Archive for December, 2014 sees nearly 60pc of consumers shop for holidays on mobile

December 29, 2014 Leave a comment

By Alex Samuely 
December 29, 2014

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Amazon’s fast shipping Prime service gained more than 10 million members worldwide while saw nearly 60 percent of its consumers shop for the holidays via mobile devices, cementing its status as the mobile retailer to beat in 2015.

The brand recently unveiled a slew of new features to its Prime service that likely added to the surge in sales, including Instant Video, the Kindle Owners Lending Library, exclusive streaming content and unlimited photo storage for Prime members in Amazon Cloud Drive. Its recently released Prime Now mobile application aims to revolutionize mcommerce by promising users one-hour delivery in select Manhattan locations.

“The local shopkeeper’s last connection with their neighborhood loyalist was immediacy,” said Gary Schwartz, president and CEO ofImpact Mobile, New York. “Amazon Prime is attempting to reintroduce that high-touch delivery service to the online shopper.

“Amazon knows that its one-click check out drives impulse purchase; however, it also know that ultimately what will allow the company to dominate Main-Street shopping is the ability to close the loop on this experience.”

Leading with mobile

Amazon discovered that mobile shopping gained traction and popularity as consumers completed shopping tasks later into the holiday season, prompting more than half of purchases to be made via mobile devices.

The Amazon mobile application also experienced double the holiday sales in the United States.

The ecommerce retailer’s peak shopping day for mobile was Cyber Monday, while Black Friday took the top spot for mobile shopping’s most rapid growth.

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Amazon offers a streamlined 1-Click checkout process to facilitate impulse buys

Amazon’s Prime service aims to be one of the premiere fast shipping programs nationwide, and provides a convenient way for time-strapped consumers to shop on-the-go and feel secure in knowing their orders will arrive in time for holidays or special occasions.

“While Amazon discusses drones with the FDA, services like Prime Now rely a good old-fashion hustle,” Mr. Schwartz said. “Amazon is attempting to reposition itself in the market as a just-in-time storefront.

“Like an Uber XL order, the order is trackable, gamifying and rewarding the Prime member.”

Prime Now unveiling
Although the Amazon Prime Now mobile app only became available to consumers on Dec. 18, it is poised to offer Amazon a head start on mcommerce in the first quarter of 2015. Prime Now enables users to browse through tens of thousands of products within the app, and make an immediate purchase

The Prime member is then given the option to pay $7.99 for one-hour delivery or select free two-hour delivery.

Orders can be tracked directly from the app so that consumers can watch as the package nears its final destination.

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Prime Now is set to raise the bar for other mcommerce apps

The plethora of features that Amazon boasts to its consumers, which also include Prime Music, Amazon Elements, Prime Pantry and early bird access to specific Lightning Deals, entice a variety of audiences but ensure that the brand makes a strong imprint on mobile users.

With more than 10 million new Prime members and plans to roll out Prime Now to more cities in 2015, the retailer must maintain its customer base to cement its status as a leader in the mobile space.

“Amazon’s goal over the next year needs to be out-maneuvering more nimble shopping startups and in-store clienteling,” Mr. Schwartz said. “Tactically, this is all about speeding up the clock from the commerce click to the door knock.”

Final Take
Alex Samuely is an editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York

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Alex Samuely is editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York. Reach her at
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Why most retail loyalty programs are failing

December 29, 2014 Leave a comment



Dec. 22, 2014 | by Jeff Weidauer

Loyalty is a much-used (often abused) word in the world of retail. Merriam-Webster defines loyalty as “a strong feeling of support for someone or something.” Clive Humby, co-founder of customer science company dunnhumby and one of the leading minds on the topic, would likely stress the abused aspect.

Back in October 2014, Mr. Humby delivered a speech suggesting that retailers have forgotten what loyalty is really about. He went on to review a specific retailer program that he called a “waste of time,” concluding that the system was broken.

As much as I respect Mr. Humby for his many accomplishments, we didn’t need him to tell us that the entire loyalty system is a waste of time and money. From the outset, loyalty programs, especially those run by supermarkets in the U.S., have been ill-conceived and poorly run, if loyalty really was the goal.

It isn’t that anyone planned it that way — the initial objective was to create loyalty through the use of shopper data, providing relevant and personal offers to frequent shoppers based on history and analytics. But a couple of things got in the way as programs were launched.

The first problem was getting shoppers to use the cards in the first place. In the 1980s, when the first programs kicked off, a card was the only way to track shopper behavior. From those first cards to the now ubiquitous key tag, the act of being tracked still takes effort from both shopper and retailer. Card use was made a requirement for sale prices to drive use, as the only way to get actionable data was to have a minimum of 70 percent of shoppers use the card every time they shopped. This was the first hole in the dike because for most consumers the card just became a way to get the sale price.

That would have been satisfactory if other benefits had followed, but for most they never did. However, one of the big surprises for retailers was the amount of data they were collecting on shoppers. The average was a gigabyte of data per store per week. Without a clear plan of how to mine that data, and what to look for, much of the budget for loyalty programs ended being spent on storage.

Next was the issue of consumer privacy. Groups such as CASPIAN made a point of demonizing all card programs. The retailer response was often to give a shopper a card without any information tied to it, missing the point entirely. Once a major barrier to loyalty programs those concerns now seem quaint in a world of NSA tracking and GPS-enabled mobile devices. Consumers have overwhelmingly voted in favor of giving up some personal data in exchange for deals. But once again, those deals never materialized for most.

But here is the biggest problem with virtually every loyalty program currently in place: they are focused on driving loyalty via better values for the shopper. That is an admirable goal, but it’s not one that will necessarily increase loyalty. Whether these programs deliver on that goal is beside the point. It’s just buying sales and is only slightly more evolved than a paper coupon.

True loyalty is having people line up to buy your product and pay a premium to do so. There are very few “non-luxury” brands that fit this model, e.g. Apple, Harley-Davidson, and maybe Starbucks. Those are brands that don’t focus exclusively on the high-end market but still sell all they can make at the price they set. That is true loyalty, and it can’t be bought.

I believe that’s what Clive Humby was getting at. Loyalty isn’t a program you execute; it’s a benefit that your true believers offer to you for delivering a superior product and experience that they feel is worth the price.

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With Christmas Over, Millions of Gift Returns Begin

December 27, 2014 Leave a comment

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Purchases Boomerang Back to Retailers, Costing Them Dearly;Returns Are a ‘Dirty Business’

Laura Stevens

Updated Dec. 26, 2014

The holidays may be over, but returns season is just getting started.

Ill-fitting sweaters, the wrong Frozen doll and unwanted accessories will be heading back to U.S. retailers, many in the same boxes they came in.

More than 20% of returns happen during the holiday season—about $60 billion in merchandise, according to Optoro, a logistics provider.

The U.S. Postal Service handled 3.2 million returns in the two weeks that followed last Christmas and said there will be even more this year. United Parcel Service Inc. expects to handle four million returns the first full week of January, up 15% from two years ago as online sales continue to grow.

“Returns in the e-commerce segment are a more important issue than they are in the typical retail channel, representing a larger percentage of overall sales,” said Mike Glenn, president and CEO of FedEx Corporate Services, on a recent call with analysts.

FedEx Corp. said it doesn’t provide projections.

Returns may be a boon for delivery companies, but they are a costly for retailers. Best Buy Co. estimates that returns, replacements and damaged goods represent about 10% of revenue and for the year cost the electronics retailer $400 million. The chain is trying to reduce those losses by selling more so-called open-box inventory online and at its stores around the country. Hudson’s Bay Co. , which owns Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor, has tried to encourage customers to return products to its stores, so it can try to land another sale in the process.

“Returns—it is just a dirty business,” said Frank Poore, chief executive of logistics platform CommerceHub, which connects manufacturers with major retailers to fill online orders.

The returns line at a Best Buy store in Wilkes-Barre Township, Pa., on Friday

The returns line at a Best Buy store in Wilkes-Barre Township, Pa., on Friday The Citizens’ Voice/Associated Press

Last January, some retailers were surprised by the high number of returns, said Bala Ganesh, retail-segment marketing director at UPS. Mr. Ganesh said some retailers had as many as 30 trailers full of returns sitting outside their distribution centers waiting to be processed.

Adding to the complication, retailers never know exactly what they have on their hands, he said. “It’s like Christmas every day, because they have no idea what’s in the box.”

Retailers differ on their methods for dealing with returned merchandise. Some have dedicated distribution centers to handle the flow, consisting mostly of online purchases. There, trained employees determine which goods can be recirculated and rehabilitate those items. As much as 70% of the returned merchandise can be suitable for resale, according to Steve Osburn, a supply-chain consultant with Kurt Salmon.

Other retailers liquidate entire trailers without checking their contents, auctioning the load off to bidders who in turn might sell items to pawn shops and flea markets. That often recoups only cents on the dollar, experts say. Seasonal goods, such as decorations or Christmas-tree ornaments, are nearly worthless after the holidays.

Liquidating merchandise, which has been the conventional method, is falling out of favor. “Retailers are really losing their shirts on it,” said Tobin Moore, Optoro’s CEO. “As the returns rate increases, more retailers are paying attention to it.”

Optoro has made a business out of online returns, serving as a platform on which retailers can resell returned items online.

Founded in 2008 as a drop-off store for items sold on eBay Inc., the company came up with a way for retailers to scan in a product, describe its condition and resell it in some cases for close to the full price online.

The delivery giants are trying to get in on the business too. FedEx said last week that it was acquiring Genco, a major player in the returns-logistics industry, which processes more than 600 million returns items each year. UPS is building out its return-services offerings for retailers, including such options as asking customers to specify their reason for returning an item so they can print out a label routing it to the appropriate destination. For example, a defective item might be sent to the manufacturer.

Returns policies are critical in driving purchase decisions. In a recent survey of 5,800 U.S. online shoppers, 82% said they were more likely to complete purchases if free returns via a prepaid shipping label or an in-store option were offered, according to comScore Inc., a data-tracking firm that conducted the study for UPS. About 66% of consumers now review a retailers’ return policy before making a purchase.

In addition, 62% of consumers said they had returned an item bought online in 2014, compared with 51% in 2012.

About 45% of retailers now offer free returns, according to an audit by consultant Kurt Salmon.

The return rate for online purchases is about three times as high as for items bought in stores, where shoppers can try on and test their choices. UPS’s Mr. Ganesh said that some high-end apparel retailers have return rates as high as 50%.

Alicia Carothers, a 29-year-old attorney in Panama City, Fla., said she tries to order clothes online only when she knows her size, but that doesn’t always work out. “Sometimes I get it in and it is too see-through or way too flowy,” she said. She said she returns online purchases frequently.

Owners at Country Club Prep, an apparel retailer with a primarily online business founded in 2012, said free returns are an important part of their retail strategy. In fact, the company’s customer-service reps encourage customers to order two sizes, and return one.

The holidays are the real crunchtime for returns, said co-founder Matt Watson. “If you don’t manage to sell them in season, they might not sell at all.”


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A Decimated U.S. Industry Pulls Up Its Socks

December 27, 2014 Leave a comment

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Yahoo Finance 2014 Company of the Year: Under Armour

December 27, 2014 Leave a comment

Yahoo Finance

Sat, Dec 27, 2014, 1:46AM EST 

 Yahoo Finance 2014 Company of the Year: Under Armour

It started 18 years ago with one man hawking one shirt, a guy trying to persuade elite football players that it was simply better – that it would make them better.

Today, Under Armour (UA) is a $15.2 billion company run by that same guy, stalking the legacy giants of athletic gear, a made-in-America global brand that boasts one of the fastest growth records in consumer products and among the best stock performance in the market.

For these distinctions and how they were achieved — and for the way the company has turned potential setbacks into wins in 2014 — Under Armour is the Yahoo Finance Company of the Year.

The squishy retail sales trends of 2014 were a mere rumor for Under Armour, whose revenue and operating profit are on track to climb more than 30%, accelerating from their 2013 pace. Its share price has soared 62.5% this year. And Under Armour’s strong branding efforts, deeply rooted in its sports-performance heritage, earned it Marketer of the Year honors from Advertising Age magazine.

CEO Kevin Plank, that guy who came up with that shirt in 1996 that stayed dry under football pads, says, “These things don’t happen out of nowhere. There were a lot of years preparing for this.”

Speaking in a model retail store on Under Armour’s six-building industrial-urban campus on the Baltimore waterfront, Plank recalls: “Sporting goods, which is where we entered, was this pie – and there was no room in the pie. So we decided, in order to break in, we would make our own pie.”

After finding takers for his pioneering moisture-wicking shirt among some college and pro football players, he expanded in a methodical but ambitious way into other performance garments – ones that kept an athlete warm, or cool, or feeling strong thanks to their compression fabric.

The company took two years to enter the shoe business, starting with football cleats and adding one sport category per year for five years. Its women’s line, once an afterthought, has expanded impressively from almost nothing in 2004 to more than $500 million this year. Total full-year company revenue will top $3 billion for the first time in 2014.

Over the past four-and-a-half years, Under Armour is one of only four companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 to post at least 20% sales growth in each quarter. Since coming public in late 2005, revenue and earnings growth have averaged more than 30%, marking one of the elite growth stories of the past decade.

Historical Stock Prices for Under Armour, Inc. (Weekly adjusted closing price from 1/5/10 - 12/15/14)

Historical Stock Prices for Under Armour, Inc. (Weekly adjusted closing price from 1/5/10 – 12/15/14)

 Since its IPO, Under Armour stock is up a phenomenal 1,022%, compared to the merely amazing 408% gain by Nike (NKE), the global blue chip in athletic goods — which Plank repeatedly refers toonly as “our largest competitor” in a way that conveys suppressed competitive passion toward the $83.6 billion market-cap incumbent.

While its consistent growth trajectory from startup to the near-ubiquity of its UA logo might make Under Armour’s path appear effortless, this year began with a global controversy that threatened to undermine the brand’s very essence as a performance booster.

At the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, U.S. speed skaters’ poor performance was partly attributed to the highly touted aerodynamic uniforms designed by Under Armour. While the company defended the “speedsuits” design, the athletes switched to their old uniforms and a moment of triumphant arrival for the company was tainted.

Yet the fleeting controversy failed to compromise the brand broadly. The Notre Dame and Naval Academy football teams signed on to be outfitted by Under Armour, giving the company claim to both “God and country,” as Plank has put it.

The company also bid hard over the summer to sign NBA MVP Kevin Durant to an endorsement deal when his contract with Nike lapsed, offering a reported $250 million over 10 years. Nike ultimately re-signed Durant after agreeing to structure a contract that could reach $300 million. The duel was a telling statement that Under Armour has aggressive ambitions to target the top in every category it’s in, but also reinforced its status as the hungry up-and-comer.

Plank embraces this image, seeing it as the core of the Under Armour brand, which he says means, “underdog, go get it done, find a way” – sounding plenty like the intense locker-room motivator in the original Under Armour “Protect This House” ads.

Winning with women

The company’s boldest gambit of the year, though, might have been its attention-grabbing “I Will What I Want” marketing campaign focused on accomplished women overcoming doubters and challenges.

“We launched as this big, bad American football company,” Plank says, and as the key back-to-school season opened, “we tell the world that our brand was about a ballerina.”

That would be Misty Copeland, of the American Ballet Theater, whose commercial focuses on her defying doubters who said she had “the wrong body for ballet.” Another viral ad followed, starring model Gisele Bundchen going through a grueling kickboxing workout.

             €œI Will What I want marketing campaign on display at Under Armour’s NYC retail store.

The women’s business, led by workout clothes, has certainly benefited from the broader trend of gym wear serving as always-on attire, with yoga pants in some sense becoming the new jeans. Yet Under Armour has lately outperformed even Lululemon Athletica (LULU), the company most associated with that look.

Aside from the women’s business, which BB&T Capital Markets sees rising to more than 25% of revenue over four years, shoes and foreign markets are the key opportunities for the next phase of the company’s growth.

While growing nicely in Japan, Europe, China and South America, about 90% of Under Armour’s sales still come from the U.S. Never shy about setting lofty goals, Plank wants half of revenue to come from overseas one day.

A year ago, Under Armour bought MapMyFitness, a digital health-tracking app — the company’s first-ever acquisition. The service, with some 30 million members, works across a variety of devices, and will serve as a way for Under Armour to explore “connected fitness” without betting on the cutthroat hardware business.

Under Armour pays no dividend, but it’s hard to object to this given its breakneck growth pace and the high returns it earns on investing in the business. The company has gone to significant lengths to assure its clothing suppliers adhere to fair labor standards. And its use of an old Procter & Gamble (PG) facility as its headquarters shows great commitment to downtown Baltimore, helping to revitalize an entire neighborhood.

The Company of the Year judging

The Company of the Year is selected by Yahoo Finance editors, using a mix of quantitative and qualitative factors to recognize a prominent American company that has excelled on behalf of investors, employees and customers.

This is the third year we have granted this honor. The 2013 winner was Walt Disney (DIS) and the 2012 winner was Gap (GPS). The evaluation process combines one-year and long-term financial results; stock-price performance; strategic vision and brand esteem; good corporate citizenship; and a demonstrated ability to overcome challenges.

This year, Under Armour was awarded the title over a handful of other high-achieving, well-managed U.S. companies, including Home Depot (HD), Marriott International (MAR), Southwest Airlines (LUV) and Starbucks (SBUX).

[Under Armour sponsors the Rivals Camp Series of, part of Yahoo Sports. The sponsorship connection had no bearing on our Company of the Year evaluation.]

Running room – but beware stumbles

As successful as the company has been, there are at least two stark challenges ahead of Plank in the coming years.

One is Wall Street’s towering expectation for the company’s continued growth. After the stock’s upward charge this year, it trades for more than 70-times 2014 earnings and over 50-times the 2015 forecast. Under Armour’s average price-to-earnings multiple since coming public is around 35; Nike, a far more mature and slower-growing company, trades at 25-times fiscal 2015 profits.

A harder-to-quantify risk is that Under Armour’s brand might grow so powerful and ubiquitous that it, in a sense, undermines the underdog image it was built on. Perhaps only Apple Inc. (AAPL) managed to go from aggressive, maverick underdog to world domination without shedding much of its “cool” factor.

Plank, who was named one of the Best CEOs of 2014 by Tuck professor Sydney Finkelstein, is undaunted by the high bar set by Wall Street, believing that with Under Armour sales still only one-tenth of Nike’s, “there is a lot of running room for us.” Quite true. But expensive stocks often make investors intolerant of little bumps along the way.

Plank also doesn’t feel the company is close to having to worry about compromising the brand’s underdog ethos. Under Armour’s mission statement says, “Make all athletes better,” Plank notes, which means remaining focused on performance and not simply settling for becoming a fashion or “basics” brand.

Plank points to UA’s entry into shoes with football cleats in 2006, followed over the next four years by baseball cleats, training, running and basketball shoes. The company went from nowhere to number one in American football cleats in eight years, with a 35% share.

Can Plank possibly believe his company can work its way to the top of each category it enters? Quoting the movie “Predator,” Plank says, “If it bleeds, we can kill it.”

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December 26, 2014 Leave a comment

Imagine a world in which going to the DMV meant instant service.
You walk up to the counter and are greeted by a friendly face
ready and willing to help – all in under ten seconds. Your trip is a
quick, but productive one, and you leave feeling accomplished,
with a strong positive sentiment… toward the DMV.
This guide won’t change your DMV experience.
This guide will tell you how to create that ideal experience for your
app users.
Your app represents the fastest, easiest, and most accessible way
for your brand followers to interact with you and, most importantly,
complete a task or engage with a service. Users are looking for an
app that meets their expectations, and today, those expectations
center on a streamlined and efficient experience.
Ten seconds is an eternity to an app user. It can mean the difference
between a one-time user and a loyal customer. Today, there’s
a 60% chance that users who don’t return after seven days never
will, and 20% of users only open an app once. The window for engagement
is short.
So what can be done within a 10-second timespan to engage users?
The great answer is, there’s a lot! Here, we cover ten tactics
and marketing techniques you can use to improve your app’s stickiness,
delight users and turn discovery downloads into retainable

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M.B.A. Programs Start to Follow Silicon Valley Into the Data Age

December 26, 2014 Leave a comment

NY Times

DEC. 25, 2014

Greg Pass, the former chief technology officer of Twitter, put the matter succinctly. The M.B.A., he observed, is “a challenged brand.”

That’s because the degree suggests a person steeped in finance and corporate strategy rather than in the digital-age arts of speed and constant experimentation — and in skills like A/B testing, rapid prototyping and data-driven decision making, the bread and butter of Silicon Valley.

Those skills are not just for high-tech start-ups. They are required now in every industry. And leading business schools are struggling to keep pace.

Mr. Pass is on the faculty at Cornell Tech in New York, where an innovative new program brings M.B.A. candidates and graduate students in computer science together. Meanwhile, across the country, colleges are adding new courses in statistics, data science and A/B testing, which often involves testing different web page designs to see which attracts more traffic.

Business plan competitions have become common. Students’ ideas usually have a digital component — websites, smartphone apps or sensor data — and prizes are up to $100,000 or more. Innovation and entrepreneurship centers have proliferated. Dual-degree programs, with a science or engineering degree added to an M.B.A., are increasing.


The program at Cornell Tech brings M.B.A. candidates and graduate students in computer science together. CreditRichard Perry/The New York Times

Graduate business schools have picked up the digital ethos of experimentation and new ventures. At the Stanford Graduate School of Business, 150 elective courses are offered; 28 percent of those did not exist last year.

“We’re responding to the best practices we see in the outside world like A/B testing and working with massive data sets,” said Garth Saloner, dean of the Stanford business school. “We’re adapting.”

So are the students. Once, students who had professional experience with computer programming were rare at business schools. Today, David B. Yoffie, a professor at Harvard Business School, estimates that a third or more of the 900 students there have experience as programmers, and far more of them have undergraduate degrees in the so-called STEM disciplines — science, technology, engineering or mathematics. “There’s been an extraordinary change in the talent pool,” Mr. Yoffie said.

Yet lately, many talented young people who might have gone to business school in the past are looking elsewhere. Applications to business graduate schools fell by 1 percent in 2013, the most recent statistics, reports the Council of Graduate Schools. By contrast, applications for computer science and mathematics graduate programs increased by 11 percent.

“Business schools are a legacy industry that is trying to adapt to a digital world,” said Douglas M. Stayman, associate dean at Cornell Tech.

Mr. Stayman describes the school’s M.B.A. program in New York as a start-up of its own, unencumbered by tradition. “Our starting assumption here is that a new kind of education is needed for managing in a digital economy, where speed and integration have to occur at a different level than in the industrial economy,” he said.

Their joint work includes projects for New York businesses including banks, hedge funds, larger technology companies and start-ups. They work in small teams, and typically design and write software programs for the companies. The emphasis is on making things rather than planning.

On Tuesday afternoons, the students gather for “studio” sessions, where they sit in circles of chairs, give progress reports, discuss problems and get critiqued by faculty and outsiders. Until 2017, when it begins moving to its campus being built on Roosevelt Island, Cornell Tech resides in one of Google’s buildings in downtown Manhattan.

The aim of Cornell Tech is to train what its faculty calls “entrepreneurial, technology product managers,” which are needed across industry as digital technology spreads.

The students selected are not typical of M.B.A. classes. About 75 percent have STEM undergraduate degrees, Mr. Stayman said, while the comparable share is about one third at Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management in Ithaca, N.Y.

Amanda Emmanuel, 28, is fairly representative of the business students at Cornell Tech. At Carleton University in Canada, she majored in computing and design, and she had summer internships as a software engineer for General Dynamics. But she also started her own fashion business, which used her software algorithms to create figure-flattering clothing designs.

Ms. Emmanuel came to Cornell Tech to burnish her business skills in a technology-rich environment. The Cornell program, which costs $93,000, lasts one year instead of the traditional two-year M.B.A. curriculum — another plus for Ms. Emmanuel.

“Saying you’re going to be out for two years can be a big drawback,” she said. “Some of the companies for the target jobs we’re looking for didn’t exist two years ago.”

Mr. Pass holds the title of chief entrepreneurial officer at Cornell Tech, and he leads studio sessions, critiques projects and acts as a coach. At Twitter, Mr. Pass was part of a huge commercial success and, afterward, he says he felt “realistic guilt,” holding a winning ticket in the lottery of start-up capitalism.

A graduate of Cornell, where he majored in computer science, Mr. Pass, 39, said he wanted to “give something back to the community.” Something he figured he could provide was perspective, including his belief in the need for a “balanced culture,” especially in tech companies and start-ups.

Engineers may be the most valued asset in business today, but the engineering mentality has its weaknesses, Mr. Pass noted. Engineers, he said, tend to be problem solvers, one step at a time, solving the problem in front of them.

“But the major business issue, especially for entrepreneurs, is often that problems are not known, need to be discovered or defined in a new way,” Mr. Pass said. “You need a more integrated, broader view of things.”

The M.B.A. program, he said, is trying to nurture people with those wider horizons, technical know-how and quick business reflexes — “a new pivot on graduate education,” as he put it.

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​Rockstar deal could mark end to long patent war between Google, Microsoft, Apple, and others

December 24, 2014 Leave a comment

zd net

Summary:A long-simmering patent dispute involving Google and some of its key rivals could finally be over. Today’s deal transfers the former Nortel patents to a syndicate of 30 members and comes on the heels of a settlement in a patent infringement lawsuit last month.


The Rockstar Consortium LLC has sold its collection of patents, purchased in 2011 from the bankruptcy estate of Nortel, to RPX Corporation.

That consortium was formed in 2011 by Microsoft, Apple, Ericsson, RIM, Sony and EMC, with the express goal of blocking Google’s access to those patents. In total, the group paid $4.5 billion for some 6000 patents.

According to today’s announcement, some 2000 of those patents were “distributed to various Rockstar owners and are not part of this transaction.” RPX is paying some $900 million for the remaining patents, which will be held by RPX Clearinghouse and added to its collection of nearly 5,000 other patents. That subsidiary will receive license payments from “a syndicate of over 30 companies, including Cisco and Google” and will make the patents available for license to all other interested companies under fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms.

Rockstar had filed eight patent infringement lawsuits against Google and a handful of Android handset makers a year ago. Google agreed to settle those lawsuits last month, paving the way for this deal. Terms of that settlement have not been publicly disclosed.

 RPX, which has been in existence since 2008, has earned a reputation as a “defensive patent aggregator,” one that makes its living mostly by licensing patents rather than aggressively pursuing potential infringers with lawsuits. The approach has worked well for MPEG-LA, which licenses the patents behind the widely used H.264 and other multimedia technologies.Google and MPEG LA reached a settlement last year in a similar dispute over its VP8 technology.

In a prepared statement, Erich Andersen, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel of Microsoft, called the deal “good news for our industry as it demonstrates our patent system working to promote innovation. We joined Rockstar to ensure that both Microsoft and our industry would have broad access to the Nortel patent portfolio, and we’re pleased to have accomplished that goal through this sale and our valuable license to the patents being sold.”

RPX CEO and co-founder John A. Amster said the creation of the syndicate “proves once again that our clearinghouse approach can transform the patent licensing process from one dominated by prolonged litigation to one that is transparent, scalable, and provides a rational outcome for licensors and licensees alike.”

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America’s Christmas Gift Lists, as Seen by Google

December 24, 2014 Leave a comment


NY Times

  • “Patagonia”
  • “Kindle Paperwhite”
  • “Kinetic sand”
  • “American Girl dolls”
  • “Peppa Pig toys”
  • “Columbia jackets”
  • “Fur vest”
  • “Frye boots”
  • “Barbour jackets”
  • “North Face jacket”
  • “Harvard sweatshirt”
  • “Beats headphones”
  • “Nike KD 7 shoes”
  • “Jordan brand shoes”
  • “Frozen toys”
  • “Michael Kors”
  • “Cards Against Humanity”
  • “Lego”
  • “Ohio State gear”
  • “Nike Roshe run”
  • “Beats headphones”
  • “Jogger pants”
  • “Michael Kors watches”
  • “Ouija board”
  • “Wireless headphones”
  • “Lego”
  • “Frozen toys”
  • “Sorel Joan of Arctic boots”
  • “Slingbox”
  • “Paw Patrol toys”
  • “Nike KD 7 shoes”
  • “Galaxy Note 4”
  • “Jordan Retro 13 shoes”
  • “Robin jeans”
  • “Louis Vuitton”
  • “Pokemon”
  • “Pandora bracelet”
  • “Wireless headphones”
  • “Fringe boots”
 Los Angeles
  • “Jogger pants”
  • “Michael Kors”
  • “Mansur Gavriel bag”
  • “Pandora bracelet”
  • “Timberland boots”
  • “Power wheels”
  • “Jordan Retro 13 shoes”
  • “Galaxy Note 4”
  • “Cards Against Humanity”
  • “Vera Bradley”
  • “Minnetonka moccasins”
  • “Elsa doll”
  • “North Face jacket”
  • “Pandora rings”
  • “Frozen doll”
 New York
  • “Bape clothing”
  • “Lebron 12 shoes”
  • “Roku streaming stick”
  • “Jogger pants”
  • “Men’s Uggs”
  • “Lego”
  • “Xbox One”
  • “Cards Against Humanity”
  • “Lego”
 San Francisco
  • “Rain boots”
  • “Powermat wireless charger”
  • “Pebble smart watch”
  • “Nexus 5”
  • “Beats headphones”
  • “Cards Against Humanity”
  • “Patagonia”
  • “Jordan brand shoes”
  • “Frozen toys”
Holiday gifts are supposed to be a surprise until the moment they are unwrapped. But there is a place (other than the North Pole) where these secrets are known: Google.

Americans make two-thirds of their web searches on Google, which gives the company insight into our curiosities, plans and desires. And a big share of Google searches are shopping queries, particularly at this time of year.

We asked Google for the top trending gift-related searches in major cities across the country. These are searches in those particular places that are significantly more popular this holiday season than last. The data does not show the gifts searched most often, because those are too similar nationwide, like “iPhone 6” and “ugly Christmas sweater.” Some trending gift searches reinforce stereotypes about certain cities, like smartwatches in San Francisco and $800 handbags in Los Angeles. Others reveal regional allegiances, like Minnetonka moccasins in Minneapolis and Harvard sweatshirts in Boston. But, at least according to Google, the whole country is as obsessed with a game called Cards Against Humanity, the antithesis of holiday spirit, as “Frozen” merchandise.

It makes sense that in the winter people are shopping for Patagonia, Columbia Sportswear, the North Face and Barbour for holiday gifts. Fur vests in Birmingham, Ala., are a little less obvious, but apparently they are the chosen wardrobe for football fans. Ohio State and Harvard seem to have the most loyal fans, or at least the showiest ones. And nothing captures America’s high-low culture like the popularity of both Michael Kors and jogger pants — and in Los Angeles, both are trending in the same city.

Conventional wisdom is that when shopping for a woman, you cannot go wrong with jewelry or a handbag. The Southeast has a penchant for jewelry from Pandora, a Danish company that makes understated jewelry like charm bracelets. Dallas likes Michael Kors watches. Los Angeles prefers $800 bucket bags by Mansur Gavriel, and Minneapolis $80 floral totes by Vera Bradley. Indianapolis is the most extravagant on our list, shopping for Louis Vuitton, whose bags sell for a few thousand dollars.

Perhaps nothing reveals our culture’s fickle desires more than the device du jour. And headphones made by Beats Electronics (now owned by Apple) are clearly this year’s standout. Even just a few years ago, TVs flew off the shelves during the holidays, but they no longer make the list — though Roku and Slingbox devices to stream media from the Internet to TVs are popular. If San Francisco leads the way in adopting new technology, expect smartwatches and wireless chargers to become widespread soon. (Keep in mind that Google’s trending searches are not representative of overall volume of searches. Measured that way, the iPhone 6 would top the list.)

Toys and Games

People searching for toys this December have tended toward classics like Legos, although the searches may have as much to do with the popularity of “The Lego Movie.” And of course merchandise from the Disney movie “Frozen” is hot, though Baltimore has moved on to Peppa Pig toys, a British thing. When it comes to adults, we veer toward the politically incorrect. Of particular interest this year is Cards Against Humanity, a party game that got its start on Kickstarter. It gets everyone making jokes about race, religion, geopolitics and pretty much everything else you probably don’t plan on bringing up at Christmas dinner. The presence of Ouija board searches in the Dallas area says something, but only the spirits know what.

Categories: Uncategorized

They’re selling what?! Retailers’ biggest blunders

December 24, 2014 Leave a comment


Retailers’ biggest blunders

Whether it was an honest mistake or a calculated attempt to build buzz about their brand, retailers over the years have certainly had their fair share of blunders.

Despite the multiple levels of approval required at some of these culprits—many of which are large, publicly traded companies—items that shoppers perceived as sexist, racist or otherwise distasteful still managed to find their way through the pipeline and onto shelves. (SEE LINK BELOW)


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American Apparel Appoints Colleen B. Brown as Chairperson of the Board of Directors

December 23, 2014 Leave a comment

PR Newswire

By PR Newswire,  December 22, 2014, 08:30:00 AM EDT

Former Co-Chairs Allan Mayer and David Danziger to Remain on Board as Committee Chairs

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 22, 2014 /PRNewswire/ — TheBoard of Directors of American Apparel, Inc. (NYSE MKT:APP), a vertically-integrated manufacturer, distributor and retailer of branded fashion-basic apparel, today announced that Allan Mayer and David Danziger have stepped down as Co-Chairmen of the Board and will be replaced by Board Member Colleen B. Brown as Chairperson. Mr. Mayer and Mr. Danziger will continue to serve as Members of the Board and will retain their positions as Chairs of the Compensation and Audit committees, respectively.

Ms. Brown, who joined the Board in August and has been serving as Chair of the Nominating and Governance Committee, brings years of experience as both a chief executive and board member of publicly traded companies. Ms. Brown has been instrumental in driving impressive turnarounds, returning several companies to profitability, and has been nationally recognized for her outstanding contributions in enhancing shareholder value.

“It’s time to focus on the work ahead of us and push this company to reach its full potential,” said Ms. Brown. “This is a pivotal moment for American Apparel, and I believe the company is poised for a significant turnaround. It will be very rewarding to work with an executive of newly appointed CEOPaula Schneider’s caliber, and I thank Allan and David for their diligent efforts as Co-Chairmen of the Board.”

“I’m looking forward to working with Colleen —we have the same commitment, work ethic, and goals for American Apparel,” said Ms. Schneider.

“For the good of the company, we pushed hard for Colleen to take the post, and we’re delighted she has. She and Paula Schneider have powerful and complementary expertise that will be invaluable to American Apparel. Both women are strong leaders, and together they will be a tremendous force forgrowth and positive change at American Apparel,” said Allan Mayer.

“The board has made progress this year, and I believe we will look back and mark this as an important turning point,” said David Danziger. “And we’re ending the year by establishing an updated code of conduct that will serve as an important guide for our company going forward. Step-by-step, we are transforming this company and positioning it for success.”

The Board of Directors also confirmed that it has received an indication of interest to acquire the Company for $1.30 to $1.40 per share. The Board takes these matters seriously, and it will evaluate this proposal in the ordinary course of business. The Company remains focused on positioning American Apparel for a successful turnaround.

“I look forward to building on the momentum we’ve achieved at American Apparel with the addition of strong leadership at the company this year, bringing on Hassan Natha as Chief Financial Officer and Chelsea A. Grayson as General Counsel,” said Ms. Brown. “We’ve also continued to support the superb talent that has grown with us, notably Martin Bailey, Chief Manufacturing Officer and Iris Alonzo, Senior Creative Director, and that support is further reflected in the promotions of long-time employees Patricia Honda and Nicolle Gabbay to the positions of President of Wholesale and President of Retail, respectively. And of course we continue to appreciate the exceptional talent and dedication of all of our employees.”

About American Apparel

American Apparel is a vertically-integrated manufacturer, distributor, and retailer of branded fashion basic apparel based in downtown Los Angeles, California. As of September 30, 2014, American Apparel had approximately 10,000 employees and operated 245 retail stores in 20 countries including the United States and Canada. American Apparel also operates a global e-commerce site that serves over 60 countries worldwide at In addition, American Apparel operates a leading wholesale business that supplies high quality T-shirts and other casual wear to distributors and screen printers.


Weber Shandwick

Liz Cohen, 212-445-8044


John Dillard, 212-445-8052

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Clooney attacks media and Hollywood over Sony hack fallout

December 22, 2014 Leave a comment



Sony Pictures 12/22/2014

‘Nobody stood up’: George Clooney attacks media and Hollywood over Sony hack fallout
Actor and director, who had emails exposed by the hack on Sony, said media ‘abdicated its real duty’ when reporting the attacks, and that ‘we have allowed North Korea to dictate content, and that is just insane’
Sony Pictures scraps release of The Interview after theaters pull out
Hollywood outraged over blows to freedom with cancellation of The Interview
Sony hack: the plot to kill The Interview – a timeline so far
George Clooney, who has reacted angrily to the terrorist threats surrounding The Interview.
George Clooney, who has reacted angrily to the terrorist threats surrounding The Interview. Photograph: Guillaume Collet/Sipa/Rex
Ben Beaumont-Thomas
Friday 19 December 2014 13.37 EST
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George Clooney has spoken of his frustrations with the press and his Hollywood peers at failing to contain the scandal around The Interview, which Sony has pulled from cinema release as well as home-video formats.

Sony’s decision came after a hacking group, Guardians of Peace, first leaked a vast cache of Sony data, and then threatened terrorist action against cinemas showing the film. The group, believed to be linked to North Korea, are angered by the film which depicts an assassination plot against the country’s leader Kim Jong-un.

Clooney, in an interview with Deadline, said that he hoped The Interview would be released in some format, even if just online: “Do whatever you can to get this movie out. Not because everybody has to see the movie, but because I’m not going to be told we can’t see the movie. That’s the most important part. We cannot be told we can’t see something by Kim Jong-un, of all fucking people … we have allowed North Korea to dictate content, and that is just insane.”

He turned his anger first to the media, saying “a good portion of the press abdicated its real duty” in reporting the hack: “With just a little bit of work, you could have found out that it wasn’t just probably North Korea; it was North Korea … It’s a serious moment in time that needs to be addressed seriously, as opposed to frivolously.”

The Interview Sony Pictures
Workers remove a poster for The Interview from a billboard in Hollywood, after Sony cancelled the release of the film. Photograph: Michael Thurston/AFP/Getty Images
But he was also frustrated that his peers in the film industry wouldn’t sign a petition he created to rally against the hackers’ demands. “All that it is basically saying is, we’re not going to give in to a ransom. As we watched one group be completely vilified, nobody stood up. Nobody took that stand,” Clooney said. “Nobody wanted to be the first to sign on. Now, this isn’t finger-pointing on that. This is just where we are right now, how scared this industry has been made.”


He added that the consequences of the hack, and Sony’s decision, were just beginning to be understood. “This is a situation we are going to have to come to terms with, a new paradigm and a new way of handling our business. Because this could happen to an electric company, a car company, a newsroom. It could happen to anybody … Understand what is going on right now, because the world just changed on your watch, and you weren’t even paying attention.”

He joins others who voiced their dismay at Sony’s decision, including Stephen King, Judd Apatow and Aaron Sorkin. Rob Lowe, who has a small role in The Interview, compared Sony to British prime minister Neville Chamberlain and his capitulation to Nazi Germany before the second world war.

Clooney was one of the Hollywood stars embarrassed by emails being leaked as part of the hack. Conversations between him and Sony executives showed his anxiety over the middling reception for his film The Monuments Men, with Clooney writing: “I fear I’ve let you all down. Not my intention. I apologize. I’ve just lost touch … Who knew? Sorry. I won’t do it again.”

Categories: Uncategorized

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Predix, But Were Afraid to Ask

December 20, 2014 Leave a comment



 October 9, 2014

GE’s aviation business has a team of data scientists who spend their time sifting through gigabytes of aircraft data and seeking useful bits of information, sometimes even finding treasures they haven’t been looking for.

The team can gain such insights because of Predix, a powerful new software platform developed by GE specifically to connect people, data and machines over the Industrial Internet. The company just announced that it will open Predix to other software developers.

Dave Bartlett, chief technology officer of GE Aviation,  was in New York today to attend GE’s Minds + Machines conference. GE Reports editor Tomas Kellner talked to Bartlett about Predix, the Industrial Internet, and the value of big data.


Tomas Kellner: I want to start by asking about the Predix platform, but first: I’m getting caught up on the word “platform.” What does it mean in the software context?

Dave Bartlett: Let’s start with a train platform, which is a useful analogy. It’s a safe, secure, efficient and reusable structure that allows you to easily board a train. It’s also very scalable, allowing a single rider as well as a crowd to get on and off. It also provides other services. It has kiosks where you can buy a ticket, a cup of coffee and a paper. When I lived in New York, there was one platform I used where I could even drop off and pick up my dry cleaning. Without a platform, getting on the train would be pretty dangerous and it would require a lot of effort. It would be different every time, depending on the speed of the train and whether there is someone waiting to pull you up.

TK: Let’s ride that train to the tech world. What does a technology platform look like?

DB: It is similar in many ways. One platform that everybody can relate to is the smartphone. You can use it as a base to develop new applications or to download new applications for personal use. You can use it to make a call, but you can also use it to do many other things safely and efficiently, like surf the internet, take photos, listen to your favorite music or check email. Many of these apps are like that dry cleaning kiosk.  They provide a valuable service that makes people more efficient.


TK: Can you take me from a smartphone to Predix?

DB: Predix is also a technology platform, not deployed on a phone that you hold in your hand, but rather behind the closed doors of a data center connected to data lakes and other forms of big data storage. Like Google’s Android or Apple’s iOS operating systems, it has a set of software services that help developers quickly build apps for the industrial internet.

You can also deploy Predix in the cloud to make it more widely accessible and available. There’s even a version that can run on machines like jet engines, gas turbines, and locomotives. But it’s all there to do the same thing – to run apps that allow us to do big data analytics, monitor machines remotely and have them ‘talk’ to each other. Like the cement train platform, it provides a stable and scalable way to quickly develop and deploy new applications.

TK: Still, do we really need Predix?

DB: Well, theoretically I guess not, but good luck jumping on a moving train! The software world works pretty much the same way. If you don’t have a platform, every time you want to write software, you have to start from scratch, and create and invent everything. That’s not a very efficient or responsible way to do business. Many of the apps for the Industrial Internet share common base services or features to manage how they perform work and share data. Predix gives you those services and that translates to speed to market of new apps which means faster value for customers.


TK: Predix is a big data software platform and GE has been a big iron company. Why did GE start developing software?

DB: Software is key to transforming big iron into brilliant iron. Lots of companies can do analytical work. What makes GE so unique is our installed machine base with the deep domain expertise of the engineers that built them, tightly coupled with a global network of data scientists. To do this right, you first need the physics-based analytical skills of the engineers who understand why something is happening. Secondly, you need the data scientists who, like miners of minerals, go deep down into the lode of data looking for valuable things to surface. They look for patterns and connections that we may have not even thought about. It’s this marriage of the physical and digital that creates the most powerful result.

TK: I’ve heard data scientists talk about the marriage of operational technology and information technology, or OT and IT. What is it and why is it important?

DB: Most people are familiar with IT, which is a big family that includes desktops, laptops, servers, phones and many other devices. OT, on the other hand, are the machines, the jet engines, MRIs and turbines that can now communicate data over the Industrial Internet. Bringing these two worlds together is analogous to the union of data scientists and engineers. We need OT and IT together to monitor the machines remotely, detect and adapt to changes, and predict future behavior.

TK: Predix can predict the future?

DB: In a way, yes. It seems like ancient history, but not too long ago, if you wanted to make a phone call, you actually had to find a physical phone handset wired to the wall. A similar situation still applies in many factories. When you want to check on a machine, you have to go where it’s located and watch it run and maybe do some diagnostics right there. But our implementation of the Industrial Internet frees us from that just as smart phones moved us away from the old limited telephony models.

Predix is a game changer. It gives us the intelligence to tell us what’s going on in a machine, whether something’s wrong, and what we can do about it before it affects our customers. Like doctors, we can also use analytics to predict when they might fall ill in the future.

Let me give you an example. Like any other machine, a jet engine collects dirt and corrosion and you have to wash it on a periodic basis. This is a big deal since a water wash can increase its efficiency anywhere from 1 to 18 percent. But here’s the rub. If you do it too often, it becomes unnecessarily expensive. If you wait too long, you burn more fuel and wear your parts more, which will also cost you. But with a Predix app, you can tell precisely when its’ the right time to schedule your next water wash of your engine.

We call these apps Predictivity solutions. They run on Predix just like apps run on a smartphone in a secure, scalable and consistent way. Predictivity apps can also keep an eye on locomotives, collect data about heat and vibration, and predict when you need to perform maintenance or replace parts. We have many solutions like this across all GE industries. In fact, this year we are on track to drive over $1 billion of value from them.

TK: If Predix provides such a good value to GE, why is GE opening it up?

DB: A software platform becomes more powerful the more people use it.  GE will continue using it, but making it available externally will also allow our customers and business partners to write their own software and become more successful. We want Predix to become the Android or iOS of the machine world. We want it to become the language of the Industrial Internet.

TK: What’s next on your agenda?

DB: The opportunities for solutions based on Predix are almost unlimited. They will enable our teams in field to more effectively capture data from devices such as borescopes, wearables, and new robotics, as they are deployed. They will unlock new insights and value from data to help our customers be more profitable and provide better customer service, and they will help us get the most out of our supply chains and industrial assets.

The Predix train to better business value and customer outcomes is well on its way. Announcing this week that the platform is open to the public is our way of shouting, All Aboard!


Categories: Uncategorized

Computers That Touch On The Verge Of A Revolution

December 19, 2014 Leave a comment


Computers That Touch On The Verge Of A Revolution

December 19th, 2014 | by Joel N. Shurkin,
Inside ScienceThe electronic revolution has engaged the human senses of vision and hearing. Until recently, it has mostly ignored smell, taste, and touch.

But the sense of touch is on the cusp of its own revolution. The technology is called haptics, a broad definition that relates to anything you can feel.

“Haptics is to touch what optics is to sight,” said Will Provancher, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and CEO of a company building haptic devices.

If you are playing a video game, you may be using haptics in your joystick or gamepad. If your cellphone vibrates in your pocket, that’s haptics. If you’ve ever thought it was vibrating, but it wasn’t, that can show you what an impression the technology can leave.

Piloting a fly-by-wire airliner like an Airbus 320 makes use of haptics. The pilot moves a joystick which sends messages to a computer that moves the flight surfaces. Haptics is also used in planes to shake the control yoke – a sign pilots cannot ignore – when the aircraft is about to stall.

Haptics is responsible for much of the buzz behind smart watches, including the upcoming Apple Watch, which senses vibrations on the front and back. It can send silent vibrations to wake you up without disturbing others, and you can tap on the watch to communicate with other wearers through the sense of touch.

The first haptics patents go back to the 1960s and 1970s, out of places like Northrop Grumman and the legendary Bell Labs. The theory behind current haptics applications goes back into what is called multiple resource theory. Humans are visual animals, but when that sense gets overwhelmed other senses can compensate. Think of a blind person learning what another person’s face looks like by touching it.

Now imagine your car has finger grooves in the steering wheel that are connected by software to a GPS navigation system. Just before you are supposed to make a turn, plates on the wheel vibrate under your fingers. The closer you get, the faster and the greater the magnitude of the vibration. You can spend more attention driving than navigating because haptics will guide you.

The haptics field has several subdivisions, including output and input haptics. The pilot in the Airbus is putting in information and the plane is reacting. The pilot nearing a stall is getting information and, hopefully, reacting.

There also is tactile and forced sensory feedback, said Sriram Subramanian of the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom. His group uses ultrasound to produce “focal points”— concentrated sound waves suspended in midair — that control what is shown on a nearby computer display. The points essentially create a floating, invisible button that responds to tactile feedback. The user can “feel” the points and can even feel differences between points.

“With ultrasound, we create patterns with a strong intensity and feel to it,” he said.

Moving the focal points moves the objects on the display or reads physical attributes.

In one demonstration from Subramanian’s team, a user was shown a map of population densities of cities. As the user moves a hand across the screen, a city’s density is indicated by the “feel” of its point on the map. Placing the hand over a sparsely populated area would feel different from having it over London or New York.

An object created through haptics is a tactile illusion, and you can move your hand right through it. But, another kind of haptic object, forced, can actually produce a barrier you cannot go through, Subramanian said.

For this, the user has to wear a device that translates the haptic message into commands that control or restrict motion, he said. If a game requires a character to touch a barrier it cannot get through, the device restricts the player’s motion.

Disney Research, a division of the film company, is particularly active. One system it developed, called REVEL, projects texture on smooth objects. With that technology, it might be possible to feel the material in a sweater before you buy it online. It can work on any surface, including furniture, walls, tabletops, or human skin, through vibrators embedded in a chair. It can help make a player feel as if he or she is driving a race car, complete with skids and collisions. There are haptic keyboards coming.

In medicine it may soon be possible for a doctor to look at a 3D MRI or CT image, stick his or her hand into the image and feel for things like tumors, blockages, or blood clots.

Haptics is already being used in robotic surgery. The surgeon, holding controls, can feel what the robot is feeling and react properly, a variant on the fly-by-wire controls. The daVinci surgical robot in use since 2000 is one example. One system can work with Braille, changing anything non-Braille into Braille characters a blind person can feel.

Much of the future technology will come from game development.

Provancher’s company, Tactical Haptics, has handheld devices for games that simulate weight and inertia. If a player lifts a sword in a battle game, swings it and strikes a character on the screen, the player will feel the weight of the sword, the motion of the swing and the impact.

What happens if the same technology was combined with holography, producing images, and artificial intelligence that would react to subjects? It would be the first step on creating Star Trek’s holodeck, where participants would see and feel environments that do not exist, including places and times that aren’t really there.

“It’s a strong possibility,” Subramanian said. “There’s a lot of excitement.

Categories: Uncategorized

Wide format News

December 18, 2014 Leave a comment

 (Blogmaster note: They should check out

Business Goes Swimmingly for Digital Dye-Sublimation Printer

By Richard Romano
Published: December 10, 2014

As I write this, it is 27 degrees and an ice storm is ticking at the office window. At times like this, one’s thoughts naturally turn toward summer and the beach.

Or, in this case, backward to the beach. At October’s SGIA Expo, Epson staged a “beachwear fashion show” featuring models sporting garments designed by Carol Yeager, based on images created by artist Sohail Coelho, and printed on an Epson SureColor F7170 dye-sublimation printer.

Yeager is one of the founders and principals—with partner Stephen Moreno—of Los Angeles’ MY Prints, a five-person digital print shop that specializes in apparel prototyping, printed handbags and makeup bags, and—by dint of being in L.A.—garments for costume houses serving the entertainment industry. Most of MY Prints’ work is dye-sublimation-based, and the company has come to rely on its SureColor F7170.

Yeager has a fashion background, specifically the fashion merchandising side of that world. After several years of working with fabrics and garments, she had an epiphany. “I fell in love with prints,” she said. “They’re very emotional. You can have color and novelty, but prints are always emotional and people respond to prints in a very personal way.”

Almost four years ago, Yeager and Moreno—he had been a vendor she sent work to—had the opportunity to launch their own business, and MY Prints was born. From the start, the idea was to explore the possibilities of dye-sublimation digital printing. Initially, they functioned as a digital output provider, executing other people’s designs. When Epson approached Yeager with the beachwear project, Yeager saw an opportunity to get back into the design aspect of fashion.

“Catalina [Frank, product manager for the Epson SureColor F7170] presented this concept of doing a small collection,” said Yeager. “I don’t do anything small! So it got a little bigger than I had anticipated, but it reignited what it is that started me on this journey into fashion: prints and the emotional side of them. When the flame reignited, I just saw something so much bigger than we had originally thought it could be.”

The original idea was to print a couple pieces of swimwear. Famous last words. “For me, a couple wasn’t enough,” Yeager said. “It was almost like having an appetizer and skipping the meal. Catalina politely obliged my craziness and supported me 1,000 percent. It was a journey of half business, half crazy designer.”

Yeager didn’t want to do any old run-of-the-mill garment printing, or anything you could find on the market already. This was born the concept of, she said, “Art plus fashion meets ink technology.”

Once the idea and the theme were developed, it was time to find the imagery itself. Yeager was familiar with the work of Sohai Coelho. “I had purchased a few pieces of his that were on metal that I loved, and I thought I could put his prints on fabric,” she said. Essentially, she said, “I could put it onto bodies that would make those images come to life.”

Once the images were purchased and the digital files obtained from Coelho, it was time to experiment with colors and fabrics. “I always start with the print and the concept,” said Yeager. “The season—is it spring? Is it fall? From that, I think about what it is I am trying to make. We did a swimwear and a cover-up collection, so those limit me to the fabrics that I think would be appropriate.”

Perhaps the biggest limitation—and one of the things that has thwarted the penetration of digital dye-sublimation into fashion printing—is that the nature of the dye-sublimation printing process requires synthetic fabrics like polyesters. Natural fibers like cotton and silk—and even semi-synthetic materials like rayon—won’t work with dye-sublimation printers. However, synthetic substrates have been appearing that very closely mimic natural materials. “The most important thing to me was that they felt like silk,” said Yeager. “Obviously, silk is still better quality as far as hand, but I still want to mimic that feeling of silk’s traits, how it flows.” “Hand,” in the lingo, refers to how a fabric feels to the touch.

“When the girls walked down to the runway, the print and the fabric just moved—it was a beautiful thing,” she said. “Those are all things you have to consider each step of the way.”

Dye-sublimation printing—even digital dye-sublimation printing—is not a particularly new technology, but new systems and improvements in inks and substrates are allowing it to penetrate into new markets and applications. Leading the way have been soft signage banners and other display graphics, and the success of digital dye-sublimation printing in these areas has paved the way for other forms of textile printing to adopt digital dye-sub. Like fashion. And while we often associate fashion with clothing, furniture and other elements of décor are also part of the fashion world, and digital is moving into these areas, as well. However, as with clothing, there are limitations.

“You can print on upholstery fabric and wrap a chair,” said Yeager. “But the problem is you have to think about is that sublimation has to use synthetic fabrics. Do people want to sit in synthetic fabrics as much as natural fabrics?”

“In the textile and apparel world, 99 percent of production is on analog because most of the fabrics are natural fibers like cotton, silk, and rayon,” said Catalina Frank, Epson’s product manager for the SureColor 7170, “but sublimation fabrics that are made out of polyester have changed a lot in the last 10 to 15 years. You now have fabrics that look like silk, cotton, and rayon.”

As new synthetic substrates can more closely mimic natural fibers, they will become more and more suitable for these types of applications. Then again, maybe synthetic fabrics will become themselves fashionable. Some of us remember the 1970s.

Digital printing does offer its own set of advantages over analog—shorter run lengths and customization—indeed, the same drivers we cite in virtually every end-use print product category. Textile printing is no different.

“The designer can pretty much, on-the-go, print one piece to be a merchandising sample for a collection, for example,” said Frank. “With digital dye sublimation, the fact that you can do one-offs to thousands of pieces—or even use tools within the RIP to change the color tonality of the print rather quickly—is the main advantage, to turn around collections in no time.”

The print-only-what-you-need approach also has advantages in terms of inventory management: retailers selling these collections don’t have to warehouse as much as they would of long analog production runs.

The lower barriers to entry make it easy for anyone to get into textile, apparel, and fashion printing—but there are challenges. And, somewhat paradoxically, those lower barriers to entry themselves pose a challenge.

“That’s always been a struggle for Stephen and I because there are new print shops that are popping up left and right and their M.O. is, ‘We’re going to sell it to you cheaper, we’ll sell it to you faster,’ they’ll get the cheaper inks and they’ll get the cheaper paper,” said Yeager. “And they’re competing with us and we refuse to let that be our motivation.”

We talk often of commoditization in the commercial printing industry, but certain parts of specialty printing—like banners and certain other types of textile printing—are themselves already on the verge of commoditization, if they’re not there already.

“We always want to keep it about customer service and about quality,” said Yeager. “There’s that disconnect of chasing technology but maintaining some humanity to it. That is honestly what Stephen and I deal with on a regular basis, how do we keep updating ourselves on technology, on what is available, but meanwhile keeping it human about the service?

“Being true to your core values as a company—that’s what Stephen and I really try to maintain as a focal point in our minds as we grow our business.”

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