Mossberg on FlyPen

Walter Mossberg writes about the ‘ballpoint’ with a brain:

The FLY Pentop Computer comes from LeapFrog Enterprises Inc. — a respected and well-known company that makes educational toys for kids. This $100 digital toy, geared toward kids aged eight and older, is a thick ballpoint pen, with a brain. Using built-in software, it reads, and reacts to, certain things you write with the pen. In effect, it turns paper into an interactive medium.

With FLY, you can hand-draw a calculator or a simple musical keyboard and actually use them — the calculator really does math and the keyboard really plays notes. You can practice math and spelling and geography; and play educational and noneducational games. The pen offers extra instructions, sound effects and encouragement through a tiny speaker. There’s no shooting, no sex, and nobody dies.

FLY’s brain is a small cartridge that snaps onto the pen; the standard cartridge can be removed and replaced with different cartridges that power separately sold programs called FLYware. The whole thing runs on a single AAA battery. The pen has a switch for retracting its ballpoint ink tip; a speaker; a power button; and a green light that glows when the pen is turned on.

The FLY Pentop Computer is a smart product, made to help kids become smarter, and it would make a useful gift for any child, if you can afford it.

e-Commerce in India

Conensutra points to a 2-part story in Business Standard on e-commerce in India [1 2].

Recent Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) figures clearly show that e-commerce has come of age in the country. IAMAI estimates the size of the Indian ecommerce market will touch Rs 2,300 crore (around 10 per cent of the organised Indian retail market) by 2006-2007 a 95 per cent rise over last years figures of Rs 1,180 crore and an over-300 per cent rise over the figures of 2004-05.

There are many issues to contend with broadband connections, security and legal infrastructure, delivery of goods, credit and debit card payments, taxation laws and finally, mindsets.

Ajit Balakrishnan, chairman and CEO of Rediff.com, says, There are several factors that will influence the growth trajectory of e-commerce. Such as, the growth of the overall Internet user base, quality of Internet access through the use of the Net arising from offices and homes versus colleges and cybercafes, quality of access enabled by broadband penetration and the extent of credit card (stands at 5 million) and debit card use on the Internet.

China’s Utility Providers

[via Smart Mobs] From Govtech: “In the next 10 years,China is expected to build more than 70 million new homes in what observers are calling an unprecedented housing boom in the country. This year alone,Shanghai will build towers with more living and working space than there is in all the towers in New York City.Expecting that many of these new homes and offices will want to incorporate the latest technologies,Holley Metering Ltd.,China’s largest meter manufacturer,is now rolling out a new wireless automated meter reading (AMR) system for the country’s public utilities.Based on Ember Corporation’s ZigBee technology,the new AMR system will potentially save China’s utility providers millions of Yuan and improve service delivery by eliminating the need to manually read meters at homeowners’ premises.Instead, utility companies will achieve greater efficiency with fewer errors by remotely monitoring a residence’s electric,gas and water usage.”

Consumer Technology

Fred Wilson writes:

The fact is the consumer electronics industry is not consumer centric. In fact, it makes an art out of being consumer unfriendly. It’s MO is all about locking consumers in, not opening things up. The carriers and cable operators make things even worse when telephony and/or television come into play. They lock you down even more with subsidies, proprietary products, and high price points.

Something has to be done about this. Entrepreneurs and VCs need to be able to play in the consumer electronics space. To date the venture capital industry has had pretty awful results in consumer electronics. There have been some successes, like Danger in the smart phone business. RIM is another example of a company where entrepreneurship succeeded in consumer electronics. But in reality, the venture industry is a trash heap of failed consumer electronics startups. And with VCs being wary of consumer electronics, entrepreneurs find it very hard to drum up the money to do interesting new things in this sector.

Search Predictions for 2006

John Battelle offers his predictions for next year. Among them:

4. Google and Yahoo will both enter the video (nee television) advertising marketplace.

13. Mobile. I repeat my mobile prediction from last year, in the hope that it will come true this year: Mobile will finally be plugged into the web in a way that makes sense for the average user and a major mobile innovation – the kind that makes us all say – Jeez that was obvious – will occur. At the core of this innovation will be the concept of search. The outlines of such an innovation: it’ll be a way for mobile users to gather the unstructured data they leverage every day while talking on the phone and make it useful to their personal web (including email and RSS, in particular). And it will be a business that looks and feels like a Web 2.0 business – leveraging iterative web development practices, open APIs, and innovation in assembly – that makes the leap.

14. The China Internet Bubble will begin to deflate.

John also did a review of his predictions last year.

TECH TALK: The Best of 2005: Entrepreneurship and Management

15. Paul Graham on Startups

Paul Graham had an excellent essay on How to Start a Startup in March. He began: You need three things to create a successful startup: to start with good people, to make something customers actually want, and to spend as little money as possible. Most startups that fail do it because they fail at one of these. A startup that does all three will probably succeed.

This is what Paul wrote on customer needs:

In nearly every failed startup, the real problem was that customers didn’t want the product. For most, the cause of death is listed as “ran out of funding,” but that’s only the immediate cause. Why couldn’t they get more funding? Probably because the product was a dog, or never seemed likely to be done, or both.

When I was trying to think of the things every startup needed to do, I almost included a fourth: get a version 1 out as soon as you can. But I decided not to, because that’s implicit in making something customers want. The only way to make something customers want is to get a prototype in front of them and refine it based on their reactions.

The other approach is what I call the “Hail Mary” strategy. You make elaborate plans for a product, hire a team of engineers to develop it (people who do this tend to use the term “engineer” for hackers), and then find after a year that you’ve spent two million dollars to develop something no one wants. This was not uncommon during the Bubble, especially in companies run by business types, who thought of software development as something terrifying that therefore had to be carefully planned.

How do you figure out what customers want? Watch them. One of the best places to do this was at trade shows. Trade shows didn’t pay as a way of getting new customers, but they were worth it as market research. We didn’t just give canned presentations at trade shows. We used to show people how to build real, working stores. Which meant we got to watch as they used our software, and talk to them about what they needed.

16. Andy Grove Story

Intels Andy Grove is one of the best CEO role models we will ever find. In a November issue, Fortune had a story by Harvard historian Richard Tedlow on the education of Andy Grove.

Normally, our society observes a division of labor. Musicians don’t critique, and critics don’t compose. Quarterbacks decide on Sunday, and fans deride on Monday. It is the singular ability to inhabit both roles at oncesubject and object, actor and audience, master and studentthat sets Grove apart. And it’s why, for everything that has been written by and about him, we have yet to appreciate his biggest legacy. Andy Grove is America’s greatest student and teacher of business.

By analyzing the decisions he made on the road to becoming a great leader, you can learn to hone your own leadership skills. Because there’s no gain in being able to recruit great employees, handle a board, dazzle Wall Street, or rally your cavalry for a glorious charge at dawn’s early light if you haven’t figured out which way to point the horses.

What can others learn from Grove’s odyssey? As we face a future where change is not only constant but accelerating, reality will transform itself more swiftly than most humansor most companiesare hard-wired to handle. Even startups that overturn one reality are easily overturned by the next big change. Grove has escaped natural selection by doing the evolving himself. Forcibly adapting himself to a succession of new realities, he has left a trail of discarded assumptions in his wake. When reality has changed, he has found the will to let go and embrace the new.

Tomorrow: Moreover

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