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When you build digital stuff all day, you develop opinions. Lots of opinions.


Digital Trends

Magic Dud Nooo!!! For the last two years I’ve been waiting for Magic Leap to release a product. This augmented reality company has attracted investment from some of the biggest names in technology – Google, Alibaba, and Andreessen Horowitz. Based on the impressive cross-section of notable investors, I assumed that a truly revolutionary AR product was about to hit the market. People with knowledge of the company told me that they were preparing for a big marketing push that should have begun in early autumn. Instead, nothing was released and nothing was announced. Now, reports are surfacing that the company is significantly behind the Microsoft Hololens in terms of technology and that the teaser videos Magic Leap released to show off their developing technology were actually produced by special effects studio, Weta Workshop. Meaning, they were fakes. Why does this matter? Augmented reality was always going to be more challenging than virtual reality. To create a seamless real world/virtual world mix, you need a system that can recognize objects in the real world and then map virtual objects on top of them. That’s a lot more difficult than making a world from scratch. Magic Leap looked like the likely candidate to achieve a breakthrough in AR technology because they were a pure play (meaning they were doing AR and nothing else) and they were soaking up enough investment to make it realistic they might have something amazing going on. I still believe it is possible that Magic Leap may release an interesting product, but the fact that they promoted their company to new hires with fake videos is not a good sign. If you’re lying to your own potential employees, your threshold for falsehood is pretty darn low. Next Steps: Time to take another look at the Hololens. Read More Facebook, again. The fine folks at Facebook are providing additional “transparency” around certain ad metrics on their platform. That sounds lovely. Everyone enjoys transparency. Except this new “transparency” is actually just an attempt by the always-overworked Facebook PR department to spin more bad news about phony ad metrics. Over the course of 2016, Facebook has slowly dribbled out bad news to its advertising partners about the true state of engagement on Facebook’s ad products. Turns out that a company that employs some of the most brilliant engineers and data scientists on the planet has been counting wrong. Why does this matter? Here’s the bad news, if the emperor is wearing no clothes, we are all in a lot of trouble. We need Facebook to be at least somewhat correct that people are more likely to engage with Facebook ads than ads elsewhere on the internet. Facebook is much better at targeting ads than anyone else because they have more user data. If people aren’t engaging with Facebook ads, that means that targeting doesn’t work. If targeting doesn’t work then the basic assumption that has driven the internet boom doesn’t apply. If people ignore ads that are “perfect for them” then companies are wasting much of their money on internet ads. Which means that all that free content will go away. And the economy will collapse. And from there, it’s only a small leap to widespread cannibalism. Next Steps: Facebook needs to get through six months without more bad news about their ad metrics. Or I start eating people. Read More Improbable releases SpatialOS Andreessen Horowitz backed VR technology startup Improbable has announced the alpha release of SpatialOS. SpatialOS is a technology platform that will allow game developers to build and test VR environments much more quickly and efficiently than ever before. Improbable is already partnering with a range of game developers to test the platform. Google appears to be involved in promoting SpatialOS, offering qualified developers subsidized access to the technology through Google’s cloud infrastructure. Why does this matter? Historically, virtual reality has been hard to build because it requires immense computing power to construct an interactive, three dimensional world of any scope. SpatialOS can help to drive innovation in VR by allowing more developers to “play” with this new technology and determine its abilities and limitations. I’m also intrigued by Google’s involvement. Google has historically promoted any technology that encourages more internet activity. Google takes the approach that any time users spend on the internet tends to generate profit for Google, so they eliminate bottlenecks and inefficiencies and promote the free flow of information. But all technology companies concern themselves with the next wave of disruption. Despite having eliminated many of their “other bets” as part of a general move towards austerity, Google appears to be trying to anticipate and support new platforms through resources and investment, rather than building everything in-house. Different technology companies have tried to promote their cloud offering through different messages. Amazon promotes the cloud as a commodity. Microsoft promotes their cloud as a business platform. IBM promotes their cloud for advanced functions like machine learning. But Google’s approach to promoting their cloud has always been, well, more opaque. Could the Google cloud become an incubator for new technologies? Honestly, I don’t have any idea. Next Steps: Yeah, you should be using SpatialOS if you’re playing with VR. Read More Paint it black We live in the golden age of television sets. Yes, the content has improved. But television technology has been advancing for the last twenty years – high definition, 3D, LED and now OLED. OLED, which stands for Organic Light Emitting Diode will allow for deeper blacks, less motions blur and richer color palettes. The Organic part of OLED is an organic material that emits light when fed an electric current. Unlike current sets that need to emit light to show black (leading to a less intense black), the blacks on an OLED screen can be closer to real black. OLED screens are also better at displaying crisp motion and colors. Why does this matter? If you work in advertising, you are familiar with the precipitous decline in budgets for television commercials in the last ten years. Now that it is possible to shoot cheaply on digital cameras and color correct and edit on a desktop, the cost of production has been driven down. Ten years ago, a $300,000 budget for a television commercial would have been considered low. Now, it is not unheard of for major brands to spend as little as $75,000 or less. While digital technology has allowed for some efficiencies, these declining budgets have started to affect the quality of production. Commercials today have fewer shots, worse lighting and a slipshod approach to continuity. They look like they were shot by a wedding videographer – a series of static medium shots, followed by a product close-up. While commercials are looking worse, televisions are getting better. High definition technologies demand more of commercial production, not less. Next Steps: Having built websites for a number of luxury brands over the years, I know that production quality becomes an important proxy for quality. If your marketing materials look cheap, consumers judge your products accordingly. Read More

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