Thursday, August 30, 2007

Digital Tables as a Disruptive Technology

I've been reading The Innovator's Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen of Harvard Business School and I've been thinking about how the lessons of his book would apply to disruptive technologies such as interactive wall and table displays.

Essentially, this book argues that companies (such as the Hard Drive industry) are exceedingly good at listening to their customer base and sustaining innovations in their products to meet their client's needs. Disruptive technologies (e.g. smaller hard drives, solid state disks) are usually first developed and marketed by large corporations. However, these technologies usually do not meet the needs of existing clients (e.g. too small size, too expensive, too slow) thus these projects are shelved until the technology becomes more viable in the marketplace.

Microsoft Surface
On the flipside, startup companies focus on niche markets (e.g. laptops, mp3 players) and ignore the needs prized by current vendors. Often the rate of improvement of these technologies greatly exceeds the demand by their niche market. This happens until the technology improves to a point that it can compete with the sustaining technologies of the large corporate vendors (e.g. 3.5" disk drives).

Hewlett Packard
At this time we see a huge shift in the industry, people start migrating towards the disruptive technologies and the large corporations are continually catching up to the latest advancements of the startup companies. This continues to happen in many areas such as the Internet, PCs, GUIs, industrial hauling, cell phones, portable audio, PDAs, laptops and much more.

Digital tables are a disruptive technology, right now they are not as efficient as using a keyboard and a mouse. Speech and gesture recognition have years of improvement ahead of them before they become viable for everyday use. However, the rate of improvement of interactive surface technology is significantly faster than the rate of improvement of desktop interaction technologies.

Eventually the performance of interactive (small and large) surfaces will rise to challenge the efficiency of desktop computers. This will not happen overnight, it could be decades before we see such a transition. Nonetheless it will happen. And when it does I wonder if the existing companies will rise to deliver these next generation technologies, or if it will be startup companies that will once again lead the way in technology innovation.

Smart Technologies
As I enter my second and third round of job applications, I have applied to many large corporations that are adamant about making sure they are on top of the large display interaction trends. Large corporations such as Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Panasonic, Hitachi, Smart Technologies, Philips, Mitsubishi, Accenture, and Sony have already created demonstration systems of interactive large displays.

Several startup companies have also been created to market large display interactions to niche audiences. These companies include Perceptive Pixel, Lemur Jazz Mutant, and Fingerworks which was recently acquired by Apple for the development of the iPhone which was later replicated by Nokia).

The billion dollar question is: will it be the startup companies or the large corporations that deliver these next generation interactive touchscreen technologies. I'm really not sure, but I intend to find out by apply to each of these companies.



Perceptive Pixel

Jazz Mutant


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Job Hunt Begins

Great news! I'm almost finished my PhD and I am now getting ready to apply for jobs for the fall. I'm planning on having three waves of job applications, and I just completed my first wave yesterday.

I spent the most of the day writing these emails, editing them, getting friends and family to read them and editing them some more. Basically, I had six Gmail tabs open and was constantly moving back and forth. My first wave is composed of people that I know personally and that I have met numerous times at various industry, academic and general conferences and conventions.

I sent out all six emails at exactly 10:48pm EST. That way everyone on my first wave has an equal opportunity. I jokingly say to friends that I'm an "equal opportunity interviewee."

Most of my experiences thus far have been academically focused around inventing new interaction techniques and publishing papers. During the next steps of my job search I would very much like to learn about the innovation side of this equation. In particular, what does it take to make novel technologies accessible to a general audience?

Thus, when searching for companies I am looking for companies that will advocate for the research that I am doing internally within the organization. I am also looking for my supervisor to be transparent about the needs and direction of the company so that I can better target my research. I am also interested in staying connected with the external communication (academic and industry) so that I can see how my work compares to other leading firms in the field.

My goal is not to work as a member of a team in a industry setting, where I'm interested in learning about a company's values so that I better target my own research and development.