Xbox One: The All-In-One Dad Entertainment Device

Curious about how marketing to dads is different? Check out this free “25 Tips & Trends for Modern Dad Marketing” guide that I wrote with Next Impulse Media. 

xboxoneMicrosoft’s Xbox One, the company’s next iteration in its gaming console series, did two things today. First, it got hardcore gamers angry about not showing 20 games that will take Sony, its competitor, to the races. Second, it got dads 20-40 excited.

It all began with the first video, Microsoft’s Ed Fries and Bill Gates, along with former Epic founder Cliff Bleszinski, Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima and movie gods JJ Abrams and Steven Spielberg. Men, older, successful and known, nearly all with gray or salt and pepper hair graced the screen in support of the new gaming console.  Not those f-bombing crazy-haired 20-somethings looking to get more bleeps out than substance. Safe.

The console itself is unremarkable to look at but as always, features matter and this is where dads got excited. The new high def Kinect, which will be included with every Xbox One allows dads to be more lazy by yelling at the TV to change channels while doing more analysis, including heart rate. The biggest feature, which lasted several minutes, was the ability to actively switch from live game to live TV. Name a dad who wouldn’t kill for that. And it will feature a Blu-ray drive.

While the details were thin, there was enough there to build a foundation. Even when the built-in Skype was used to call Xbox Live’s David Jurenka, the goal wasn’t to showcase Mr. Jurenka but to show a feature that dads might use.

As always, EA SPORTS took to the stage with a highly polished video to tout Madden NFL 25, FIFA 14 and UFC games including a video with the Washington Redskins’ RGIII. Nothing controversial. ESPN features were shown so that fantasy football players could get live updates of their fantasy feeds. Again, dad feature.

The equally safe Forza 5 Motorsports showcased a new engine that looked impressive based on the pre-rendered video (despite no dirt being kicked up around the tires during the closeup) and the best example of catering to dad was Remedy’s next game called Quantum Break. The video footage shows a family leaving a house and a dad asking the girl to hurry up. The mother asks her young daughter, “What is it about you that makes you so different?” The girl extends her hand, touches her mother’s neck and shows her a future disaster where a ship crashes into a bridge and the world turns upside down. Total. Dad. Fodder.

Then onto Halo, an older series, one IP that Microsoft owns outright. Its head of entertainment, Nancy Tellem, a former CBS exec, who touted having a part in shows like CSI and Survivor (shows that dads like) announced that Microsoft was creating a new live-action show based on Halo and being created with Steven Spielberg.

And finally, these was Call of Duty: Ghosts. Apart from a new graphical engine that shows soldiers skin tones better than ever before and how the new game would embrace the use of dogs, the one thing that was really missing was a lot of details about multiplayer. Why? Most dads don’t care about multiplayer because we get killed but they love dogs. Meh feature? Yup, for non-dads.

Now, test your friends and see which ones most enjoyed the Xbox One unveiling. I’ll bet you’ll see the trend too. Thanks Microsoft for delivering what we needed. Love, Dads.

 

Continue Reading

Hope and Poverty in Ethiopia

Poverty shocks. And it should. As people, we hope the best for our neighbors, we wish them well and we hope that the fates decide to impart good will and prosperity. Americans don’t really know poverty. After my third recent trip to Ethiopia, I know what poverty looks like.

Back in the United States, we have “the poverty line” and Americans below it might go to bed with food in the bellies, a roof over their heads and a light to beat back the night. Here, all three of those things would be viewed as luxuries.

In Ethiopia, poverty makes its own line, a line that’s often obvious, visual and shocking. And while chanting “this is how many live” in your mind, your eyes open to the vision of beautiful children who come to greet you, hands outstretched, smiles gleaming like the summer sun and a nice strong hug like that from a niece, nephew or grandchild. Loving, strong, happy to see you there.

Despite every warning and the loads of Purell swirling in my bag, hugging every one you can greet, kissing their heads and drawing them close is just so instinctual, it’s primal. And it comes with its own reward, your heart lifts, your arms spin from child to child, they kiss in return, greet you in beautifully broken English with childlike syllables…  until the second part of this meeting begins.

When the children step back, that poverty line draws itself. First, their clothes are dirty, filthy, tattered with holes. Holes that often give not-so-tiny glimpses of a frail body and tell the tales of many wearers before this one. They live in these clothes until they inherit another. Step back again, many lack pants so kids just run around with a shirt, hopefully one that will cover them from the waist down, often they don’t.

Second, bellies jut out like those after a healthy American steak dinner. But those bellies aren’t full; they’re empty. So empty that a lack of protein has begun to break down muscle in an anaerobic process that produces gas and inflates the belly, leaving a signature and yet false impression of nutrition. Over the course of time, that gas and the other processes associated with the condition will balloon back on the body’s vital organs, causing them to harden, swell and potentially fail.

Third, it’s the marks on the body and the gray ghosts in the eyes of kids that hit you the most. While many of these kids are loved, their environment hardens them and the marks given to them by parents, other kids or even neighbors present themselves readily as scars that should have had stitches, cuts that healed but could have been better if there were access to medical care. And then you see the ghosts in the darkest of beautiful of nearly black and earthy brown eyes. Cataracts are common here. You see it in the eyes of the elderly, faint specks of whitened contrast stitched into the proud, sun-wrinkled faces of many. Yet, seeing those ghosts in the eyes of kids, ghosts that appear through genetics or poor drinking water, and knowing that those ghosts will only grow without medical intervention makes it hard not to help.

Despite all the hardship, these are a proud people, a people who know their history and love to share their tales with an open ear. In such conditions, you’d be amazed that the one thing Ethiopians have in abundance is smiles. At first, smiling seems absurd, like laughing at a funeral. Then you come to understand that they have accepted this as life, and while they might get enjoyment from having more, they’ve come to accept their lives as is. So they smile. Eventually, you begin to smile to.

And yet, I saw many glimmers of hope too. I attended a school run by FOVC Ethiopia where I met kids who were allowed to rise above their potential paths for a time, learning about a different road and given the opportunity to one day run down it.

I watched as they learned not only English, they learned Amharic (one of Ethiopia’s major languages) as well as learning to improve their own native tongue, Wolotygna along with math, science, anatomy and other topics. Entering any room, you saw each class run by a teacher who probably felt momentary fear by the foreigners, only to then watch her pride of students recite their lessons, breath in and know that she’s done her best.

Between classes, children were allowed to run around before they reentered their classrooms. We brought a soccer ball, two volleyballs and two basketballs and the kids were overjoyed to get the brand new equipment. Yet, when class was about to begin, they return to their rooms, ready to learn, although still wildly curious about the ferengi (foreigners) running around their campus – especially our blond-haired nine-year-old son who was happy to play soccer with the boys and appears to have also gained a small and vibrant female following.

At lunchtime, we discovered that the children here are an active part of the campus, each with assignments and responsibilities. We watched as some helped cook injera (the staple bread of nearly every Ethiopian diet) and a protein-rich shiro wat (a spicy bean stew that tastes better than it sounds).  Another kid placed the injera on a plate, another poured a ladle of shiro on the injera, another walked it out of the room, another in the room passed it to a fellow classmate. Unlike American lunchrooms, this one was quiet, orderly and respectful. These kids get two square meals a day, five days a week. Food is a privilege, not something to ignore.

So why this school? My family sponsors one boy who’s a student here. Several of our friends and family members also sponsor children and they were overjoyed to receive gifts from their sponsors.  We discovered that our sponsored son happens to be best friends with our friend’s sponsored son and it was great to hear them in person as we gave them gifts. We brought six bags, over 300 lbs. of donated clothes, soccer cleats, socks and books as well… gifts that the rest of the school population will soon get as gifts for Ethiopian Easter. Gifts that we would have never have brought without the generosity of our friends, their friends, their kids and local organizations. During the three times I visited the school, only one child asked me for something, our sponsored son. I guess he really does view me as a dad.

We’re tied to this area for life. Our daughter was born not far away. These kids are her people and while we took her from here to walk a new road in America, this is where her road began. Hopefully we inspired them to make new roads to improve their lives, one tiny step forward every day. For we were deeply inspired by them and we’re already working to get several unsponsored kids sponsored. If you’re interested in sponsoring a child, I’d be happy to make the introduction.

Continue Reading

How to Kindle African Education

Education is just one of the many issues facing the second largest continent, Africa. A lack of public capital for funding free education means that books, writing materials, teaching implements and spaces to teach in means that many children move into adulthood without ever learning to formally read, write, formulate math problems or even learn better work techniques that would help their earning potential to grow.

With over 1 billion people, it’s a place that was long forgotten for its many opportunities. Yet, education hampers the continent’s progress towards forming a self-sustaining plateau, one that would eventually lead to considerable growth.

Rather than stick to the old book and paper model, educating Africa and its 52 nations might be better done by seeking educational innovators who want to create part-time or nearly digital school programs.

One idea might be to use simple cell-network enabled devices like Amazon’s lower-cost Kindle devices to store age or grade appropriate reading materials, develop an SMS-style system to send that student’s progress back to a regional or governmental agency to further develop those systems, and update outdated materials as corrections are made.

Efforts like this have already begun thanks to the tireless work of organizations like Worldreader.org, a group that has partnered with Amazon, country-native publishers and other donors to take Kindles to western Africa. With over 500,000 Kindles pre-loaded with books delivered to students, those students have become positive influencers by sharing their knowledge with their parents, siblings, family and neighbors. Worldreader says that the use of Kindles has the potential to reach 5 times more people. That’s an amazing number considering that potential could be as high as 2.5 million new readers, people powered with more knowledge tend to want to continue to read. Imagine what could be done with 5 million Kindles.

Teachers in those regions would first teach students reading skills and thus, how to enter the digital realm of their education. Those teachers would still be invaluable as the children move to high levels of courses as they progress and seek guidance on what to do next.

Such digital hybrid systems would have to be ruggedized for use with multiple students; power management would need to be done by support personal who would also manage the publications in each device (due to the use of e-ink in many Kindles, battery life can be up to many weeks). Many of those countries, especially those with an abundance of sunshine (especially Ethiopia) could easily go solar and avoid local power grids. Many countries that lack the landline communication infrastructures have erected considerable cell phone networks that would take care of any updates. Such systems might also be used to recover misplaced or stolen devices.

Children who have graduated from their schools might get the option to continue their education through the use of their special login and their mobile phone device. Such continuing education programs might be available for a small fee; graduates might be able to shop around for different educational programs that might fit their special skills, religious views, tribal history or other views. The other butterfly effect of such knowledge will be new authors who may have their own stories to tell and sell to others. Creating readers not only creates smarter and more dynamic people, it also can create smaller homegrown markets for those authors.

Governments might also choose to augment or subsidize those fees for programs that might educate locals on developing new skills roles that are needed regionally. In regions where farming might be difficult, programs for better livestock or crop management might be offered to curb any issues or teaching people about how to fix cars, trucks or other modes of transportation could create a wealth of experts for any burgeoning economy. And that’s just one part of the force that might help move many African countries from seeking charity and start creating more entrepreneurs.

As I’ll be visiting a few schools in Ethiopia in a few weeks, I’ll revisit the digital solution to education soon and weigh several of the realities against the idea.

Continue Reading

Microsoft Word Can Be Saved

Microsoft’s cash cow has felt a constant barrage of aliens poking at the dominance it once enjoyed. Apple launched Pages, Google launched Google Docs and OpenOffice is becoming the de facto choice for governments looking to trim their massive software licensing costs.

While Word is still the most dominant brand in word processing, it could soon cozy up to WordPerfect or AmiPro in the coffin of software failures. Rather than write about all the things I hate about Word, I decided to write up some ideas that Microsoft could and should use to regain its dominance, scare off those probing aliens and evolve its standing.

1)     THE Windows Default Editor — Notepad and Wordpad felt like a strange way to solve the issue of taking notes in Windows. Notepad is a straight-forward ASCII-style editor with few frills; Wordpad (interestingly sires back to an idea for a mobile app that quickly disappeared during the Windows 95 beta) deals with low-level word processing documents or filtering .doc, rtf and other files. My suggestion? Kill both. From the flames rises a new word pressing program — Word Lite. Free, well-branded and so basic, you’ll probably need something more robust and comprehensive… and yes, Works is dead.

2)     Word App Store — As a professional editor and writer, Microsoft needs to make this happen. Word Lite not only needs a spell checker, a grammar checker, a word count but it also needs professional level tools that require professional-level certification, verification and yes, a probable licensing fee. The Word App Store would offer all these things along with paid apps for AP style, Economist style, Wired style and whatever else an editorial project might require. For freelancers, they could turn these packages on and off as needed for a project. For licensors, this would ensure yearly updates to an active audience (for a fee). Need Word Art, why not buy it for $10 with 100 pieces of clip art? (Hey, if you need hints… check out how Notepad++ does it.)

3)     Word on iPhone, iPad, Android and Windows Mobile – Ballmer already knows that Cloud Computing will probably turn him into former CEO in the Bahamas. Yet, rather than tie a Word user to a platform, bringing the Word brand to every platform not only gives consumers choices, it avoids several potential suits from the FTC.

4)     Ditch the “Smart” code (smart quotes, crazy MS version of XML) – Whenever I get a new install of Office I’m saddled with the task of shutting off Smart Quotes, ordinals and all the other assumedly Smart things that Microsoft already did for us. Seriously stop. Smart Quotes kill scripts, make pages look bad and add time to the dev and edit process. So not smart. And for the few HTML illiterates who rely on “Save to HTML,” Word creates too much needless formatting code that adds time to the Q&A process and the code is usually 50% over what is required to create a web page. And creating new Word formats that don’t work with old formats is just stupid. You rule the land, just stick to the same .doc format and improve the product, don’t confuse the document.

5)     Skins that bring better functionality (or just the old look back) — the latest version of Word offered a new, more confusing view that mostly scrapped the old first level interfaces that users experienced with the product, yet the second and third tier (the real place where most people work had NOT changed at all. The result was new makeup for an old dog.

Assuming that owning Word as a “necessary evil” in order to do business is becoming less of a requirement and more of an elite level of user, Microsoft has to imagine what the future of Word will be. On its current tract, Word will not survive in the face of challenge unless Microsoft decides to do something drastic. With Adobe’s Acrobat becoming the default format for digital documentation, Word files are becoming less and less common. If Adobe were to create a simple word processor that saved files in a modifiable PDF format, the Word team could just kiss their desktops goodbye.

Yet, I know Microsoft. It has several of the leading minds in software. Microsoft could win again, if it tries.

Continue Reading

How to Retool Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices Group

ms-devicesThe departure of two key members of Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices group comes as a shock to those in the know. Robbie Bach, head of the group and its Chief Experience Officer J Allard are leaving the massive software giant (Business Insider). The Microsoft spin is that Bach is retiring and Allard himself says that he’s going to swap the 95% of his Microsoft life in for 95% of his personal life. Yet, when you look at the group’s successes, the list comes up short with only one success – Xbox 360. The list of failures is far longer by avoiding a full-on recall with Xbox 360s (due to a design/manufacturing flaw), Windows Mobile, Zune and the recently ditched dual touch screen Courier device.

Microsoft needs to come back. Here’s what it should do to start:

1)      Release a handheld gaming device that isn’t named Zune. As the iPhone proved, there can be more than one dominant player in the handheld market. Release a device with the same power as an iPhone but with a 3D graphics chip that makes games look Xbox 360 hot. Of course, make the device compatible with Xbox 360, Natal and add in major benefits for those who own both (faster leveling up for characters, special unlocks, etc. to start).

2)      Make DirectX open. While Microsoft’s gaming API really is a great piece of work, it only works on Windows machines, the newest version only works in Vista/7 and an older variant works on Xbox 360. And that’s the issue. Make it open and see if someone can port the API to Linux, Apple and Android machines. Of course, controlling the purchasing methods and security here would be key for Microsoft’s revenue stream but making sales on volume is better than building higher walls around the walled garden.

3)      Kill Games for Windows because it never worked. Seriously, it was a confusing marketing term that never caught on. Kill it and be better for it.

4)      Work with a TV manufacturer to create touchscreen TVs. I’ve played with Microsoft’s Surface concept and it really is amazing when you play. Now they need to get it out of the museum and into classrooms and homes.

5)      Buy TiVo. I love TiVo for their nice interface and so many other things that no other DVR UI has. Yet, TiVo lovers aren’t so hot for the new TiVo Premiere boxes which feel like more upsell than functionality. Microsoft includes TiVo-like software on nearly Windows machine, software that actually is good and it plays well with both my PS3 and Xbox 360. Of course, Microsoft needs to give TiVo some autonomy to create new upgrades. With Microsoft’s marketing muscle, and the option of releasing a TiVo/Xbox 360 hybrid, would be a worthy merger.

6)      Kill Windows Mobile. Seriously. I only have a single friend who uses Windows Mobile and he loves it. Interestingly, he works with Microsoft.

7)      Give away a million Xbox 360x units. The old box is flawed and many of my friends are on their 5th refurbished Xbox 360 after hitting the Red Ring of death. Solution: Come up with a better design, shrink the size down and give out a million of those to players who have had countless issue. Costly, yes. But it’s a great way to sow the seeds of respect and Microsoft’s gaming future.

8)      Make Zune the new Windows Mobile, cut the licensing rates and go more in the way of Kin. I like the Kin concept but it’s a bit weak out of the gate. Still, it’s more consumer focused than MS has been in years past so I think that there’s a great growth opportunity here.

9)      Invest heavily in the upcoming Cloud Gaming industry. Ideas like Gaikai and OnLine are also slow out of the game but investing now in a disc-less, online gaming future may come from one of these companies. Plus, publishers would love it if all those used games were out of play.

Continue Reading

Adobe’s Ad Campaign Loves Apple, Questions Freedom of Choice

flash-appleIn the past few weeks, the bitter war over enabling Flash on the iPhone, iPod and iPad hit an impasse as Apple CEO Steve Jobs (http://www.apple.com/hotnews/thoughts-on-flash/) publically roasted Adobe’s Flash as insecure, a battery hog, for not being an open standard (Apple is notoriously proprietary) and soon replaced by newer functions in HTML 5 (or the company’s “Gianduia” technology).

Rather than continue the public rhetoric around the viability or potential of Flash on Apple’s touch products, Adobe launched a new ad campaign that purports the company’s view of Apple, of HTML 5 and boils down the whole issue into a near-political debate around the freedom for developers to choose which medium to create their digital art in. We found that ad on Engadget.com today that linked out to a page on the Adobe site (http://www.adobe.com/choice/?sdid=GXRUX) that briefly talks about the company’s position.

Will it end the war? Probably not. Yet, Apple has played this type of strategy before. When record companies supported, and then publicly denounced the use of Apple’s FairPlay encryption technology for DRM (digital rights management), the record execs did the unfathomable thing… they decided to support DRM-free music. Might this be Apple’s way of wearing down Adobe execs and making Flash a truly open standard?

Continue Reading

I speak tech.

With 15 years of professional career development at technology-heavy companies like ZD Net, Electronic Arts and AOL, I’m not a recently converted technologist. I’m able to talk to programmers about what they do, break down the big science into more consumable chunks and work with public relations and marketing professionals to find new ways to gain new eyeballs for their products.

I think big. From quadrupling the downloads on one of my products to working on a patent idea for a geographic-based technology to moving a web site to first search page results, I deliver fresh and creative ideas (based on data and user behavior) that succeed.

I think globally. Managing a remote staff of reporters from both sides (and middle) of the U.S., Japan, Australia, Germany, France and the U.K., I boil down global strategies and yet understand regional differences through open communications and balanced mentoring. And when bigger communication issues arise, I’ve implemented technologies like RSS to better communicate with internal stakeholders in other countries.

I think social. Social Media is the buzz right now with new tools that help businesses find new clients, fans and advocates. Yet, the strategies in using Twitter, Facebook, RSS and Google Trends is more art than science and require expertise, experience and up-to-date knowledge in a tech universe that changes daily. I’ve helped mix a blend of Social Media know-how, classic Internet marketing and social networking to take one new site from the depths of fourth page Google term searches to the top of page one.

I think audience. Talking to your audiences isn’t just a way to email them coupons or tell them to buy your latest product or service. Listening is the hardest part of any community strategy, but with a wealth of hands-on knowledge and a vested interest in their purchase they need to be heard more. I know how to ask what they want, I work to deliver honest and timely updates to reward and connect communities to their product’s creators. The result is faster development time, less helpline support and an engaged audience that advocates for you.

Continue Reading