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Time has arrived.

In Apple, brand-building, innovation, iPhone, Technology, Uncategorized on April 12, 2015 at 2:56 pm

Apple Watch customers could wait months.

by Robert Liljenwall

Gold-Apple-WatchAnyone who has been through an Apple launch before, knows you have to get in line early or be phone-ready when the clock strikes midnight.  Pre-orders started Friday April 10 at 12:01 a.m. (Pacific Standard Time) and true to Apple’s prediction, it was a sell out, not for all models but for the lower-priced editions.  For many, they’ll have to wait until June and in some cases, August.  Those who got their orders placed early will get Watches in May.
Theories abound about Apple’s strategy — did they purposely reduce the number of Watches available to create a “sold-out buzz”, thus hyping the Watch’s popularity? Is it really that much in demand?  Do consumers (Apple fanatics) really crave this new wearable device?  Many of the skeptics and cynics opt for the former — one professor cited “this has always been Apple’s strategy — create a sense of high demand even if there isn’t one.  But it works.”
Apple doesn’t comment on these conjectures, but in March, Apple provided rough estimates — 5-6 million watches (in all editions) would be available at the launch.  Wall Street analysts in Fortune’s review had predictions up to 44 million would be sold in 2015.
Stories abound about how to get around the wait.  There are speculators who will sell you their pre-order on eBay for a $1000 over the cost so you can have your immediate gratification.  And people are snapping them up.  There are high-end, specialty retailers — like, who has created a 24k Gold, Rose Gold, or platinum Apple Watch with Swarovsk-style crystals that come with your choice of exotic animal skin straps for the $17,000 variety.  Apple is surely going to string this out as along as the buzz and demand are there.  But what about the Watch?  Is it worth it?  Does it do all of the ‘tricks’ that Apple says it will do.  (See the iimpressive Apple Watch video on
Reviews project another Apple “hit”
Although there are mixed reviews about the Apple Watch, from the more than 20 such reviews we have seen show a clear and sometimes enthusiastic approval for the Watch.  Early testers said — “It’s goes beyond my expectations…”  “It makes me want to wear a watch again.”  “It takes a bit to get used to it but once you get over the learning curve, it’s incredible.”  But what is really driving this Apple Watch demand?  See our Eight Reasons Why.

Eight reasons why Apple Watch will be successful

In Apple, brand-building, Fashion, innovation, iPhone, mobile & tablets, retail, Technology on April 12, 2015 at 2:54 pm

How will fans love thee?  Let us count the ways.

by Robert Liljenwall

8 apple watches1.  Apple relies on its existing customer base to drive initial sales on all new products.  Apple has sold over 500 million iPhones.  Their customers have the highest upgrade % of any comparable smart phone. As they say, the existing customer is the easiest and ‘cheapest’ to sell. If you own an Apple product, you have already received many emails about the Watch.  Apple knows how to mine it’s customer base, and they are uniquely successful at extracting money from their customer’s wallets.
2.  Apple customers are “discreet adopters”.  Apple never introduces a new device (think iPod, iPhone, iPad) that isn’t tested and performs at the highest level.  Apple is not the first to jump into the new product space — they take a wait/see approach, figure out how to do it better, and then fill in all the gaps and produce exquisitely designed devices that are superior in execution in all areas.  Samsung has given them a ‘run for their money’ but they’re perceived as a lower-tier product — certainly not on the same prestigious level with Apple, regardless of their performance.
3.  Apple’s customers are brand loyal.  They ‘believe’ and ‘trust’ just about everything Apple says about its products.  But these customers don’t just take Apple’s word for this — they know first hand that Apple products perform as expected, and they learn that their customer service is superior.  Yes, they pay more and are eager to do so, but they honestly believe their products are worth it.  For example, they know from experience how polite, courteous, and knowledgeable the ‘geniuses’ at the Genius Bar are.  And they love how they can ‘experiment’ and access all Apple products in their store.  All this builds their brand — they know that every contact they have with their customer is a solid building block for selling future products.
4.  Apple’s snob appeal.  Make no mistake about it — Apple is a luxury product.  They  never discount.  They don’t put on “sales” in Apple stores.  That Apple logo that shines brightly from your laptop in a Starbucks says this about you:  I have an Apple laptop….I paid top dollar for it….I am the kind of person who wants and needs the best…I am proud to be an Apple user.  Being an Apple user also says that you appreciate quality products and services because that’s the kind of person you are.  You want the best.  And wearing the new Apple Watch on your wrist for everyone to see will just be another way to express your commitment to the highest quality, the best.  In many ways, Apple users are tech snobs.  And they’re proud of it.
5.  Apple’s frenzied cult.  This brings us to:  Is Apple a cult?  Of course, it is.  It was always Steve Job’s vision to create the best computer in the world, the MacIntosh.  Then the iMac….then the MacBook…..iPod….iPhone. And now, Tim’s Watch.  Apple customers have been enraptured by the company’s products, its culture and position as a truly luxury brand, they have almost a blind passion for any new product.  They will ‘blindly’ buy their next new thing because  even if they may not need it, they want it.  This is based on customers wanting to always be “cool”, “chic”, tech-savvy, smart.  Apple customers believe so strongly in the Apple methods of inventing new things, they want desperately to be the owner of their latest invention.  It’s a sign that “I am truly a member of the one of most exclusive clubs in the world.”  I may not be able to join the country club, but I can own an Apple Watch and enhance my own brand at the same time.
Passionate Apple users also believe they truly own and depend on the best products in the world that makes their life better.  Apple is not a commodity — it’s the #1 brand in the world today (and the most valuable) that stands for something truly great — Superior Invention.  Superior Design.  Superior Innovation.  These are the common themes in the reviews we have seen on previous Apple products, and the Watch is no different this time around.
6.  Apple takes advantage of its market position.  They are not fools ….they can be arrogant for sure, but for the most part, it’s deserved arrogance.  They have earned, time again and again, the loyalty of their customers because they have delivered in the past.  Consequently, they rely on an established and proven methodology for creating and marketing new products that limits (or eliminates) failure.  There have been glitches — the antennae on the early iPhone was one — and the Apple Map app was a disaster.  Since Jobs created the first new Macs after his return to the company in 1996, their development and marketing process has essentially remained the same.  The only difference Jobs made the second time around was to open up the source code so they could extend their programming and offerings to users without having to spend the $$ on them.  Hence, there are over 1.2 million apps today for the iPhone and developers are now pushing for new apps for the Watch, although we doubt it will handle that many apps.
7.  Apple is the World’s Biggest Tease.  Think about it:  We have been teased about the Apple Watch for over a year.  This teaser campaign is perhaps the best marketing strategy ever created in the history of new product launches.  Nobody does it better.  Not even James Bond.  And what this does is create a “feeding frenzy”.  I asked a gentleman last night in a restaurant who was dining with his wife….they were both looking down at their iPhones — he had a 6, she had a 6 Plus (and proud of it).  I asked him if they ever talk at dinner anymore….they laughed.  Of course we do.  Are you getting an Apple Watch…she emphatically said “no.”  He, on the other hand, nodded ‘yes’, with a huge grin.  “Have to.  It’s my destiny.”  Think about that….his “destiny”?  Every brand marketer in the world wants this kind of customer loyalty.
8.  Apple is the ultimate creative force.  There is an old marketing adage:  The Creative Plan is the Marketing Plan.  I learned this while at Disneyland years ago.  Disney’s creative plan — designing and operating the world’s best outdoor attraction — was the reason for its success.  Not its marketing.  And what makes Apple’s marketing so effective is that their products are so damn gorgeous and work flawlessly (most of the time), they require less marketing than what their competitors must spend.  The brand extensions from Apple II to the Watch have proven winners every time.  Steve Jobs is responsible for building this creative culture.  And yes, he was a meanie.  He wasn’t always the nicest guy.  They got rid of him once.  But it was his devotion to creating the world’s ultimate products that serves today as their foundation for being the world #1 brand and most valuable company.  
With every new launch, Apple takes its brand equity for a spin.  They use this equity — tangible and intangible assets — to insure that their products are superior in every aspect of their design, function, and purpose, but more importantly, Apple hires the best “experts” in their field to guide the company down a new path — in this case, the watch business.  They recruit the best and brightest (“who can resist?”) from the world market and make sure that they pay attention to their cultural beliefs and practices at every turn.  They may, perhaps, stumble on the Watch launch, but for any company to take on such a mammoth undertaking in a whole new category — such as the tradition-bound watch business, there is no company better qualified to take this plunge than Apple.  They’re not betting their farm on this one product — but they are indeed dealing from a position of strength.  It’s a marvel to watch, pun intended.

Am I going to get the Watch?  Yes.  When?  Not sure.  I have gleaned myself from the frenzied rush to stand in line for hours or dial 17 times to reach an Apple order taker after the clock strikes Midnight.  I’m older now…and besides I have learned that, like with the Watch, I don’t really need it.  I want it.  And yes, it’s my destiny.

Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is “brand gone”….

In Uncategorized on March 21, 2015 at 12:07 pm

by Robert Liljenwall

After years of indecisiveness, bad reviews, bad performance, and a frustrated management cycle, Microsoft finally pulled the plug on their former stalwart brand — Internet Explorer.  Ask yourself:  Just how many times have you hit the ‘Explorer’ icon in your digital lifetime?  
ieFirst released in the mid-1990s, it dominated the browser market at its peak in the early 2000s, but it came to be associated with poor security and compatibility with other browsers and has since languished.  The new browser project is named Spartan, and whether that is the brand they finally end up with (they are non committal on this brand selection), it will have a lot to overcome.
Google’s Chrome has dominated the PC browser business — a market in which Microsoft use to control. According to StatCounter in February 2015, Chrome held 43.2 percent of the global browser market including desktop, mobile, and other platforms, while IE captured just 13.1 percent — FireFox had 11.6 percent.  
According to AdWeek’s Kristina Monllos, the IE brand is so tainted with poor performance, especially in the mid-2000s, that they will have a lot to overcome.  What some analysts quickly pointed out….to get users to switch back to IE, you are asking them to switch their daily habits, and that’s hard to do, especially if there is a bad taste in their mouths.  IE has left a bad taste for some time.  
IE still controls 25% of the desktop market, so it’s not going to disappear — but it will take some very creative and effective marketing to get users to switch back to Microsoft’s new brand, whatever it is.  
Not everyone is happy about IE going away….a gal in the Midwest who runs two small businesses is ‘sad to see it go.’ when interviewed by NPR.  She is beginning her mourning process, and “I’m thinking of a good martini — with anchovy olives — that will be appropriate.”  

Here comes the Apple Watch on April 24. It’s about time….

In Uncategorized on March 21, 2015 at 12:03 pm

by Robert Liljenwall

This is no ordinary Apple launch — it’s not introducing the sixth version or the fourth version of an iPhone or iPad.  It’s not a mystery as to what category this new Apple product is in:  It’s a watch.  Not a standard watch, by any means.  But it is still a watch — but beyond any other watch on the market today, so Apple hopes.

apple watchApple has done what Apple does best — launch new products.  And they have recruited an incredible team of branding, retail, and technology experts to support the Apple Watch launch.  For example, their retail division has been going through a major in-house restructuring since the Sr. Vice President Retail Ron Johnson left for JC Penny in 2012.  Apple enticed Burberry’s highly regarded and electric Angel Ahrendts to come in as Sr. Vice President to head all retail and online sales efforts, which is causing the reported departure of long-time Apple retail executive Bob Bridger.  To get the high-powered Ahrendts, Apple made her an offer she couldn’t refuse — more than $39 million in stock grants to leave Burberry plus, plus, plus..

To bolster their bet on the Watch, two of Apple’s key acquisitions last year was the hiring of Tag Heuer’s vice president of sales, Patrick Pruniaux in April and the head of French fashion brand Yves Sant Laurent Paul Deneveto who will work on special projects.

(On a side note:  Bridger was responsible for the real estate and development of Apple’s retail operation and was key in the design and placement of Apple’s iconic, original glass staircase at SoHo (NYC) and the ground-breaking vaulted glass ceiling architecture used at Palo Alto and others.  He was considered Steve Jobs’ ‘left hand‘.)

The forthcoming Apple Watch launch on Friday, April 24, (pre-orders will begin April 10) is expected to produce another record quarter for Apple, although sales estimates vary all over the field, Fortune Magazine conducted a survey last September and the analysts’ predicted from 8 million to 41 million for 2015.  The average was 2.5 million per month.  That blows past any watch sales record (of any type).  Initial estimates from Apple was an order of 5-6 million watches.

Apple has already announced that all of their stores will be modified for the integration of “wearable technology” with the Apple Watch stimulating a ‘re-think’ on how Apple stores will be configured to sell the Watch which goes from $349 to as much as $17,000+.

What doe this all mean?  It means simply that Apple put their $$ on proven stars in the luxury brand category — Burberry, Tag Heuer and Yves Saint Laurent….bringing seasoned leadership to the Apple brand.  This is, indeed, an impressive array of brand talent.  After all, Apple is also perceived as a luxury brand.

On the Watch technology front….Apple has opened its first new product to app developers since the company introduced the first iPad five years ago….and Apple is hoping there will ‘thousands of great apps’ by the April launch, and there are more sure to follow.  The Apple Watch is not unlike other smart watches from Samsung, Google and others. The Apple Watch, however, stays connected to your iPhone so it can retrieve information, receive notifications like texts and emails, and can be patched through to make and receive phone calls as it has speakers and microphones.  It’s also a fitness tracker with heart-rate measurements….it plays music….had bluetooth for earplugs and headphones…makes payments via Apple Pay and can even be a remote for connected smart-home appliances.

The software development kit released last year allowed app makers to work on creating “different” apps than would be found on other already-in-the-market smartwatches.  Their complaints is that they have been given guidance along the way — some express frustration in Apple’s handling of the app market.  And, oh, yes — you will need an iPhone — 5, 5C, 5S, 6 or 6 Plus.  Earlier iPhones are excluded.

apple watch 2What about the feel, touch, look?  Reviews clearly demonstrate that the new Watch is elegantly designed, handsome on your wrist, user friendly and a “let-me-show-you-my-new Apple Watch!”  You can quickly imagine that Apple Watch users most likely won’t be wearing long-sleeved shirts — they’ll want to show off their new toy.  This is, after all, a “luxury branded product” — and if you’re rich enough for the solid gold Apple Watch, it will be the topic of many conversations with “interested” friends, even if they’re not interested.  But they will be.

Overall, the design and technology appear to be moving to the top of the ‘approval ladder’ from technologists who have followed this wearable technology sector and actually had one on their wrist.  The Apple Watch uses haptic feedback via what it brands a “taptic engine” that feels like more advanced and subtle vibration. It also has a force-sensitive display: press harder, and it will do different things. This could mean more advanced types of notification buttons, or control input. Apple’s newest MacBooks use this same combination of “force touch” and haptics to simulate clicking, and it’s astonishingly effective according editors of CNET.

At this point, there are many unanswered questions — is the 18-hour battery life real or fiction?  Will apps transform the watch beyond what competitors are already offering?  Does it make the iPhone better?  Will it be easy and fun to use as Apple wants it to be?  Will it stand on its own merits?

Time will tell. — RJL

Certain truths are self evident. Ask Ithaca, NY

In brand-building, social media on March 18, 2015 at 11:54 pm

by Robert Liljenwall

The area around Ithaca is known for its robust winters. Known by some as the “snow capital of the world,” this region endured record-breaking snowfalls and cold this past winter. But if you’re the head of the Ithaca Convention and Visitors Bureau during one of the worst winters in history, you reach the point that “you’re fed up”, so fed up, in fact, that the Bureau came up with a remarkable marketing idea: Tell the truth. “That’s it. We surrender. Winter, you win. Key West anyone?” And while it’s your job to promote tourism to your area, it was self-evident that tourist were not flocking to an area to which was blocked by closed highways and below-freezing temperatures.

While the marketing concept was later “retired”, it went viral, and as Bruce Stoff, director of the Ithaca Convention and Visitor Bureau told CNN — “everyone in the Northeast is beaten by winter now…and we were dreaming of being someplace that is warm.” It was a move that some in the tourist industry frowned on, but the spokesperson for the Florida Keys Tourism Counil told CNN, “it’s the wackiest thing I have every seen in my life from a tourism marketing standpoint.” The Floridan tourism group eagerly complied with a request to send a photo for the Ithaca web site — it went viral on Twitter.

What is interesting in my conversation with Stoff was that this idea had been in the talked about for eight years, and it was in the planning and implementation stage for the past two years. “It was certainly calculated….that this was going to be a positive for Ithaca.” Bruce is still on the job, but he cautions that the next three quarters will tell if their concept worked.  — RJL

What were they thinking? Car Bomb Stout brand?

In brand-building, Lemon Award on March 18, 2015 at 11:49 pm

by Robert Liljenwall

It’s OK to scratch your head over this one.  Fat Point Brewing, a Porta Gorda, FLorida, craft brewery, posted pictures of cupcakes and beer to its Facebook page on Monday, March 16, announcing the release of its Car Bomb brand — “a milk stout fermented with Jameson Whiskey oak staves and Irish creme flavor,” which was to be served with Car Bomb cupcakes in honor of the St. Patrick’s Day holiday.  Surely, someone — obviously, not a history major — forgot about The Troubles, the nationalist and religious conflict in Northern Ireland that began in the late 1960s and ended in 1998 with the Belfast Agreement. More than 3,500 people died during the three decades of turmoil that included detonating car bombs. The Fat Point post’s Facebook comments started out innocuously with fans asking about the brewery’s hours and the beer’s availability. But Tuesday afternoon they took a turn.  Brand lesson: If you can’t say in front of TSA, you better not use it as a beer label. — RJL

Google dips its toe into the retail world….

In brand-building, Google, innovation, retail on March 18, 2015 at 11:46 pm
Liljenwall 3-18-15by Robert Liljenwall
It’s only a “toe” — not a full, dedicated retail store like its rival/pal, Apple.  But nonetheless, it represents the first-ever physical presence for the Silicon giant Google.  Here’s what they have done:  This past Wednesday, Google unveiled its debut foray in London’s Tottenham Court Road within retailer Currys PC World. Designed in similar fashion to Apple’s successful model, the storefront plays host to a wide range of Android phones and tablets, as well as Chromebook laptops.  Customers will be able to comb through the store to test out devices and software, as well as attend classes and events that teach them how to use the products.
“The pace of innovation of the devices we all use is incredible, yet the way we buy them has remained the same for years,” James Elias, Google’s UK marketing director, said in a statement at the store launch. “With the Google shop, we want to offer people a place where they can play, experiment and learn about all of what Google has to offer; from an incredible range of devices to a totally-connected, seamless online life. We think it’s a genuinely unique try-before-you-buy experience.”  But for now, Google will be sticking with the store-within-a-store model and the company plans to unveil two more shops later this year!  Where?  No one knows yet! — RJL

“Old” becomes “New” in Pasadena tech venture

In brand-building, innovation, startup, Technology on March 30, 2014 at 9:53 pm

by Robert Liljenwall

85-87 NR and 56 HollyPasadena has always been a technology center in an “old sort of way.”  Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology are two venerable brands – institutions that continue to lead space research and produce Nobel Prize winners and provide the nation’s top-ranked scientists.  Pasadena is also home to the Art Center College of Design, which continues to be a world leader in graphic, industrial and automotive design, and creative arts.  And there has been a surge in Pasadena in recent years of startup high-tech firms such as EarthLink, eHarmony, Idea Lab, and more than 300 other notable high-tech companies in the past several years.

Pasadena’s ‘brand’ has always resonated well throughout the world because of its beautiful neighborhoods and civic assets, including the world-famous Rose Parade and Rose Bowl, nearby Huntington Library and the restored “Old Pasadena” – a booming retail, dining, and entertainment center now ripe for its next phase – infusion of trendy high-tech entrepreneurs who want these amenities close by.  In short, Pasadena is a great place to live and work.

Pasadena hasn’t always been “top of mind,” however, for high-tech startups compared to other California tech havens such as Silicon Valley and Silicon Beach, which is a relatively new concentration of high-tech firms in the coastal corridor stretching from Santa Monica through Venice to Playa Vista.  Silicon Beach is a brand that has ‘stuck’, and it attracts techies who love to be near the beach, palm trees, the strand, and soak in the California sunshine.  The area epitomizes the best of California for many.  And with nearby Hollywood, entertainment-oriented tech firms thrive in this focused community.  It would seem that Silicon Beach has a hefty advantage.

But this is going to change.  Enter David Sacks and Rising Realty Partners who have joined together to create an “answer” to Silicon Beach.  Starting with a quiver full of technology and environmental assets, Pasadena is perfectly positioned to exploit new opportunities being created by these two visionaries.  They are confident they can make an appealing case to entrepreneurs who want what Pasadena has to offer – an intellectual, high-tech, high-energy culture along with its traditional community values that attract a young, upward mobile entrepreneurial elite.

Partners with pedigree brands

David Sacks brings a pedigree high-tech startup background to this venture.  Sacks was the first chief operating officer for PayPal, which was later acquired by eBay for $1.5 billion, and the founding CEO for Yammer, which was acquired by Microsoft in 2012 for $1.2 billion.  He has an eye for successful startups as an early investor in Facebook, Inc., Twitter, Uber, Space Exploration Technologies, Palantir, Houzz and Airbnb.  He knows how young entrepreneurs think and what they want.

Rising also has a gold-edge brand as well – headed by CEO Nelson Rising, former CEO of MPG Office Trust, and a senior partner for Maguire Thomas Partners.  And he served as chairman of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.  His son, Chris Rising, serves as chief operating officer and has a strong background in investment management and hands-on project management.  He is supervising the Pasadena project.  RRP also has a reputation for preserving and restoring older, historical

Los Angeles-based buildings and turning them into profitable commercial investments that feature the best high-tech amenities that are requisite to today’s technology firms.

“First of all, while we’re starting off with three century-old buildings as the cornerstone of this new technology center, we’re insuring that these buildings will have the most advanced fiber network available.  We’re also making Wi-Fi available to the nearby public park so that our tenants can work in a variety of nearby locales and still conduct business,” stated Chris Rising, president of Rising Realty Partners.  “We know that tech companies prefer access to the highest speed Internet services, and we’re providing 10GB fiber for every office.

“But we also know that young entrepreneurs are attracted to older, restored office environments that have been popular in San Francisco, Austin and Seattle.  We’re preserving the original facade and brick-wall interiors,” he said.  Office sizes will range from 5,000 sf to 15,000 sf.  But it will be the intangibles that make this venture a success:  “We’re looking to group together spirited, ambitious high-tech entrepreneurs who share the passion for a new vision in a complex that breeds successful ventures.  We’re here to support their quest to achieve their startup goals.  And we’re willing to provide below-market rates to these startups,” Rising said along with other superior support services.

This landmark buildings – known historically as the Pasadena Plaza – were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s in the heart of Old Pasadena, which until the late 1970s, was the rundown section of the city.  But like many cities across the United States, commercial and retail visionaries came into Pasadena in the early 1980s and restored many buildings – whole square-block sections – which attracted national retailers, specialty shops, fine restaurants and theaters.  The area is one of the hot spots in Southern California today.

So why is this an intriguing brand and technology story?

This is a classic brand case of “old” versus “new.”  Pasadena was and is considered “old money” – the original founders of the city came from Indiana in the 1800s with their strong, conservative work ethic and Midwest values.  They created a master plan based on classic European cities – large civic plazas, wide thoroughfares, and provided for a variety of large estate and smaller residential parcels.  Ask anyone what they think of Pasadena, and for those who have been here, they ‘love that city.’

The LA business elite settled here, too – such as the Chandlers, who published the Los Angeles Times, and most of LA’s prominent lawyers and bankers made their homes in the idyllic neighborhoods of Pasadena and nearby San Marino.  The Wrigley’s and Gambles built their winter homes in Pasadena.  And, of course, there was always the annual Rose Parade and Rose Bowl game … still iconic brands after more than 100+ years.

Old Pasadena is not unlike other re-inventions going on in other American cities but the partners know that the city holds some outstanding trump cards – CalTech, JPL and Art Center, plus a growing tech sector. To Silicon Beach, Rising and Sacks are saying – Hold on!  We have something to offer high-tech startups that is as good – if not better – than what you’re going to get in Silicon Beach.  What Rising brings to the table is development and management expertise that is critical to building a critical mass of the ‘new’ tech that is driving the rapid expansion of startups.  Sacks brings the necessary mindset of what is “new tech” and the challenges of starting a high-tech business.  Together, they intend to be very competitive and give these fledgling companies the added expertise of their experience.

“Our strategy is to not try and steal firms from Silicon Beach.  We’re after the many young companies who are looking for help.  Innovate Pasadena is one of the strongest community-centric organizations that is providing a broad range of startup services and support to these entrepreneurs.  We’re an integral part of that initiative,” Rising said, who is a member of the Innovate board.  Innovate conducts a broad spectrum of education and networking programs every month in Pasadena.

One last thought … transportation hub advantage

Rising had one last observation that bears watching.  He aptly noted that California is the automobile manufacturer’s best friend.  Nobody takes public transit.  “But not anymore,” he stated. Ridership on the expanding network of Metro Rail is growing steadily every year … the Gold Line stops just steps away from the new Rising/Sacks project, and is being extended eastward.  Santa Monica will soon have an extension of the Expo Line, and this is where young, hungry entrepreneurs are using these days – it’s cheap, and it beats crawling on the freeways.  Rising fervently believes that the high-tech firms of the future will want to be next to public transportation hubs.  “And we’re practically sitting on one in Old Pasadena,” he said with a smile.  “Pretty soon, one can take public rail transit from Pasadena to Silicon Beach.  Who would’ve thought?” – RJL

Film Festivals Embrace High-Tech

In brand-building, mobile & tablets, social media, Technology, Video, Movies & Television on March 30, 2014 at 3:19 pm
RiverRun International Film Festival April 4-13

by Jeff Sandgren

riverrunThe 16th annual RiverRun International Film Festival will be running from April 4 – 13 in Winston-Salem. Held annually each spring, RiverRun screens a wide variety of feature-length and short films from all genres, and also presents a broad range of special events, including high-profile regional premieres of significant films. This year, festival winners can even become contenders for next year’s Academy Awards.

The festival, like its more famous cousins at Sundance and SXSW, relies increasingly on new technologies to develop and deliver the wonder of traditional moviegoing. We spoke with Christopher Holmes, Program Coordinator for RiverRun, about how they use small-screen and other new technologies to bring this banner event to the big screen in the City of Arts and Innovation.

BTN: How has technology changed the realization of your film festival?

RRIFF: Online streaming platforms have made all of our jobs tremendously easier. Keeping up with the programming landscape at major international festivals like Cannes has become so much more manageable – without ever having to leave the office. In the past it might take several emails back and forth and then the mailing of a physical DVD screener to facilitate the consideration of just one potential film, or even schlepping to the festival in person.

Online filmmaker services such as Cinando and Festivalscope now exist that allow us to request and receive invitations to watch streaming versions of many films, and this can all happen within the span of an hour or less now, given the response time from a particular filmmaker or distributor. Likewise Vimeo and YouTube have become high quality, legitimate receptacles for screeners from filmmakers that respond to our open call for submissions, so it’s really changed things for the better in terms of how quickly we’re able to preview titles that pique our interest.

BTN: How does it help support and promote the event?

RRIFF: Social media tools and their mobile apps have become integral to the way we promote the festival. We used to rely heavily on our in-house printed film guides and brochures, and local print media to get the word out, but now we can do that worldwide within a matter of minutes using Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. These tools additionally allow us to maintain a direct running dialogue with our supporters in the community and make everyone feel actively engaged with what’s happening at RiverRun on a consistent basis.

Keeping in touch with our audiences and staying on their radar in the many off months has always been a particularly challenging undertaking and technology has allowed us to accomplish this in a more purposeful and conversational way. And just in terms of design and implementation of graphic elements, it speeds up turnaround time on the creative end as well, since sharing high-res mock-ups and proofs via email is now very simple.

BTN: What is this new connection with the Academy Awards?

RRIFF: This year, for the first time in our history, we’ve been approved as a qualifying festival for the Academy Awards in the category of Short Subject Documentary, of which there are only a handful in the Southeastern United States and just a few dozen overall. Each year we assemble a jury for each competition category, comprised of noteworthy professionals, writers, academics and other personalities from the cinematic arts. Those juries deliberate during the festival to distinguish films with awards in their respective categories.

What the Oscar-qualifying tag means is that whichever film our Documentary Shorts jury awards with the Best Documentary Short prize is automatically in the pool of films that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members ultimately consider for Oscar nomination. Basically we are a necessary filter between the entire mass of documentary shorts produced every year and what the Academy members are able to consider with their extremely limited time. So there’s a decent chance that one of the films programmed will be among the Oscar nominated shorts this time next year, and directly because of its participation in the festival.

BTN: We hear a lot about multiscreen user experience these days. Are you discouraging or encouraging it for events like this? 

RRIFF: We are certainly discouraging it during the screenings themselves!  There’s nothing more magnetizing to the eye than seeing a screen light up, and it is an enormous disruption to the immersive environment filmmakers covet when creating their work, so we do everything we can to be faithful to that interaction. However we are certainly encouraging the integration of all sizes of screens and technology in representing the festival more generally—talking about viewing experiences our audiences have had, sharing viewpoints on films we’ve shown, events we’ve put on or experiences we’ve created, and including things like trailer links and other visual content on our web-based analogs.

BTN: How can moviegoers use their mobile devices to select films and track showing and ticket availability?

RRIFF: Our website has a mobile version which enables sorting through film listings, viewing the schedule, watching trailers and buying tickets online. Additionally we have a mobile app for both iOS and Android devices that makes simply sorting the films even easier … it even allows the user to filter out a combination of attributes such as genre and venue to achieve a very specific set of recommendations based on a lot of different variables.

BTN: Looking ahead, how do you think wearables – especially devices like Google Glass – may change the film going experience of tomorrow … for better or worse?

RRIFF: Hmm, we wonder…

We don’t see a small-screen application like Google Glass as particularly conducive to the large scale, projected effect that cinematic communication necessitates. After all, larger screen sizes have been positively linked to viewer engagement and interactivity (even on a physiological level) so the smaller the viewing space, the less control the filmmaker has over the way and degree to which the audience engages with the content.

For more small-screen, commercially driven applications like viewing sports, news, film trailers and social media, we can imagine it being very appealing, even if only from a novelty perspective. People are constantly looking for new user experiences and ways to keep their messages fresh and vital, so Google Glass and other wearables seem like they could present new opportunities in that respect.

Perhaps there’s a way to integrate the glasses with 3D moviegoing and TV experiences, as well?  How about it science? – JTS

Finally! Microsoft wakes up.

In Apple, Microsoft, mobile & tablets, Technology on March 28, 2014 at 6:48 am

MS Office comes to your iPad

by Robert Liljenwall

Office on iPadThe announcement happened March 27, but it has been in the works for months. Microsoft Office is coming to iPad.  I already knew this:  I learned about it a week ago – while ‘camping.’  My Airstream was parked next to another Airstream in Northern California, recently purchased by a just-retired Microsoft executive. We got friendly, and I told him that I would not get an iPad until it had Microsoft Office, one of my major objections to the tablet world.  (I have a MacBook Air, which I love).  He then informs me “… that’s going to happen in the next two weeks!”  “You’re kidding?” He said it was decided that “Microsoft has to be where our customers are … and they’re on iPads, and so we have to be there, too!”

We at BTN have always felt that Microsoft was too narrow-minded in refusing to allow Apple to have the Office suite – it was a strategic decision to drive customers to Surface, their tablet version.  But it clearly wasn’t working – Surface sales have always languished, and while it’s very versatile, it never had Apple’s panache and the new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recognized that if must deliver services to both businesses and consumers wherever they are, especially on mobile devices.

The new Office Suite app will be live for free on Apple’s App Store immediately, but for creating and editing content, you will need an Office 365 subscription, which their Home Subscription costs $9.99/month or $99.99 a year.  The expected revenue for Microsoft is estimated at $1.4 billion, which outweighed any risk to Windows.

So, the Microsoft brand has somewhat righted with its iPad move.  Microsoft has been trying to make it in the non-Xbox world of hardware with phones and tablets, but it continues to struggle.  A recent study showed that Apple and Samsung have now just about crushed any attempts from others in the smartphone and tablet business.  So, Nadella may just be on a roll to adjust Microsoft’s focus to the services business.

Always, there were tensions between Microsoft and Apple, stemming from the Bill versus Steve battles from the early days of the PC development in the late 1970s. Microsoft swiftly grew to soaring heights, leaving Apple in its dust.  But Microsoft invested $150 million in Apple when it needed it in 1997 to integrate Microsoft Office into the Apple line of products, which provided Jobs the boost he needed for selling computers.

Apple has not provided any sales projections yet – but BTN will keep you posted. Hmmm … time to go shopping? – RJL 


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