Machine Vision: Image Recognition and the Future of Mobile Advertising

The Development of Tangible, Intuitive Mobile Technology

With two days (!) left until AdMonsters OPS Mobile, we caught up with one of our keynote speakers, Michael Nicholas, Chief Strategy Officer at Roundarch Isobar, to get a sneak peek of his presentation. Michael will be discussing how tangible digital design is poised to revolutionize the way we use our smartphones – and the way advertisers reach consumers. We asked him a few questions to gain some insight into his view of the tangible, intuitive mobile future.

What are the most important advances in technology that will shape the future of the mobile advertising landscape (and how will they do so)?

There is a new breed of technology that will shape the mobile advertising landscape. The return of tangible design is powered by these new technologies and will change the things we take for granted in our everyday interactions. History has shown that when you inject small, tangible interfaces into everyday technologies you see huge change. The mouse on the Mac changed everything in the PC industry; touch screens on the iPhone / iPad have ushered in the post PC world. Small, tangible technology solutions, embedded in a piece of larger technology, have proven to be highly disruptive, yet amazing for consumers. This is because humans crave the combination of tangible design and natural interactions. We are always fighting to get back to it.

Why don’t you think QR codes work? How will image recognition technology be used on mobile devices in the future?

QR codes have failed thus far for a couple of reasons:

  • They aren’t a natural interaction – it’s not normal to scan codes.
  • The technology frameworks are not built into the operating systems of our devices, which means every interaction requires launching an entirely separate app. This increases the amount of time and effort a consumer must apply to this action (again, proving it’s not a natural interaction).
  • They are built on a secret. For example, the information is not implicit and consumers don’t know what is on the other side, even though they are looking right at the code.
  • Marketers and brands have ruined QR codes through misuse and poor promotions. Through these bad experiences, they unintentionally punished early adopters and killed the “word of mouth” behavior.
  • There are no instructions. Most people – even those who know what a QR code is – don’t actually know what to do when confronted with one.

Image recognition technology and machine vision technology (such as Google Goggles) is a much more natural interaction, or at least it builds on a known and accepted camera interaction. It is literally “what you see is what you get.” This opens the door for informational, functional or even entertainment based augmented reality; another consumer “upside” that an everyday object or product can provide with this technology.

What is Machine Vision?

At its most basic, machine vision is ultimately the “eyes” of a computer. That said, Machine Vision, or Computer Vision, is a large field. What’s important in the context of tangible design is a machine’s ability to recognize a specific object the way humans do by shape, color or other context; not by an identifying tag or marker. It’s the difference between walking into a room full of strangers with nametags or walking into a room full of friends with faces you know and recognize. The real-time recognition of objects, without intermediary steps like scanning, dialing a number or texting a short code, is a more natural interaction and will greatly enhance and change how we interact with objects and our surroundings.

What technological capabilities of mobile do you see as most important or most likely to make big waves in the industry?

The traditional answer is always going to be bandwidth, storage and processing. That said, in mobile, batteries and form factor are huge deals. People will soon have to choose between faster/more capable machines or ones that last longer between battery re-charges. Furthermore, anything that effects form will effect how we carry or wear a device and that will have huge effects on our behavior. Batteries and form factor may not seem like “technological capabilities” but in my opinion it’s tough to think of things that will have greater impact on user experience and ultimately, usage.

Why is NFC poised to revolutionize the mobile/media world?

Here are some basic reasons, but there are a lot more.

  • NFC is tangible for users. What you touch is what you get.
  • NFC is built around a natural interaction: touch.
  • NFC is implicit. You want more information about an item? Just touch and you will receive.
  • NFC is great for both cultivating a relationship with a brand and a relationship with a specific product. Information about the product as a whole is easily accessible – consumers can quickly find out answers to questions like what is this for? Why should I use it? Who else likes it? Additionally, information is also available about the specific product in your hand: When was it made? When does it expire? Or even at home, how much am I using?

What challenges will NFC face to its expansion?

Most of the challenges NFC faces are not really challenges, but more likely they are perceived challenges. These perceived issues, in my experience, almost always come from approaching NFC through a financial transaction lens. All these issues are based on the-fighting between credit card companies, banks, operators and tech companies, like Google. These issues are not based on NFC as a technology. There is way more upside for the consumer in NFC engagement beyond financial transactions.

The challenge is to communicate how best to use NFC outside of financial transactions, and get people thinking consumer-centrically about NFC. When they think in these terms, people create innovative new usages for NFC that are available right now. This is why we hosted Isobar Create in Boston, San Francisco and most recently, London.

How can marketers be prepared for change in the ever-evolving mobile landscape?

There is no playbook for how marketers can be prepared for change in mobile beyond always look ahead and understand what might look like the fuzzy edge of innovation today, is always the market advantage tomorrow. It sounds basic, but is anyone really prepared for a paradigm shift beyond the innovators driving it? Look at the phones launched at Mobile World Congress in 2007: different colors, shapes, key pad configurations, etc. Now look at the phones launched at the same show in 2010: all sleek, black touch screens that look nearly identical. Radical change happens whether you’re ready or not. The question is: Are you driving it, following it, or getting left behind?

OPS Mobile

Interested in learning more about mobile advertising? OPS Mobile will bring digital advertising leaders and ops professionals together to discuss and develop best practices for operational excellence in a world of connected devices. Register today for OPS Mobile, AdMonsters’ mobile advertising conference, which will be held April 19, 2012, in New York.