Google As Your Bank

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I refuse to get sucked back into the vortex of what the hell Google will or will not be doing with Google Glass at some point in the foreseeable future…instead let’s look at something that may actually matter to most of us.

Unless you are living under a rock the chances are that you are using online banking for almost everything. I haven’t written a check in years but each month my bank dutifully mails out checks to everyone I need to pay. according to documents obtained by those enterprising folk at re/code Google is planning to launch a service called (or code named) Pony Express which will allow us to receive online bills and pay them straight out of Gmail. Receiving e-bills by email is not news but being able to have them automatically organized withing email then pay them from right inside Gmail is really interesting.

The end user will be able to organize and pay most bills simply and directly without having to jump off to a bank site or the site of the bill issuer. I’d certainly use the service.

That sounds all well and good…but let’s put our tinfoil hats on and talk about security and other concerns. We hear almost daily of data breeches and other hacks…the personal and financial data collected in this process would paint an enormous target on the Gmail….come on in guys all our financial data is over here! Gmail has s really good record in terms of data security …but it’s a concern.

Now let’s think about what all this extra data could mean for Google. It will know when you move house, when you are having a baby…when you have had a baby. It will know when you are struggling with bills and only paying minimums on credit cards. It will know where you live and what your mortgage is.It also knows all of your searching behavior and the content of all of your email. In theory this additional data will put Google in a much stronger place to target you with super effective messages.

Having gone that far what’s to stop Google from actually becoming a bank. The answer is almost nothing.  I’d be shocked to discover that Google hasn’t already started this process. Look at PayPal…it started as a way to pay online and now offers a range of financial services. The Google credit and debit cards can only be months away. What’s in your wallet?

Android Wear going Up Market?

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Apple has thrown down the gauntlet to the luxury watch industry with their recent announcement of the gold Apple watch priced at about $17,000. Word has it that the Swiss watch giants are more than a little worried by these developments. Google has just announced a partnership with Tag Heuer and Intel to make an Android Wear  premium watch…so things just got real in premium watch land.

To date wearable watches have been all over the map in terms of pricing and design. Most are stuck in the “Get Smart” world of clunky geekery, I have yet to see one I really like…and as an Apple phone user I couldn’t use them anyway. Interestingly fitness trackers have completely out sold smart watches, they are typically priced afford-ably and do something which their users actually value. Most people already carry a smart watch in their pocket…it’s called a phone. I like the form and function of my Tissot watch. It’s robust, doesn’t need charging and if I destroyed it or lost it I wouldn’t be devastated. It does one thing really well. I don’t leave home without it…but I easily could. I probably check the time on my phone more often than I do my watch by a factor of three to one.

The announcement with Tag Heuer is interesting especially because the top guys at Tag explicitly said they would not be going the “Get Smart” route. Out the box the smart money will be on their watch being much more expensive than most Android Wear devices. I’m OK with that. Having Tag use their watch expertise to make an attractive robust watch which does something which users care about is a really good idea. Most people won’t be able to afford it but having them pull it off (assuming they can) may set a new direction where wearable meets functional meets style…and I’m all for that.

Glass as Fight Club

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The tech portion of SXSW ground to a hipster halt yesterday with the boss of the Google X division sharing insights and updates. As you may recall I’m not a huge fan of Google Glass…I like wearable tech but I always thought the way Google positioned Glass as an elitist ‘too cool for you’ gimmick was flawed.  Back in the day Google reveled in product demand, celebrating the desire from the Brooklyn Bearded ones to decorate their faces with the ultimate symbol of in-crowd cool. The mere fact that the battery life was awful, the functionality clunky and the obvious invasion of privacy concerns were ignored was neither here nor there. In yesterday’s session Astro Teller (yes that’s really his name) pinned most of the blame for Glasses failure on the way Google over hyped the project.  In effect they misled their audience to think that it was a cool finished piece of cutting edge tech as opposed to a cool looking but clunky second screen for an Android phone. In short they talked it up…then talked it to death.

Google loves long betas. as I recall their main search was in “beta” for five years.  That’s fine with a free to use web product, but in high priced consumer electronics getting the 1.0 of something is problematic…getting the beta is a recipe for disaster.  If it was never really a stable product hyping it hurt them and the entire wearable market. They turned wearable tech a into a punchline for late night talk show monologues. Next time (and I’m sure there will be one) I imagine they will take a much lower profile marketing approach….the first rule of the new Google Glass will be….Don’t talk about Google Glass.  The second rule…DON’T TALK ABOUT GOOGLE GLASS.

Becoming a Solar Power in India

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India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, made headlines last year by announcing his ambition to install 100 gigawatts of solar power capacity (over 30 times more than India has now) by 2022. Skeptics noted the lack of a detailed plan and budget, but some well-capitalized industrial players have apparently caught the Prime Minister’s solar fever: at a renewable energy summit called by Modi last month he collected pledges for 166 gigawatts of solar projects.

At the New Delhi summit, energy renewable giants such as First Solar and SunEdison mixed for the first time with chief ministers from Indian states and top executives of Indian industrial conglomerates such as Adani Enterprises and the National Thermal Power Corporation, India’s largest power generator.

Tobias Engelmeier, founder of Bridge to India, a solar-market consultancy, says Modi’s ambition has “changed the conversation” about India’s solar potential. But what happens next, will depend only in part on what renewable energy strategy Modi can devise from within the central government. The ultimate driver could be India’s unmet demand for electricity. A quarter of India’s population is not connected to the power grid, and electricity supply is chronically short for those who are.

Modi has said that India had to “make a quantum leap in energy production,” and he said solar could deliver with its rapid construction rates and crashing prices—from 20 rupees (32 cents) per kilowatt-hour to less than seven rupees over the last three years.

In some Indian states, renewable energy can compete with fossil fuels even without the benefit of any subsidies, at least for commercial and industrial consumers, who pay the highest rates in India. Industrial firms normally pay 10 rupees or more per kilowatt-hour for grid power, but solar developers there are selling their power at a profit for eight rupees per kilowatt-hour.

Engelmeier’s firm reported in November 2014 that even rooftop installations, which cost more to install, now match or beat the grid rates for commercial and industrial consumers in one out of four Indian states, with rates of about eight rupees per kilowatt-hour. Between 2012 and 2014, solar capacity increased from 461 megawatts to over three gigawatts in India, and Engelmeier projects that developers will add up to two more gigawatts this year. An increasing number of states, including Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Andhra Pradesh, are leasing public lands for solar parks. This eliminates the need for solar developers to work through India’s complex land registries to support their own solar farm.

Expectations from the Apple Watch “Spring Forward” Event Today

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The Apple Watch, set to go on sale likely next month, will be Apple’s first venture into the smartwatch market and also its first new product category since the iPad made its debut in 2010. Introduced back in September, this gadget is expected to come with a number of new features and a wide selection of styles.

Apple has left many questions unanswered regarding features, price, battery and more. Full details will be revealed during the company’s Spring Forward press event today. Here’s what we expect to learn about the Apple Watch.

  • App Development

Several big companies are reportedly planning to release apps for the Apple Watch on launch. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter are among them. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide’s app will be able to unlock hotel-room doors, and United Airlines plans to release an app to provide flight notifications.

  • Battery Life

Apple CEO Tim Cook has said he expects the Apple Watch battery life to last all day. Beyond that, the company has remained mostly quiet. On the low end, the Apple Watch may last only 2.5 hours under constant active use. Combined passive and active use would bring the Watch closer to 19 hours. To stretch that, it may also ship with a feature called Power Reserve, which would reduce its power consumption and disable all features outside of timekeeping.

  • Communication Methods

The Apple Watch will display notifications from apps and a paired iPhone. It will enable users to communicate in new ways, through heartbeats, Siri, sketches and Yo-style taps. Users will also be able to transfer messages, emails and calls from the Apple Watch to an iPhone for longer conversations.

  • Health And Fitness Focus

The Apple Watch will come with a variety of health features at launch, including a built-in heart-rate sensor. It will be able to track various types of activity throughout the day, such as moving and exercising. And if a user is not standing up or walking around much, it can be set to provide a gentle nudge with a couple of vibrations.

  • Price

The Apple Watch will start at $349 for the sport model, which features an aluminum case and Ion-X Glass for the touch screen, according to the company. But Apple hasn’t said where it plans to price the stainless steel-version and the 18-karat gold Apple Watch Edition, which both feature a sapphire screen. The steel model could come in at between $499 and $549. Estimates place the gold model anywhere between from $5,000 to $10,000.

  • Watch Band Options

The Apple Watch will have a number of interchangeable bands available for purchase. Among the options are five colors of the fluoroelastomer band, eight leather bands and three steel bands. Prices for the bands are expected to fall between $49 and $99 for the fluoroelastomer and steel bands. If Apple introduces gold options, their prices could go into the thousands of dollars.

  • Retail Store Changes

Apple is expected to make some changes to its retail stores when the Apple Watch launches, such as the introduction of glass display cases to create a more upscale buying experience such as a jewelry store. The Watch could also get its own retail space: Apple has been seen setting up displays in high-end department stores in Paris and London.

 

20:20 Hindsight

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As an amateur prognosticator I get to call ahead on all kinds of things…yesterday I hit two in one. Back on January 23rd I suggested that Google was about to announce as a mobile phone service provider and Tada! at the big mobile event in Barcelona this week that came to pass.  Beyond the fact that anything Google does could be important, the interesting nuance about this story is that Google is talking about being more than just another carrier…offering calling over cell and WiFi and Bluetooth…an altogether more integrated thing than just another carrier.

The other thing I hit right on the nose was much less edifying. I have been ranting on and on about police on African American violence and the need for wearable tech to muzzle our out of control police forces. On December 5th last year I lamented the dual standard for the police and the unarmed and or mentally ill people of color they routinely kill in close to cold blood.  This week a group of LA’s “finest” (An oxymoron if ever there was one) tussled with and killed a homeless person of mental illness and color …again filmed by passers by. Yesterday the federal investigation into the Ferguson shooting confirmed (what we all I think suspected) that the police in that jurisdiction were insanely even comically racist in the way they applied the rules to the black residents they “protect and serve.” At the risk of sounding smug back then I railed “This isn’t a tech problem, it’s not “a black problem” it’s an American problem. We have armed the guys who couldn’t get the grades to go to college with sophisticated weapons, given them impunity and “hero” status. They aren’t, they are, in many cases, blue collar guys with way to much power an institutional disregard for our civil rights and a cultural contempt for certain parts of our society”.

I take little satisfaction in either case…the Google story was in the zeitgeist and …well if you live in the same culture I do the police thing won’t be a surprise to you either. Happy March BTW.

An Early Test for Body Cameras

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The officer-involved shooting Sunday on skid row that left a man dead could be an early test of the Los Angeles Police Department’s new body camera program for officers. The encounter was recorded by body cameras worn by at least one of the officers involved in the incident. Other videos have emerged showing parts of the incident, but the actual altercation that led to the shooting is not clear.

The department planned in December to outfit every officer with a body camera that will record interactions with the public. The 7,000 cameras will help bring clarity to controversial encounters, guard against officer misconduct and clear cops accused of wrongdoing.

The hope is that the cameras will help with investigations of use-of-force encounters just like Sunday’s. Increasing transparency could improve the public’s trust. But there are many implications that remain unexplored, including the impact on people’s privacy, how the public and defense lawyers can access the footage and how long footage will be kept before it is destroyed.

Police agencies around the country are grappling with similar issues as they try to figure out the best way to implement body cameras. The devices were among a list of recommendations included in a report released Monday by a task force appointed by President Obama to explore ways to improve relationships between police and the public.

Cameras have the long-term potential to help cut down on civilian complaints and lawsuits, speed up criminal cases and reduce paperwork. That is why he sees Sunday’s case an important test of body cameras’ potential to ensure speedy and fair use-of-force investigations.

There is some debate about making the videos that are involved in the altercations public. The department doesn’t intend, in general, to release the recordings unless required by a criminal or civil court proceeding. The LAPD considers the recordings evidence, investigative records exempt from public release under California’s public records law. But at community forums, some residents said they thought videos should be released as a form of transparency.

Score One For The Bad Guys

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Q: What do you call 10,000 lawyers chained together at the bottom of the ocean…A: A good start.

I imagine I’m not alone in the category of business people who loathe large chunks of our legal system. Among the most repulsive are the patent laws. In a case announced today Apple has been hit with an absurd fine of $533 million over alleged infringement of patents claimed by SmartFlash LLC. Thankfully the ridiculous size and basis of the award will more than likely mean that it will be rightly thrown out in the appeals process but the award will likely encourage the foul occupation of patent trolling to continue.

Just in case you missed my earlier rants on this topic the patent trolls are essentially investment companies who buy up old patents (typically absurdly general and wide ranging ones granted before the patent courts had any handle on technology) and hold companies of all sizes to ransom by suing for infringement. The poster child for this process who just won against Apple has no employees, makes no product, has no revenues and only solely exists to attempt to exploit defunct overly general patents. This is a toxic business…it’s a tax on any company trying to business in this fair country and makes us look ridiculous as a nation. I wish Apple all the best possible luck in overturning this toxic verdict.  The verdict was (of course) issues in the same East Texas jurisdiction as most of the other patent Troll cases. I have no idea why a particular set of Texan judges have set them selves up as the arbiters (and cheer leaders) for the patent troll cases but they have…one can only assume they have their own internal rewards structure in place to make it worth their while.

As in increasingly tech based economy this kind of nonsense is harmful to growth and stifling of innovation. Unfortunately the trial lawyers are a huge political force so getting legal reform is going to be an uphill battle. Until then us tech folk will keep wasting time and money fighting absurd law suits…Thank you Texas

Does Google’s Future Look Bright or Dark?

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It may be hard to imagine a world without Google, and the tech giant is working hard to keep it that way. They have perfected the art of search advertising on desktop and laptop, and it controls the widely used Android mobile OS, as well as YouTube and Nest. But is the company nimble enough to capitalize on the next best thing in tech?

Some tech industry observers aren’t sure.

Have we reached “Peak Google,” or will they continue to grow? While it is impossible to know the future, there is evidence for both eventualities. Here, first, are three reasons why Google should be concerned about the future.

  1. Trouble mastering mobile. Google has perfected the art of direct-response advertising alongside search results. About 90% of the company’s revenue comes from this lucrative exercise. However, as smartphones and mobile computing push time spent on desktop and laptop computers to the sidelines, Google has grappled with how to remain an advertising powerhouse. The company has notoriously struggled with mobile advertising, while rival Facebook has seen more success. In a world centered on a fragmented mobile advertising market, Google could suffer.
  2. The perils of incessant experimentation. The “throw it up against a wall and see what sticks” method. Good for testing spaghetti, sending out college applications, and … for technological innovation? Google seems to think so. The company has famously introduced a myriad of now-defunct services — ones that didn’t pan out as expected such as Google Wave and, more recently, Google Helpouts. This kind of innovation is bold, and not a bad strategy so long as something does, eventually, stick. Specifically, something profitable. But there are no guarantees, and some draw parallels between Google X, the research lab responsible for Google Glass, driverless cars, etc., and Microsoft Research. In both cases resources have been directed toward lots of flashy ideas that, in many cases, ultimately lack in financial follow-through. Of course, Google CEO Larry Page has famously prescribed that the company will now put “more wood behind fewer arrows,” meaning that Google will place more focus on its key projects. Still, those arrows need to be chosen carefully, and investors are worried that an excess of Google’s attentions are directed toward ancillary aspects of the company.
  3. The ebb and flow of power. The final reason Google may decline is more esoteric, but somehow sensible. As Ben Thompson, tech strategist and blogger, comments: “When a company becomes dominant, its dominance precludes it from dominating the next thing. It’s almost like a natural law of business.” Essentially, an industry giant lacks the maneuverability of a younger company, perhaps a startup.

But there are reasons to believe that Google’s future is bright. Here are three:

  1. Money, money, money. Google is hugely wealthy. The company posted $14.4 billion in profits in 2014, up about 12 percent from 2013. While a look behind the numbers unveils a more complicated reality, the fact remains that this kind of income allows Google to invest in innovation, even for a product or service that may not pan out.
  2. A high premium placed on innovation. The Google workplace culture is renowned for the concept of “20 percent time.” This is the idea that, for 20 percent of the time they spend at work, Google engineers are encouraged to pursue independent passion projects. The results of this ethos can be seen in successful projects such as AdSense and Gmail. The reality of whether this 20 percent is truly integrated, or only possible in addition to an employee’s normal schedule, is a topic of contention among current and former workers and the management. However, spending time working on more than day-to-day projects is an important value that sets Google apart. If any company seems likely to buck the “natural law of business” trend mentioned above, it would be a company with these priorities.
  3. Smart acquisitions. Google bought Android in 2005 as a way to secure a foothold in the mobile market. In 2006, Google picked up YouTube, the popular online video site. And in 2014, Google acquired Nest, a company that has developed a smart home thermostat and smoke detector. Android is the most widely used operating system in the world; YouTube is a powerful road into the mobile advertising market; and Nest, with Google’s expertise, appears to have a lot of potential to lead home automation. This is another benefit of the deep pockets of Google — the ability to buy into a promising market.

Google has a lot of strengths, making it hard to imagine that the company has started its decline. Of course, no one is suggesting that Google will cease to be relevant overnight. As Farhad Manjoo writes in The New York Times, “Technology giants often meet their end not with a bang but a whimper, a slow, imperceptible descent into irrelevancy.” While Google won’t disappear, it might not lead the charge into our technological future either.

Apple’s Auto Gamble Is Risky Business

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Apple may be taking a big risk by wading into the automobile market, but that it may be an essential one for a company that must keep moving forward or risk being left in the dust by competitors.

Rumors have the $700 billion company looking at getting into the automotive business, and that the company has already assembled a large team of experts to work on the project.

An “iCar” by 2020 may mesh well with the company’s core competencies of redefining everyday products such as music players, smartphones, and eventually watches. Apple may have decided that cars is the next logical place to go, and the company certainly has a lot of pressure to continue to take bold new steps, especially with developments by competitors such as Google creating their own self-driving cars.

It won’t be a decision to be taken lightly, and Apple certainly has time to back out. Former General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz noted in the report that it would take enormous capital to launch an automotive product, and the industry typically doesn’t have big profit margins. It seemed strange to him that Apple would go into a business where, at best, Apple can expect a 5 or 6 percent margin, and in bad times, it will cost the company a great deal of money.

And it’s more than just the capital. There are a huge amount of state and regulatory obstacles to overcome, as well as global hurdles such as engineering a car to drive on the right-hand side. Most likely, Apple would jump into the electric car market, as Tesla has. It’s not clear whether it would also seek to go for automation as Google has.

Tesla may be an example of why Apple might want to think twice. The automaker has burned through lots of money in the past 10 years and have sold just 35,000 cars in the last year. Apple is not likely to be happy with similar figures.

What do you think? Would Apple fare well in this new endeavor?