Thingscon 2015; on the core of the new things

Last Friday December 4 the second edition of Thingscon Amsterdam. In 2014 we organised the first edition of this Amsterdam edition as part of our 20 years anniversary of Thingscon is a Berlin conference that focuses on the design and making of the new hardware, the connected things. Often referred to as the Internet of Things, the approach Thingscon is more on the changes happen in things and manufacturing as result of the connectedness, than for instance a discussion on infrastructure, big data or cloud. It is all part of the total system, but we reckon it more interesting to think on the impact with our relation to things.

With this second edition we aimed to reach more people. We kept the one day format (in Berlin it is a two day conference), and we also sticked to the mix of plenary inspirational talks in the afternoon and in-depth workshops for everyone in the morning. We started with two keynotes this time to make the day more as one full story instead of two separate parts.

One of the ideas behind the composing of the program is a something I addressed in the short introducing presentation: we need to think beyond ‘fake IoT’, the products with an app. The Internet of Things is rather on top of the hype cycle at this moment, and that translates in a lot of concepts where an existing product is extended with an app that functions as remote control and monitoring of that one product. I think real value emerge if the connection between things with their surroundings and other things unlocks new uses, new functions. This is something that Rob van Kranenburg already described some years ago as pro-active thing-systems.


I used the example of a car. Nothing wrong that BMW adds an app to their car as extension of the car, but it does not do anything with the car as a product. That is something that is happening with Tesla where with the Model X is acclaimed as the first steps to the self-driving Uber with its recognizing of people approaching the car and opening it automatically. The Tesla is much more a connected system, a mobility software with a symbiose with its hardware.

I think that the core of things is changing -or can change- with adding electronics and connectivity. New uses emerge, new design principles are necessary to plan the things that flourish in the moment of use, that gets the real function when the thing is used.

There is a challenge to make these things. You need a framework where the things and the digital mixes with the inner data and algorithms, with the sensors and connectivity, thinking of energy harvesting and the connection with external systems. That is the challenge for the design and making of the new things. It was very nice to see how the different talks of the speakers followed the same chain of thoughts and adds a lot to this  as inspiration.

Claire Rowland was very clear in their focus on the design of the things that let the users understands the system behind and the importance of interusability. Nadya Peek showed how important the low level making is, with machines that make machines. Tina Aspiala showed us the impact of the new things on the experience of things, something Matt Cottam uses in his installations, making the invisible material characteristics visible. Martijn Thé made very clear that the profit of designing the good things is in the detailing of the software. Ross Atkin took us to the city level emphasizing that the clever city is build with things that deliver a human profit.

The same mix we made with the workshops that focused often on the methods to design and think on several aspects of the new things. From the Thingclash in our world of ubiquitous connectedness, to the haptic interactions to mediate social relations. Imaging the future and designing the connections. Using gaming principles and connecting your body, it all was a great palette of inspiration I think (and hope).

I am happy that this edition turned out that well. This Thingscon showed how a lot of different people are inspired with the new things. It would be great to build upon the event to make more connections between the people. To zoom in on certain topics with specialists and those that apply them in the new things. We are thinking on the possible ways to do so, let me know if you want to join.

To close, this nice aftermovie gives some first impressions of the day. The videos of the talks will follow as soon as possible. Hope to meet you again soon!



Read the tweets of the day here.

Battle of the platforms part 2 is about the seams

A couple of years ago we discussed the battle of the platforms with big players dividing the pie on Internet. The big 4: Google, Apple, Facebook, with Amazon as outsider providing the ecosystem for making. An interesting aspect was (is) the proprietizing of the internet, the closed systems. This has only become more apparent in the way we use the internet for instance with the closed chat systems like Whatsapp.

With the internet of things is one of the lines of discussion always on standards. Can we create a new standard that has the same status as the internet itself has. That is now far from true, all kind of different alliances are defining communication standards for the specific data communication in IoT. In a blogpoast Martin Spindler shares some good thoughts. The article from Theo Priestley he mentions shows a matrix with the big players and the alliances.

It is interesting that in this overview the big four are not mentioned. That could very well be because the parties are more active on a manufacturing level than a servicelevel, it is all on the embedded layer. But maybe there is also a part that is overlooked. The big question Priestley also touches: do we really move to one standard that functions as a new internet in a world of connected things (life)? Fragmentation is a much more likely scenario. Proposition driven systems that create seams for interoperability. Services will work together if we choose to connect the APIs.

We will live in our own default ecosystem more and more, and connect services from others based on exchanges of data in the moment. Ephemeral data as Maciej Ceglowski describes. The real war of the platforms will move to the seams. The question is how the seams will be controlled. With new design challenges.

New Apple goodies

The evening the big 2015 Apple event took place again. A lot of the predictions came out, so no big surprises; a iPad Pro, a new iPhone and Apple TV. This will not mean it will not have an impact.

The iPad Pro was needed as the gap between iPhones and iPad became too little and there is no need for using the iPad anymore for normal tasks. The new iPad is aiming for specialising uses like reading, drawing or professional use. I don’t know about the keyboard but a stylus is very useful for drawing.

Talking on the Apple TV. With the big words in the legacy of Steve Jobs it was to be expected that the result of the reinvention of TV is less excited than hoped. Nevertheless it app model could make it possible to give the TV a new place in the home, especially if the apps can link all devices.

Most interesting is the new step with Siri for interacting with Apple TV. The conversational interface is definitely on the rise and we will see a lot happening. Apple TV can help to accelerate this trend.

The iPhone 6s has two important new things. The force touch -now called 3D Touch- in combination met haptic feedback will create a revolution in the design patterns from mobile devices. Touch and feel is a very powerful design material that has been underestimated till now. Just like a lot of product inventions of Apple the impact is in the detailing and possibilities it unlocks.

The second important introduction seems not so big maybe. The lease option for the phone offered by Apple, a subscription model with guarantee for the latest models now, but this could be very well the first step to a total package of Apple that surpasses the mobile carriers with a software based subscription.

So as always not the direct news is the most important and impactful, the possibilities and hints to the future are.


Design for timely interactions

On Medium I wrote a longer post on a model that describes the approach to timely interactions which are especially applicable for design for wearables.

The new category of devices we call wearables are entering the market for a couple of years now. Smart watches and Smart glasses are the most well-known. The interaction model for services on these devices have a different architecture than that of mobile phones and tablets. Looking into the setup and use of the Google Glass last year I developed a model to describe the new interactions. This model is also very applicable for the smartwatches that come to market. The Notifaction Model try to give insights in the changes.

Read the whole article on Medium.

Beme app as ultimate execution of the private live sharing era

A couple of months I wrote some thoughts on the role of Meerkat in the new drive for sharing the live moment privately. Ephemeral media with an extra touch of private. I still am a big fan of the principles of Taptalk where you share the moment without knowing what you shared giving it a much more real feel. And creates the ultimate private connection with the viewers.

Yesterday Casey Neistat revealed the details of the new app he is building with his team: Beme. And it looks like they take this same principle and add a very nice physical feel to it. The use of a different way to start the sharing with the proximity sensor have the same effect as Taptalk has even further: you don’t experience what you share and you are liberated from boundaries.

At the same time Snapchat is booming and people sharing more and more their little life stories. It is the ultimate context for the new app. A nice touch to that is the way the app is coming into the market thru the daily vlog Casey has set up. As follower of his daily vlog the last 114 days Casey established a real connection with his live. Maybe Beme is not meant for vlogging like Casey does, but much more for the little moments in life. At the same time the vlogs have the feel of a chain of those little moments. The vlog is like a directed version of Snapchat, telling a story every day that looks like a story that just happened.

I have not be able to test app yet (hope to receive a code soon :-). Curious if the new way of sharing will be something that get traction and if the holding of the phone to the chest will be a new gesture that triggers new behaviour in the end and become a new Snapchat.

Ephemeral as recipe for success

I wrote before on the new trend in using so-called ephemeral media. I stated that the live moment aspect mixed with a private feel drives the use. In an article on the real driver for the success of Slack some good points are mentioned. Continuous stream in combination with appealing to FOMOT (fear of missing out the team).

Interesting aspect Satya mentioned in the article is the ephemeral part: the messages in the stream are not stored endless, after 10k messages they disappear unless you pay. In bigger and active teams this could happen after a day. So just like the other popular services you need to keep track to be part of the team. And team pressure is huge.

I myself recognise this a lot. I’m part of 8 Slack groups. Some of them are easy to follow, others are very active and hard to keep up when loose the pace. It is all or nothing.

As this principle will get common we will see a this ephemeral more and more as design material in services. The tinderisation of the ephemeral as recipe for success…

Metcalfe’s Law for the Apple Watch

Unboxing an Apple Watch and having the first experiences using it did deliver an interesting insight: it triggers the Metcalfe Law with the new form of communication.

Metcalfe’s Law describes how the value of a networked product increases with the number of nodes in the network. This goes in extremes with complete new technologies. For instance, the first owner of the fax machine had a useless machine. And so had the first couple of hundred or even thousand. The essence of using a fax machine is to have someone else to be able to receive the message.

Within the Apple Watch the same is happening with the taptic communication. It is a rather interesting feature to be able to share messages with others via the tapping on your watch. Just like the heartbeat and the little drawings. I believe that it could be very powerful in setting a new way of sharing your nearness on a more serious level than for instance Yo.

Still with so little people in your network having a watch, that is typical for this moment in the roll-out, it is hard to find others to seriously use this function. Everyone knows someone to create a little demo, but the real value of the function will arise if you can use it with lots of people.

This also part of the strategy of course. If this function turns out to be so strong and wanted by people it could trigger the sales of the watches. You need to have one not to be left out.

How enthusiastic I am on haptic interactions like this taptic communication, I doubt that it will be strong enough to trigger the sales. Or more precise: the on boarding for new users is to high with 350 euro’s. But maybe Apple will integrate this system into other devices in the end translating the tapping into sound for instance on your phone. If certainly would help Apple Watch grow benefitting Metcalfe’s Law.

The pizza-buttom meme

I was looking for that famous pizza-button example for an article lately. The one I used some years ago in presentations on the Internet of Things. It was a marketing campaign by Red Tomato done in 2012.

Presentation DDW Goes Digital


It turned out that this invention is done over and over again. I found this one from 2013 And the latest edition is a more complex version, with functions as choosing the taste. It was featured on Mashable in March this year. And it ‘s unclear if this is also a real button. Of course it has versions in the app-store.

And now I read an article on the Internet of Things before it was called like that, from 1995. The internet had just entered the consumer area. And the pizza-button was there as concept too.

So maybe it is time to replace the Internet Fridge meme with the Pizza-button meme from now…

Invisible apps paving way for watch life

Product Hunt is an important trendwatcher for developments in digital services via the new apps that are becoming popular. Yesterday they marked ‘the invisible app’ as a clear new trend. Ryan Hoover of Product Hunt made a list that consists of embedded functionality like Katch that record Meerkat live streams to Youtube, Magic as a SMS Siri and bots like Blippybot finding GIFs for you, and Clara scheduling your appointments.

At the Hackbattle of The Next Web we saw also this happen in some of the most interesting concepts that were presented. This was mainly triggered by the use of one of the companies providing SMS and voice APIs: Nexmo.

I think it is an important trend too. Not new per se. We talk about bots as service for a longer time, but it will flourish with the introduction of the new generation smart watches and other wearables. I talked on the ‘Notifaction Model’ for the new apps that are build on the context and sensor driven notification layer as binder of the services. See the presentation below for instance.


We are just at te beginning of our automated and artificial intelligence driven service layer we will use for daytime tasks. These invisible apps are the first iteration with simple tasks, but will grow in much smarter enhancements that we will control via our wearable devices.

Melting of human and technology to helpful companion

[in Dutch]

Parallel aan het doorbreken van de wearable als nieuwe vorm van interactiemiddel verandert onze houding met technologie. Met het dichter op de huid kruipen (of soms zelf in de huid) van de devices krijgen we een hechtere relatie. Het device is niet meer het losse gereedschap dat we bij ons dragen en gebruiken als we het nodig hebben, het wordt een verlengstuk van ons lichaam. Daarin gaan we technologie ook anders inzetten, als hulpzaam maatje waar we een directe relatie mee hebben en samen optrekken.

Deze ontwikkeling was sterk terug te vinden op afgelopen SXSW conferentie, vaak een graadmeter van welke sluimerende trends op doorbreken staan. Zo doet Aduén Darriba Frederiks onderzoek naar sociale aanraking op afstand via de TaSST sleeve. In zijn onderzoek is fascinerend hoe je het gevoel van aanraking opvangt en omzet naar een simulatie van een menselijke interactie. In zijn presentatie bij de Firestarters Haptic Revolutions avond liet hij zien hoe deze versmelting wordt bereikt via het toevoegen van structuur en beweging. Je moet diep kijken naar de eigenschappen van de menselijke huid om het gevoel te benaderen.

Bij de Myo vertalen ze spierbewegingen naar computer interacties. Het levert een soort van samensmelting van mens en computer zonder dat we daarmee cyborgs worden, is de stellige overtuiging van Stephen Lake van Thalmic Labs, de maker van de band. Het is interessant dat de Myo een omgekeerd haptic interaction-principe hanteert. Het is niet de technologie die aanraking als communicatie gebruikt, maar haptisch gedrag is input voor de technologie geworden. Uiteraard geeft de band feedback waardoor een dialoog zou kunnen ontstaan, zeker als de band meer gedifferentieerde haptisch gevoel geeft.
De Myo is een magisch device maar blijkt het nog wel lastig te vinden om bij een mens goed aansluiting te vinden. Als je geluk hebt leert het je gedrag in een paar uur kennen, maar het kan ook langer duren. Je kunt er op wachten dat het leren van de technologie van ons persoonlijk fysieke karakter een belangrijk onderdeel wordt hoe we de technologie gebruiken.

 Het gebied dat zich bezig houdt met de verregaande versmelting tussen menselijke en technologische interacties heet social robotics. Bij die versmelting van mens en technologie wordt een partnership aangegaan met de technologie. Onze relatie is anders, en we zullen ons gedrag langzaam aanpassen aan de aanwezigheid van deze nieuwe hulpjes. Net zoals we dat bijvoorbeeld hebben gedaan met de telefoon.

Associate professor bij MIT Cynthia Breazeal gaat in haar onderzoek in op de mens-computer interactie en bekijkt de dialoog tussen mens en robot die daarbij ontstaat. Het is de persoonlijke kant van robots, sociale robots die ‘high-touch’ met ‘high-tech’ verbinden. Dit is interessant omdat via emotioneel contact de meest effectieve interacties tussen mensen plaatsvinden. Technologie heeft door het ontstaan van social interacties veel kracht gewonnen in het communiceren. Samen met het emotionele contact ontstaan devices die je kunt zien als een ‘hulpzame maatje’.

Het onderzoek van Breazeal leert ons veel over de interacties met onze nieuwe partner. Centraal bij de interactie tussen partner robots en mens is het maken van adaptief gedrag. Daarvoor is een combinatie nodig van cognitief en emotioneel aspecten. Het onderzoek richt zich helemaal op de interactie tussen mens en robot, en de dialoog die daarbij ontstaat.
Een centraal thema is ‘humanized engagement’, hoe menselijk moeten robots zijn om bruikbaar te zijn?
Menselijk is niet hetzelfde als het zijn van een mens. Het ondersteunen van een menselijke ervaring gaat via een combinatie van sociale, emotionele, cognitieve en lichamelijke aspecten. De ervaring is meer menselijk als meer van deze dimensies worden ondersteund.

Een eerdere onderzoeksrobot genaamd Kismet communiceert niet in taal, maar in reactief gedrag en geluiden en bereikt daarmee een connectie bereikt.
De volgende stap is het laten leren van de robot door het spiegelen van gedrag. Het lijkt daarin heel erg op de manier waarop we zelf leren, wat veel beter werkt dat van te voren robots gedrag aan te leren.

De sociale robots bieden veel waarde als ze worden ingezet als partner van de mens, niet als vervanging. Sociale robots gaan over persoonlijke versterking, ze helpen om als mens beter te worden. De sociale robot is een hub tussen de digitale data en de professionele hulp.
Belangrijk daarbij is om sociale robots eerlijk te laten zijn in wat ze wel en niet kunnen.

We kennen dit lerend gedrag al in mindere mate van spraakgestuurde systemen. Nuance Communications ontwerpt deze interacties en hanteren een aantal eigenschappen. Naast het begrip van verwachtingen en de overwegingen wanneer spraak toe te passen in combinatie met andere interactievormen.  Adaptieve feedback is ook cruciaal;  gebruik ook ‘fouten’ in de communicatie als mogelijkheid om te leren

Een van de ultieme voorbeelden van een robot-maatje is Jibo, gemaakt door de startup van Breazeal. Het is een gezinsmaatje die probeert via de dialoog een intermediair probeert te zijn in allerlei gezinsdynamiek. Interessant is hoe via simpele gedragingen van de robot non-verbale communicatie wordt ondersteund.

De Jibo robot maakt nieuwsgierigg maar voelt ook over the top. Het is de vraag of we op deze manier een hulpje in huis zullen nemen. Hij is ook behoorlijk statisch. Een ander uiterste zagen we gevisualiseerd in de film Her waar het computersysteem letterlijk tot leven komt. Het onderzoek met Jibo leert ons het belang van het combineren van fysieke en digitale communicatie. Dit zullen we gaan merken in het haptisch gedrag van onze wearables.
Als conclusie van haar onderzoek stelt Breazeal dat er een nieuw gebied ontstaat in de interactie tussen mens en machine die veel weg heeft hoe we met onze huisdieren communiceren. Het is een mooie metafoor van het moment in de evolutie waar we nu staan. Slimme en draagbare technologie als partners van de mens, onzichtbaar maar altijd aanwezig, ongemerkt versmelten we met onze techno-assistenten en passen we ons leven aan. Het ontwerpen van digitale producten krijgt hiermee een nieuwe dimensie. Meer dan ooit is de psychologie van de mens nodig om zinvolle diensten te maken. Daarbij komt dat we ruimte moeten inbouwen voor een continue lerende dialoog tussen mens en techno-maatje.