The Transparent Toaster Corollary

Here’s a meme that resounds quite often in the startup world:

Execution is more important than ideas.

Good ideas are only so good in the mind of the beholder, unless proven to be useful or effective through execution. Ideas matter. The execution of those ideas matters more. But, what is execution?

Execution may mean different things to different people. In it’s basic form, execution means:

a carrying into effect or to completion

I believe that execution fundamentally derives from two inter-related facets: achievement and focus.

Achievement comes from continually completing a thing, more than repeatedly starting many things. Initiation is important, but without completion it’s worthless. Having said that, it’s practically impossible for one person to start many things and complete all of them. So, basically, the secret to achievement is to start fewer tasks or projects, and focusing on completing them before starting anything new.

Focus, and more precisely – uni-focus, is related to achievement. It’s an equally important factor in execution.

Let’s look at an example of a toaster. It’s a common gadget in many households, available in many shapes and sizes. Its primary function is to toast bread.

The ‘Back to Basics Egg & Muffin Toaster’ does it all. It has a 4 slice toaster, 2 egg cooker, slots for toasting muffins & bagels and a host of device controls.

On the other hand, the ‘Transparent Toaster’ has a radical design. It’s a novel idea, but it only does one thing. It toasts bread. And it is transparent, so you can see it all happening, thus avoiding the dreaded burned toast. The sad part is that it’s only a concept design. It couldn’t be mass produced due to a lack of heated glass panel technology.

Then there’s the ‘Magimix Vision Toaster’, which is similar to the ‘Transparent Toaster’ concept, only that it is an actual product. It toasts any kind of bread. It has minimal controls, and it is a classic example of uni-focus execution. It does less, yet its streamlined design overshadows the lack of bloat. Most importantly, it’s a finished product with paying customers.

If you look at some of the most popular and widely used Web applications today like Google Search, Facebook, Twitter or even the Google Chrome Web browser, you’ll find a common theme. They are all uni-focused. Their primary function is based on a single point of operation. The Google Search box is where the world starts their search. The Twitter status update box is the epicentre of real-time micro-messaging. The Facebook status update box helps millions of users to express themselves. The Google Chrome Omnibox is another brilliant example of a uni-focused control where you can search and navigate from the same textbox. All of these applications do much more, but 80% of the users only use the primary function on a daily basis.

Execution is about finding the right balance between achievement (the ability to do less, but get more done) and focus (the ability to concentrate and streamline).

In Touch With Augmented Reality

I’ve been reading a lot about “Augmented Reality” lately. Just the other day, I saw this beautiful short film titled ‘World Builder‘, that also depicts this powerful holographic technology to express the fusion of the physical and virtual worlds.

Augmented Reality (AR) is basically the combination of real-world video imagery and computer-generated data (virtual reality), where computer graphics objects are blended into real footage in real time. The GE Smart Grid demo uses AR (must watch the video). It’s a fascinating technology, and I think it has a lot of potential in the consumer space as well.

Some startups (like Layar and Wikitude) are already developing AR geo-interfaces (GPS based) for mobile phones, which would allow anyone to simply point their phone camera in open space (say a market-place in a new city you are in), and get a location-based interactive perspective (say the landmarks, ATM’s, or pubs near you) through dynamic recognition.

Zugara’s Augmented Reality & Motion Capture Shopping Application (demo video) is also a neat example of things to come.

Nokia has also been building this technology on more than a decade of academic research into mobile AR. Nokia researchers have been working on real-time image-recognition algorithms as well; they hope the algorithms will eliminate the need for location sensors and improve their system’s accuracy and reliability.

One day, in the genuinely not so distant future we will live in two worlds; reality and augmented, neatly combined into one.

Further Reading:

Where is the “Common Man’s” Mobile Application?

Half of world’s population has a mobile phone, yet, only 21% of the world’s population uses the Internet.

On my last visit to India, I was not so astounded to see the milk-man or the rickshaw driver to have a mobile phone. What I was astounded with was a lack of a “value-added” mobile phone application in such a widespread market.

Try counting (on your fingers if you may) the applications/websites you use on the Internet, and then count the ‘applications’ you use on your mobile (including stuff like SMS, MMS, Mobile Cam, MP3 player etc.). Considering the average person doesn’t use a Blackberry or an iPhone, I bet your computer-driven Web usage will win over your mobile phone-driven Web usage.

So, even though, there are more mobile phone users than Web users, the applications on/for the mobile phone are too limited for the common man. Of course you can browse the Web on your mobile phone. Heck, my sister even checks her Gmail and Facebook profile on her mobile phone. But what else? Maybe manage some simple things like a synchronized (across devices and computers) to-do list, or reading news, or say, writing a short letter? An average mobile phone today has everything to manage such simple things, which can increase our productivity and even entertain us a bit. Still, in general, not many of us use any of those applications.

Technically, the mobile web has taken off in a big way. But, for the common man, the mobile phone is still primarily a mode of verbal communication. What I’m waiting for is the killer mobile phone application (Facebook? Wikipedia?), that will change the way we use a mobile phone. Twitter, for one, has made a difference to the conventional trend by allowing anyone to post short updates from their mobile-phone. And Netbooks are already being seen as a consumer-level gadget. Maybe its the assimilation of the netbook and a mobile phone that will drive the future of mobile applications.