Friday, May 17, 2013
Many, many years ago I was interning at a place that did a lot of work for Microsoft. I think this is free and clear of any NDA issues now because it's been so long, but I saw this video back then.
Forget Bob, Google Now, Ford Sync or even Siri, this was of a parrot named Polly. It flew around in a virtual room and it talked to you. And you could talk to it. You could ask it to play music and it would, you could talk to it and it would talk back. If you ignored it, it would preen or put its head under its wing and go to sleep. Or, it would fly around the room.
Oh, and the camera also moved. It would make small movements when you were interacting with Polly and when Polly was flying, it would make grand cinematic moves to show off the rendering of the bird.
The animation quality was probably almost as good as Toy Story but without the lighting effects, but it was in real-time, and it did voice recognition and natural speech and it understood your music library and could even make suggestions. This was long before MP3 players, hand-held devices or even high-speed internet. It was a great idea but it had nowhere to go beyond research.
So when I hear of talk now that Apple is doing a watch as if it's some novel new thing, I think "Wait... didn't Microsoft do SPOT like years and years ago?"
And there have been other things like that where Microsoft tried it, maybe the execution wasn't great or maybe the marketing didn't really sell it, but in far too many cases, I think that the public just wasn't ready for it. Take another product near-and-dear to me - UltimateTV. (I came up with that name for an internet startup and when the name was eventually sold to Microsoft after I'd moved on, I got a nice check for $5k.) UltimateTV (plus WebTV) was probably a precursor to Google TV or Apple TV, but it was too early, people couldn't see the need and Microsoft couldn't make them see the need. So by the time people see the need, Microsoft has dejectedly packed its bags and moved on. (Some of that stuff is now reappearing in XBox, sure.)
Sometimes I feel like that - I have these great ideas, but I can't drag the horse to the water. Sometimes the ideas limp along, sometimes they die ingloriously. By the time someone else has the same idea, I've moved on or I'm resentful and don't want to get on board. Or it causes me to be more reserved or withhold new ideas.
It's an interesting thing to realize. I will definitely have to figure out how to combat that because I love so many of my ideas and want to see them become reality.