The Irony of Apple Taking Some of the Surface Pro’s Thunder

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If there is one thing that none of the world’s major tech brands would knowingly gun for, it is the same kind of non-success the Microsoft Surface tablets have met with. We are a full three rounds into the life of the Redmond hybrid tablet-type things and yet the world’s biggest consumer communities are still not entirely warming to the idea.

Some have blamed high prices, while others would say that replacing laptops with powerful tablet PCs doesn’t seem like the most logical thing to do. However, it seems that the Surface Pro’s market share pie is one that Apple would love a piece of.

Over the weekend, the tech press has been developing reports that Apple’s iPad Pro is a rumor that has substance. Headlines have tipped for a device with a screen measuring in at just over 12-inches and with a specially built keyboard case not much unlike to that of the Microsoft Surface Pro. Also, the primary target audiences of the iPad Pro are said to be corporate and educational clients, which again is pretty much the same as the Surface Pro.

Apple’s largest ever tablet will feature the highest specs in an iPad to date, a modified version of the brand’s OS X desktop system and generally all the bells and whistles you’d expect with a solid laptop…again, right on par with the Surface Pro.

However, what’s entirely unlikely to materialize with the iPad Pro is direct USB device support or any kind of expandable storage, which are of course largely ruled out of the picture for any standard iDevice. Should this be the case, it will be interesting to see how corporate crowds warm up to the iPad Pro, which even with a generous amount of storage space will still be somewhat stunted without removable storage media.

There’s really no denying the irony of the whole thing – the very thought of Apple trying to beat Microsoft at its own Surface game would have been quite laughable at one point. Still, there’s a clear and present gap in the iDevice market for something bigger and better than the iPad though ideally cheaper than the MacBook Pro – a gap the iPad Pro could stand to fill quite nicely.

Of course right now it’s all speculation for the time being as Apple is yet to utter a word on the subject. However, it will be interesting to see how Apple looks to take over a market that it seems to have a need to fill.

Google’s Best Effort to Thwart Piracy

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Advertising giant Google has said it buries websites that help people illegally download copyrighted stuff.

Google claims it sinks pro-piracy sites way down its search results– beyond page two, the grim wastelands of the web. It has hoped this may dissuade people from seeking out pirated movies, games, TV and so on, until they discover torrenting or Netflix.

Google already tosses out links to pages from its results if it receives a takedown request from a copyright owner. Now it has tweaked its algorithms to lower a site’s placement in the rankings if its pages are routinely DMCA’d — perhaps if such sites take the hint, they’ll stop attracting bothersome takedown requests, the California company thinks.

Google now receives more copyright takedown requests in a single week than it did in the years 1998 to 2010 combined. The British Recorded Music Industry was the largest complainant last year, submitting 43.3 million takedown requests. Copyright group Degban was second, followed by the RIAA and MarkMonitor’s Antipiracy service.

While it works with copyright owners to keep pirated content off its services, the best way to stem the flow of piracy is to provide users with better streaming media and on-demand services.

Quantifying the Online Revolution

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Nearly three billion people are now connected to the Internet, that’s more or less 40% of humanity, it is arguably the single greatest human achievement since electrification re-defined our society a hundred years ago.  Those of us who lived through the tech bubble and bust of the late 90s could be forgiven for rolling our eyes when commentators expound on the impact of the continuing online revolution but the impact is real and much more wide-ranging than you perhaps might imagine.

The first ‘online revolution’ was actually a fairly superficial exercise which tended to focus on retail transactions moving from a physical location to online, the poster child for this was pets.com which achieved notoriety by establishing an absurd valuation just before going out of business.  The migration of retail online has continued apace. Almost every good or service imaginable can now be ordered online however this is an example of how much deeper and wider the internet’s impact reaches. The product or service you ordered online is still manufactured in the conventional way, it’s delivered by drivers and trucks which earn wages and use gas.  The customer service person who answers your questions is likewise employed although she may be working half a world away. The company making the product will likely be thriving in good part because the new economy allows them to market more efficiently and keep in close contact with existing and new clients. Although in countries where the internet is well ensconced like the US or UK the internet is directly responsible for approaching 10% of GDP the vast majority (in excess of 75%) of the economic impact the internet causes shows up in the non-internet economy.

The new internet  driven economy has been widely criticized for causing job losses in some sectors, for example when was the last time you checked in at the airport or went to the bank and actually spoke to a human being? However a more careful study reveals that for every one job lost through this process nearly three jobs are created. These jobs tend to require a better educated labor force and in many cases they can be done from anywhere in the world, so speaking globally this is a strong net positive effect.  The impact of these changes isn’t just felt in larger companies where dramatic improvements in efficiency have occurred through rapid growth through information and automation made possible by the internet. Small and mid-sized business have seen similar if not greater opportunities.  The panoply of tools and access the internet generates means that almost anyone almost anywhere can start a business or grow their existing business.  Small companies taking advantage of what the web offers have been shown to grow and export over twice as fast as their less tech engaged peers.  Although small business has benefited from these changes they still have an enormous amount of as yet unrecognized online potential.  The internet allows many businesses to do things which would have been unthinkable a decade or so ago. This leveling of the playing field has led to dramatic jobs growth, indeed over 60% of the jobs created in the last decade were created by small to mid-sized businesses more than compensating for jobs lost through globalization.

Across the world the impact of the information revolution has been dramatic. Areas which have never had access to the telephone or even roads can join the rest of humanity through a generator and a cell connection. Simple things like knowing which products to take to market to garner the best price can make dramatic changes to subsistence farmers.  The ability to speak to a doctor or attend a virtual classroom can help drive change and even help reduce the impact of extremist world views. We have seem many revolutions against totalitarian regimes mediated by the internet and this is only going to grow more common.

In countries with well-established internet adoption in excess of 25% of GDP growth can be explicitly linked to the web.  That’s a staggering statistic but in reality it’s probably a conservative number.  It’s clear that infrastructure investments made by governments or the private sector act as access and wealth multipliers. Each area impacted by the internet generates its own opportunities and challenges. For example the rapid growth of Uber has led to loud complaints from the established taxi driver interest groups yet it has generated by some reports in excess of 20,000 new driver jobs per month.

The data clearly suggests that almost the single most important thing an economy can possess is a strong internet infrastructure and widespread online adoption. It offers communication, information, entertainment and access to the wisdom and experience of humanity.  It mediates and enhances commerce frequently inventing entire new business sectors. It allows companies of all sizes to compete and market more effectively increasing the pace of development and discovery. In spite of the dramatic changes the internet has made to so many business sectors we are far from finished with this dramatic process.  In economies with widespread adoption there are many sectors which remain almost untouched, as these areas become changed impacted in the near future massive new opportunities for wealth creation will continue to arise. In countries where adoption is less well established we can expect them to learn from the experience of more connected countries and make even more rapid progress as they deploy.  It can even bring democracy and peace.  The internet revolution continues with no end in sight and the only constant is change.

The Wrong Question

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Last week we had another school shooting. This one wasn’t particularly large (I realize it’s horrific to put it that way) but it garnered more than one news cycle because the shooter wasn’t the typical troubled-loner-teen striking out against bullying peers, no this guy was apparently popular and got on well with his fellows. The news media is in a near ebola level of excitement trying to puzzle out why Jaylen Fryberg would gun down half a dozen of his friends and family.

I respectfully submit that’s the wrong question.  The question shouldn’t be why would a popular kid killed two and injured more  before killing himself the question should be “why did he have access to a gun?” I saw only one news report which commented on the fact that he was a hunter and there were lots of guns in the home. Our dreadful second amendment rights are apparently inalienable…nobody, certainly no politician, will have the testicular fortitude to stand up against the NRA right-wingnuts and take any kind of stand against guns…Ok I’m at peace with that…but. I can’t put up a garden shed without yards of planning approval. I can’t play loud music or smoke a cigarette in a public place  without the full force of the law descending on me…I can’t run my dog on the beach or drive a car which has failed a smog test. None of those things are anywhere near as deadly as giving unfettered access to guns to emotionally disturbed teenagers. It makes no kind of sense that we strictly control access of alcohol to teens yet there is no similar stricture about guns.

If the NRA machine dictates that we much have guns all over our society why can’t we demand that owners take appropriate care of their deadly macho toys. Let’s make gun safes mandatory, let’s make trigger guards with fingerprint security ubiquitous. If we can secure our iPhones with a fingerprint why not our guns?  We are a technology soaked society with overbearing rules about almost everything…except guns. If we must have guns (and I maintain we don’t need them) then let’s restrict access so that the next troubled teen having a bad hair day can’t readily get access.  Let’s make them fire up the angle grinder, then let’s make them cut off a parents index finger to unlock the weapon.

I am heartily sick of the carnage the combination of inadequet mental health care and excessive access to guns generates, we are supposed to be a civilised society…why are we asking the wrong questions?

Better Than Life

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I’m a Sci Fi nut. I’ve been one for many years, certainly long before it was cool be be a nerd. I’ve always leaned toward hard science with space ships and aliens rather than sword and sorcery. It’s clear that with the wild success of everything from Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones and the hundreds of vampire zombie spinoffs there is a massive demand for all aspects of fantasy. As a species we have always valued an alternate to the humdrum business of life which explains the success of everything from alcohol and sports to LSD. Add the that the fact that gaming is now worth more than Hollywood it’s not surprising that there are some fantastical bets being made on improving reality. The most recent of these is the 500+ million put down by Google and friends for a piece of the Miami based virtual reality shop Magic Leap.  It’s not entirely clear what these folk do…mostly because they won’t tell you.  Much like Oculus (Who Facebook recently acquired) the have no product and no revenue but clearly have some very big ideas around virtual and augmented reality and have caught the attention of big G. Let’s unpack this a little.

There are significant barriers to meaningful virtual or augmented reality. Our brain is a fierce computer which spends upwards of 60% of runtime doing visual processing. We are amazingly good at perceiving and understanding the world around us…so to try to trick the brain into seeing things which aren’t there in a seamlessly is very hard. That’s what Magic Leap et al are working on. The win could be enormous. We could trade our 60″ LED TVs for headsets or implants which could convince us we are fighting at Minas Tirith or making time with insert -porn-star-name-here. We could work in true virtual offices or vacation from our couches. The gatekeepers of this new world would indeed be in a position of power. Although the focus to date has been on the hardware to get past the brain’s defenses the likely long term winner would be the people who could supply both the convincing reality gear and the programming to go with it. In effect a next generation cable company….which no doubt Google would love to be. They have the fiber optic cable, they are buying the hardware/user equipment  folks and no doubt are already working on augmented / virtual content to go with it.

I give it less than a decade before we are paying a reality provider to give us recreational experiences beyond anything we can currently imagine. Once we have access to a better than life experience on our recliners at home work may just become the way we afford credits in our enhanced experience world. It sounds like fun…and will be…unless it further divided our society into the haves who can relax in comfort in their virtual paradises and the rest who keep the lights on.

Tough Times at Google High?

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It’s not that often that a cloud crosses the sunlit commercial uplands where the Googlers play….but last week was a little stormy.  The big story last week was the cataclysmic pounding which Netflix took when they missed their numbers and HBO announced a non-cable option.  The other sad story was Google. After reporting slower than anticipated revenue growth the markets took them behind the woodshed where their stock ended up at a mere $511.17.  I have covered the reasons for their predicament at length in this blog over the past few months and years….but let’s do the Cliff Notes version.

1   Desktop search has been rapidly overtaken by search on mobile devices. Mobile devices have much less space for ads and lots of the big advertisers still haven’t quite come to terms with mobile…even tho we the users are all about it. That means that as mobile click volume has risen the average price over all continue to drop. These are seismic metrics which anyone…even Wall Street analysts can readily grasp.

2   On mobile devices we tend to spend most of our time on apps like Facebook Instagram, Yelp and Twitter.  Google has spent billions acquiring “moonshot” projects focused on the long term big win.  It hasn’t been as successful acquiring the kinds of mobile aps that we are spending our mobile time on. In many cases we’d rather buy our stuff from Amazon or even ebay direct rather than do the Google dance.

3   A lot of people have developed a healthy scepticism about how Google (and others) handle our personal information.   They aren’t the only offenders for sure, but I have to believe there is at least some backlash against them.

Don’t get me wrong Google is still a powerhouse…but this may be the first time ever when the stars aren’t all fully aligned in their favor.

3D Printing Finding Its Way Into Orthopedics

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Current casts, which are made of plaster, are not only heavy and uncomfortable, but they also get smelly as they are unable to get wet. 3D-printed casts are the total opposite. The cast revealed last year, called the Cortex cast, was made out of nylon plastic. It was waterproof, lightweight, ventilated, and, once its purpose was served, it could be recycled — not to mention it was also stylish sporting a spider, web-like design. Patients who need it would theoretically get their fracture X-rayed, and then the 3D printer would custom print the cast to the shape of their limb, with extra reinforcement in the injured area.

Deniz Karasahin, the industrial designer behind a similar cast, called the Osteoid medical cast, won this year’s A’Design Award for 3D-printed forms and products. Though his design is similar to the one from last year, it goes a step further, incorporating a bone stimulation system known as low-intensity pulsed ultrasound (LIPUS). The system works by applying “transcutaneous acoustic energy” to the fractured bones, according to a report on LIPUS in the Indian Journal of Orthopedics.

It’s believed that this low-intensity energy causes mechanical stress at the cellular level on both ends of the broken bone, stimulating “molecular and cellular pathways involved in healing.” Meanwhile, other research purports that the energy causes microscopic gas bubbles to develop within the fractured bone. In turn, these bubbles trap the acoustic energy with tissue fluid, causing a chain reaction in which the fluids circulate within, blood pressure rises around the injury, and healing accelerates “by enhancing gas exchange and nutrient delivery.”

Regardless, Karasahin and his team claim that someone who’s using the cast can undergo 20-minute daily sessions with LIPUS to reduce the healing process by 38 percent while increasing the healing rate by as much as 80 percent. Those rates includes fractures that are nonunion, meaning that they fail to heal correctly. That’s good news for the estimated 6.2 million fractures occurring in the U.S. every year, of which five to 10 percent take longer than expected to heal or are nonunion.

The researchers’ next steps are to develop a more effective locking mechanism that’s “strong enough to protect the limb, practical enough to put it on the fragile injured area and simple enough so that it doesn’t disturb the general form of the medical cast.”

Apple and Facebook are Paying for Female Employees to Freeze Their Eggs

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Career women, have you placed your family-making plans on the back burner? Maybe that’s not far enough. It may be time for cold storage.

Silicon Valley giants Facebook and Apple will now pay for employees who want to freeze their eggs. This is strange new ground even for technology companies who are famous for luring talent with big money and glorious perks.

Facebook recently introduced this coverage under its surrogacy benefits. Beginning in January, Apple will pick up the tab on bills up to $20,000 for egg-freezing procedures taken by its female employees. This is in addition to Facebook’s $4,000 cash bonus to new parents and Apple’s 18-week paid maternity leave. In a field that is dominated by men, these moves may be another push to make Silicon Valley friendlier to top female talent – or at least, top female talent that wants to lean in before it comes time to burping up.

The move by Apple and Facebook may explain a trend that is already in motion among young female executives. Women don’t want to let their careers or not meeting the right partner affect plans for their ideal families.

The idea behind offering this option to female employees seems innocent enough. It gives women an option to delay childbirth to focus on their careers. But while some are embracing the idea as a step toward closing the gender gap, not everyone is warm to it. Critics say this is just one more way to put the workplace before having a family.

Facebook and Apple have not come out and said this was an attempt to narrow the divide between opportunities for male and female employees. However, there is a major gender gap in tech. It’s easy to see the connection between the perk and the two tech giants who offer it.

Flight Attendants Want You to Stow Away Not Only Your Luggage, But Your Personal Devices Too

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You might be super happy to play away on your phone or tablet the entire time you are on a plane, as it makes the long trips a little less taxing on your boredom or helps time pass a little faster. But it seems as though not everyone on the plane is pleased to see your face buried in your device during takeoff and landing.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s new, more relaxed rules on gadget use aren’t sitting well with one group. That group is those instructing passengers on safety precautions before the plane takes off; flight attendants. Currently, the nation’s largest flight attendant union is now suing the FAA to have the ban on gadget use during takeoff and landing reinstated.

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA has argued that the change has caused many passengers to ignore flight attendants’ emergency announcements, and that the new rules violate federal regulations requiring passengers to stow all items during takeoff and landing.

The suit comes after the FAA last October found that personal electronic devices like your smartphone or tablet will not interfere with a plane’s functionality and can be used during all phases of flight. Praised by airlines and passengers, these new rules mean that you can continue reading an e-book, playing Candy Crush, or watching a movie as the plane taxis, takes off, starts its initial descent, and arrives at your destination.

But the attendants union is concerned about the safety implications of the move. They claim that in at least one instance, a tablet “became a projectile during turbulence.” They also worry that the devices could delay passengers’ exit from an aircraft during an emergency.

Using Wi-Fi is not the organization’s only concern. Last month, it backed a letter from 77 House members that called for a thorough review of the FCC’s plan to update rules regarding the use of cell phones on planes.

According to the FCC proposal, those flying on planes with new onboard access systems could use a device’s cellular capabilities in addition to Wi-Fi. But “airlines would be in total control of what types of mobile services to permit onboard, including whether to permit Web surfing, emailing, and texting, but not voice calls,” the FCC said.

What are your thoughts concerning the Flight Attendant’s complaint? Do you believe that the concerns are valid and a safety concern? Or do you believe that due to the FCC’s findings, safety is not affected, and that we should be able to use our personal devices according to the new rule during the entire flight from takeoff to landing?

Supreme Confusion

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We are used to the Supreme Court making news for things like affirmative action or marriage equality. If things keep going the way they are headed they may soon be picking the bones out of an even more opaque area of the law.  The question at hand is can an API be copyrighted. It sounds like a horribly inside baseball argument and to an extent it is. Oracle is suing Google over what they claim was its infringement of twenty seven APIs when it first crafted Android back in 2010. An API (Applications Programming Interface) is how one computer program or system talks to another, in many case (as with the systems we build at Search Initiatives) it’s how components of a larger system communicate internally. They are designed to be used by other software builders so it would make intuitive sense that although the code which they communicate with might be proprietary the actual interfaces themselves would be fair game. Not so fast! argues Oracle.  They claim Google stole and repurposed wholesale a core set of APIs which they don’t normally licence and which in of themselves constitute original work.

The issue has been argued and ruled on back and forth with Google losing the last round. As is the Google Way, Google litigates everything to the highest level. If you want to take on Big G you better have deep pockets and clever lawyers. The only place left to go is the Supreme Court.  If the Supreme Court agrees to take it on we will be hearing a lot more about this arcane tech area. It may actually be an important area. APIs are widely used in all kinds of tech and we think of them as being more or less open source.  If they are suddenly a proprietary component it may well change the way we all build the tech tools we use every day. It’s not anywhere near as interesting as marriage equality…but it might well end up being a very important decision.