I just attended another wonderful >play Conference at the University of California – Berkeley, Haas School of Business. This annual event is completely organized and executed by the MBA students and has been growing and improving every year. Microsoft is an annual sponsor and I attend both as a Microsoft exhibitor and to meet with potential candidates for internships and full-time positions at Microsoft. I brought a demo of Xbox 360 Kinect, which launches just a few days after the conference. There was a lot of enthusiasm and big crowds at the Kinect booth, so this bodes well for our launch on November 4, 2010.
The conference organizers made a few changes from last year that I thought were excellent. First was the Rocket Pitch, wherein the sponsors of the >play Conference each had two minutes to pitch their products. I was up second to showcase Kinect, where I showed the new Kinect TV 60 second spot and announced the raffle of an Xbox 360. The most memorable pitches for me were SnapShop, Qwiki, and GameCrush. SnapShop allows you to virtually place new furniture items over the real world using an iPhone to see how it would look before making a purchase. No more imagining what something will look like and then taking it home to find it doesn’t work. GameCrush is a service that charges men to play videogames online with women. While I’m not sure how financially successful this could become given the massive adoption of videogames by women recently, the reason it was so memorable was due to the delivery of the Rocket Pitch. Delivered in essentially 2 sentences and in under a minute, it was quite easily the most memorable presentation. Also, some of the shocked faces in the audience made it more amusing and memorable. Qwiki was absolutely brilliant. Take generic internet content and create a video from the information automatically, including voice. The most fun part was turning someone’s Facebook profile into an automatic video biography. Very cool.
The second thing the conference organizers did was provide what they called the “>playlists”, a sheet that gathered the sources of inspirations of the keynotes and panelists at the conference in one highly useful and valuable document. It includes everything from the blogs and websites they read to the people they follow. A handy resource for all attendees.
Since I was running the Kinect demo, I could not go to the panels, but I was able to attend the keynotes. The morning keynote was delivered by Chris Anderson, Editor-in-Chief of Wired Magazine. Mr. Anderson discussed how tablets will transform the future of media based on his experience with creating the Wired iPad application. Some interesting takeaways from his keynote was that he considers the iPad “the most trackable media format in history”, and can tell advertisers how long someone reads their application and what areas are used most. Other interesting statistics included the length of time people spend on the iPad app for Wired versus other media formats (online, print). According to their data, they spend more than an hour at a time on their content. As Mr. Anderson stated, “there’s no better measure of success than people giving you their time”.
One claim Mr. Anderson made that I completely do not agree with is that the tablet will replace traditional laptops. He believes this so strongly that he claims that his current laptop is that last laptop he will ever purchase. While I have have been using the tablet for evaluation purposes and see many significant uses for the device, its functionality and feature set is too limited for the many user scenarios that laptops enable. It has been extremely useful in the following situations: one-day business trips, checking and updating email/social-media sites on the go, keeping up with the news, casual gaming, and taking notes. However, unless every business in the world is going to shift their operating paradigm, laptops/desktops are not dead. The tablet will not be useful or productive in an 8-hour workday filled with spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, video and image production and manipulation, data storage, etc. That scenario of tablets completely replacing laptops is as likely as smartphones completely replacing laptops… which is to say, not very likely. They each have their purpose and the usage scenarios are sufficiently different to keep them in separate product categories, in my humble opinion.
Back to the conference, I was even more excited about the final keynote by Dr. Michael B. Johnson, Moving Pictures Group Lead at Pixar Animation Studios. This was a 45 minute talk and easily one of the best presentations/keynotes I’ve ever attended. Of course, I’m slightly biased as I am a huge Pixar fan and love all of their movies. After the talk Dr. Johnson shared with me that Pixar is the only movie studio in history to have commercial success on all of their films, eleven in total. During the keynote, Dr. Johnson shared with the audience the original storyboarded opening for UP, which was distinctly different from the final opening that we all saw and loved. It was still an emotionally moving sequence and the attendees of >play are only the 3rd audience ever to have seen this sequence, according to Dr. Johnson. He also had a great set of quotes from various Pixar colleagues, including my personal favorite about product quality from Jason Deamer, Pixar Creative Art Lead – “Pain is temporary. ‘Suck’ is forever”. Joe Ranft – “Storyboarding is the art of story RE-boarding”, which talks about how frequently and extensively storyboards need to be changed. Ronnie del Carmen – “People all want for the story to start. Let’s give it to them already”, which refers to shortening the opening sequence of UP to dive into the story going forward, instead of the backstory of Carl and Ellie and how they fell in love. Andrew Stanton – “I want to fail as quickly as possible”, referring to the desire to identify mistakes and problems as quickly as possible to move on to the final, quality product. Overall, I soaked up a lot of great and memorable information at this keynote. And afterwards, it was great hearing from Dr. Johnson on the upcoming sequels for Cars and Monsters, Inc.
The evening ended with the reception and the Microsoft raffle. My colleague from Bing raffled off a Zune HD. I raffled off an Xbox 360. Given the theme of the conference, I added a twist to the raffle process. People entered a chance to win using Twitter. Those that tweeted their entries were then placed in a pool and two finalists were selected. With the popularity of the Kinect demos, several tweets suggested a dance competition to pick the final winner, so that’s what we did. The two finalists squared away against each other on the Kinect dancing title, and the highest score won the Xbox. The winner of the dance-off just happened to be a huge Halo fan, so it was a well deserved victory.
All-in-all a great conference and I’m looking forward to participating in 2011.