2007: The year of motion applications

It's time to follow in Nintendo's Wii footsteps

Several times over the years, I've suggested you corner your CEO and whisper some sweet IT in his/her ear. Well, it's that time again -- you can help drive some near-term innovation and differentiation into your firm's product lineup that builds on an up-and-coming technology: motion-enabled applications.

A motion-enabled application is one in which a user is able to manipulate applications on a PC or other display, such as a TV, using as many as six axes of motion. Move a device to the left and the on-screen cursor moves left, swing the device and observe a swinging motion on the TV. Motion-enabled devices often know who is holding the device, driving user-specific configuration and transactions -- think about the degree of customization you can build into a product or service when the control device can identify the user without any overt action on his part.

While many vendors have been working on the underlying technologies for years, the Nintendo Wii was the first commercial product on the market, appearing late in 2006. The Wii has, in many ways, seeded the wider market by showing how disruptive an impact motion sensing can have on an application (in this case, gaming). Until the Wii, Sony and Microsoft were dominating the console market, battling each other mostly by adding more processing power, graphics and Internet connectivity. Nintendo made the gaming console arena a three-horse race again by changing the way users interact with their TV display and the applications on it, and did this with a much more modest (and inexpensive) upgrade to the console itself. The Wii's graphics and audio don't hold a candle to those of a PS3 or Xbox 360, but the user experience enabled by motion control has put Nintendo's otherwise modest upgrade into serious contention for market leadership.

In 2007, you're going to see a lot more focus on motion-sensing devices -- from cell phones such as the iPhone that can tell whether it's next to your ear or on the table, to an IPTV set-top that foregoes the remote control in favour of a doughnut-shaped, motion-enabled "air mouse" a la Hillcrest Labs' HoME TV navigation system.

Cynics may call these gimmicks, but they'll eat their words. What we're seeing is not only a dramatic change in the way users interact with their devices, but also a shift in the devices used to access entertainment and commerce applications.

Motion enablement is going to be as important to products as wireless has been. The whole world is on a path to wirelessly enable everything from washing machines to dog collars. Why? Because once these devices are network enabled -- on the grid -- you can do all sorts of things with them, and their value to the user increases greatly.

Like wireless, motion control will enable a surge of product innovation that will build a new relationship between consumers and their displays. This will hit first with TV displays, where the full impact of motion control will coincide with the megatrend toward large-screen HDTVs.

So where's the opportunity for the average firm? It depends on what you sell. Fisher-Price could take its Little People product line and motion-enable its animals and figures so that their interaction with one another and their toy sets is reflected on the TV. Disney could create a series of customized kid controllers that could triple as remote controls to select shows, interactive devices to take part in programming, and controllers to control their characters on-screen. ESPN (or a pen manufacturer) could have on-screen markers that let viewers annotate, just like pro announcers. Want to critique your child's basketball game? Just draw it, like John Madden on the telestrator.

Do you work for a retailer? What would your storefront look like on a 50-inch, HDTV set? Standard-def resolutions did not let viewers read labels and easily navigate thousands of items, so on-TV surfing and commerce never emerged. HDTV changes this; recent trade shows have demonstrated that it's time for on-screen commerce. Amazon, eBay, Barnes & Noble, Pottery Barn...these will all be motion-enabled, perhaps with shopping-specific, BlackBerry-like devices optimized for navigating massive numbers of items. Forget about having a huge keyboard by the bedside or sofa - look for simple devices that just get the job done.

These are some examples of how motion-sensing and purpose-built devices can change the rules of the product game. Finally, applications will move from the PC to the TV. You can help guide your CEO toward this opportunity. For more information, check out the new Motion Applications Report at www.motionappsreport.com .

Briere is CEO of TeleChoice, a market strategy consultancy for the telecommunications industry. He can be reached at telecomcatalyst@telechoice.com.

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