TechCrunch’s annual Disrupt conference in San Francisco is now closing out the second of a three day event and the gathering’s rapid fire agenda (eleven different sessions and fifteen speakers before lunch) can leave attendees a bit dazed trying to make sense of it all. But some important glimpses into technology’s future have emerged, ranging from how GoPro cameras and virtual reality could soon have an even bigger impact on our lives, to Facebook’s emerging love affair with business ads and hints in how Pandora hopes to survive the increasingly competitive landscape for online music.
GoPro, whose compact, live-streaming cameras have emerged as a huge force in creating visual content, has come out with a new model- the Hero4 Session – that looks like a large ice cube. But Nick Woodman, GoPro’s founder and CEO, confirmed during his session earlier today that the waterproof camera’s sales have not met expectations because, as he put it, it’s up against his own hot-selling camera line.
“It’s selling against the most popular cameras in the world,” said Woodman, referring to the GoPro Black and Silver models.
Woodman did confirm that a GoPro drone is under development with plans for release in 2016. The new super-small Hero4 Session has been widely regarded as a way for GoPro to enter the drone market where small cameras are now standard equipment.
Woodman also offered his own tantalizing view of the future where autonomously piloted drones will follow users around, broadcasting and recording every minute of their lives. This marriage of drone with live-streaming camera is the model world that GoPro is banking on for new growth.
A panel of experts in the virtual reality field talked about solving a different challenge not commonly seen in the tech world: how to keep their products from making users throw up. Rapid advances in virtual reality have created 3D images in a visual field so lifelike that they can be disorienting to users, so designers are adjusting the technology to find the right blend of size and motion so, as one panelist put it succinctly, “they don’t make people puke.”
The panel pointed out that the medical community is emerging as one of the early adopters in this field, using it for training and disease analysis. In the near future, museum attendees will likely find themselves touring galleries in an immersive experience and video game players may soon be able to create their own characters that place them right in the middle of the action.
In a sign that the virtual reality field is already gaining mainstream acceptance, panel participant Paul Raphael of Felix and Paul Studios revealed that his company is working on a project which involves a former President of the United States – Bill Clinton. Raphael said he could not provide any details on what this secret project might possibly involve.
In an appearance at TechCrunch Disrupt earlier today, Facebook’s Andrew Bosworth, vice president of advertising, described how the social media giant is continuing to expand opportunities for business to reach users and vice versa. Earlier this year, Facebook opened the ability for users to reach businesses directly through Messenger. The use of Facebook pages by businesses also continues to expand and, more recently, the company introduced a new product that lets users message a business page directly. In addition, some of Facebook’s business partners have been posting full news articles on the network’s News Feed, thus creating yet another marketing channel.
Bosworth’s work in this area is noteworthy for two reasons. It appears to be giving Facebook a huge edge in the current race for advertising dollars on the mobile platform. And its apparent success will likely serve as a model in the future for other sites to attract business advertising.
One site with no shortage of competitors is Pandora and the music service’s co-founder, Tim Westergren, told the TechCrunch Disrupt audience today that he’s not the least bit worried. “We’re sitting on the mother of all marketing platforms for musicians,” said Westergren.
Pandora is facing challenges from Apple, Spotify, Google, SoundCloud and Rdio, a competitive landscape that even Westergren admitted was going to force his company to adopt new strategies. Key to whatever moves Pandora makes will be the huge amount of data the company has gathered from users over many years.
Westergren’s company also received a favorable court decision on royalty rates yesterday that gave investors renewed confidence in Pandora’s long term future.
Adding to the buzz around TechCrunch Disrupt this week was an appearance by rapper and actor Snoop Dogg who used the occasion to announce the October launch of a new website called Merry Jane. The site is being promoted as a lifestyle media center for cannabis with plenty of streaming content and online news, leading the entertainer to mention that he might soon change his name to “Snoop Tech.” Presumably, he wasn’t just blowing smoke.