Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

With virtual worlds all the rage right now (our sister-site trendwatching.com’s July trend briefing deals with youniversal branding), expect a slew of new metaverses to emerge over the next few months. One to watch is Naughty America, launching this summer. It’s an adult (18+) massively multiplayer online dating game, where players can create their own avatars and explore a ‘sexy’ world, or turn on their webcams for some real world ‘action’. Real-world meet-ups can be arranged for as well. In other words: a more than mature version of the Habbo Hotels and Neopets of this world, where members can sexually explore like never before. Given the huge success for anything that involves social software, sex, and meeting up (adultfriendfinder.com claims to have over 20 million members!), Naughty America may well be the success its founders are expecting. And although they’re inviting players from across the globe, there’s a vibrant opportunity to set up Naughty Belgium, Naughty Singapore, Naughty Dubai, etc. Oh, and while we’re at it: since veoh.com, a video sharing site, recently banned and deleted all ‘adult’ material, they’ve lost the only thing that made them truly stand out amongst a sea of competition. And as youtube.com is eating everybody’s lunch in the non-adult content arena, there’s an instant opportunity here to start NaughtyTube.com as well 😉 The newest addition to the niche restaurant scene is the dessert bar. Room 4 Dessert (New York), Espai Sucre (Barcelona) and our most recent spotting, ChikaLicious, limit their menus to creative concoctions that satisfy even the most ardent sweet tooth. A tiny 20-seat eatery in New York, founded by husband and wife team Don and Chika Tillman, ChikaLicious offers a 3-course menu for USD 12, consisting of a sweet amuse, the customer’s choice of main course dessert, and petit fours to top it off. The menu features dishes such as Honey Parfait in Blackberry Soup with Tarragon and Lace Crisp, and the signature Fromage Blanc Island Cheese Cake (described as ‘heaven on a plate’ by a customer on the restaurant’s TurnHere video). The owners explain: “The idea behind an all dessert restaurant was something that we’d been thinking of for quite a while. Here in New York City, if you want a really fine dessert that’s taken seriously, you have to go to one of those fine restaurants. We wanted to create a place that would allow you to go have noodles across the street and then come here for a very nominal price to have a wonderfully treated dessert.” A fun idea that lets adults live out their childhood fantasy of skipping dinner and going straight to dessert. The dessert bar is also a welcome addition to regular restaurants that work with tight seating schedules and rush customers from appetizers to cheque. Less need to hurry through dessert if it can be enjoyed at leisure elsewhere. A delicious opportunity if there every was one! Last year, we featured a few tech-savvy lost and found services that let consumers label their valuables and recover them if lost or stolen. A recent spotting came in from Singapore, where Bak2u offers various ways of securing expensive gadgets. Bak2u labels have ID numbers and can be stuck on portable devices. Owners register their items on Bak2u’s website, and if an item is found, the finder can call a toll-free number to return the item. As Bak2u says, the service makes it easy for good Samaritans to return expensive gadgets to their owners.* Of course, some finders would rather be keepers than good Samaritans. Which is where Bak2u’s PhoneBak comes in. Launched recently, PhoneBak is stealth software that quietly alerts the owner when a thief turns on a stolen device after inserting his own SIM card. How it works? PhoneBak lets a user select a friend or family member’s phone number. The software can detect a change in SIM card, and when it does, it silently sends an SMS message to that preset number. The message includes the new SIM card’s phone number, which means that the owner or police can track the thief and kindly request that the phone be returned. PhoneBak software, which is priced at SGD 25.00 (USD 15/EUR 12.50), is currently only available for smartphones/mobile PDAs that run Microsoft’s Pocket PC software. Versions for other phone operating systems are expected later this year. (zTrace offers a similar service for laptops.) Considering the number of expensive mobile devices stolen every day, and the annoyance caused by subsequent data loss, this should be an easy sell to consumers around the world. _______ * A very similar tagging service was launched in The Netherlands a few months ago: redDog. After featuring The Coffee Office on Monday, we were alerted to a very similar concept that was launched in London six weeks ago. The Hubworking Centre (THC) is a business and meeting venue located in the heart of the City of London. Open from 8 am – 8 pm, THC provides flexible working solutions for business people on the move. Membership is free, and gives members access to a lounge with free wifi. For those who’d rather work at a desk, hot desks are available for GBP 5 per hour or GBP35 per day. Members can also use the centre as their business address, with mail forwarded on a daily or weekly basis, for a cost of GBP 25 per month. Telephone answering is available, too (pricing on request). Besides the lounge and hot desks, THC offers small meeting rooms, conference rooms and training rooms, all reasonably priced per hour or per day. Compared to traditional, larger business centres, transparency in pricing and flexibility are definite advantages. Mobile workers everywhere will love this concept, especially if well-designed, welcoming and easily accessible. A world’s first, British UBC Media just announced a download service that will allow consumers to buy songs while listening to them on digital radio. UBC Media, a radio producer that also develops technology products and services for the broadcasting industry, will begin testing the service on Chrysalis Group’s Heart station, with plans for a full roll-out by December 2006. The digital music download (DMD) service is expected to generate GBP 95 million of turnover by 2012, with a profit of nearly 10 million. These estimates are based on the assumption that in six years 25 percent of mobile devices will be equipped with digital radio service, with cell phones playing a big part. Korean manufacturers LG and Samsung Electronics expect to sell 500,000 digital radio enabled phones in the UK over the next 18 months and about 10 million by the end of the decade. Payment will follow a credit plan along the lines of pre-paid credit used for mobile phone calls. Songs will sell for around GBP 1.25, which is 60 percent more than what’s charged for a song downloaded from iTunes in the UK. Value is added by the fact that songs aren’t only downloaded to the user’s phone, but also to a web-based music library that will allow users to copy the download to their iPod or other mp3 player. Will satellite radio be able to follow the same path? (US satellite radio broadcaster XM is currently in a row with record labels over a gadget that lets listeners record songs.) One to watch! And to partner with if you’re in the phone, music or gadget industry. Created by a Dutch company, Brickadoo is a building toy. Instead of providing an easy click-and-go system (like Lego), Brickadoo building kits come with little bags of mortar. Children mix the mortar in a mixing tub and slap it on the bricks with a small trowel. If they want to build something else, they just dip the entire house in water, which dissolves the mortar and releases the bricks for another round of masonry. Each kit comes with enough mortar to rebuild a house three or four times. Brickadoo bricks are made from natural materials and are free of artificial additives. Besides real bricks and mortar, building kits also come with wooden doors and window frames, and little foam figures of people, cars and animals. Currently available designs include houses, a pizzeria, supermarket, and flower shop – enough to begin construction of small brick city. Considering how fascinated most children (and many of their parents) are with construction and building, this could well be a hit. Time to snap up regional distribution! And if you work for Fisher Price or Hasbro, you might want to add Brickadoo to your shopping list 😉 Last month, we reported on ViTrue, a new type of ad agency that’s building a platform to encourage consumers to create commercial videos for brands. The Atlanta-based agency’s first campaign is being launched later this week. A partnership with Moe’s Southwest Grill (a fast casual Tex Mex chain of restaurants with over 200 locations in the United States) will help bring the “Moe’s Burrito in Every Hand” campaign to online audiences, in combination with regular ads on radio, TV, and in print. Makers of the customer-made ads will be asked to showcase how they are doing their part to put a Moe’s burrito “in the hand of every woman, child and man across the nation.” Ad creators will be rewarded through a contest. Submitted ads will be judged by Moe’s customers, the Sharkle online video community and a panel of Moe’s representatives, and the grand prize winner will win one free burrito every week for the rest of his/her life. Moe’s video community will be online here: moes.sharkle.com. For more examples of how companies are dipping their toes in the waters of co-creation, check out trendwatching.com‘s customer-made. The Coffee Office is built for business – meeting spaces, workstations, conference rooms and café are combined into a centre for mobile professionals. Based in Windsor, Ontario, The Coffee Office was founded to offer business professionals everything they need to stay productive outside a traditional office, in what trendwatching.com calls a being space. A café section is open to everyone, and like the rest of the building, offers free high-speed wireless internet and plenty of power points. The rest of the space is reserved for TCO members, who have access to private workstations and conference rooms. For CAD 90 per month, members have free use of the workstations and members lounge and (fuelling productivity) 25 complimentary coffees per month. Conference rooms can be rented for CAD 35 or 50 per hour (small or large), and private cubicles for CAD 5/hour. When it’s time for a power nap, a sleep module is available for CAD 10/hour. Other thoughtful touches include noise diffusers that help keep conversations private, and access to a Nerd On Site. We previously covered similar initiatives in New York, which offered work spaces to writers or parents. TCO, however, is focused exclusively on the ‘mobile warrior’. The Yankee Group, a Boston-based research and consulting firm, estimates that 50 million people—about 38 percent of the working population in the United States—are mobile workers, defined as those who spend at least 20 percent of their time away from their primary workplace. These employees in the field, independent contractors, freelancers and minipreneurs all need a flexible base for doing business. Plenty of opportunities for The Coffee Office (which is working on expansion through franchising) and other new entrants in this field. Hey, they may eventually even sell to Starbucks? 😉 Regular readers know we’re fond of saying that everything can be upgraded. Case in point? Worlds away from tawdry shops frequented by men in overcoats, Kiki de Montparnasse has turned the sex shop into an erotic boutique. Adopting the stage name of Alice Prin, a nightclub singer/model/painter who was photographer Man Ray’s muse and lover in 1920s Paris, Kiki’s Lower Manhattan store is anything but sleazy. Described as ‘Madame de Pompadour meets Monica Vitti’, the store is luxuriously furnished and dimly lit. An inviting entrance resembles an upmarket lingerie boutique, and stylish creations in French lace and silk satin lead the way to sophisticated objects of desire. Glass cases hold handmade whips and ‘restraining arts’ kits in crocodile leather with gold hardware; elegant Kiki-branded toys include a vibe bejewelled with Swarovski crystals, which also adorn tasselled pasties. Opened last month, Kiki de Montparnasse isn’t the first company to provide a luxurious take on sensual products. London’s Coco de Mer, an erotic emporium founded by Anita ‘Body Shop’ Roddick’s daughter Samantha, sells a host of decadent toys and undergarments, and works with craftsmen that are usually employed by haute couture designers. Swedish Lelo crafts sculptural toys from luxurious materials, and San Francisco-based Jimmyjane sells a Little Something (an ‘elegant and seductive accessory’) that comes in gold and platinum and be personalized with etched words of love. Or lust. The limited edition features engravings inspired by 18th century sailor tattoos. For those entrepreneurs who can create the right combination of playful, provocative, seductive and chic, this is a high-margin market ripe for the picking. EveryBody Special is a new, low-cost wooden coffin created to meet extreme demand during emergency situations. Designed by Dutch EveryBody Coffins, the EveryBody Special is a modular coffin that’s extremely easy to assemble. No tools, nails or screws are required – the pieces just click together. The standard material used is 12 mm multilayered wood, and more environmentally friendly options are also available. Since they’re lightweight and packaged in flat-packs (Ikea-style), transporting EveryBody coffins is very cost efficient: up to 570 extra large (XL) caskets fit into a 20 foot container. Combined with their easy assembly, this makes the coffins highly suitable for burial and cremation in disaster areas and epidemic situations. The company hopes to offer a more dignified, humane alternative to plastic body bags that are often the only option when large-scale disaster strikes. Besides selling to governmental and aid organisations, EveryBody is also offering its product to commercial distributors in those regions where consumers will welcome a low-cost alternative to expensive caskets. As we’ve pointed out before, everything can be reinvented!