more like having your own car because you have access to it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with very little advance notice.

However, unlike an owned car, it's a car possibility space. This is an ad from Zipcar that shows the implicit power of this kind of system, from the consumer perspective. From the social perspective, it means that resources are used more efficiently: the economies of scale for buying and repairing a fleet of vehicles is significantly lower than individual ownership. From the corporate perspective, it represents an ongoing source of revenue.

This is the German Call-a-Bike program, run by the rail service. You need a bike, you find one of these bikes, which are usually at major street corners. You use your mobile phone to call the number on the bike. It gives you a code that you punch in to unlock the bike lock. You ride the bike around and when you've arrived, you lock it. The amount of time you rode it automatically gets billed to your phone, by the minute. The program would not be possible without item-level identification and wireless networking technology and is much more successful than all of the free bike programs because it has built in financial incentives for everyone involved, and yet provides significant social goods.

Here's another example that points to some exciting possibilities. Bag, Borrow or Steal is a designer purse subscription site. It works like Netflix, but for really expensive handbags. It's fashion by subscription and it again points to a new way of thinking about everyday objects. It changes the meaning of ownership and it changes the incentives in the design of everyday objects in a profound way.

Notice a trend? It's getting cheaper all the time, roughly tracking the price of tracking individual objects and communicating their status. Information is fundamentally changing out relationship to the physical objects around us.

When taken all together, all of these changes mean that at a large scale, our environment is growing increasingly information-based on a fractal level. Small information devices make large information devices that combine to form environment-sized devices made with information as a core material. There's great opportunity here to create an ecology of services embodied as robust, valuable, exciting new tools with focused, limited functionality, tied together with item-level identitification and wireless networks. Whole classes of things that can enrich our lives and bank accounts are now possible thanks to the way ubiquitous computing interweaves services and devices at an intimate, everyday level.

Any new material creates both possibilities and problems. We didn't get flying cars, but nor did we didn't have to fight atomic hydroplaning Soviet battleships. It is our responsibility as creators of information technology to understand the properties of information, explore its capabilities, and build tools that make it easier to do the right thing with information than to do the wrong thing. It is more our responsibility than it is Intel's, or LG's or the government's. They're just mining the raw ore. We're the ones who decide what to make with it.

Thank you.

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