Minsky Media Tech Innovation Awards: Runner-Up is Pixel 6. Guess the Surprise Winner

By But Wait, That's Not All... Archives
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I am nothing if not a creature of habit. I have an innate drive within me to continue traditions. Traditions bind us together. They give us a sense of stability, predictability and G-d knows these days we need more of that. There's a silly little tradition that I have with my childhood friends that has been going on around 40 years which, ironically, falls out on the saddest day of the Jewish calendar. On a day where you aren't supposed to officially greet anyone, one year we started using a local radio show program's promo tag, "K104 Wins Big Bucks", in place of "hello". Every year since, we either call each other up with that line or post it on social media. As I said, silly, but…it's a tradition.

So here we are, literally in the last days of what has been a fairly shitty year. The number of souls lost to COVID, Inflation, Omicron, losing John Madden.

Not everything has been bad. America's Team is back in the saddle, Captain Kirk made it to space, the stock market has done well, and Spider-Man: No Way Home has proven that there is life at the movie theater; even if it will never be exactly as it was pre-COVID. The advertising industry has thankfully bounced back quite nicely from the disaster that was 2020. Agencies are hiring, budgets (in most) industries are up, and the many executive changes made over the past year now have our industry well poised to tackle the digital era smartly and intelligently. Not saying that everyone will get everything right. There's still a lot of denial around the challenges in data and a lot of overexuberance around NFTs; not to mention that everyone is walking around saying the words 'clean room' as if that will satisfy every future privacy law to be written. But at least there are digital-centric people who, for the most part, also understand that the drive for pure efficiency was a fool's path and the answer lies between the pillars of creative impact, value, context, relevance and efficiency. It will be messy, but we'll be fine.

However, back to tradition. I almost did not write this column, but...it's a tradition. Because in a year where we are just grateful not to be going all Hunger Games on toilet paper or paper towels, I have been having a truly tough time finding a (fairly) new product worthy of the annual Minsky Award for Innovative Technology. At its core, technology requires chips to run, and we all know that those have been almost harder to find than a steady boyfriend for Olivia Rodrigo.

So, let's give this a go.

Yeah…nothing. Give me another minute.

Last year, I gave the award to Zoom. I won't take that back, but clearly the bloom is off the rose on that one. I also gushed over the Oculus Quest 2 last year, which incidentally seems to really have had fantastic sales over Christmas with the Oculus App dominating Apple's App Store at Christmas. If you want to get biblical about it, this seems appropriate for the day given that Facebook recently killed the Oculus brand in favor of "Meta" making Oculus a 'resurrected' brand for a moment. (By the way branding people at Meta, if you are going to make the decision to kill the Oculus brand, you really should update the app name). As much as I would love to give the Minsky Award to the Quest 2, and it is a device that everyone in our industry should need, a must own in the era of the Metaverse, it's no longer "new".

If you did recently buy or receive a Quest 2 for the holidays, there are a few apps that I would recommend; but don't quite make the cut (yet) for The Minsky Award. I happen to really enjoy Mondly, a language learning app, which solves one of my biggest issues with learning new languages. It focuses on conversational by not only completely immersing you in scenarios that you would face as a tourist or business traveler, but forces you to speak to various service workers, a taxi driver, a hotel reception clerk, a clothing store manager, an office receptionist and airline agent in the language you are learning. For the most part, the voice recognition works well, but if you are conversant in a language and use slang or use a correct response but one that the programmers did not include, it can get a bit frustrating when the program does not recognize or accept the response. As fun and effective as I find this method of language education, the content necessary to truly achieve fluency requires a massively greater amount than which is currently available. However, if you have the Quest, check it out.

There was a device that I truly was hoping would make the list of award contenders. It's called the Looking Glass and it allows you to upload holograms into a 3-D frame. I was actually privileged to attend the launch party in Brooklyn (great rooftop view from their HQ) a few years back of the beta version and was impressed. A more consumer-friendly version launched this year but unfortunately, due to the supply chain shortage, the one I ordered still has not arrived.

This year's first runner-up is the Google Pixel 6. The Pixel 6 has broken the duopoly in the premium smartphone world. While Apple and Samsung have dominated for over a decade, everyone else's attempt while novel just didn't get close enough to the iPhone or Galaxy lines in quality or innovation. The Google Pixel 6 knocked it out of the park with great cameras, an AI driven Tensor processor, complete optimization for Android 12, a slick and unique design, as well as price that beat out the other major players. I'm a Samsung guy, and in 2022 I will be upgrading my phone. However, this is the first time in over a decade that I am not going to automatically go with Samsung. I may, but the Google Pixel line is now in my consideration set.

So, do we have a winner? Yes. Because I am sitting here writing this column in my basement with my 13-year-old daughter isolated as we tested positive for CoOVID-19 (Omicron) three days ago. The good news is that we have nothing more than a mild cold for one reason and one reason only. The 2021 Minsky Award for Technological Innovation goes to the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. You can take your pick if it should go to Moderna or Pfizer (sorry J&J). The vaccine is technology. It is programmed. It is one of the most remarkable achievements in our lifetime and will go down in history as the prime example of what can be accomplished when the world pulls together, focuses and allocates the financing needed to get it done. Without the vaccine, as bad and horrendous as the death toll has been and is, our collective grief would have been far worse. Without the vaccine, the impact to our economy, our families, our civilization would be exponential and without even a semblance of an endpoint. Without the vaccine the few coughs and sneezes that my daughter and I have had over the past few days could have turned into a disastrous illness. In the end, the choice is obvious.

But Wait, That's Not All…

I am optimistic about 2022. I firmly believe that, by the summer, we will move on from the pandemic to an era of boosters or annual COVID-19 shots that will allow us to normalize life. I know that there is a tremendous amount of innovation around the corner from Apple's entry into AR/VR, the newest higher end version of the Meta Headset (Project Cambria), a rush of innovation in the Electric Car/Autonomous Vehicle world, and a myriad of AR eyewear and metaverse-centric innovation. I also know that the media world will thrive with content, grapple with data and privacy, but we will also come out of 2022 with a much greater understanding of how we transact going forward.

I wish you, your family, friends, colleagues and loved ones, a Happy New Year!

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