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[microsoft] Microsoft Miracle: How Satya Revived Tech Giant in Just 3 Years

Whaaat?

Right after millions of people around the world finished Googling (sorry, Binging) “Who is Satya Nadella?” they turned their attention to the more pressing question: how on earth could a long-time company insider reinvigorate a stumbling behemoth of more than 120,000 employees and get it sprinting in the right direction?

Three years on he sat down with BOSS to share his thoughts on his leadership style, which could have come straight from a textbook. Thoughtful, inclusive, seemingly ego-less and openly working towards a higher agenda, he has quietly achieved a remarkable renaissance.

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Cracks in the Foundation

Despite remaining a profitable operation and despite Steve Ballmer being a long way from the buffoonish caricature that many portray, Microsoft had seriously lost its mojo.

In the fastest moving of all industry sectors, it appeared frozen in time; left standing by the iPhone and heavily reliant on its Office desktop software and Windows operating system, in a world where consumers and businesses had long since gone mobile and were using the cloud for much of their software.

At a time when Apple could do no wrong, Facebook was changing the world of communication and Amazon was blowing everyone away in cloud computing, Microsoft was the uncoolest 40-year-old imaginable.

To make matters worse, a self-destructive, cutthroat internal culture of competition between colleagues was still simmering just below the surface.

3-point Turn

  • Cloud: It has invested eye-watering amounts in infrastructure to make its Azure cloud computing infrastructure the main rival to Amazon Web Services in a hugely lucrative and fast-growing part of the market.
  • Software: It is also making major strides with its cloud-based Office 365 productivity software and Dynamics 365 enterprise offering.
  • Hardware: The company, which was once dragged through the courts in anti-trust trials, is openly working with big-name rivals and – perhaps most surprisingly of all – it is making genuinely cool tech products again.

    Its Surface computers have received rave reviews and have been positively compared to those from Apple. It has got the market intrigued by its mixed reality headset HoloLens and also sold its Xbox One entertainment console in huge numbers.

The Nadella Coefficient

Inter-Collaboration:

in his first email sent to staff upon becoming CEO, Nadella warned his employees that they were operating in an industry that does not respect tradition and only respects innovation. He wrote that their job was to ensure Microsoft thrived in a mobile and cloud-first world.

This threw down the gauntlet for the organisation to step away from its comfort zone and measure itself by its achievements in areas it was losing to the likes of Apple and Amazon.

Where once the company was the very definition of a walled garden, jealously guarding its technology, it is now forming partnerships with major tech firms like Adobe, falling over itself to offer its services on Apple devices and is – staggeringly to the historically minded – embracing open source in a big way.

The Linux operating system, once described as a cancer by Ballmer, is now supported in its Azure cloud and last year Microsoft surpassed the likes of Facebook and Google to become the largest contributor to open-source code online exchange GitHub.

Intra Collaboration:

Central to the competitive culture within Microsoft had been the performance management system, by which all staff members were judged. It worked like a high school grading curve and was applied to teams across the company.

Nadella and his leadership team needed to demonstrate through their actions that the kind of behaviour that had gone before was no longer what was required within the company. Subsequently, he says, the perceived impossible task of redirecting a super tanker had been possible in a relatively smooth fashion.

Under Nadella’s One Microsoft philosophy: “I started to see it disappear, a dissipation of the dysfunction, the fighting, the pettiness and some of the craziness you see in a lot of corporate environments,” O’Brien says.

“Then there was collaboration, co-operation and trust that people could share their new ideas with other teams without it being bad for their performance review and bonus.”

My 2 cents:

“An industry that does not respect tradition, only innovation.” In this simple statement, Nadella revealed the entireity of Microsoft’s master plan: invest in the new frontier from both a product and service standpoint and a corporate culture standpoint.

From the product/service standpoint, the Microsoft Miracle was equally manifest in its choices of what to develop (Azure and HoloLens), what to double down on (Office 365, Office for iOS, Linux and Xbox) and what to pull the plug on (Nokia). By simultaneously diving into the our generation’s tech frontier and while prioritizing an open-source, cross-platform approach to development, Microsoft has become cool past curvy hardware or omnipotent software, Microsoft has become a partner in democratizing the abstract frontier for both the developer and the daily user.

From a corporate culture standpoint, Nadella’s high competence, low ego approach has become synonymous of Microsoft’s modus operandi. What Nadella so correctly identified was a GSIGSO (good stuff in, good stuff out) situation where product and service success in the external market needed to stem from a motivated and engaged Microsoft team in order to organically draw interest and advocacy. By lowering Microsoft’s ego, Nadella transformed the manner/tone Microsoft adopts when empowering its clients. The result has transcended advocacy: open source initiatives and participating customers now provide Microsoft with a powerful stream of insights to build off of.

Gone is the overbearing empire and the tyrannical product launch-adopt cycle. Under Nadella, the Microsoft user is the beneficiary of a Microsoft that is committed to absorbing the complexity and costs of harnessing new tech horizons and simplifying and distributing access for high-complexity and average-joe users alike.

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[apple] The Myth of Apple’s Great Design

Whaaat?

Apple has great design is the biggest myth in technology today. The latest victim of this ideology comes in the form a remarkable report on the late Steve Jobs’s final project, still in production: a new, $5 billion Cupertino headquarters for Apple Inc. The building is meant to be “as flawless as a hand-held device,” a process supposedly brought about by “treating the construction of the vast complex the same way they approach the design of pocket-sized electronics.”

The only problem with this conclusion: Apple has never accomplished sufficiently great design in its electronics to justify lionizing the pedantry of design at the new Apple campus.

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Notable Design Flaws

If Apple designs at its best when attending closely to details like those revealed in the construction of its spaceship headquarters, then presumably the details of its products would stand out as worthy precedents. Yet, in truth, Apple’s products hide a shambles of bad design under the perfection of sleek exteriors.

MacBook Pro:

The new model ships only with USB-C ports, but all of Apple’s current devices, including the iPhone 7 and a rechargeable Bluetooth keyboard and mouse come with USB-A cables, which cannot connect to the new laptop.

iPhones:

Touch ID, which allows users to authenticate to unlock the phone, download products from the App Store, and make payments at participating retailers with Apple Pay. But even the slightest disturbance on a finger makes Touch ID unreliable.

Auto correct as funny as it once was to guffaw over its foibles, the feature hasn’t become smarter. Users have become more acclimated to managing its errors when writing; how much typing has become retyping, correcting corrections?

The larger 4.7-inch screens made reaching the edges of the screen with one palm difficult, even for users with large hands. Apple’s solution, dubbed Reachability, was an awkward one: double-tapping the home button would lurch the whole screen down for easier address.

iTunes:

The iPod made listening to a whole music library easy, but iTunes always made managing that library difficult and confusing—even destructive.

iMessage:

frequently stops working; on the iPhone, it successfully sends less reliably than text messages once did, particularly when reception is poor.

iWork:

Keynote, Apple’s PowerPoint alternative, randomly changes the formatting of text in presentation notes—a charming surprise to discover during an actual keynote. iWork, the Apple office app suite of which Keynote is a part, never came close to competing with Microsoft and Google’s commensurate products.

But Why?

Some Apple fanatics will blame these more recent misfortunes of design on the vacuum created by Steve Jobs’s death. But this explanation isn’t sufficient. After all, Apple’s design chief Jony Ive, has remained in charge of the company’s design efforts.

Furthermore, Steve Jobs’s design philosophy was fascist more than it was exacting. The man was a not a demigod of design, but its dictator. He made things get made the way he wanted them made, and his users appreciated his definitiveness and lack of compromise. They mistook those conceits for virtues in the objects themselves and enjoyed it. At a time when every company bows to even the most absurd demands of the consumer, Apple never cared what its customers thought, or wanted. Instead it told them what to like, and how to like it.

In the process, Apple standardized excellence in design at the surface level, while failing to achieve that distinction holistically. Apple’s products are beautiful objects, no doubt. But beautiful objects whose operation never matched their appearance. Beautiful objects that lied about the depths of that beauty.

My 2 cents:

Hating on the leader is alive and well apparently. It is no small irony that the captains of hating on the Microsoft empire now get a taste of their own medicine as overwhelming success breads constant and intense scrutiny. “You either die a hero or live to become a villain” said Harvey Dent in Batman: The Dark Knight.

However, behind the fad lies truth: Apple’s losing its touch, whatever its touch is or was. Some, myself included, had chalked off early market criticism of Apple as a result of inflated expectations: under Jobs, Apple flew too close to the sun and spoiled its investors. Some thought that the market was simply not ready for the first trillion dollar company.

But the repeating underwhelming sales, unimaginative product development (ie. absence of the “next iPhone”) and persistence of the aforementioned extensive, and by no means exhaustive, list of Apple product bugs challenges one of Apple’s fundamental tenants: impecable design from a user perspective.

On one hand, Apple’s problems are very much subject to the self-fulfilling prophecies heaped on by speculators: you keep hearing you have fundamental flaws and you start acting like you do. But, absent speculation, Apple’s back-end and software flaws are finally surfacing in an age where customers aren’t as easy to bully around. The answer to the natural question “why doesn’t Apple care as deeply about its metaphorical back-end as it does about its front-end” might prove more complicated.

My take? A history of isolation and product design “dictatorship” has backed Apple into a corner. We now see a relative commoditization of hardware (ie. Xiaomi can produce an acceptable copy of the iPhone)and a customer shift to software preferences. Developer incentives is Apple’s Achilles Heel vs. open source rivals Android so much so that incentives to develop for Apple has been contingent on Apple’s hardware success.

Apple’s perfect exterior is finally succumbing to its flawed interior.

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[ibm] Why Google, Ideo and IBM are Betting on AI to Make Us Better Story Tellers

Whaaat?

To tell a story that someone will remember, it helps to understand his or her needs. The art of storytelling requires creativity, critical-thinking skills, self-awareness, and empathy.”All those traits are fundamentally human, but as artificial intelligence (AI) becomes more commonplace, even experts whose jobs depend on them possessing those traits foresee it playing a bigger role in what they do.

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Using AI to Read a Crowd

The AI-driven marketing platform Influential uses IBM’s Watson to connect brands with audiences. It finds social media influencers who can help spread a brand’s message to target demographics in a way that feels authentic and, well, human. The tool uses Watson’s services to look at the content written by an influencer, analyzing that text, and scoring it across 52 personality traits then matches influencers whose personalities, social media posts, and followers best reflect a brand’s marketing objectives.

Visual Scanning

Somatic is a digital marketing company that uses AI to scan photos and generate short text descriptions of what it sees. The tool can write about visual data in different styles or genres, even mimicking the prose styles of celebrities as long as there’s enough written content out there to be trained on.

Google’s AI research is geared toward “helping AI start to understand things about everyday human life,” and to start to push machines beyond just generating “literal content, like you get in image captioning,” and toward anticipating how those descriptions will make people feel.

My 2 cents:

The article raises the crucial question: “Will humanistic AI beat humans at their own game?”

If by game we mean predict trends based off of pure data, devoid of lingering biases and industry misconceptions, then the power of Al machine learning is set to beat our current capabilities as marketers and story tellers.

Yet predictive algorithms using historical data is hardly new, so much so that data interpretation is essentially a given in the AI v human game. The reason powerful tools like Watson are only making their debut now is that there has always been an ‘x’ factor that rendered machine learning results that fall a bit off center. This factor has been identified as many things (intuition, expertise…) but essentially it boils down to contextualizing.

The day Al will out perform human story telling will depend on developments and investments that further tunes there formidable and trainable tools to go beyond diagnostics and interpretation and move into outreach, context comprehension and organic responsiveness.

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[uber] Why Uber and Airbnb Needed a Different Kind of CEO

Whaaat?

Since their founding less than a decade ago, Uber and Airbnb have wrangled with regulators, challenged the taxi and hotel industries, earned extraordinary valuations from venture capital investors — and fundamentally transformed the way people think about urban transportation and travel. Veteran Bloomberg technology writer Brad Stone unravels the facts from the mythology surrounding the companies’ rise. 

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The Origin Stories

At Uber, the idea for the business has been portrayed as this stroke of ingenuity, but it was actually inspired by Casino Royale. Garrett Camp, one of Uber’s founders, the idea for using phones to let users see the locations of a car service.

Airbnb’s origin story revolves around two design school students who decided to welcome guests into their apartment and let them sleep on air mattresses.These were very ambitious entrepreneurs who had been desperately searching for a winning startup idea for quite a while.

Uber/Airbnb Founders vs. Other Founders

Other founders (Facebook/Google) were terrible communicators, not charismatic, and very wary of the press. They didn’t have to be good storytellers because their businesses spread virally and their products stood for themselves. Uber and Airbnb are different. The first thing that happened to these companies was that they became involved in regulatory battles with cities. Because of these challenges, these companies required a different kind of CEO — extroverted, a good storyteller, a politician, someone who could charismatically rally customers to their cause.

Future and Success for X-Sharing

Both Chesky (Airbnb) and Kalanick (Uber) are disciples of Bezos, who personally invested in both Uber and Airbnb. They’ve learned a lot from Jeff, and they’ve modeled their companies after Amazon. Both companies are getting into new businesses: Uber is working with driverless cars and food delivery, and Airbnb has launched Experiences and Trips to become a broader travel company. Right now neither company seems like it can change our lives the way Amazon has, but you have to give them time.

My 2 cents:

The common thread between Uber and Airbnb’s founding fathers was an that innate ability to disrupt and industry and not only stand by the dream in the face of the trials and tribulations of facing the incumbents, but also the ability to woo VC funding despite serious qualms.

It might be too early to declare total legal victory for either player (Uber will face taxi driving syndicates and security issues as it moves further down its long tail of applicable countries. Airbnb still has serious contention from the hotel industry) but it is definitely not too early to think about what comes next. For Uber, next means new tech (selfdriving cars) and a new industry (food delivering) while for Airbnb next means value added services (Experiences and Trips), and for both, next means new management expertise.

The road to future x-sharing leadership will likely transition from the charismatic, lobbyist leader to the pivot, split and build type of leader. Facebook and Google have set the standard for the reinventive leader, but they’ve had little turmoil to face compared to Uber and Airbnb, so it feels fitting that Chesky and Kalanick would turn to Bezos, who has transformed Amazon to the golden standard of building off a successful platform and expanding to new industries and services, delivering win after win.

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[venmo] How Venmo Built Passion around a payments brand

Whaaat?

In just seven years, Venmo has grown from a fledgling peer-to-peer app for transferring money into a booming company with millions of users and an annual payments volume topping $19 billion.

But what’s even more impressive, says Jay Parekh, its Director/Business Development, is that Venmo – which was purchased by PayPal as part of an $800 million acquisition of payments-processing firm Braintree in 2014 – has managed to build a beloved brand around a normally unbeloved process.

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The aim, Parekh explained, was to distill the magic of Venmo’s peer-to-peer app into a retail tool, so that merchants could reap the benefits. And the insights from that exploration may ultimately have implications that go far beyond the payments sector.

“We discovered a lot of useful lessons that guided the development of this new product,” said Parekh. “But we also realized that a lot of the lessons are relevant for other mobile companies that want to build a really rich experience and be as beloved a product as Venmo.”

One of those lessons, Parekh asserted, is that it is essential to understand and address customer pain points. For Venmo, that meant reducing the awkwardness of exchanging money.

A second lesson that emerged from Venmo’s process of self-reflection is that products and services have a context, and shifting that context – by adding emojis and notes to money transfers, for example – can change the consumer experience.

A third lesson from Venmo’s journey is that brands can become part of people’s conversations by creating experiences, and not just transactions. For example, Parekh pointed out that when Venmo users exchanged money for pizza, they rarely mentioned the pizza-delivery companies in their feed on the app. But when it came to ridesharing or short-term rentals, brands like Uber, Lyft and Airbnb received a ton of mentions.

My 2 cents:

A lot of people wonder what Venmo’s secret sauce is, especially when considering its juxtaposition with PayPal, the parent/acquirer, and it turns out, most speculation was pretty close and classic: eliminating a pain point and improving engagement by adding a social feature.

The key to Venmo’s unique success lies in the third lesson: making it so that a brand can transcend a service and become part of the users daily journey. I theorize that the unsung hero of this phenomenon was Venmo’s (intentional?) targeting of the college crowd. When a service meets its ideal crowd, the odds of bridging the service to verb gap (ie. ordering a rideshare vs. ubering, paying for something vs. venmoing) is much more likely.

Drawing a parallel between Venmo and another crowd favorite Snapchat, I look forward to seeing how and if Venmo will be able to effectively drive growth and innovation as pressure fro profitability mounts.

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[google] Is Google the New McKinsey?

Whaaat?

For many MBA students, Google is now a top recruiting choice. It’s generally not the highest paying choice or the choice with the most professional certainty – and traditionally getting an MBA is in part about creating a kind of professional certainty for yourself. So: why Google?

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The MBA that prefers Google cares about his or her skill set, and wants to be where the action is: digital disruption. Digital disruption is probably the single most exciting thing happening in business and that’s where these MBA’s want to be. Their ability to contribute hands-on in an interdisciplinary team (designers, developers, growth hackers, data scientists, etc.) is most important. That doesn’t mean they need to be an expert in each of those disciplines – it means understanding the disciplines well enough to be a good collaborator, and being able to use the tools of design thinking to solve hard problems.

In practice, of course, the students end up at all sorts of tech companies (and even McKinsey!). They’re successfully applying the skills above as product managers, marketing managers, and founders. It looks like the MBA of tomorrow is really going to enjoy working in the kind of interdisciplinary agile teams that are disrupting and improving the industries where they operate.

My 2 cents:

It’s all about solving real world, mission-critical problems… and building a re-applicable tool kit. What this means for tech however is a potential disruption of the cultural practices and values that have historically spelled success. The free thinking culture, hands-on approach and feeling of being part of the cutting edge of the market’s evolution is attracting a new wave of non-techs to the tech mother ship itself. Google and Mckinsey’s similarities go beyond their status as most desirable by the MBA class: they’re statement companies, elbow deep in shaping how companies and industries behave, and, most importantly, quick to place those new recruits into the field.

The industry stands to gain a serious influx of freshly minted, framework savvy MBAs and with them, a holistic approach to the evolution of multiple industries and how tech giants like Google can contribute to and gain from less obvious macroeconomic trends and an uncanny ability to make sense of and apply that BIG Data. The MBA stands to gain insight and experience in dealing with the fundamental language and operators behind the our generation’s technological revolution: code and coders to severely oversimplify.

That being said, the tech industry might have to brace itself against an injection of framework driven, midnight oil burning invaders.

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[samsung] Soul-Searching at Samsung (and Korea Inc.)

Whaaat?

Samsung has a main culprit in its combustible battery fiasco, and the problem is among the hardest to fix. It is Samsung itself.

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The real difficulty appears to be the hard-charging nature of Samsung itself, and a culture of continuous-cutting and expediency over quality. That is a recipe for wrecking a brand.

There have been similar problems in tech before. Eleven years ago, the batteries in Dell laptops caught fire. Dell’s culture was considered stingy to the point of error at times.

For years, big companies, in particular Samsung, have been closely identified with the national character and industrial policy of South Korea, as well as how individuals might succeed within the culture. .

My 2 cents:

A die-hard work ethic has historically been the cement between the inherently contradictory Samsung strengths: innovation and frugality. This work ethic has been the competitive advantage that has kept the company united in opposing pursuits and allowed Samsung to fight the high spending “surprising and delightful” Apple and similarly pragmatic giants LG, Phillips and Sony (to name a few).

But the wear and tear from keeping tabs on two quickly specializing industries is finally taking its toll on Samsung and it looks like hard work alone won’t cut it this time. Samsung’s combustible battery episode is dramatic proof that no level of innovation can cover lacking quality. What’s worse, no amount of quality and affordability can cover lacking innovation.

Samsung, a microcosm of Korean industrial culture, stands at a crossroads and decisions beyond prioritization will be made. Methods and priorities need to be revised before more Samsung products and practices go up in flame.

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[facebook] Study: Facebook can actually make us more narrow-minded

Whaaat?

On the surface, it seems like social media has the boundless potential to expand our world, connecting us to ideas and people we otherwise would never have found. However, a new study claims just the opposite: Social media actually isolates us, creating and facilitating confirmation biases and echo chambers where old — and sometimes erroneous — information is just regurgitated over and over again.

If it sounds bleak, it’s because it kind of is.

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The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Using data modeling, a team of researchers from Italy mapped the spread of two types of content: conspiracy theories and scientific information.

“Our findings show that users mostly tend to select and share content related to a specific narrative and to ignore the rest. In particular, we show that social homogeneity is the primary driver of content diffusion, and one frequent result is the formation of homogeneous, polarized clusters,” the paper concludes.

In other words, you and all of your friends are all sharing the same stuff, even if it’s bunk, because you think alike and your tightly-defined exchange of ideas doesn’t allow for anything new or challenging to flow in.

“Users show a tendency to search for, interpret, and recall information that confirm their pre-existing beliefs.” This is called “confirmation bias,” and Bessi says it’s actually one of the main motivations for sharing content.

So instead of sharing to challenge or inform, social media users are more likely to share an idea already commonly accepted in their social groups for the purpose of reinforcement or agreement. This means misinformation — which is a much more appropriate term for “fake news” — can rattle around unchecked.

 

My 2 cents:

It follows that, in the pursuit of user engagement, viewership and organic sharing that social media (and plain old media) platform algorithms would begin to create these bubbles of opinions and “facts” that have recently come under greater scrutiny. Being caught unaware of the inherant shortcoming of predictive and reactive algorithms in our media feeds is as much a result of the end of our first decade under the influence of our Facebook feeds as the (naive) theory that humans would be able to discern absolute truth from social media truth, much in the way that we expect humans to be able to discern absolute truth from general media truth.

Recent US elections seem to have shoved this danger into the spotlight, and, as a parting gift of sorts, (former) President Obama finally called out how “splintered media” is fueling mass “group think”:

“For too many of us, it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods or college campuses or places of worship or our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions. The rise of naked partisanship, increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste—all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable. And increasingly, we become so secure in our bubbles that we accept only information, whether true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that’s out there.”

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[samsung] Samsung May have Resolved the Biggest Smartwatch Problem

Whaaat?

If your smartwatch’s teeny tiny face makes it tough to navigate the device, a futuristic tool reportedly in the works could put more control into your hands. A new Samsung patent filing shows a projector integrated into the smartwatch that expands the interactive area you can use to control your watch onto your body.

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Specifically, the technology would project interfaces such as a dialpad, keyboard or menu options onto the back of your hand or forearm, and you can touch those areas to input numbers, words or selections. Based on drawings accompanying the patent, the watch may even be able to project onto surfaces such as walls or doors to enlarge the virtual user interface.

The patent states that the wearable device would include an omnidirectional camera to detect a target area to use as a canvas along with an image projector. Samsung also indicated in the filing that this technology could also be used for head mounted displays, such as virtual reality headsets, to let the wearer display what they’re seeing on an object in their surroundings.

The projector would display “the virtual UI screen that is formed by reconfiguring the UI screen of the HMD device to correspond to a shape of at least one of the preset space,” according to patent filing.

My 2 cents:

Ok, hologram keyboards (albeit AMAZING) might not be the next smartwatch fix, but this is nonetheless important as it sheds light into where we are with smartwatches now, and where we could be down the line. Samsung and Apple are at strange crossroads in what one of the hotter categories that have popped up recently (along with autocars and vr/ar). Apple has a fashion statement of a watch but runs into the same iPad type issues: its an awesome piece of tech, but it isn’t all that useful and is prohibitively exclusive in that it requires buy into iOS. Samsung’s gear was more “watch-like” from the get go but that momentum is dying down. What’s worse though is the dozens of developers working on their smartwatches for Android. Yet necessity is the mother of invention and diagnosing current pain point and proposing a 10x solution is the type of invention that could be the turning point for the Gear: a watch that could put the phone and tablet to rest.

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