Laptop Music, Kinected Hacking, and Supply Chain Design

by Jon Follett

Here’s what we’re reading online, this week at Involution, on design, tech, and the digital life, in our links round up.

If You Make Sure You're Kinected, the Xbox is on the Wall
Last week, Microsoft's Kinect turned one year old, and the Redmond giant celebrated the "Kinect Effect" with a video highlighting future applications of the technology from healthcare to music to education.

Released in November 2010, and originally intended for use primarily in gaming and entertainment as part of the Xbox platform competition with Nintendo's groundbreaking Wii, the Kinect's advanced gesture, facial, and voice recognition features were soon hacked for a variety of purposes ranging from creating art to assisting the disabled.

Microsoft knows it has a good thing going and has accepted and even embraced the alternate uses of the Kinect. The Microsoft Kinect Effect Web site is chronicling new and inventive ways the technology is being implemented.

Playing Laptop Music
Audio production moved from analog tape systems to the convenience of digital long ago with the advent of ProTools software and other audio editing suites. For creating live music in a spontaneous and active way, however, the bits and bytes have always lagged a little. This isn't to say that performers haven't incorporated computer generated sounds and tracks into their live performances … far from it. But the computerized track has always lacked the instant, live, and personal feedback and flexibility that more traditional instruments are capable of.

Stutter Edit, an innovative piece of software designed by pioneering DJ and producer BT and built by Boston-based iZotope, aims to change all that. Stutter Edit takes live sample manipulation to another level, allowing performers to play effects like an instrument and remix in real time.

DJs and electronic musicians have pushed the envelope when it comes to defining musical instruments, the most obvious example being the turntable, which has evolved from a machine for audio playback to an expressive tool used with technique and artistry. Laptops and touch screen devices are the new frontier for digital music. Expect to see more software innovation on the way, if the BT and iZotope collaboration is any indication of what's possible when musicians and tech get together.

Come Together, Right Now: Design is Integration
The concept of total system design is gaining traction in the business world. The idea that design can be an integrative method, bringing together engineering, business, and users, while a familiar meme to the UX and software communities is still a relatively fresh way to look at problem sets in the larger world of corporate thinking.

Design blog Thought You Should See This, provides a great summation of GE CMO Beth Comstock's talk at the Design at Scale conference.

In the presentation, Comstock describes the company's overall process and how design fits in. "At an engineering-focused company like GE, the tech teams and engineers rule. 'They push the limits of science every day,' she said. What they need, however, is the ability to pull all the various pieces and insights together and this, she averred, is a role for design."

Designing the Supply Chain
One of the unheralded but critical business innovations at Apple over the past decade, is the company's design, creation, and management of a highly optimized supply chain.

A revealing Bloomberg Businessweek article explains how Apple has effectively hamstrung competitors like HP and HTC year after year by locking down everything from air freight delivery to critical parts like touchscreens, months in advance. Gartner has rated Apple's supply chain as the world's best for four years in a row.

Apple's business excellence and design focus apparently doesn't just extend to its products, but to all of the systems that make up the company. Design thinking may be much maligned as a buzz word lacking substance, but here we can see where the active, creative problem solving for business systems has reaped substantial rewards.

Get Up and Get Fit
The evolution of body and skin top fitness devices took another step this month as mobile products company Jawbone released the Up wristband which works with an iPhone app to track everything from your sleep cycles to your physical activity.

Competing with the Fitbit clip on sensor and the BodyMedia FIT, the Jawbone Up seems to have at least one major advantage, it's water resistant. So, you can wear it while you're in the shower. Personally, I'd love to have one of these devices that I could wear while swimming. Maybe that will come in Jawbone Up version 2.

Topics: Design, apple, digital music, microsoft, Analysis, Blog, innovation, software, UX, ui