How to design a killer app for the iWatch

iwatchThis article originally ran on on Nov. 6, 2013.

The wrist is the next frontier for technology companies. I believe this because I wear a FitBit activity tracker on my wrist; when I tap it, I am rewarded by tiny lights that blink for about two seconds, telling me how many steps I’ve walked today. While I need at least one minute to pull out my iPhone, type in my password, and open an app, I need barely three seconds to tap my FitBit and get a delightful, satisfying morsel of data.

Imagine, then, the seductive power of Apple (AAPL)’s much-rumored iWatch, which is expected to deliver not only blinking lights but also emoticons, photos, ringtones, tweets, and status updates. If you think the 140-character constraint of Twitter prodded us to be more creative, think of a future in which your watch supersedes your phone and delivers what you want in less than three seconds.

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Why 2014 will finally be the year of online grocery

Live music at my local Whole Foods

Live music at my local Whole Foods

This article originally ran on on Jan. 16, 2014. 

Some people go to bars or clubs on weekend nights. I go to the grocery store. I love to mosey through the aisles, looking for new snacks, picking up five apples before I decide on the right one. I’m apparently not the only one. On a recent Friday night at the Whole Foods (WFM) in Cambridge, Mass., I encountered a pair of musicians, on flute and classical guitar, playing lovely melodies near the wine and cheese section. Clearly, the natural foods chain believes a lot of people see food shopping as entertainment.

Recently, however, disaster struck: I ran out of oatmeal. I realized it would be much easier to order a six-pack of Quaker Oats on (AMZN) than to make an extra trip to the store. I was even willing to eat (shudder) cold cereal for breakfast two days in a row while I waited for delivery. Thus, my pantry entered the Internet age.

My pantry is not alone; 2014 could be the year of online grocery. Traditional brick-and-mortar chains should be worried. The fact that AmazonFresh expanded to two new cities in 2013, after six years operating only in Seattle, is just one cause for concern. Currently, 3.3 percent of total U.S. grocery spending—a $500 billion industry—is online, according to a report from Brick Meets Click. It could reach 11 percent by 2023, a growth rate of nearly 13 percent per year.

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5-second innovation lesson from Chad Dickerson

No matter where you work, it’s difficult to focus on the future when you’re fighting fires every day. This quote, from an Inc. magazine interview with Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson, holds a good lesson for startups and established companies alike:

By the summer of 2009, we were losing our minds; the site was blowing up every day. I started a small group of the best engineers, and I called it the Breakfast Club. I said, ‘I know you don’t like to get up early, but I want you to come here for breakfast three days a week, and we’re going to talk about the future only, nothing about what’s going on. We’re going to build the Etsy future.’

New Surface ads herald a Microsoft strategy shift: function over style

Do you remember when Microsoft tried to make the Surface cool? First there were the ads with dancing 20-somethings, who were dressed like they worked at the hippest ad agency in Manhattan and had haircuts to match. Then there were the adorable dancing schoolgirls.

But that was sooo Q3 2013. The new ads, just launched last week, have taken a 180-degree turn. One features a chubby teacher who wears a button-down sweater-vest and a beard worthy of the Red Sox. He says, “I like chalk and erasers.” (Really, chalk and erasers? Has anyone ever said that in real life?) The other features a paramedic who is dressed as … a paramedic. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great look, but it emphasizes function over style.

And that’s precisely the point. Microsoft can’t compete with Apple for the cool factor. Instead, the company is trying to show that the Surface can be used for both work and play. “I needed a new laptop for my premed classes, something that runs office and has a keyboard,” the paramedic says. “But I wanted a tablet for me, for stuff like Twitter and Xbox. … so I can manage my crazy life, and also have a life.”

Microsoft’s new strategy just might work. The iPad fills certain consumer needs – or, as we say at Innosight, consumers “hire” the iPad to fill particular “jobs.” Some of those jobs are emotional rather than functional: Make me feel like I’m on the cutting edge. Demonstrate that I’m one of the cool kids. But Microsoft finally realized that no one was going to buy the Surface to look or feel cool. Consumers might, however, buy it to get work done.

Check out the ads below, and tell me what you think.

Dancing 20-somethings

Dancing schoolgirls




5-Second Innovation Lesson from Braden Kowitz

A recent BusinessWeek article profiled how Google Ventures helps the startups in its portfolio go through a rapid design and iteration process. Here’s a great quote from Braden Kowitz, a design partner at the firm:

With Gmail, we knew the problem was that people needed to organize mail better. At startups, you don’t always know what the problem is. So the value isn’t in getting it exactly right, but in getting feedback along the way.

The same could be said for large corporations.

How Electrolux revamped its consumer-focused innovation

BusinessWeek is one of the best publications covering innovation today. I’m finally making it through the Nov. 4 issue and found this great story about how Electrolux revamped its innovation efforts by focusing on the consumer and highlighting design. Here are a few of the things the company did:

  1. Incorporated ethnography. Market researchers spent hours in consumers’ homes watching how they vacuumed in order to develop the new bagless model.
  2. Built an “innovation triangle.” The company brought together the design, R&D, and marketing departments to make joint decisions on new products.
  3. Elevated design: The company created a position of chief design officer, and is now “one of just a handful of companies – Apple is another – where the chief designer reports directly to the CEO.

Read more at BusinessWeek.

Our local Whole Foods is facing competition…

…from other Whole Foods locations. Another outlet recently opened in Somerville, just a 15 minute drive away. That means Somerville residents who might have previously driven to my neighborhood now have an option closer to home. So my local Whole Foods is fighting back:

Whole Foods

“The only Whole Foods Market in the area with more than 700 varieties of beer and wine.”

This was one of a series of signs that specifically touted Whole Foods River Street, rather than the company as a whole. I found this interesting – I’ve never noticed a chain outlet blatantly touting its own offerings over others nearby. However, it must happen often. Managers probably have to walk a fine line, subtly promoting their own location without undermining the company’s brand.

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5-Second Innovation Lesson from Russell Simmons

Another great quote from the History Channel series, “The Men Who Built America.”

“The idea is to see what’s missing. That’s what a creative entrepreneur does – he serves people with things that they need. … Sometimes you see something that everybody has to have. ‘Oh man, I gotta give them this.’ And then you go to work on it, because they need it.”
-Russell Simmons

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5-Second Innovation Lesson from Sumner Redstone

Another great quote from the History Channel series, “The Men Who Built America.”
“They don’t think in terms of money – they think in terms of wining. Now naturally if you win big in business money follows. but that shouldn’t be your objective. Your objective should be to win. Win win win, all the time. Not sometimes, all the time.”
-Sumner Redstone
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5-second Innovation Lesson from Jack Welch

Jon and I recently started watching “The Men Who Made America,” the History Channel series about Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Ford, J.P. Morgan, and Carnegie. The first episode contained three great quotes, so I’ve decided to launch a series on 5-second innovation lessons. First, from Jack Welch:

“Innovation is not a big breakthrough invention every time. Innovation is a constant thing. But if you don’t have an innovative company, coming to work every day to find a better way, you don’t have a company. You’re getting ready to die on the vine.”
-Jack Welch

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