2019 Minsky Award for Tech Innovation Goes to…

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Since 2013, I have been gifting/inflicting The Minsky Award upon my friends, both personal and within the industry. Previously, it was an annual Facebook post; but, with gratitude to Jack Myers, I now present this to you through MediaVillage. I should clarify, though, that this is not an official MediaVillage award (yet).

It should be no surprise to anyone who has been around me for the past six months that the winner of the 2019 Minsky Award for Innovation is the Oculus Quest.

The criteria of the annual Minsky Award are simple. Minsky (me) must think it's cool. OK, there's a bit more rigor involved. The product or service must not only be innovative, but it also must have staying power and the ability to provide a high-utility service. Plus, it needs to be affordable and of a quality that it won't need to be replaced every year.

I named the Minsky Award in honor of my grandparents, Sophie and Abe, who started me down this tech-focused path when they gifted me my first computer — an original Apple II — for my Bar Mitzvah. This award could easily be called "The Jetsons," because anything that definitively gets us closer to the lifestyle of George and Jane has a real shot of winning. (Sony's Aibo may be an improvement from the one a decade ago, but it's no Astro, so not even close to a contender.)

Past winners of the Minsky Award are:

2018: Ring Doorbell Pro

2017: WeMo Smart Plug

2016: Tile

2015: Amazon Echo

2014: Xbox One

2013: Roku 3

For the past five years, I've wanted to bestow the Minsky Award to a VR product. Truly, seriously wanted to — but none of the VR products quite measured up. Google's Cardboard certainly was affordable and mass, but cardboard origami is not VR and, frankly, probably was a detriment to the adoption rate by providing a lower value experience. Samsung Gear VR was cool as a first step, but the reliance on your phone's battery, coupled with a passive experience, didn't meet the Minsky Award threshold.

The original Oculus Rift was and will go down in history as one of the biggest milestones in the long road to true VR. However, it was clearly still in beta mode when officially released in 2016. The high initial $599 price point, coupled with the need to be tethered to a top-of-the-line computer (generally priced in the $1,500 range), simply meant that, while the Rift was a sign that virtual reality had arrived, it was only truly accessible to affluent earliest adopters. So, sorry, no Minsky.

The lack of scale for Oculus Rift (or the HTC Vive, which was arguably a better first-gen product) did not indicate a lack of demand for a quality VR product; it was just following the path of every revolutionary technology product released, ever. The Oculus Quest, however, single-handedly moved virtual reality past Gartner's "Trough of Disillusionment" to the "Slope of Enlightenment."

If you aren't familiar with the Quest, it's the product that every VR enthusiast wishes had been the first release. It's an easy-to-use device for the layperson. It's far more affordable with a $399 price tag. Simply put on the headset, connect to Wi-Fi, sketch out a "Guardian" for your room — which pops up a grid in the VR world when you are about to bump into something — and you're on. No wires. The headset is reasonably comfortable, and controllers are responsive and accurate.

A recent upgrade allows game/experience developers to allow you to use your hands as controllers using distinct gestures. The key differentiator is six degrees of freedom (6DOF). With 6DOF you are no longer a passive observer or limited player. You can roam freely around any virtual world, literally no strings attached, within the parameters of the Guardian. Suddenly, you become a character in the story, as ILMxLab so brilliantly demonstrated in the marquis title for Quest, Vader Immortal, a Star Wars story released in three parts ($15 per part). This freedom to roam radically enhances the immersiveness of the experience.

The Quest is simply the best $400 that I have ever spent on technology. I have had zero buyer's remorse and every single person I've shown it to has walked away wanting to purchase one — including friends that were previously skeptics. The ability to play ping pong with my friend in Israel, hunt down some zombies with my childhood friends even though we are dispersed throughout the U.S., and watch a football game via PlutoTV on a large screen with friends who are too lazy to leave home — speaking to each other as if we were sitting in the same row at the game — is priceless. The only regret that I have about the Quest is that more of you don't have it so I can share these experiences with you.

That, however, is changing.

According to Nielsen's SuperData research, Oculus Quest sold about 180,000 units in Q3 2019, bringing lifetime sales to about 400,000 pre-holiday. Two weeks following the launch of Quest, parent company Facebook announced that it had generated more than $5 million worth of content sales. And during Facebook's Q3 2019 earnings report, the company announced that non-advertising revenue had increased to $269 million, a 43 percent year-over-year increase that was attributed to Quest.

Yes, these numbers are still small; however, the Oculus Quest sold out after Black Friday. We don't know if Facebook severely underestimated demand or if there was a true spike. We'll learn more in the next few months. But we do know that app developers are making money and a true VR content marketplace is well on its way to being created.

So, the 2019 Minsky Award for Innovation goes to the Oculus Quest for bringing the virtual reality world from the brink of being yet another overhyped technology that failed to catch on with consumers, to an exciting, immersive, truly 21st-century media platform that should thrive over the next decade.

But wait, that's not all...

So, what tech will we be obsessing over in 2020? It will be the year of 5G devices now that the network rollout of 5G is well underway. We'll also see the next generation of a foldable phone from Samsung (and perhaps others). Augmented reality will still be a thing and perhaps we'll see Snapchat's third generation of Spectacles gain some traction.

Although I hope it comes out in 2020, it still appears that Apple's AR vision product won't be out until 2021 — although, c'mon, how perfect would the marketing be for Apple releasing glasses touting a new way of seeing things in the year "20/20"? In the meantime, be on the lookout for AR disruptors, such as China's Nreal, which will be releasing $500 consumer light-weight AR glasses in early 2020.

For televisions, the first commercially available NextGen TV sets (aka ATSC 3.0) will hit the market. NextGen TV will allow consumers to get over-the-air 4K HDR broadcasts with two-way connectivity. It will enable advertisers to begin serving addressable TV to over-the-air viewers.

Additionally, expect to see further integration and more SKUs of voice-controlled TVs (e.g., Alexa, Google Assistant, and, perhaps, something new from Samsung called Neon).

Speaking of voice, next week we'll see hundreds of new devices integrated or controllable via Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri. I predict that 2020 should be the year we see far more marketers embrace voice as a real medium, since consumer penetration of voice has breezed past the historical 30 percent benchmark.

Finally, 2020 will be the year that streaming services severely shake up the traditional television model. The glimpse of what we've seen with Apple TV+, CBS All Access, and Disney+ will go full-on disruption as Discovery/BBC, HBOMax, Peacock, Quibi, and many others hit the market.

Happy New Year and may this year bring us all health, prosperity, and the 20/20 vision to use these amazing tools for the good of every citizen on the planet.

For 2019, that is all.

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