3D revolution will be printed

3D printers have been around for almost a decade now. They are mostly used in the industrial settings to test a part before it is sent out for manufacturing. The current price of these machines, very often called rapid prototypers, is about $15-20k. That’s old news.

What is noteworthy is that a new crop of 3D printers are coming to market; the desktop 3D printers. The Desktop Factory (an Ideal Lab Company) will start selling its 3D printer for $4995 this year.

Fabjectory already makes the virtual life -real life crossover by making a 3D print of your virtual avatar from Nintendo Mii or from Second Life; and 3D Systems, a pioneer in the field with several hundred patents, will soon release a printer in the sub 10k range. It all points to the phase transition for the products.

It has been said that the successful products have three phases:

“what is it?” phase,
“how much is it” phase, and
“I can make it cheaper!” phase.

It seems to me that the the 3D printers are now officially crawled in to the “how much is it” phase!

Laser printers went through similar transition of being bulky and expensive to smaller, better, and cheaper phase of $99 pricing; the video recording went through the same phases of a unit costing $100,000 to $10,000 to $79 in the liquidation isle and now its time for 3D printers to do the same.

NY Times, quoted A. Michael Berman, chief technology officer for the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena:

The market for 3-D printing isn’t as big as for laser printers, but I do believe it is huge.

Yes, I do agree that the market for 3D printer is huge! Eventually, It might even be bigger than the laser printer market. I expect that in about five years, Brother will be making a 7 in 1 model of a multi function machine that copies, scans, faxes and prints in BW, Color and in 3D!

As a physicist, I don’t see any reason why in 3007, one might not have a printer that uses hydrogen as “ink” to “print” anything of any metal and any composition. But for now, I’ll just be happy with a small 3D printer that makes a copy of a gorgeous little singe flower vase that I just saw.

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Vudu : The next Tivo or the next Webvan?

I had to do a doubletake when I heard about this one! Its been a while since I have heard so many accolades for a product. I was even more impressed puzzled when I noticed the media companies that have gotten behind Vudu. NY Times has an exclusive on their “coming out” announcement.

“The first time I ever saw TiVo was an a-ha moment, and this was the same thing,�? says Jim Wuthrich, a senior executive with Warner Brothers Home Entertainment Group. “It looks fairly sexy and inviting. This is going to pull people in.�?

Considering that I am a great fan of, and one of the earliest adopters of TiVo, that is saying a lot!

Insiders familiar with Vudu’s hidden magic say that this 41-employee start-up has everything we’ve come to expect from Silicon Valley: a daring business plan, innovative technology and entrepreneurs prone to breathless superlatives when discussing their new offering’s possible impact on the world.

“This is something that is going to alter the landscape,�? boasts Tony Miranz, Vudu’s founder, of the product he plans to begin selling this summer. “We are rewriting economics.�?

The last time I heard so much praise lavished on a product was … umm.. Segway, I think! But lets not go there now.

OK, so what is Vudu? Its a set top box that connects to the Net and delivers videos on your TV. It stores the first few minutes of the video on the hard drive so when you click on your selection, the video starts right away. To make data transfer faster, it uses P2P technology. They have filed about 42 patent applications and have brought in people from TiVo to apply the lessons learned there.

The most impressive part, which I have taken note of, is that every major studio â€�? except for Sony Pictures will make their films available on Vudu! That is amazing for sure. Vudu’s library boasts of 5000 movies; compare that to Apple TV which carries only 500 movies from two major studios. Another difference between Apple TV and Vudu is that for Apple TV to work, it needs to be connected to the computer - not so with Vudu.

My major issue with these devices is that the data infrastructure in most homes is not robust enough to even theoretically support the instantaneous delivery of a movie! It works great in a demo, where you have a 100M to 1G/sec network connection; but most homes have 164k connection which is being shared with a teenage son who is downloading YouTube videos. The expereince is not the same.

This reminds me of MovieBeam, which used a portion of the TV broadcast spectrum to preload the movie on a set top box. You have about 30-50 movies available to watch right away! After $50-100M in investment, it was recently sold for $10M.

Vudu raised $21M from Greylock Partners and Benchmark Capital and has been in the stealth mode for about 2 years.

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Push-Ringer : Emotive Communication gets $7.7M investment from Warner and Bertelsmann

The ringtone sales in US were about $600M last year and are expected to be about $550M this year. It is not uncommon for a song to sell more copies as a ringtones for $2.99 a pop then as a digital download for $0.99 from iTune.

The mobile phone industry has tried introducing several new products to enlarge this space. Ringback Tone - instead of the ringing sound, this is the tone that a caller hears while the call is being connected; End Tone - this is the snippet that is played to let you know that the call has ended, but these have not been as successful.

Now comes the Push-Ringer. It reverses the common ringtone model. It pushes the caller’s choice of tone to your phone, temporarily overriding your own ringtone settings. It enables a caller to specify an outgoing ringtone to the receiving phone, allowing the caller, not the called person, to set the tone. The ringers can comprise of audio, video, animations, avatars or flash files.

Emotive communication have demonstrated their push-Ringer technology for VOIP and for 3G and 4G phones. The product has already gained significant traction with consumers. Emotive has a flagship product for Skyp (a VOIP network) called RingJacker, which has been installed 800,000 times and has shown a great peer to peer adoption potential.

I am not sure about the ringtones being pushed, but I think there is some value to a picture being pushed when a person calls. Almost all modern mobile phones allow associating a picture to a contact but this feature is grossly underused. However, if the system allowed for “pushing” of a picture along with the tone, I can see that the service might be useful and go beyond the novelty feature.

The D. E. Shaw group, Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments, Warner Music Group and other angel investors have invested $7.7 million in Emotive Communications.

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Web 2.0 Expo : The web 2.0 pyramid and the lower price of failure

Two notable observations from Web 2.0 Expo.

(i) A pyramid of Web 2.0 companies. The pyramid consists of three tiers; at the top are the few Web 2.0 breakouts: YouTube, MySpace and Wikipedia, which are worth more than $1 billion.

In the next tier, about 30 companies valued at $30 million or more, from big names like Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, Bebo and Digg to up-and-comers like Flixster, Pandora, Meebo and eSnips.

The last tier has 2,000 other companies, which may break out, but probably won’t.

Yael Elish, CEO of eSnip noted that:

“Web 2.0 is a lot of very, very, very small sites which are not managing to get above the techies and early adopter stage,” “You don’t get too many companies that have the potential for a breakthrough, to get big.”

This accurately describes the state of Web 2.0 Companies.

(ii) Lower Cost of Failure. Jeff Clavier of SoftTech VC noted that:

The cost of failure is lower than before, both for entrepreneurs and investors, encouraging everyone to take more risks. The seed round of funding allows entrepreneurs and investors “validate assumptions” before raising capital to “scale.”

At least we have learned something from the Web 1.0 and it is being applied to Web 2.0 Companies!

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