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I remember when virtual reality tried to go mainstream in the mid-80s, big, heavy headsets and poor computer graphics let you walk around a world that looked like a big pixel. It was interesting but even the teenage me was unimpressed. Jump forward to now and virtual reality has become cheap and nimble.

Enter Google Cardboard. For about $15 you can have a virtual reality headset sent to you. Slide your smartphone in, put your headphones on and you’re off.

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Sure there are more expensive headsets from Samsung or Facebook, but why bother? The experience on Google Cardboard is excellent enough to make you lose your balance or walk into chairs.

The New York Times sent its subscribers a free headset a while back and has been putting excellent content on its VR app: NYT VR. For now it’s just a cool toy, but I can see how the marriage of cheap headsets, smartphones, and apps, will lead to new ways to communicate, learn, get the news, etc.

A lot of ideas go to Kickstarter in hopes of getting needed funding. Many die but a lot of good ideas are successful and become products. If you’ve missed the initial wave of a Kickstarter project, you can still be an early adopter by grabbing a product off of Outgrow.me. Outgrow.me is a marketplace for many of the Kickstarter projects that were successful. So instead of waiting six months to see if a product idea will get funding and then another few months for fulfillment, you can jump on the bandwagon once it’s all smoothed out. Some of my favorites include:

Keylet: A metal wallet that holds a key like a Swiss Army Knife

Cap Buckle: A means of ensuring you don’t lose your camera’s lens cap

Weerol: An adjustable wooden toy

Creatures: The craziest looking card game I’ve ever seen

Stick-N-find: A way to use your smartphone to find lost stuff (except lost smartphones)

Another iconic brand is vanishing (for now). Hostess, the makers of Wonder Bread, Drakes Cakes, Twinkies, etc. is going to be liquidated. Looking at the brand’s wikipedia page, a lot of iconic regional and national brands will go down as well. While consumers may or may not see this at the grocery store given the explosion in choice on the shelves, we’re losing a brand that had such an impact that it crept into pop culture, including WALL-E’s pet cockroach eating a 700 year old Twinkie to comic book advertisements from the 1970s and 1980s like the one below.

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While I’m sure some of these brands will be purchased by other companies and reborn, this is definitely the end of an era. How often do we see brands becoming this iconic?

I know that it seemed like last winter barely happened thanks to beautiful weather, but you might remember that in the recent past, winter storms generated hashtags on social media like #SNOMG and #Snowmageddon (a name actually picked by President Obama). Now, the Weather Channel has decided it wants to control the hashtags people use for winter storms. As such, it has decreed it will name all winter storms, claiming it will raise awareness of the storms with consumers (though I think it’s an attempt to raise awareness of its coverage).

So it sounds like an interesting way to engage consumers via social media, right? The problem is that it feels very forced and made up. When hashtags like #SNOMG showed up on Twitter it was because users were controlling the conversation and enjoying it. I suspect that no one will use the storm names, unless it is to mock the names themselves. 

That mocking, has already started rather spontaneously as the AV Club posted an article on it, noticed that one of the names was “KHAN” and the comments immediately filled with sarcastic references to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (among others). It’s a lesson many companies have a hard time learning, you can’t force social media. While you can wind it up, once you send it out into the world it will carve it’s own path. I suspect this attempt will be met with an old standard hashtag on social media: #fail.

A question I see a lot of lately is “how can we get consumers to be involved with our brand?” Companies want consumers to think more and raise their involvement with brands to gain a competitive edge. Historically this has only been the realm of lifestyle brands like Harley Davidson. One category that might lend some hints to how to raise involvement is sports. Sports fans are the trailblazers in terms of taking involvement to new levels.

This is clearly evident in a new ESPN short film regarding the lengths to which some fans go with this obsession, taking it well beyond their day-to-day lives. While I don’t think consumers will get to this level with everything, there may be lessons to be learned from sports about raising involvement and creating loyalty.

ImageThis is the week where Apple makes its big product and software announcements. As usual, I’m sure there will be a mix of surprises, disappointments, and big changes that will generate a buzz on the internet. One interesting thing I saw leaked this morning was that Apple will stop giving away printers with new computer purchases. Instead, it is rumored they will give away content in the form of iTunes gift cards. 

I realize that this seems like a very subtle change on the surface, but it may be remembered as one of the first things that signaled the death of home printing. Many things have gone either ticketless (airlines) or paperless/scanable (events). Our mobile devices keep our correspondence, directions, coupons, etc. when we’re away from home so we don’t need to print those things out anymore. Documents are largely shared via e-mail or other cloud sources. Reading/notes are quickly moving to screens.

Beyond the scanning capabilities, is the home printer moving from necessity to relic?

 

ImageFor the past few years we’ve been hit with stories that the watch is fading away, that younger generations have given up wearing a watch thanks to their smart phones. Well, two recent products are showing signs that the watch might be making a comeback. These watches aren’t so much fashion plates but more akin to Dick Tracy’s Two-Way Wrist Radio. 

The Sony SmartWatch is out and links to Sony Android phones (and some others) while on Kickstarter, an E-Paper Watch called the Pebble didn’t just raise the $100,000 it was seeking, it raised over $10 million.

While we’re being inundated with the idea that Smart devices will be everywhere shortly, the idea of adding functionality to the watch (and a new notification screen to the phone) seems like an actual innovation we should have seen long ago. It will be interesting to see how many other seemingly mundane devices will follow.

It might not be the flying cars we’ve been promised since forever, but Google is working on augmented reality. What’s that you ask? Watch the video below and you’ll see. It’s takes the functionality of your mobile phone and puts it into a seamless heads up display you use while walking around town. Philip K Dick might recognize this future…