Matthew Sekol

"The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words."

Category: Microsoft

How Microsoft Can Gain Traction in the Smartphone Wars

With the recent departure of Stephen Elop from Microsoft, there have been a number of articles speculating that this means 3 things:

1. No new Microsoft flagship phone is forthcoming.
2. Microsoft’s focus has shifted to iOS and Android apps.
3. Microsoft is existing the smartphone market altogether by killing Lumia.

As I sit here with my old iPhone 4s thinking about this, I am greatly discouraged. I certainly don’t believe this is the case. While Microsoft has been making waves across Europe and in other regions with Windows Phone, can it gain traction in the US?

Let’s look at ways Microsoft could drop some bombs in the Smartphone Wars.

You Can’t Spell ‘Apple’ without ‘App’
Apple revolutionized the mobile industry with the introduction of apps and created a massive app industry. Android followed suit and has had similar success. Microsoft has been floundering in this space though for years on its own platform. Many developers, frustrated with the lack of support from businesses (Sonos, for example) have developed their own unsupported apps to fill the gap (Phonos, for example).

While Microsoft has a renewed focus in their apps on iOS and Android, this is more a reflection of Microsoft’s realization that not everyone uses their platforms. Better to be as ubiquitous as possible than completely shut out of a market due to your own stubbornness.

Microsoft’s announcements around the Universal App Platform, Continuum and their code portability options from iOS and Android are a major shift for the company. They are hoping they can not only leverage the existing Windows application sets, but that they can allow developers to port existing code into Windows easier than ever before.

If there’s money to be made, those business’ developers may not have much of a say in where their code goes. Soon we will find out if developers’ interest in a platform outweighs revenue. Microsoft is pinning a lot on this hope.

The Phone Market is More Volatile than It Looks
I have owned Windows, Android and iOS phones at various times over the last 15 years. I’m certainly not married to a particular platform. I’ve switched around and it’s partly due to the nature of the mobile market. Apple and Android may be building their own demise.

With Apple, frequent release cycles ensure consumers are constantly upgrading their hardware. Some carriers even allow you to upgrade for a reduced cost mid-cycle because phones are disposable now. As a result, at least every 2 years, you have the opportunity to revisit your decision to commit to a mobile hardware platform and pick something new. Microsoft can take advantage of this by offering some amazing hardware as well as high performing, low cost phones. Apple will never compete in the low cost space.

For Android, they have the same risk, but one more as well. Their platform is too fragmented. Every hardware provider for Android overlays a unique experience, making it even easier to switch to a new mobile platform, hardware or software. Since the Android platform has the majority market share, Microsoft could easily insert itself here.

Besides inserting itself into the refresh cycle, Microsoft has the opportunity to streamline the mobile interface, as Apple does. This allows for a consistent experience across platforms and will reduce the complexity of the platform, relying on hardware providers to use the hardware as a differentiator. Microsoft can also push out updates across all devices quicker, regardless of hardware vendors or carrier.

And Speaking of Hardware and Carriers
The one mistake Microsoft absolutely cannot make is to have their flagship phone (hopefully phones) exclusive to a particular carrier. This will absolutely kill the platform since it fighting so hard to gain market share. Apple could afford to do this with AT&T at the start of the iPhone, but anyone attempting to penetrate needs to have a strong showing across carriers.

If Microsoft chooses to not release a flagship hardware device, it will be a strong signal to the world that they are not serious about growing mobile outside of emerging markets. They must have a flagship.

Next Steps for Microsoft
The next steps for Microsoft are crucial. With the news from Redmond sparse – any new hardware announcement from Apple, who clearly has a strong supply and distribution channel in place, could derail the best laid plans. Android can’t really disrupt Microsoft, but a well timed Google phone could.

Microsoft needs to buckle down, get Windows 10 out and show Windows 10 mobile on a flagship device in order to be taken seriously by consumers. If they come out with a non-committal showing and more low end phones, all hope is lost.

How Does Your Article’s Title Impact Response?

I have a lot of strong opinions. Sometimes my opinions get me into trouble, but most times I use my opinions to get others to think or at least persuade them to see my point of view. Writing on LinkedIn has proven to be an interesting experiment for me over the past year. One thing though has proven the most difficult to master – writing the title, especially for editorial content.

The title is the way you hook people into clicking on your article to see what your thoughts are. While there are many articles out there on writing a great title and getting it noticed on Pulse, I’m going to take a step back to examine two examples of titles for the same news story in an attempt to help you make sense of how each engages the reader.

My Opinion is My Title and By the Way, Here’s the News

Recently, there was an executive shakeup at Microsoft. Since this news is so potentially massive and multi-faceted, I went to Bing to check it out and get people’s opinions. I’m exceptionally curious about Stephen Elop’s departure because, while Lumia sales are struggling in the US, there is momentum overseas, but no flagship phone in sight, yet Microsoft seems to have a game plan to move forward with Windows Phone 10.

This is when this Wired article from Issie Lapowsky caught my eye

Wired article about Microsoft's dire future, apparently

Wired article about Microsoft’s dire future, apparently

BOOM! I am hooked! I clicked this link because, while I doubt there was an official concession from Microsoft, I wanted to read the author’s opinion on the subject. For example, maybe they know something about Satya and Stephen’s internal relationship that I hadn’t heard or they had unique insight into the situation. I clicked the link and read the article. The article itself states the facts, but turns the news itself into the opinion without much thought.

“…his exit from the company seems to be as strong a sign as any that Microsoft is—at least in spirit—seceding from a crowded smartphone market that has become increasingly difficult to penetrate.”

The question I’m asking is why does x (the departure) mean y (Microsoft is leaving mobile behind)?

The article does mention one other fact, which is the departure of 18,000 Nokia employees. Still though, this fact fails to tie that back into the main opinion and title through any analysis.

Wired, which usually has great content, is exploiting our short attention spans (ironic link to a study from Microsoft) in an effort to get us to think a certain way. To an extent, this isn’t just click-bait because the article’s title isn’t even hyperbole for the article’s content.

A better approach for this article might have been to juxtapose the recent Ignite and Build conference announcements around Continuum and Windows Universal Apps against Stephen Elop’s exit and the Nokia layoffs, questioning what might be coming and hinting at the inconsistent message between all of these announcements. What about the fact that Satya doesn’t mention the word “phone” in his letter to employees once and only mentioned “mobile” twice, but not in direct relation to this news?

Still, these ideas don’t impact the real issue, which is the poor title.

Suggestions for re-titling this article include:
With Recent Executive Changes, Is Microsoft Leaving Mobile Behind?
Stephen Elop’s Departure Brings Up New Questions about Mobile at Microsoft

Editorial pieces that have questions in their titles or frame questions are great because you are engaging the reader to ask that same question. The author is then free to provide the answer with your their unique perspective.

Since the title is provocative, but the article skimps on insight, you’ll notice that the comments have already devolved into a flame war for Microsoft vs. Google vs. Apple. This is not productive engagement, but might gain Wired more ad revenue through clicks to the article itself.

Same News, with Insight and Engagement

It didn’t take me too long to find another article about the same subject written with genuine insight. Roger Cheng over at CNet nailed it with his insight on the same news story.

cnet

If you’re connected with me, you know I’m a Microsoft fan. Regardless of this fact, I love Roger’s article because he lays out as it is – the good and the bad, the shakeup and what Microsoft needs to do to address it’s current mobile issue and outlining what they’ve done in the recent past around the Surface. Granted, this article’s title is pretty long and it includes a sub-title, but the framework laid out follows through nicely in the article.

1. It gives us the news (facts).
2. It tells us how this news relates to the company, industry, and market (context).
3. Reminds us where we’ve been (challenges).
4. Hints at where we might go (potential).

Roger and the editors over at CNet got me to read the article through the question in the title and gave me useful insight, helping me build my own thoughts around this topic. Quick side note – not every article needs to follow this format, the one you’re reading now doesn’t for example, but this format is a great one to follow when posting your own thoughts on industry news.

If you check the comments section on this article, you’ll find more useful comments on the topic at hand. It is almost as if just by writing the question in the title, Roger has invited people to participate in a real conversation. This is what you want to emulate when you write, especially on LinkedIn. The more people you engage meaningfully, the more connections you can make.

Picking a Title that Engages

There is now little difference from writing on LinkedIn and writing for professional publications. The lines are blurring. On LinkedIn though, there’s a lot riding on someone reading your article. It could lead to new sales, a new job, or even a new way of thinking. Here are three helpful tips:

  • Don’t turn your title into something that should’ve been a Tweet. People will simply read it and move on.
  • Be sure your title captures what you’re writing about and you back it up with your article’s content.
  • If the article is your opinion on a news story, try to engage the reader by asking them a question, it can be a great hook for their participation.

Think about these tips when you are writing new content for LinkedIn Groups, too! You might just see your engagement go way up!

Why Microsoft Should Really Buy Blackberry

In all honesty, this is a hard sell. I’ve been supporting Blackberry in various capacities since they were little pager devices (collective Aww…). I’ve reveled in their downfall though, ultimately believing that ActiveSync was a much better solution than the old BES servers. Regardless, Blackberry is in its final throes, right? Well, maybe. Rumors about Microsoft purchasing them abound. The Motley Fool wrote 3 Reasons Why Microsoft Should Buy Blackberry, but I think they are widely missing the mark. At least I hope so.

Why the Fool is Wrong
Reason 1: Keyboard phones targets business users
Had I been drinking when I read this, my monitor would’ve been splattered with water. iPhones, which are keyboardless, have a massive hold on the Enterprise. As Baby Boomers retire and Millenials come in, only Gen X-ers, like myself, might want keyboards on our phone. Frankly, I don’t know anyone who would. This argument seems counter-intuitive to Microsoft’s mobile first mantra and the capabilities you get with their Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS) solution.

Microsoft believes the user is mobile. Long gone are the days of having 2 devices (work and personal) for the same person. Side note – if you have 2 devices, I’m sad for you, stop being paranoid already! What Microsoft is really driving is a consumer and business experience across one device with Enterprise level protection and segregation with EMS.

The last point here is around porting Blackberry’s key features and apps into Microsoft’s app store. Microsoft could do this, but why bother? Clearly, Android and Apple have the largest market share. Blackberry itself seems to have given up its own app store and can borrow from Android and Amazon.

Reason 2: Windows Phone Distribution Channels are In Place
Blackberry had a great distribution channel for years! They aren’t having a problem getting their phones out there, the issue is that no one wants them! Would Microsoft purchase Blackberry, convert their phones off Blackberry OS to Windows OS and then distribute, possibly. Seriously though, I’m sure Blackberry knows how to distribute phones, they just don’t seem to be able to sell any.

Microsoft’s purchase of Nokia was at a turning point for Nokia. They had dropped out of the world’s top 5 phone manufacturers, but had started turning things around with the Lumia line. With Nokia’s integration taking a long time, would Microsoft bother rescuing a failing Blackberry to do the same. Man, I hope not.

Reason 3: BlackBerry Messenger could be a signature app
With the leak of Microsoft Flow and the rebranding of Lync to Skype for Business, and the consumer Skype, Microsoft is already sporting 3 chat platforms (arguably 2, but I listed 3, so there you go). Skype does support chat still and, in the Enterprise, Skype for Business underpins all Office collaboration. Would Microsoft buy Blackberry just for Blackberry Messenger? No. Would Microsoft integrate Blackberry Messenger into Windows 10? No. Would Microsoft integrate the features from Blackberry Messenger into Skype, Skype for Business, and possibly Outlook? This one I could believe.

What’s Matt Take on This?
I’m glad you asked. Admittedly, there could be some hardware benefits in Reason 2, but there’s something else that caught my eye recently. Amid the layoffs, Blackberry is ensuring Blackberry Messenger and their Enterprise Security Solutions remain in tact. This protects Blackberry’s most valuable asset – their IP. Imagine if Microsoft integrated Blackberry’s IP into their existing EMS solution and Office 365. They could potentially shift the Enterprise market back to them.

I’ve long believed any player has an opportunity to recapture share in the mobile phone market because of the refresh cycle of the devices. I’m hopeful that Continuum, Windows 10, and their recently released application development toolsets will help them grow their app store and recapture market. Layering Blackberry’s security and encryption IP could make for a powerful play in the Enterprise.

Microsoft does have a problem though if this is their purchase strategy. Blackberry is larger than their IP at the moment and hard decisions will have to be made. The offer from Microsoft shouldn’t be large enough to cover everything Blackberry is doing currently, but where they are heading – to a niche mobile security player. If this happens, Microsoft will get the true value of Blackberry.

How Microsoft Flow Could Be The Future of Chat

It seems like every tech company is tackling the problem of email volume. I think Microsoft’s Office 365 handles appropriate content management in a way to truly reduce email volume. Instant Messaging with Skype for Business is a great way to help.

There are other players emerging too, like Slack, which seem to be finding real ways to reduce email pains. Others, like Google, just throw more space at the problem and hope search will be your salvation.

This week though, tech blogs lit up with a leaked offering from Microsoft, courtesy of Twitter user h0x0d.

Neowin even has screenshots of the app, although they are highly blurred.

From the tweet, we learned 3 things:
1. Flow is email based, so you can chat with anyone if you know their email address.
2. While Flow is email based, it works more like chat because you can just start immediately with text and no subject.
3. Your chats stay within Flow, without the cumbersome view of your entire mailbox appearing in the app.

From these 3 things, we can speculate on quite a bit!

The Enterprise Play
Obviously, Skype for Business has been a great way to reduce email load through quick answers in chat, keeping short emails out of your Inbox.

Flow would seem to have the same play, but there is one more obvious overlap with Flow, at least from an Enterprise perspective. Since Flow and Skype for Business chats are both held in your Exchange mailbox, both are discoverable via eDiscovery tools.

From this perspective, compliance officers should love Flow. Imagine getting all your employees’ text messages under control again via something that works like a text message and is on the device where you already are texting from.

Text Messaging, You Say?
Yes, this is very much like text messaging. What makes me curious is the cut off screenshot from Neowin, that states:

Flow: Keep conversations alive and engaging
by know when others are typing in a conversation

The term when is key and shows how like text messaging this app is. If Microsoft has a way (assuming via the app) to track responses within the app back to the sender, Flow becomes exactly like text messaging.

I’d like to review a part of the recently released study of email – Evolution of Conversations in the Age of Email Overload. Particularly, I would like to call out 2 points:

..there is a considerable fraction of threads that last longer than a day (22%)

…Most of the replies are very fast: more than 90% happen within a day
of receiving the message, and the most likely reply time is just 2 minutes..

This also addresses the two points from the email report – communication is quick and transient.

Bypassing the Downside to Lync Online
Skype for Business Online has long had one glaring omission that its on-premise counterpart has had since it was Lync, which is cross-platform chat capability. A lot of chat clients have this problem.

Flow would seem to be a way to take the standards and ubiquity of email and turn it into an instant messaging platform. No more worrying if your external partners have Skype for Business, Jabber or Google Hangouts, just use Flow backed by whatever email you have.

My assumption here is that instead of adding complexity to Skype for Business for different chat services, customers can use Flow, backed by their email, to basically just chat with anyone!

Is This The One Chat to Rule Them All?
Way back in 2013, Michael Ingram wrote that we would never get to one chat client. From his perspective, all chat clients are in competition and proprietary. Of course, he is correct.

Microsoft’s move here could be brilliant. You take something everyone has, an email address, and turn it into something everyone needs –
true, cross platform instant messaging.

I’m assuming here that Flow will work with any email platform, and I think I’m right to do so. Google’s attempt at this was Hangouts, which hasn’t been successful because it is simply just another proprietary format. Microsoft would be remiss to have this work only with Exchange and I doubt that’s the case.

Flow also differs from texting because people aren’t as open with their phone numbers as they are with their email address. The reason, of course, is that email is something you deal with on your terms vs. a phone ringing, which is frankly, an instant and immediate assault.

So, where would this play ultimately with Skype for Business? Well, each will have their place likely, but there looks to be some overlap. Flow doesn’t seem to be making the exact same plays around collaboration that Skype for Business does (ie. video, audio, desktop sharing, etc.).

If my assumptions are right though, chat will likely be taking a new and interesting direction soon!

How to Use 15% of Office or How to Use Google Apps

For a couple of years now, people have been comparing Google Apps for Business and Office 365. One of the common perceptions from the pro-Google side has been that most people on use 15% of the functionality within the Office software. They expand the conversation to state that the most commonly used spreadsheet features are in Google sheets, and as of late, that is possibly true. A lot of people just use the same 15% of features over and over.

Some businesses can probably get by with most of what Google Apps for Business offers. This selling premise bothers me though and raises a few questions. Is your business only operating at 15% of what it could do by going with Google Apps and, better yet, if you have Office, are people taking advantage of more than 15%?

Cost
As much as I’d like to stray this conversation away from cost, this is foremost on people’s mind. Here’s what we can talk about – the hard costs. It is most fair to compare the base Google plan to the base Microsoft plan. Guess what? Both are $5/user/month! In my experience though, companies who choose Office 365 don’t go with this plan. People who choose Office want the Office desktop software, not just web based productivity tools.

The price for the popular Office 365 E3 plan is $20/user/month compared to Google Apps for Business with unlimited storage and Vault at $10/user/month. The big difference here is the Office software itself of course. For $20/user/month, you can run Office on up to 5 PCs or Macs and have up to 5 mobile and tablet versions anywhere (not including Office Web Apps which works via any browser).

So, is Office worth an extra $10/user/month? Well, Google supporters would have you believe that it is not. After all, that 15% usage creeps in. If Google has only focused on these features though, why isn’t the price for the base Google Apps 15% of the Office 365 E3 plan?

Let’s look at some ways Microsoft makes up for this price difference and how the usage matters. Full Disclosure – I have used both Google Apps for Business and Office 365 in a professional setting.

Email
This is where Google Apps for Business was born and where Microsoft has dominated over the last 20 years. Google Mail has been around since 2004. The other non-mail Google services have been stacked on over the years. Heck, even Microsoft used GMail in an augmented reality game for Halo 2 (that’s how I scored an invite).

Here’s one thing Google understood early on. People get a TON of email. In order to deal with it, they need a LOT of mailbox storage. I remember watching the GB counter every day with much email storage I could get with my free GMail account and comparing it to my 100MB corporate account.

Google’s solution: Search your email, don’t worry about organization or filing.

On the flip side, Microsoft understood something else. People get a TON of email. Email is content. Not all content should be consumed via email and there are different ways to foster collaboration. This is what I see when I look at Office 365 today. Different solutions for different content.

Microsoft’s solution: Put content in the right location and collaborate more effectively. Besides that, organize and prioritize your email. Microsoft knows though that not every corporate culture is savvy in dealing with email content, which is why there are tools to help you, as the recipient, prioritize and clean-up your mailbox (see Clutter, Junk, Ignore Conversations, and Filter Email).

Google actually contributes to the problem of email volume under a horrible guise – search and recall. The assumption of Google is that email is just another mass repository to dump everything and, when you need it, just search for it.

Ugh.

Let’s look at the Google and Microsoft productivity suites and see what else we can do.

Instant Collaboration
Both Google and Microsoft have instant messaging solutions, but they are vastly different. Even with their differences, both work for instant and impromptu communication, determining someone’s availability, file sharing and storing conversation history in their respective mailboxes.

Microsoft’s solution: Use instant messaging as a backbone for quick collaboration, but extend the functionality into meetings, audio and video sharing. Also, make it available throughout Office. As a result, Microsoft Lync is much more than chat, Lync is everywhere across the Office platform. Within the client or within other Office software, you can instantly collaborate with someone over chat, audio, video or with desktop sharing.

Google’s Solution: Just chat, well mostly. Google Talk, which had been wildly popular, was integrated with Google Mail as Lync is with Outlook, but the enhanced features of Lync, like video conferencing and desktop sharing have spawned another application, Hangouts. One thing of note though, Hangouts is not as ubiquitous throughout the Google suite and still it’s own application. Google might be driving towards a Lync-like solution, but they aren’t there yet.

File Storage
Microsoft’s solution: Let people collaborate in teams or spawn collaboration from the individual. SharePoint/OneDrive has come a long way in reducing emails and even file sharing content. This software has been massively popular due to the intuitive interface backed by real time collaboration of documents, spreadsheets and presentations. SharePoint does so much more than document management though and is great at other content management (Discussion Boards, Polls, Shared Calendars, Lists, etc.). OneDrive is more like your personal home drive, built on SharePoint Online and allows for easy sharing of documents.

Google’s solution: Individual file storage and sharing via Google Docs and Drive. The organization is geared towards the individual, not team or project based. Google Docs is really more like DropBox – a simple file repository. Google also has Sites for more team based collaboration, but the end user setup is confusing, requiring more web authoring skills than SharePoint, not to mention, the samples are extremely lame and look about 15 years old.

Enterprise Social
Businesses are starting to leverage social connections within the organization to distribute data and collaborate. This adoption can drive email message volume down and provide a way to easily collaborate with familiar tools from their personal life.

Microsoft’s solution: Familiar is good, natively adopt the best features of personal social media networks and develop an Enterprise class solution. Yammer is for real collaboration and simple broadcasts that are best kept out of email. Sick of ‘Congratulations’ emails? Just look to Yammer’s Praise feature. Yammer is a great place to disseminate static information and the best part is that the recipient is responsible for finding the content. This flips the email scenario on its head!

Yammer could stand some improvements though and better integration with Lync, instead of its own chat client. There’s also an overlap here with SharePoint that folks are expecting will get fleshed out soon.

Google’s solution: Well, no one really knows because everyone avoids it like the plague. With Google, we’re back to Hangouts and Google+, which, again, is just a disaster. Google seems to have a problem discerning consumer solutions from enterprise solutions. There’s a great post about Google+ from a former Googler (watch out for the language). You can see the emphasis on the consumer side throughout his article, but the enterprise conversation (and lack of direction for Google+ in general) is missing.

Good Enough
So, with all the Office functionality, looking at content in a new way and clear cohesiveness throughout the suite, is working at 15% with Google Apps going to work for your company? Office is really worth the money, but you have to make it work for you. Don’t be content to let your end users use only 15% of the suite. Set up some governance and controls to make the most out of your investment. You will find that your users will figure out how best to use the features and they will do some amazing things. I’ve seen it happen!

If there’s still any question about what’s possible, go watch the latest Sykpe for Business video from Microsoft and then go re-visit Google’s intranet Site sample.

The Most Intriguing Ways Lego
Could Leverage the HoloLens

As I’ve previously stated, the most interesting thing about Microsoft’s Windows 10 announcement was the HoloLens reveal. It jumpstarted me into thinking about real world applications for the product. Harvard Business Review has an article on why businesses should stand up and pay attention to the HoloLens and I couldn’t agree more! As a Lego and Microsoft fan, I keep coming back to ideas that use both Lego bricks and the HoloLens.

The HoloLens is the next platform Lego should develop for, similar to what they’ve done with their Fusion line and iOS devices. There are two benefits for developing on the HoloLens platform. Building a Lego application on the HoloLens keeps the investment lower than if Lego were to develop their own hardware solution. Also, when you are dealing with digital content, it is much easier to scale up or down quickly and adjust to market trends.

Much of this article is inspired by “How Lego Became the Apple of Toys”, my own experience with Lego and working in IT, and watching my kids play with the toys and the video games.

DSC02839My son at LEGOLAND Florida

In an effort to start a conversation between Microsoft and Lego, let’s jump right into it!

Lego Sets – Enhancing Play
There is so much you can do with a Lego set combined with a HoloLens. The hardware has an advantage over Fusion, eliminating the need to switch to a device in the middle of play since it  can be worn throughout the play process. An entire eco-system can be built around the consumer’s lifecycle from opening the box to destroying the set and re-purposing the bricks into new creations.

Lego Account: Everything outlined in this section is works with a household and/or individual Lego accounts. Each account has content tied to it that is accessible via a Lego HoloLens application. The application can be published in the HoloLens marketplace (which I can only imagine Microsoft is building).

The account is optional for those who want HoloLens content. Keeping it optional won’t disrupt consumers that just want to purchase the sets and enjoy them in the traditional way. This also gives them an easy entry point into the program later should they change their mind.

There are revenue streams that could be explored with a subscription model however there are a myriad of considerations before going down this path.

Let’s imagine that there is a builder who has just registered an account and purchased a new set. Let’s go through the consumer lifecycle leveraging the HoloLens.

Lifecycle Stage 1: Opening the box
This is where the fun starts. Lego has been including mini-comic books with the Superhero sets. Instead of a comic book, a short holographic video could play when the builder scans the box with their HoloLens. This video is automatically saved to their account’s library, for replay later, and information regarding the purchase of the set is stored to their account.

There could be more holographic content around starting the set or building the first minifigures.

Not only will this enhance the builder’s experience, but this data can be matched to a licensing property for future relevant content.

Lifecycle Stage 2: Building the set
While the set comes with a paper instructions, the HoloLens has optional holographic instructions that are automatically accessible in the cloud. The builder can see a virtual model of each step in their workspace that stays in step as they proceed through the instructions.

If the builder is stuck on a step, they can manipulate the hologram and view it in 360 degrees. The next bricks to be placed will show placement in an animation.

As the set is built, the included minifigures could appear as holograms and perform different activities, such as examine the progress or possibly attempt to help find pieces.

Lego could monitor the time on the particular build from the application and gather stats on difficulty. These numbers could also be used for social media postings and allow the builder to try to beat a friend’s time on the same set.

With a second HoloLens, people in the same location (a parent and child, for example) can sit and work on the same set together.

Lifecycle Stage 3: Completing the build
The builder has now completed the set and takes a picture of it. The software recognizes it as complete and logs it complete on the account. Three things happen:

1. As when they opened the box, holographic content (a video or puzzle) plays celebrating the completion of the set. This content can be specific to the licensing property associated with the set.

2. Along with the intense pride they are feeling, the builder receives an achievement tied to their Lego account (or Xbox or PS4). They can also post the information, along with custom reviews or comments on social media sites.

3. The builder also gains digital rights to the completed set, which is a holographic representation. This can either be used for general play and interaction, but also enhanced play with additional content.

The holographic set can be exploded and reassembled via the HoloLens interface, similar to the way it happens inside the Lego Digital Designer. For a licensing property like Star Wars or Elves, this content could involve magical gestures for reassembly.

Lifecycle Stage 4: Destroying the build
Since the digital rights have been added to their account, the set is now available as a hologram at any time. The builder can now destroy the set and use the bricks elsewhere knowing that their digital copy is preserved. They can now play with the hologram at any point if they wish.

Lifecycle Stage 5: Other builds
Many Lego sets come with additional builds on the back of the box. The instructions for these builds are not included with the set upon purchase. After completion of the set however, there could be downloadable holographic instructions for the secondary builds on the box or even other sets that can be built.

Did you know that many of these alternate building instructions are available online? Go check it out!

Lifecycle Stage 6: New Content
To incentivize customers further to enroll in a Lego account, additional content can be added to completed sets. This could be episodic content delivered via the HoloLens or maybe new content relevant to the same licensing property. For example, when the builder purchases the Lego Avengers Helicarrier set and completes it, they see new content available around upcoming Marvel sets or even a puzzle that leverages a component of the set.

A good example could be found in the recent Batman Be-Leagured special and the 76013 set, Batman: The Joker Steam Roller, which appears in the special. If the builder has the set and is watching the special, additional content could play or the entire special could be distributed with the set and their Lego account.

Consumer Lifecycle
This scenario results in a fully cyclical consumer Lego lifecycle, resulting in more sales (and more opening of boxes) from intelligent content placement at each stage in the consumer’s lifecycle.

While this creates a natural lifecycle, it doesn’t need to be followed exactly. For example,
– “Completing the build” can move right into “New Content” if the builder is a collector and only wants the set in tact (like President Business).
– “Destroying the build” can follow any stage after it.
– “Building the set” can be completed at any point after “Destroying the build”

LegoLifecycle

Lego Free Play and New Ways to Collaborate
Lego has a massive community of fans and they embrace them. Utilizing this community along with a Lego Digital Designer and Fusion-type software built for the HoloLens, Lego could find additional revenue streams just new sales.

Scenario: As a builder constructs a set in Free Play (ie. not a designed Lego set), the HoloLens can record the actions. When complete, the HoloLens can save the design, along with the steps into the accounts library. The build can be named and then shared on social media sites and within a curated Lego community.

Since the build is recorded and stored to the builder’s account, the builder can play with it anytime by calling up with hologram. It can be also be shared via the application to other Lego fans or on social media sites.

Scenario: Group collaboration could be particularly interesting. The Lego Digital Designer could be expanded to allow collaborative play using the HoloLens. Builders from all around the world can collaborate with anyone, anywhere in realtime, share their ideas, and post their instructions.

Lego Video Games and Movies
Lego video games are already very popular. In looking at VGChartz’s report (and taking out PC, iOS and Android sales), they has been 115 million units sold globally. Traveller’s Tales Games and Lego have taken licensed properties to new levels through entirely new virtual worlds. As you can see in this chart, which contains the Lego video games selling over 1 million units, games from the licensed properties are the highest selling.

LegoVGChart

It is important to note that Lego Battles and Lego City Undercover, which are not tied to external licensed properties were only released to limited platforms. This could have contributed to their lower numbers. Regardless, the HoloLens could be an opportunity for Lego to bring customers to characters built around their own intellectual property, like City and Friends.

For many years, Lego had generic minifigures. In 2010 though, Lego released their first mystery minifigure wave. Since then, even the set minifigures have become more interesting and expressive. Lego has suddenly greatly expanded their own universe into its own intellectual property and has a chance to make set minifigures recognizable via new holographic content.

Traveller’s Tales and the folks who worked on the Lego Movie have taken great care to ensure that the models in the games and movies can be built in real life. When the games and movies are sold, there could be additional digital content. This content gives the consumer digital rights to the sets and/or minifigures that appear in the games and movies. Of particular note, since the minifigures are virtual, you can interact with them and they can also interact with each other.

A consumer purchases a HoloLens ready version of the next Lego City game. They also get digital rights to the minifigures along with all the vehicles that appear in the game. If there was a concern about physical set sales, Lego could limit it to sets in the game that do not have corresponding real sets.

HoloLens really could become the next immersive entertainment experience. Lego could start by dipping their toes in holographic videos content and move into games next. This experience would allow players to interact with the holographic content, moving lifesize bricks to drive the story along.

Lego Mindstorms
Lego Mindstorms really deserves its own development application for the HoloLens. Some amazing things could be achieved if always on connectivity exists between the HoloLens, the Mindstorms EV3 Brick, and different engine components.

Based on the HoloLens video demo, it appears that it will have the capabilities to understand modular environments. With the right development toolset, a builder could use gesture based programming to create tasks around any environment without the need for any code. Depending on camera advancements, the builder can become immersed in the environment, using gestures to control actions. These actions are interpreted to software that builds the code on the fly through image recognition of engines and capabilities, but also specific objects.

The gestures can be mapped to real EV3 code, which can be graphically displayed via the HoloLens. This allows for easy manipulation of the EV3 project without the need for a computer.

Big Data Enables Everything
Lego’s online consumer experience is incredible. Their supply chain management and licensing capabilities are truly amazing! Clearly, there is a lot of big data behind the scenes. A builder can find Lego instructions and purchase bricks to complete a set or augment their inventory. Data is key to making this work.

Lego sets, while often complex, can be broken down into datasets. For example, each Lego instruction page has the set in a stage of assembly, so that dataset is known. Another dataset is the inventory for each set. If you are missing a piece, which has actually happened to me, you can login to their website, look up your set and order the replacement piece from a catalog of bricks specific to that set.

There are 3 ways to make this data work for Lego with a HoloLens application:
1. Augment Lego’s Fusion and Digital Designer technology with Microsoft’s recent advances with image recognition software and machine learning to further enhance brick/minifigure/set recognition through a second phase of digitizing Lego bricks from the on-premises SGI computers at Lego into Microsoft Azure.
2. Build HoloLens applications with APIs back to Lego’s big data systems, globally dispersed within Azure for redundancy and consumer performance.
3. Carve out cloud based storage to save the data for each customer’s account information in order to improve performance and give the user a better experience.

HoloLensExp

Microsoft should be very incentivized to get these types of solutions deployed. Even with the built in capabilities of the HoloLens, a strong cloud back end is required. Microsoft has been using Azure to back Xbox for some time now. Lego and HoloLens will drive Azure consumption. This consumption along with a partnership with Lego, the world’s most popular brand, should drive Microsoft to help Lego deliver this solution to consumers.

Considerations for the HoloLens
Even though this information is actionable, there are still unknown challenges around the HoloLens that may need to be overcome.

The HoloLens appears to be geared towards adults and an adult sized head is larger than a child’s head. Lego needs to be sure that Microsoft is building this technology so that can be accessible by both adults and children.

There may be challenges to overcome with Microsoft around making the HoloLens appear as a toy vs. a productivity tool. In order to appeal to both adults and children, the Lego application should appear as an entertainment platform layered on top of the physical toy experience.

Another consideration is the image recognition of the sets. The Microsoft demo has shown complex 3d holograms interacting with simple, flat surfaces. It still remains unclear as to whether the HoloLens can take advantage of interactions with real 3d objects and correlate the information to 3d holograms.

The Time to Start is Now!
There are a few assumptions in this article and obviously I don’t have access to internal Lego sales data to perform any kind of deep analysis. The ideas in this article simply try to push Lego’s “One Reality” idea forward using Microsoft’s HoloLens.

With the HoloLens just being announced and content being offered at Microsoft’s Build conference, the time for Lego to start thinking about this is now. There would likely be significant infrastructure, cloud based applications to build, and big datasets to gather.

Just thinking about the possibilities gets me excited as a Lego consumer. I can’t wait to see what’s next!

How Microsoft’s HoloLens Could be the Next App Store

The HoloLens stole the show at Microsoft’s Windows 10 unveiling. The demo video sure seems to be too good to be true. What’s more surprising is that the people who tried it seem to be impressed as well. The implications for this device could be huge and it could take off versus something like Google Glass, which was really presented to the masses as ubiquitous notifications and information.

The difference in presentation of the HoloLens vs. Google Glass or even Oculus Rift has me excited. I keep thinking of different applications as I go through my day. If done right, this device could spawn a multi-billion dollar market similar to the iPhone.

Here are some scenarios that I hope come to fruition for the HoloLens.

Effortless Planning
I have a challenge. There is a lot of bare wall space in my house in the main living area on the first floor. I’m never quite sure how to decorate that space. I’m smart enough to know it isn’t a space for movie poster art for a married man with a family, but I don’t know what to put there.

Between art, personal photos, and shelving, it can be a daunting task. With the HoloLens, I could browse my personal photo library from OneDrive and start checking out which pictures of my kids to hang up. I could even tweak the coloring (Instagram-esque style) to see what looks good in the room. If I wanted something more commercial, I could open an art reseller’s app to see what Picasso’s “Don Quixote” looks like next to my TV. The app could allow me to resize on the fly with standard sizes available or change the frame style and color.

This is really just the tip of the iceberg. For remodeling projects, the HoloLens is ideal. With the right applications, you could repaint your wall with a virtual floodfill before purchasing or place virtual furniture and change fabric patterns in the room without lifting a finger. You could check out a new fireplace or new bathtub with just a few gestures.

Since the HoloLens is so portable, you could take it outside to your landscaping and drop some virtual plants around before you make a purchase! Want to see what that sapling will look like in 5 years? 10? Just swipe right and watch it grow!

Savings Lives
Could the HoloLens safe a life? Well, depending on the final size, you may not be able to get close enough to administer CPR, but a 911 operator could possibly walk you through it. An EMT could receive additional instructions from a doctor at the hospital and potentially diagnose and recommend paths for treatment.

Doctors are already on the forefront of collaborative technologies. Imagine if they could see through another doctor’s (or anyone’s) virtual eyes from anywhere. The HoloLens could even work with a program like Doctors Without Borders, allowing cutting edge medical treatments to reach remote locations.

Next Level Recreation
We’ve already seen a Minecraft style video game in your living (I hope Lego is paying attention) and I could just imagine pulling back a virtual slingshot trying to aim birds at those pesky pigs.

But, let’s get our kids outside! Why confine yourself to the living room? It’s time to take your HoloLens outside for some augmented reality gaming. In case you didn’t notice, a lot of games take place outside as it is. Why not take advantage of the portability of the platform and take the game outside? Have a neighborhood alien invasion party!

Become a Giant
Stay with me on this one. Point A to Point B directions are available everywhere. It is so ubiquitous anymore, there’s no excuse for getting lost. What about big cities though? Oftentimes, you park and aren’t sure where to go. That’s even if you know where to park! Face it, finding parking and then figuring out where to go can be a hassle.

With a HoloLens application, you can virtually walk in a city and figure out exactly where to go. Find parking easily by inserting yourself into the map or zoom out and find a nearby restaurant before you head out.

What if you were moving to a new area and wanted to check it out? With a realtor application, you could tour the house and even the neighborhood. Zoom out and see where things are relative to the area easily by inserting yourself into the map and looking around.

Replacing that TV
Do you really need a TV if you’re wearing a HoloLens? The demo video would suggest not. Back in January, Gizmodo reported 3d TV is dead. That very well may be, but 3d content is not.

The question then becomes, why even look at the wall? Consider this scenario – You’re settling down to participate in your favorite detective\mystery show. The scene opens in your living room, only it isn’t your living room.

Your room expands to a long darkened alley. As you stand up and take a step forward, the alley pulls you forward and you are suddenly standing next to a murder victim. You bend down and find a matchbook. You pick it up and flip it over with some simple gestures. The detective next to you notices it as well. He thinks you’re just another uni, but you’ve just uncovered a major clue that could crack this case wide open…

Stories will never be the same again once you can truly participate. This will take some work on the camera end though.

Never Miss Anything
Why read a boring article about an event when you can live it? There are so many amazing things that happen in this world everyday. With the HoloLens and your favorite news network’s application, you can experience everything. As long as there is a camera there, you are good to go.

This one we’ve seen in the Mars demo, but it could really change people’s perspectives and be an excellent teaching tool.

Museums could discover new revenue streams by publishing exhibits with real world events. Imagine not only being able to see 3d renderings of artifacts, but also participating in their original uncovering!

Microsoft’s Strengths
If Microsoft can deliver on the promise of the HoloLens with easy to use application tools, the sky is really the limit with this technology. Early on, folks did amazing things with Kinect. I can’t wait to see how the HoloLens starts out!

What might you use it for?

The Story of My Career: How to
Go from an English Major to IT

It was my 16th birthday and I was working at JCPenney’s in package pick-up. A co-worker heard it was my birthday and went over to the bookstore and purchased a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle” for me. I had just finished reading George Orwell’s “1984” and both books blew my mind.

This is what I wanted to do – read great novels and teach kids to love literature.

I went to Penn State with every intention of majoring in English and doing, well something. At one point, I took my LSATs. In the late 90s though, the Internet exploded! Penn State started offering web sites to students and professors. I was fascinated with HTML and volunteered to do everyone’s class page.

I still loved to read, but I found I had a knack for the technical as well. There seemed to be money in technology and, the best thing was I could see it coming.

A lot of colleges were behind the ball in offering classes in what would become IT in the professional world. Computer Science at Penn State in 1997 wasn’t an exception. Now, I had been tutoring Calculus for 2  years despite my Liberal Arts education. In my senior year, I went to the Dean of the Computer Science department and asked what it would take to switch majors or at least get a minor.

Turns out neither was an option, or at least that was my understanding. It was hard to glean the true meaning behind all the laughing. I actually walked out to the sound of laughter.

I refused to believe this was the end. I started checking into what kinds of IT jobs were out there.

I kept developing websites for folks over the next year and grew my computer skills in general. By my senior year, I found Microsoft Networking Essentials and the MCSE program. I came up with a plan.

I graduated with my degree in English in the spring of 1998, but my roommates and I had the apartment through the summer. I scrapped my TV and immersed myself in Networking Essentials over the summer.

In the fall, I went to work for my father’s company upgrading their servers and managing a customer database. He offered to pay me in MCSE courses. After a few months, I had my MCSE and was on my way.

Phew, 1998 was a long time ago. In that time, I’ve grown a strong career on collaboration tools and IT infrastructure. Now, I haven’t become CIO or anything, but I did get to be manager of an international team of IT engineers for a global semiconductor company.

Oh, and that English degree? It absolutely helped me get here. Nothing balances out a technical career like a Liberal Arts education.

I have no idea whatever became of the Dean, but I will never forget him laughing at me. Who knew an English major could get so far in IT? So, what about the dream of reading great novels and teaching kids to love literature? Well, I have 3 kids under 8 and if our growing library is any indication, I’m doing just fine.

Microsoft and Mojang:
Not Just Another Game Studio

Hindsight is 20/20, right? Let’s hop back in our time machines to the year 2000 and review some game studios that Microsoft has bought since then and what happened. We had just narrowly escaped the end of days and new, exciting video games were coming. The XBox 360 was still a few years away.

By no means is this a complete history. For more information, check your local library.

A Brief History of Microsoft and Game Studios
I love me some Halo. The storytelling and gameplay were both fantastic. Bungie had previewed Halo and Microsoft quickly announced they were buying them. 7 years and 3 Halo games later, Bungie was spun back out and on their own. Microsoft retained the rights to Halo and Bungie kept it going. One thing fans never saw though was the rumored explosion of this universe into the mainstream. Sure, there were Halo comic books, novels and Mega bloks, but there weren’t television shows, movies or LEGO sets. All this despite Microsoft having its own XBox Entertainment Studios.

In 2002, when Microsoft bought Rare, it seemed to be more so for the talent than the franchises. After not doing too much during the 2000s, Rare was basically unwound in 2010. In 2006, Microsoft bought Lionhead Studios. This may be the most comparable to today’s announcement with two exceptions. First off, the main talent isn’t coming over. Second, while Lionhead Studios’ Fable game was popular, it wasn’t on the scale as Minecraft is today. Fable II was a critical and commercial success, but was it worth $375 million?

In 2011, Microsoft bought Twisted Pixel Games and they haven’t done too much since then. Granted, it hasn’t been too long, but still.

Similarly to Halo, Microsoft has announced that (instead of purchasing Epic Games), they purchased the rights to Gears of War. Again though, no game was available for the XBox One at launch.

Microsoft seems to have a bad history of purchasing video game studios. So, what is different this time around with Microsoft’s purchase of Mojang? Let the speculation begin!

An Afterthought
Minecraft is arguably the top selling game of all time or soon will be. In the wake of this announcement, some articles out there are asking why Microsoft would make such a purchase at potentially the height of its popularity, especially with everything stated above. Certainly, this is a good question, but  here are some other Minecraft things you may not know about.

A live action movie is planned. In case you didn’t hear, movies based on blocks are awesome and make money Why not take a page from LEGO and see what happens? Speaking of LEGO, they have just become the world’s top toy manufacturer and even they have boarded the Minecraft train with several Minecraft sets. Maybe this isn’t such an afterthought after all. There is definitely some things in the works.

legomin2

Lastly, this is certainly one way to ensure Minecraft arrives on Windows Phones.

What if this is just the beginning though? Let’s take a look at some potentially sweet ways Microsoft could grow Minecraft beyond the game.

Licensing
If there’s one thing I know, it is LEGO. Wired published a great, short infographic recently on LEGO’s positive turnaround in 2003 pivoting against their ability to license. Now think about what Minecraft is. It is basically a digital LEGO world. Minecraft modders all over the world have proven that this platform can be used to develop licensed material and XBox already has licensed skins for Minecraft. How about Microsoft goes furthers and builds entire games in Minecraft based on these licensed properties? It seems to be working for Traveler’s Tales Games. LEGO has even expanded the LEGO Star Wars universe into its own television show as well, not to mention their other original properties, Chima and Ninjago. Couldn’t Microsoft go down this path?

With the announcement to close XBox Entertainment Studios, Microsoft could finally move to a LEGO-like model for content production. Microsoft may be on the cusp of realizing that you don’t have to produce the content, just own the rights and distribute. Also, they are a very different company than Sony, which has a potential advantage in producing and distributing the content through their own Sony Entertainment, like they are with the PS3 and their foray into original programming. Sony Entertainment isn’t tied to the PS3, like Microsoft XBox Studios was.

Clicks and Blocks
Minecraft is LEGO-like for certain, but LEGO has something Minecraft-like in its new Fusion line. Is there a closer partnership developing here between the world’s largest software company and the world’s largest toy manufacturer? It could go either way. LEGO and Minecraft seem to be playing pretty nice now and Microsoft now has a massive platform for LEGO to build on. Fusion, on the other hand, has real world toys creeping into the digital and could turn into a massive platform in its own right. This partnership could be a huge windfall on both sides.

A rift here would likely be messy (and potentially a legal disaster) once the digital franchises start playing out. Imagine if Disney pulled Star Wars licensing from LEGO and gave it to Minecraft or if Microsoft made it cost prohibitive for LEGO games to be developed on XBox. I’ve pre-ordered my LEGO Batman 3 already (complete with Plastic Man minifig), so say it ain’t so! I think this scenario is as unlikely as Microsoft buying Mega Bloks to compete directly with LEGO, but stranger things have happened!

Virtual Worlds
Well folks, here’s where I’m going off the deep end. Back in 2012, there was a patent filed by Microsoft for an Environmental Display. Just imagine what Minecraft could be on this type of platform! Paired with a Kinect, you could actually mine and build with your hands instead of a controller and be completely immersed in this virtual world.  The sky is really the limit here. You could redecorate your room, take your kids on a wild adventure or even romance your wife in a blocky Denmark (ok, maybe not that last one).

What about interfaces? People spend a lot of time in Minecraft. What can it teach us about immersive words and 3D interfaces for future software releases? Could a Minecraft-like interface be built for Windows Phone or the ubiquitous Windows interface itself? It worked with Unix in Jurassic Park (with apologies to SGI)!

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Bananas, I Say!
There is one last thing that could be a massive game changer for Microsoft that would be even more bananas than mining in your living room. Minecraft has a unique combination of dedicated and social gamers. Microsoft could leverage Minecraft’s quick popularity to determine the next social network. Amber Mac nails it on the head in this article in my opinion and Minecraft surely has to be an easier and more relevant study on success in the gaming industry in relation to social networking than My Little Pony.

Not only that, the users have driven the changes from the bottom up in Minecraft through community. Microsoft could learn development and product lifecycle skills through studying the interactions between the Minecraft gamers and developers. The modders play risk vs. benefit on massive scales daily and somehow keep the popularity of Minecraft going. Think about how else this could be applied to another piece of software that you might want to improve.

Help Me Microsoft, You’re My Only Hope
Microsoft seems to have a love/hate relationship with game studios that it acquires. I’m not sure if the studios are too independent once they are folded into the mix or if they are kept to their franchises, but they just don’t seem to produce (except for Bungie, which ended up getting split out again and maybe Lionhead Studios). I’m not too worried about Microsoft squashing down modders or forcing competing platforms to pay so much for the licenses that Minecraft becomes platform specific and unbearable with in-app purchases. Even with the ever growing hunt for exclusivity on gaming platforms, that just isn’t Microsoft’s style these days.

Microsoft has the potential to do some amazing stuff with Minecraft. I mean, if someone can build a working hard drive in Minecraft, what else might be possible? Microsoft would be missing out on a huge opportunity if this just became another game studio that released a sequel and was then shuttered a decade from now.

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