Android Going Wider

img_99851

Last week Apple gave us the larger, thinner, faster and considerably more expensive iPhone 6. Only they make the hardware. A while ago Apple pretty much invented then ruled the smartphone segment, now it’s a firm second to Android which already has over a billion users so far. Today Google announced the first Android One powered smart phones targeted at the emerging (ie third world) market and it’s coming out at just over $100. That’s an impressive move. It’s not that there haven’t been cheap smartphones out there, there have. This move is interesting because it represents a reliable high quality OS controlled by Google being offered on robust hardware built by major players.

Part of what has driven Google nuts in recent years is that Android as customized and deployed by phone manufacturers has tended to be both twitchy and bloated with custom modules added by the manufactures often to the detriment of the Android user. Not so in the case of Android One. In this version the handset makers will not be able to modify Android. They will be able to add their own apps but Google will control the OS and will be able to update it remotely. That means Google will be much less vulnerable to hardware driven weirdness and will be able to fix problems without relying on the handset guys cooperation.

Seen in the wider context of emerging markets it makes a lot of sense. Much of the developing world has gone straight to wireless without ever touching large scale copper wire. The addition of lower price high quality handsets and very affordable data plans means the the next billion Android users may be a lot closer than we may have thought.

Although this isn’t necessarily an immediate and massive cash win for Google, taking what amounts to global control of the user experience for what will amount to perhaps 30% of humanity is compelling. It will be Google Apps, search and thus ads which will become the global default. You have to admire the long term thinking.

Do We Really Need to Regulate Drone Airspace? NASA Thinks So

drone

With all the drones flying around in the sky, there is surprisingly little regulation in place for managing them. NASA has realized that someone has got to stop it all from descending into chaos.

Researchers at NASA’s Moffet Federal Airfield are working on a complex air traffic control system that would be designed solely for drone aircraft, or any flying aircraft below 400 feet. The system would include provisions to stop drones from flying into buildings and other aircraft while also including no-fly zones preventing any unwanted snooping on federal buildings.

However, for commercial drone operations to take off in the US, the approval of the Federal Aviation Administration is still needed. The agency has so far taken a hard line on any paid work using drones, but says it’s looking to propose new rules before the end of the year.

It’s important to note that for now the system wouldn’t have direct communication with an off-the-shelf drone. It is principally designed for commercial drones like Amazon Prime Air and Google’s ‘Wing’ project. Small, cheap drones are proving increasingly popular for both hobbyists and technology companies alike, but while the technology itself is ready to fly, controlling the airspace is a trickier proposition.

Last week, Google unveiled Project Wing, an experimental drone delivery program that sent half-helicopter, half-airplane drones buzzing around remote farmland in Australia. But how would this system work in populated areas or cities? Who would keep the airspace crash-free?

Oh Apple….Really?

 

Apple

I tried really hard to listen live to the Apple announcement today.  The live feed started 6 minutes late and was apparently being simultaneously translated into Japanese….which I could hear much better than the English language version. The feed stopped, broke and stuttered …so I gave up. I like many other people live in  world of Apple hardware running mostly Google applications. I don’t think today changed much of that. The lame live streaming was a harbinger of lameness to follow.

Apple hit the most of marks that were strategically leaked. the phones and phone tablets Phablets (Lord I hate that word) are bigger, brighter more powerful as expected….none of the features would make me pay the extra to upgrade but would probably keep me on the brand going forwards. The downside (as always) is going to be cost. There are many very good much cheaper Android phones out there with bigger specs and lower prices.

The payment component is probably more interesting. Near Field technology to allow secure payment by device as opposed to a card or cash is ancient. they were doing it in South Korea when I was there a decade ago. It’s been very slow off the mark in the US but the fact that Apple has done the legwork to launch it with most the major banks and many thousands of retail outlets may finally get this off the ground in the US. It’s been a long time coming…but welcome none the less.

The other much leaked launch is the Apple Watch….interestingly not called the iWatch.  The world of wearable tech has been taking off nicely and this is Apples contribution to the effort. Put simply…it’s horrible. It looks like something dropped by my 2 year old grandson. The tech inside and the UI may be terrific but I would cut my hand off before I’d put this on my wrist. I’m actually kinda shocked that they would go with a watch most people wouldn’t be seen dead wearing. Leave aside the fact that there was no info on battery life and no wireless charging…this just looks awful….and fragile. At nearly $350 it’s not fitbit cheap….but looks worse.

They ended the presentation with a surprise performance by U2. Not sure that was a great message either. They are for sure mega stars…but also blow-hardy showing their age and haven’t innovated much at all in the last few years. Oh….no wait…that was perfect.

Fingers Crossed for Apple Tomorrow… We Need a Cool New Toy

nikola-cirkovic

This Tuesday, Apple launches their highly anticipated live event. Many have speculated what is set to be revealed this year, as Apple has been rumored to make a splash in the wearable technology market with the so-called “iWatch.”

Most analysts believe such a device is coming, releasing a smartwatch now would mirror Apple’s strategy in the MP3-player market, where the company waited for a few smaller players to release devices and then went on to dominate the market with its own higher-end product.

Should Apple announce an iWatch this week, the company will likely also unveil a release date a little later in the year so as to coincide with the holiday shopping season. However some analysts believe Apple may postpone the iWatch announcement altogether, allowing it to stagger its big announcements and keep this week’s focus squarely on its new phones.

Beyond the traditional improvements Apple tends to make with every new generation of hardware, the defining feature of the products expected to be unveiled this week will almost certainly be screen size. The above photo is one of many rumored prototypes of a new iPhone, including a bigger screen than the traditional iPhone size. For years, Apple refused to alter the screen size of its flagship device.

In recent years, top rivals of Apple such as Samsung have proven that there exists a market for phones with larger screens. It is unlikely that Apple will release anything as large as the 6.3-inch Samsung Galaxy Mega, or the 7” Galaxy W, but analysts expect Apple to unveil two new types of iPhone – one with a 4.7-inch screen and the other with a 5.5-inch screen. Both would be larger than the most recent, 4-inch iteration of the smartphone.

Since the iPhone morphed from a revolutionary new product into a consumer mainstay several years ago, Apple launch events have largely focused on new tools and services for the hardware, rather than the hardware itself. This week’s event will likely be no exception, as Apple executives are expected to spend a lot of time talking about various cloud-based services – most notably, a new wireless payment standard that will allow iPhone users to make purchases simply by swiping their devices past terminals at the checkout. Many Apple rivals, including BlackBerry, have spent considerable energy on similar wireless payment models, but Apple’s entry is likely to shake up the technology, which has not yet taken off in a big way in North America.

But Apple’s promotion of cloud-based services is likely to prove a little tricky after an embarrassing black eye last week. In a high-profile incident the company has yet to fully explain, numerous celebrities saw their iCloud accounts hacked and intimate photos and other content stolen and distributed across the Internet. The hacking incident reignited a debate about the security of the infrastructure in which Apple users store everything from multimedia to credit-card numbers. As such, Apple executives will now almost certainly have to dedicate some time during this week’s presentation to reassure current and potential customers that their data are safe in the Apple cloud.

Police Departments Hoping Wearable Technology Will Prevent Another Ferguson

Police-Body-Camera

There was a time, not that long ago, when truck drivers drove for 24hrs straight on a mix of coffee and meth leading to routine mayhem on our roads. Then they introduced ‘the spy in the cab’ and the problem went away almost overnight. Similarly the introduction of police monitoring equipment (essentially a GoPro for each cop) has caused enormous changes.

Suddenly the seemingly intractable problem of inappropriate use of force and the complaints filed against the police for so doing dropped immediately. Use of force by 60% and complaints by 88% respectively. The national media coverage following the killing of teenager Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson has given this issue due prominence. The message is clear…if a bad actor knows his bad acts will be recorded and make him answerable for them he will think twice before committing those acts. Even in Missouri a few body-mounted camera systems are being considered, which will likely set the pattern for how wearable technology is used in the police force from now on. Here are some examples of the technology under test or in use:

Digital Ally FirstVU HD Officer-Worn Video System

Digital Ally’s system and others like it are unique because they accommodate the need of police officers exiting their vehicles. Such action often leaves dash-mounted cameras unable to record activity beside or behind the patrol car.

Since its market launch, the efficacy of the FirstVU HD has been complemented and expanded by ‘live streaming’ capabilities, cloud-based storage and access, and the recent introduction of patented VuLink connectivity system, which allows body cameras and multiple in-car video systems to be automatically or manually activated simultaneously.

TASER Axon Flex

Another leading maker of wearable video cameras is Taser. The Axon Flex that sells for $600 lets officers mount the tiny camera on their eyewear, hat, helmet, body or even on the dash of their cruiser.

A collaboration between Taser and Samsung allows the video and audio feed from the camera to be sent to a Samsung media device with a four-inch screen called the Galaxy Player.

Law enforcement agencies have used the Axon Flex-Galaxy Player combination not only for active police work, but also to monitor trainees and help provide better feedback as they develop their policing skills.

GoPro Hero

The company that went public with an IPO back in June makes the Hero line of personal HD cameras, frequently used in extreme sports. Although the GoPro Hero is sold to and used by law enforcement, it is larger than some of its competitors and considered bulky by some.

What some consider a disadvantage, however, could also be an advantage. A chest-mounted GoPro Hero is obvious to anyone a police officer encounters.

Google Glass

Many would argue that Google Glass is a perfect fit for police use. It sees what the officer sees, is small and lightweight, unobtrusive and offers many other benefits including the ability to communicate with various police agencies.

Law enforcement personnel in Dubai, New York, Byron, Georgia and Rialto have made use of Google Glass. Because the device has the potential to be used with a variety of apps that could, for example, scan license plates, many in law enforcement see Glass as one of most attractive options yet.

 

California Law is Requiring Smart Phones to Have Anti-theft Features

iphone_8

On Monday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill requiring anti-theft features to be built into new phones and automatically turned on. People who have their phones stolen would be able to remotely lock them and erase their data, making the devices worthless targets.

The law, which goes into effect in July of next year, is a big victory for anti-crime advocates who had complained that smartphone makers like Apple didn’t do enough to help their customers fend off theft. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, had publicly criticized the industry for failing to strengthen security after phone theft became epidemic in San Francisco.

California is the first state to require the technology to be turned on by default. Earlier this year, Minnesota passed a law requiring phone kill switches, but the language did not say that the technology must be automatically enabled. Only when thieves are convinced that stolen phones have no value will they stop swiping them from people walking down the street or on the bus.

The initial kill switch bill, introduced in April by Sen. Mark Leno, of San Francisco, failed to pass in its initial vote. Only after being reintroduced later did it finally pass.

The new law only covers smartphones, and not tablets or laptop computers. Retailers will face a fine of $500 to $2,500 for selling phones without the required technology.

Before the bill signing, major phone manufacturers like Apple, Google and Samsung along with major carriers had opposed legislation by saying it would hurt consumers and potentially open a new avenue for hackers. Instead, they committed to a voluntary program to include technology that would let customers wipe data from stolen phones and disable them. But the companies were under no legal requirement to carry out the program.

Apple, for example, introduced an initiative last year that let users protect their devices through the iOS 7 iCloud Activation Lock feature. During its first six months, thefts of iPhones fells by 38% in San Francisco. Meanwhile, theft of Samsung devices, which had no similar anti-theft technology, rose 12% during that period.

Microsoft Facing a Tough Challenge from Google’s Chromebook

chromebook

Those unwilling to believe that Microsoft is not concerned with the competition from Chromebooks better adjust their thinking. The company has been targeting the cheap laptops running Google’s OS since the early days of its Surface tablets. It is now pushing the building of cheap Windows laptops to go head-to-head with the Chromebook.

There’s good reason for Microsoft to be worried about the Chromebook. They are cheap and are making a market for themselves in the vital education market. Selling laptops is important to the industry where they buy in bulk and are training the computer buyer of the future in the systems they will look to down the road.

The education sector may be a target for these cheap Windows laptops. HP will soon launch its Stream Windows laptop that should cost around a couple hundred dollars. HP is including 200GB of cloud storage with the purchase. That’s well and good, but it still falls short of what schools get with Chromebook deployments.

Deploying Chromebooks to schools removes expensive support from the budget equation. School districts with Chromebooks don’t have to worry about supporting the OS and updates are handled automatically without issues. Even though Windows 8 is probably the easiest version of Windows yet, many users still require regular support.

Perhaps most importantly, school personnel don’t have to worry about hardware maintenance. When a Chromebook stops working, whether through rough handling by students or simple failure, Google replaces it with another. This is a tremendous advantage that the Chromebook has over Windows laptops. It makes it easy for school districts to put a fixed cost on the deployment, a crucial component of IT costs in cash-strapped organizations.

Apple had made some headway years ago in the education market by offering schools a huge discount on early computers that retailed for thousands of dollars at the time. This move has kept Apple as a competitor to Google and Microsoft in the classroom due to winning over many early on.

It’s a good thing for Microsoft to get behind cheap laptops to compete with Chromebooks, especially in schools. It’s going to take more than cheap laptops with Windows to do so, however. There will have to be turn-key programs like that from Google with Chromebooks to remove the cost and concerns of hardware and software maintenance. All for a low price schools are able to pay.

Michigan State University Creates a Transparent Solar Panel

transparent-solar-panel

Michigan State University researchers have created a solar panel that resembles a typical piece of glass, which can be placed on top of a window to collect solar energy. Clean solar power may be the future of energy. Transparent solar panels that seem just like normal glass may make that future real.

Called a transparent luminescent solar concentrator, the panel uses organic molecules made to absorb invisible wavelengths of light, such as ultraviolet and near infrared light. The material moves this unseen light to the edges of the panel, where strips of photovoltaic solar cells pick it up and convert it to electricity.

There have been past attempts at similar tech, but the results that have been produced were not transparent enough or were tinted. Such colorless transparency would allow these solar panels to have a wide variety of uses.

There are residential and commercial uses of windows using this technology, or gadgets like mobile phones and tablets with these solar cells embedded in the glass, or electronic signs that charge themselves, or even in cars or other vehicles with such windows.

The current version of the transparent solar cells is about one percent efficient, but the research team aims to increase that beyond five percent. Colored luminescent solar concentrators can get efficiency up to seven percent. Opaque solar cells can have an efficiency of 15% or more.

Wearable Technology May Soon Have Ability to Collect Data for Parkinson’s Disease

Patient_Analytics_with_Intel_Big_Data

Recent news that Robin Williams had suffered from the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease preceding his death has been quite a surprise to many. Other celebrities have suffered from the effects of this dangerous disease for many years: Muhammad Ali, Johnny Cash, and Michael J. Fox. From these big names, has come widespread media attention, and awareness. This week, a big step has been taken towards finding new data to control the effects of Parkinson’s.

Intel announced on Wednesday its plans to use wearable gadgets such as smart watches to monitor patients with Parkinson’s disease and collect data that can be shared with researchers.

The well-known chip maker said that it is teaming up with the Michael J. Fox Foundation, established by the actor and Parkinson’s sufferer in 2000, to conduct a multi-phase research study of the neurodegenerative brain disease. An estimated five million people globally have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, the second-most-common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s.

Their initial goal is to determine the feasibility of using wearable devices to monitor patients remotely and store that data in an open system that can be accessed by scientists.

The next phase of the study, which has been said will likely kick off in the fall, the foundation plans to set aside funds to explore how patients are responding to medication. Participants will be monitored via an array of wearable devices.

Clinical trials have been said to be far too “subjective” in the past. For instance, a patient might inform her doctor that she felt a tremor for several minutes, when it actually lasted a matter of seconds. In the future, Intel hopes patients and their doctors will have more precise measurements via wearable devices about the “frequency and severity” of symptoms.

The Michael J. Fox foundation will continue to raise funding to cover the costs of providing wearable devices to patients.

By using such devices, the foundation and other research groups can tap into a broader pool of patients for clinical trials. Today, many people with Parkinson’s disease are unable to participate in clinical trials because they do not live near a research facility. However, wearable devices offer a convenient way to track patients from their work or homes, allowing people in the most rural parts of the country to participate.

As the technology expands beyond the Parkinson’s Research, Intel hopes to capture a share of the growing market for big data analytics and wearable devices in the health sector.

While Intel boasts its own wearable technologies, Intel stressed that the Parkinson’s study is device agnostic, meaning patients can test a variety of wearable gadgets. In March, Intel completed its acquisition of Basis Science, a startup that is best known for its wrist-band that measures the wearer’s heart rate.

Mind The Gap

tablets4

There are certain mysteries in life which are ineffable…like where do all those solo socks go? why do I always end up picking up the tab? in the weird world of online there are several gaps which remain mysterious. Here’s a couple:

Tablets are divided between iPads (25%) and Androids (74%) with the Surface coming in a distant last at about 1%. The androids out number Apple because hundreds of companies make tablets with the Android OS on board whereas only Apple makes the iPad.  What’s weird and (I have never seen a satisfactory explanation for this) is that the bandwidth usage of all kinds is dominated by iPad at about 75% with Android taking the rest.  Given that all devices hook up to Wifi how is it possible that 25% of the users are consuming 75% of Tablet bandwidth.  There are multiple theories out there…maybe iPads are favored by data intensive corporate applications of the devices, others suggest that the dominance of iTunes in movie streaming is a factor…but then Netflix runs on both….any way you look at it, it’s a bit weird.

The other gap which is causing waves in our industry is the search revenue per click conundrum. Most people are reasonably familiar with the concept that when we click on ads in search results somebody (mostly Google) gets paid. As end users have migrated to mobile devices at a rate far greater than anyone could have ever imagined the advertisers haven’t.  Advertising agencies are notoriously conservative and (some might claim) in some ways dumb.  Search delivered on desktops has been around for over a decade and they are comfortable with that medium. A few years back social media exploded on the market and agencies were caught completely off guard. A few years later they are just about starting to catch up with the opportunity.  Mobile devices and delivering ads against those devices has left the industry scratching their heads…even now I am shocked and infuriated by major brands who still don’t have a mobile friendly site…let alone mobile friendly ad campaigns.  The result is that although Google’s revenue continues to head north at a good clip they are achieving that growth with many more cheaper clicks. That steady decline has been happening over the last couple of years with no end in sight.  In public statements Google has pinned their hopes on local advertisers paying a premium for mobile clicks to drive their local businesses. We are certainly seeing some pretty dramatic spikes in click prices for “hyperlocal” searches like “plumber West Oshkosh.”  The problem is that even large numbers of local businesses smart enough to bid online (but often not smart enough to get good ROI for their efforts) don’t compare to the massive spend the big brands can move between platforms. This will no doubt level out over time….but it’s not going to happen overnight.