Wednesday, February 08, 2006

When Will The Physical World Connection Get Adopted?

I have been asked a number of times when will the physical world connection (PWC) take place and what is taking so long for adoption.

The PWC is when a mobile phone (or other computing device) is able to scan/read a machine readable identifier and link the object to the Internet. The most visible application is scanning a barcode with a camera phone and comparing prices.

I don’t think many realize what a monumental task this really is.

However, it is said the longer it takes an emerging technology to get adopted, the bigger impact it usually has. I think connecting the physical world with the Internet will create endless and enormous opportunities, and not just using a cell phone.

There are 3 basic obstacles this technology faces. (the camera lens, handset capablility, and service provider)

The first issue, and probably the biggest, is the lens on the camera phone. Have you ever tried to take a picture with your camera, close up? Zooming in doesn’t make any difference either. This issue should be resolved soon.

Let’s assume the lens isn’t an issue.

The second obstacle the PWC faces is the handset. A PWC application has to be designed/programmed to work on the endless number of handsets. If you look at some of the PWC company websites , pay attention to what and how many phones, the application is available for. The handset availability is pretty limited. This isn’t a simple program that every phone can download, it has to be programmed to meet EACH handset specifications.

Remember, the handset guys (Nokia, Samsung etc) don’t have a vested interest in adopting this application. There is no incentive for them, yet.

Ok we have a handset that has the PWC and our lens can read a machine-readable identifier, are we ready now? No.

The final obstacle is the network itself. The wireless/mobile Internet isn’t like the PC Web. Every PC with a modem can surf the Web. With the mobile Web, each provider (Sprint, Verizon etc) has their own restrictions. (that’s something that can be resolved easily).

Getting the PWC launched, would be the equivalent of designing a program for every different type of PC, and configuring it to meet every Internet service provider specifications. Oh, and then having people download it to their PC.

The good news? If you resolve JUST ONE of these obstacles, the other two get resolved too. Resolving the “ONE”, will require some creativity and vision. Do you know which one?

There are 2 ways the PWC will get adopted.

First, there will be an application that is in such great demand that users will either download it themselves, or put enough pressure on the wireless carriers to implement. I have some ideas on how to do this.

The other way is to show the service providers how they stand to benefit (increased ARPU) from this exciting technology.

There are basically 2 types of physical world hyperlinks (PWH) available today.

The first and the easiest to use is the 2d code. Look at any Fedex package or a bank statement you will see one. They look like box with a bunch of dots and bars. They are usually used in a closed network and provide info only to the company issuing the code. A Fedex guy can’t use his scanner to scan a UPS box and get the desired info. It’s a valuable tool, but only to the users in the network.

The Fedex guy was probably the first physical world connector on a massive scale.

The most common PWH is probably the barcode. There are 3 billion unique barcodes out there. A Coke Classic 12 oz can has just one, but how many of those cans are out there? See how many potential hyperlinks can be used?

Ok we resolved all of those issues, now what?


What will be delivered when you click on a PWH? Did you ever think about that? Everyone assumes it will be used for price comparison, because it is the only application that gets the press. I can think of dozens of applications that could offered just by clicking on a Jimmy Buffet CD. What would you like to see?

There are two mindsets to consider when delivering content. Do you know who they are?

There are a couple ways to get a service provider to adopt the PWC and there are thousands of applications that can be used with a PWH, …… all it takes is some Visionary Innovation .


Anonymous said...

Yowzer Scott, awesome post....I hope my little sunshine company is consulting with you....

Anonymous said...

By doanwon:

Thank you for your insight but I have to respectfully disagree with point number two. You forget that the phones all use operating systems to run things... and there are only a few commonly used ones for mobile devices: Symbian OS, Linux, Windows Mobile, just to name a few. Applications are not developed for the phones but rather for the operating system that runs the phones. If a desktop PC is used for comparison then a developer only needs to develop for either Windows, Linux, or Mac, etc. The application program interface (API) for each OS allows the program to make simple calls--which are different for different OS--to access the hardware devices. While this may sound complicated, an adequate program can be easily implemented to check which OS it is on and switch on any feature available by the program that is supported by the hardware. So the program does not need to be specific tailored to each phone specification but to each Operating System. Also, there are program languages such as Java and J2Me which needs to be written only once and can run on many platforms OS that contains a translator. Thus, I don't see the second point as an issue.

SW engineers have been grossly stereotyped as geeks and nerds. They are some of the sharpest people out there and deserve more credit. If things can be done easier they have already planned it.