Tag Archives: Microsoft

Multi-touch table magic, courtesy of MS Surface

Robert Scoble just posted this YouTube video of a demonstration of Microsoft’s Surface multi-touch tabletop monitor. Shot at last week’s Gnomedex, this video serves as a sneak preview of what this technology can do in a social setting.

Last month I posted about the new Bokode barcode. One application I described to friends was its use on trade show floors. The barcodes would be worn on presenter name tags, and reveal much about the wearers to any conference attendee wielding a smart-phone camera (the link to the Bokode post is below).

The MS Surface offers a different solution to the same challenge. It’s one of making the most of a networking opportunity. The tabletop displays the conference’s social graph, which can be manipulated and organized by anyone who steps forward and plops down their name tag.

Making the most of conferences

National conferences demand efficiency from its attendees. The cost in time and money is considerable, so many of us look at them as a competition to beat our personal best: How many relevant contacts can we make? How many friendships and business ties can we deepen? It’s all an effort to be efficient, and not fly home feeling we’ve overspent on a rare chance to make valuable face-to-face contacts.

This strong networking benefit is what’s convinced me that Microsoft is on to something. I suspect the main challenge with their tables will be the over-crowding that takes place around them. Conferences providing this technology will be hard-pressed to have enough tables to go around.

Related links:

Online display ads prompt more searches and lift conversions

A recent study reported in eMarketer (results graphic below) shows a surprising boost in organic searches when consumers are exposed to an online display ad.

What is especially interesting is the variation by industry:

lift_from_ads
The improvement in number of searches when consumers see a display ad

(Could it be that display ads in certain industries are more effective than others? I’m guessing that’s at least part of it.)

Obviously, the real test of a display ad is not its effectiveness at spurring interest (i.e., a search), but at making a sale. It turns out the lift in coversions of combining display ads with paid search is significant as well. In a prior study by Microsoft and Atlas DMT, reported in this Clickz article, it was found that overall conversions when search and display ads were used simultaneously was 22%.

What is significant about this study, however, is for some categories of business there was no lift in conversions whatsoever.

The fact that conversion rates improve at all is good news for online advertising. In fact, the eMarketer piece concludes with a prediction for this harrowing new year:

Search and display ads will retain the highest share of online ad spending formats through 2013, and will be the only formats to maintain double-digit share through that period.

It will be interesting to watch.

iPhone voice recognition app presages a new mobile interface

A newly-launched iPhone application allows Google searches through voice alone. This brings us closer to when non-computing types can work and play in a Web 2.0 world. Imagine: If this future comes to pass, productivity increases in many industries would be huge.

More significant to us marketers, large swaths of the workforce will no longer consider the computing world to be hostile — or at the very least, impenetrable. As I speculated two years ago many workers simply will not make portable computing a habit until it is easy enough to do through speech alone.

You might consider this Part II of a two-part post. Last week I reported on Powerset, Microsoft’s acquisition in semantic search. Now, here is an exciting stride in the the voice-recognition half of the hands-free computing equation.

Below is how the New York Times characterized the voice recognition arms race (at least, the race for the juicy prize of mobile search dominance):

Both Yahoo and Microsoft already offer voice services for cellphones. The Microsoft Tellme service returns information in specific categories like directions, maps and movies. Yahoo’s oneSearch with Voice is more flexible but does not appear to be as accurate as Google’s offering. The Google system is far from perfect, and it can return queries that appear as gibberish. Google executives declined to estimate how often the service gets it right, but they said they believed it was easily accurate enough to be useful to people who wanted to avoid tapping out their queries on the iPhone’s touch-screen keyboard.

The service can be used to get restaurant recommendations and driving directions, look up contacts in the iPhone’s address book or just settle arguments in bars. The query “What is the best pizza restaurant in Noe Valley?” returns a list of three restaurants in that San Francisco neighborhood, each with starred reviews from Google users and links to click for phone numbers and directions.

The emphasis above is mine. Here’s a demo of the new Google app for the iPhone:

This is going to get very interesting, very fast.

As Raj Reddy, an artificial intelligence researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, reported in the NY Time’s piece: “Whatever [Google] introduces now, it will greatly increase in accuracy in three or six months.”

The semantic search problem, when solved, will help computers understand what people are saying based on their wording and a phrase’s context. On the other hand, voice recognition requires something at least as daunting: Penetrating regional accents. The most visible flaw in this first full week of the iPhone app’s release is it is baffled by British accents.

New Wikipedia crawler provides powerful semantic search

As recently as May, the online press was calling the technology behind Powerset a possible “Google-killer,” as well as an acquisition shoo-in. In June Microsoft proved the second prediction when they bought Powerset for roughly $100 million.

Microsoft acquired, at the very least, a fascinating toy. Here’s a video showing the power of this company’s semantic search tool:


Powerset Demo Video from officialpowerset on Vimeo.

The next time you need something out of Wikipedia, see if you can find it more quickly using this impressive application.

“Hearing” and Understanding

When I call the technology a toy I’m joking, of course. Accounts are that Microsoft is incorporating Powerset’s app gradually into Live Search. There is another use that’s hinted at in the way semantic search renders answers. It’s a far more exciting prospect than another web-based search engine.

Consider the implications of this technology once voice recognition via cell phones improves.

As I’ve speculated before, we’ll witness the true power of mobile computing when the voice barrier is broken. This voice barrier is a two-fold problem. As with human cognition, there is the problem of accurately hearing, and even more difficult, the problem of understanding.

Powerset’s semantic search shows progress in tackling that second half of the equation.

Multi-touch screen tables interact with casino patrons

Since Jeff Han first presented multi-touch screen technology, there has been a great deal of speculation on which industry would be first to make use of it. The industry first to reap profits from another breakthrough technology — personal video players — was not surprising “adult entertainment.” But manipulating images on a cool glass monitor is hardly conducive to this, er, prurient interest. Allow another vice, or maybe two, to step in and fill the void.

Of course! Drinking. And eventually, gambling.

Thank you Mike Luedke, of Dinefly fame, for tipping me off to this extraordinary application of Microsoft Surface technology. As this report explains:

The six rectangular tables with built-in 30-inch flat screens using Microsoft Surface technology were installed in a lounge at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, with custom applications built for Harrah’s.

A spokeswoman for Microsoft said the units sold for a base price of $10,000.

A program called Mixologists lets patrons play bartender by creating and ordering concoctions of whatever cocktails and mixers they click on. The system is able to remember users’ drink orders and, one day, may be able to offer customers the same drink at other Harrah’s locations, such as when they play a slot machine.

Another program lets users watch YouTube videos, either by searching or choosing from a list of popular videos. Harrah’s officials said they reached a licensing deal with YouTube on Wednesday.

The table also includes a program called Flirt, which lets customers sitting at any such table in the lounge see and chat with each other, take and e-mail pictures and even trade cell phone numbers.

Okay, so maybe there is a tie-in to prurient interests. Or at least hooking up. Regardless, this is a brilliant application from Harrah’s, a group that has already shown its mastery in customer relationship marketing.

I’ll be curious, when my parents next travel to Vegas, to see if these tables will suck them in. They are long-standing members of Harrah’s Club. I hope they do. I would love to see how data from interactions with these bar tables are used to further improve their experiences at the casinos and beyond.

Speaking of my parents, Have a great Father’s Day weekend, dad!