Critical Utility

October 11th, 2006 by Hugh

“Critical Utility” is a phrase that I’ve heard a good deal around Exbiblio. Last time I was in the office, I asked for a definition of this phrase in relation to Exbiblio’s first product, the oPen pocket scanner. Here were two tests that I was told it had to pass:

  • If you are reading a book at night, and your oPen is downstares on your desk, will you get out of bed to fetch it?
  • If you leave home in the morning, and realise that you don’t have your oPen with you, will you go back into the house to get it?

There are certainly some things I can’t leave the house without – my wallet, my credit card, my specticals, my keys, my mobile. Some people might add their MP3 player to the list. The oPen will be in elite company if it work its way into the exclusive club of the can’t-do-withouts.

3 Responses to “Critical Utility”

  1. Francisco Soto Says:

    Brainstorming about the questions you pose, while trying to figure out a way to lower the venture risk by partnering with a strong complementor I came up with these random thoughts:

    1. In a simplified manner the system seems to work like this: [oPen scans] + [oPen stores] + [upload to PC] + [process in PC]. So which are the weak links where the oPen becomes more useful? How can we upset the process to make the oPen necessary?

    Reviewing the two examples with a twist: i) the guy in his pajamas laying in the sofa that has to choose between getting up and search the quote in the PC, instead of getting up to get the oPen and scan the book, and ii) the commuter in the bus that chooses between cutting the theater review from the paper, store it in his pocket and later search in the PC, instead of scanning in the bus. Actually post-its, folded corners of pages and pencil-underlying works for most of us, so the question is where does the utility of the oPen take over the traditional way of doing things? I just come up with two general instances:

    Because we need to process that text and cannot wait to get to a computer. In this case, memorizing, cutting and folding, or annotating in the back of the hand just fall short. The solution could be to merge the oPen with the cellphone, which keeps gaining processing power and links with the Internet to leverage the scanned text with web services!

    One example, the commuter reading the FT finds a cool company that just launched an IPO, he scans the company name and retrieves information about the stock’s ticker (i.e. EXBB). Check out widgets for Nokia

    Here the partner would be a company of the Nokia-Moto universe, and like biotech companies do with big pharma, a schedule of milestones and payments can be agreed in advanced

    Because we need to manage tons of text and is more efficient to use a scanner than a complex set of indexed cards. I am thinking of work related tasks in text processing functions like: budget review at Capitol Hill (in DC, not Seattle), working with payrolls or similar. In this case, the hardware complements a powerful software specially targeted for this kind of tasks

    Here the partner has to be found in a software company that already targets this functionality.

    2. A Sony eReader complement. The eReader works with digitized texts (not only books per se), the oPen provides a bridge between both worlds. For example, with the oPen we work with paper text, selecting, highligting, etc., then the system uploads the works (docs selected, annotations, etc.) to the eReader to work on the go.

    Even more, maybe the oPen can also scan text on the eReader itself due to its eInk technology, opening a whole new world of possibilities. If you can synch the oPen with the eBook, the scanner becomes a powerful mouse for the system, adding also some touch-screen functionality.

  2. Adam Says:

    In the near-term, the bar is a little lower. We are first working on a system that everyone in the office will use on a daily basis without obligation.

    Once we have that, I believe we will gradually and iteratively improve the product until it meets the requirements that Hugh is reporting. It probably won’t come immediately and all at once.

    For example, my iPod meets that highest bar Hugh describes most days, but I’m not sure that it did until podcasts became integrated into iTunes and the iPod. This was several years after the first release of the product which met a lower bar of critical utility in the sense that it was worth several hundred dollars for me to be able to carry around my whole music collection during walks and band rehearsals.

    Apple has continued to build the ecosystem as a whole which makes all the components more valuable and they have done this over a number of years and will continue to do it in the future I hope. My personal opinion is that Exbiblio should follow this kind of long term roadmap as well.

  3. Hugh Says:

    Francisco – I agree it can work very well to have two have halves of an idea that users – or different groups of users – put together. eBay and PayPal is the classic example. PayPal is so useful because it makes eBay work effectively. Acrobat Reader is another idea. It’s free – but it helps sell the software that makes PDFs. RealNetworks – one half makes streaming media, the other plays it.