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10 massive announcements from Google I/O: A new version of Android is coming for cars, smartwatches and TVs

6:48AM | Thursday, 26 June

Google’s head of Android, Sundar Pichai, delivered a keynote speech overnight to the tech giant’s annual developer conference, Google I/O.   In terms of big announcements, he didn’t disappoint, with key points including a new version of Android – called Android L – that will work with smart cars, wearables and TVs.   For small businesses, a major piece of news is Google Drive for Work, a new cloud computing product set to go head-to-head with Microsoft’s Office 365 and OneDrive.   The new product will cost businesses just $US10 per user per month, and allow them to access unlimited storage. Where Microsoft bumped its storage limits to one terabyte earlier this week, Google will allow individual files of up to five terabytes in size.   Meanwhile, Google Docs, Sheets and Slides are now able to create or save Microsoft Office files in both Android and Chrome Browser, with support coming soon to iOS.   Here are 10 other massive announcements from the Google I/O keynote:   1. Android is absolutely hammering Apple in the marketplace   Sorry Apple fans, but the iPhone has well and truly been left in the dust.   According to figures read out during Pichai’s keynote, the number of users to have actively used an Android smartphone in the past 30 days has grown to over a billion. This is up from 77 million in 2011, 233 million in 2012, and 538 million last year.   But it’s not just in smartphones that Apple is being left behind.   Google revealed that in 2012, 39% of all tablets ran Android, growing to 49% last year. This year, that has grown to 62%.   In even worse news for the iPad, those figures exclude non-Google Android devices such as Amazon’s Kindle.   As if Google needed to stick the boot in to Apple further, Pichai told the conference: “If you look at what other platforms are getting now, many of these things came to Android four, maybe five years ago.”   The quote was a reference to a number of features, such as maps, text prediction, cloud services, widgets and support for custom keyboards, which have long been features of Android since around version 1.5, but have only recently been added to iOS.   2. Android L, with a new app platform and interface   The biggest news out of the conference was, of course, the newest version of Android, codenamed “Android L”.   The latest version is designed to power a range of new devices, including wearables, cars and TVs. The assumption will be that while users will always carry their mobile around with them, they are increasingly likely to be simultaneously using a second device.   Cosmetically, the new version will be built around a new, “flat” design language called “Material”, which bears a slight resemblance to Microsoft’s tile interface. The new interface will be carried through Google’s mobile apps, including its Chrome web browser.   However, the biggest changes are under the hood, with Android L getting upgraded to 64-bit. It also adds BlackBerry-style containerisation separating work and personal apps.   Meanwhile Dalvik, the app runtime environment used in Android, is getting dumped in favour of the new Android Runtime Environment (ART). For most developers, the change will mean better performance with no need to change their code.   ART is also truly-platform, meaning developers will be able to write apps once and deploy them to devices running Intel x86, ARM or MIPS processors.   Android L will be available to developers starting from today.   3. Android Wear   One of the big growth areas for mobile device makers is in wearables. Google has developed a platform for these devices, known as Android Wear, which it demonstrated at the conference.   “Android Wear supports both round and square displays, because we think there will be a wide array of fashionable choices,” said Pichai.   As many have predicted, notification cards and Google Now integration are key features of its wearables platform.   LG has made its first Android Wear device, the LG G Watch, available for pre-order, while Samsung is releasing a version of its Gear smartwatches that runs Android Wear, known as “Samsung Gear Live”.   Meanwhile, Motorola’s smartwatch, with a round clockface, will be available later this year.   For developers, Google has made a software development kit (SDK) available allowing for customer user interfaces, support for voice actions, and transferring data to or from a smartphone or tablet. This article continues on Page 2. Please click below. 4. Android Auto   Google has also released its smart car platform, known as Android Auto. Google says it has now signed up 25 major auto makers to the platform, including Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Chrysler, Chevrolet, Volvo, Volkswagen, Kia, Renault, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Skoda, Jeep, Suzuki and Nissan.   Android Auto will be able to be driven by voice commands, and is designed to make app development for cars as simple as developing apps for smartphones and tablets. Again, for developers, Google has released an SDK allowing for car and auto apps.   Key focuses for the platform are navigation (Google Maps), communications (both audio and messaging) and streaming audio services.   Android Auto also contains a screen that displays notification cards in real time.   5. Android TV   Google’s new smart TV platform, announced during the keynote, is known as Android TV. It can be used to power a range of different devices, from smart TVs to set-top-boxes and dedicated streaming sticks.   Android TV allows the user to use their smartphone, tablet or smartwatch as a voice-powered remote control for their TV.   Android TV devices will include all the functionality of ChromeCast, but also add the ability of directly running apps directly.   6. ChromeCast   Speaking of things TV related, Google says its low-cost ChromeCast sticks are currently outselling every other streaming device combined.   New capabilities coming to the sticks include a new section on the Google Play app store for apps designed with added ChromeCast capabilities.   ChromeCast owners will soon be able to mirror the screen of their Android smartphone or tablet wirelessly on their TV screen.   Users will also soon get the capability of sending content to a ChromeCast device by logging in with a PIN, even if they aren’t on the same WiFi network.   Another new feature is that users will be able to set a picture or photo as a wallpaper on their ChromeCast for when they’re not using the device.   7. Android L integration with ChromeBooks   Up until now, Google has maintained two separate operating systems: Android for smartphones and tablets, and Chrome OS for its ChromeBook series of laptops.   A massive update for Android L is that ChromeBooks will now be able to run Android apps.   Meanwhile, apps running on a users’ tablet or smartphone will be mirrored on the screen of their ChromeBook device.   8. Google Fit   At Apple’s WWDC, the introduction of a health framework was one of the largest announcements. Given the sheer volume of announcements at Google I/O, the introduction of Google Fit is almost an afterthought.   Basically, like Apple HealthKit, Google Fit is a single set of APIs that blends data from multiple apps and devices to create a comprehensive picture of a users’ health.   Google is promising a developer preview of Google Fit in the next few weeks.   9. Google Play   Already, I’ve noted one big upgrade to Google Play, namely the addition of a section dedicated to apps with ChromeCast playback. Presumably, there will be similar sections dedicated to Android Wear and Android Auto.   But there are other changes afoot for Google’s Play download store.   First, Google says that it has paid out $US5 billion to app developers over the past year, which is two-and-a-half times higher than a year earlier.   Second, Google also announced the takeover of a startup called Appurify, which will provide automation services for apps being developed either for Google Play and Android or iOS.   And thirdly, for those interested in games, Google Play is adding the ability to save a snapshot of your progress in a game to the cloud, as well as special quests for games.   10. Cloud tools and services   Last, but certainly not least, Google has added a range of new cloud tools and services.   These include Cloud Monitoring, which provides a dashboard with real time metrics for apps running in Google’s cloud services.   A second, called Cloud Dataflow, is a data pipeline service similar to Amazon’s Data Pipeline. And a third, called Cloud Debugger, allows developers to more easily trace slowdowns in cloud-based apps.   This article first appeared on Smart Company.

A brief history and future of the Internet of Things

5:00AM | Friday, 9 May

6:55am Five minutes before Lyle is scheduled to wake up. Wrist monitors check his pulse to figure out when the best time to stimulate him awake is. Good, he has been asleep for at least eight hours and his heart rate and breathing is almost optimal. A quick traffic check confirms no need to wake him up early. His water heater starts for his daily morning shower and his thermostat for the bathroom is increased for when he gets out.   7:05am Lyle’s coffee-maker turns on and starts brewing a fresh cup of joe. His fridge checks to make sure he has his usual breakfast ingredients–orange juice, eggs, yogurt, and a banana–and orders more eggs for the next week.   7:35am Lyle departs his house on time and ready for the day ahead because of a refreshing shower and delicious breakfast.   All of this has become possible because of a recent paradigm shift in technology known as the Internet of Things, or as it is most commonly referred to in tech circles and articles, the IoT.   In 1999, Kevin Ashton, a British technologist who helped to found the Auto-ID Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, coined the term ‘Internet of Things,’ but the idea of devices connecting with each other hails from as far back as the creation of the internet itself. The dawn of the internet age kickstarted an era of growing and shrinking. The amount of information that could be created, stored, and shared grew exponentially with the ability to create and harvest from across the world–or, at least, from across the world wherever servers were at the time. Simultaneously, places and people that once seemed far away and beyond one’s own scope could now be reached and interacted with on a more personal level.   Unfortunately, the interactions allowed by the internet were limited to only those few scholarly elites or academic institutions that invested in this process and new contact was limited. And connection with devices was even more stringent since wireless technology did not exist and wired connections had to be used through ethernet cords to communicate with the internet. As a result, machine-to-machine (M2M) interactions were nearly impossible, and M2M links over long distances were unheard of; Internet interface was solely between a computer and a human.   How did the Internet of Things come to be then?   Futurist and technologist Richard Yonck, who has written extensively about the IoT, explained the precipitation of devices connected to the internet and each other:   "If you think about it, the IoT is a fairly natural evolution of processing and communications technologies. Computers have continued to become smaller and cheaper over the decades. As they continue doing so, where will they go and how can we use them? Throughout our environment, naturally!"   The first internet-capable machines do not seem like much today, but when they were first created, Carnegie Mellon University programmers and engineers developed the first appliance connected to the internet in the early 1980s. They rigged a Coca-Cola machine to send status updates and messages about the availability of a can of Coke so that a trip to the snack area would not be in vain.   Other similarly sized projects became the norm for bored or experimental college students with enough resources and time. None of these devices became commercially viable and the Internet of Things remained a topic confined to academia.   It wasn’t until the late 1990s and early 2000s that the concept of having a network of interconnected devices became popular and drew interest from corporations and consumers. Kevin Ashton led the movement at his Auto-ID Center at MIT with research into the field of radio-frequency identification, or RFID.   Bill Joy supplemented Ashton’s research with a proposal for a “Six Webs” framework. Joy graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a Master of Science degree in electrical engineering and computer science, and then went on to co-found Sun Microsystems. His initial thoughts into the development of a standardized system (a Web) paved the way for M2M interactions that occurred through similar protocols and syntaxes. However, it was a combination of his theory and Ashton’s research that a truly useful and pervasive Internet of Things could be developed.   Although Ashton and Joy began the process of creating a standardized system of communication and interaction in the beginning of the millennium, the Internet of Things remains a rather fragmented and developing field. Since the Internet Coke machine, many more devices have been created by university researchers and commercial companies, but most have stayed rather proprietary and do not discuss results with other devices.   Some of the most prominent products today represent huge leaps in technology from even ten years ago, but the status of the Internet of Things remains a gradual acceptance into society. Many media outlets predict that 2014 will be hailed as “The Year of the IoT” but few care to define by how much or through which methods. In fact, despite most tech pundits believing this year to be the year, many also point out that the IoT will grow slowly. Brian Proffitt of ReadWrite, a prominent online magazine about technology, argues that, “the Internet of Things won’t see any big splashes in 2014, just steady and incremental progress toward automating … everything.”   Currently, the biggest problem facing the IoT is the lack of standards for communication. Without a “common communication method,” devices will only be able to talk to their own brands and severely limit the helpfulness of connected machines. For example, currently, sleeping monitors only give results to phones for users to analyze themselves. Imagine a future where sleeping monitors could give results to doctors or alert users of abnormal or unhealthy sleeping patterns and suggest fixes that could in turn be prompted by communication with a coffee machine (if caffeine is suspected of hurting the user) or thermostat (if temperature could be negatively impacting sleeping habits).   To remedy this situation, Intel, Cisco, GE, and IBM have come together to form the Industrial Internet Consortium, a conglomerate nonprofit with the goal of increasing inter-operability standards in devices connected to the Internet.   As a thriving industry, M2M has proved that people are willing to allow more and more technology into their lives. Yonck wrote an article last year that discussed the adoption of innovation into mainstream culture and the process a prototype undergoes to become a product:   "Consider that in order to move all the way from concept to prototype to marketable product, every idea has to pass through a succession of filters. Is the idea possible within the laws of physics as they’re currently understood? Then forget retro-causality (time machines), perpetual motion, faster than light travel/communication, etc. Do our existing, or soon to be existing, engineering capabilities, materials, tolerances, etc., allow us to realize the idea or will it remain on the drawing board for centuries, as did Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machines or Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine? Can a need be established? That is, can consumers, corporations, or the military be convinced this is something they must have? Because without a perceived need, it will surely go the way of the [Ford] Edsel.   "And what of other institutions? Regulatory bodies, insurers, political organizations and others must be persuaded to support or at least tolerate and accept the new tech. And ultimately is this an idea that is right for its time? An invention must fit within the established mores, accepted behaviors and realities of user understanding and functionality. Without all of these, the idea will die stillborn. Given all this, it may seem a miracle any new tech ever comes to life and gets the opportunity to walk the earth, even if only for a few years."   The Internet of Things meets all of these criteria and therefore has seen dramatic commercial success.   In fact, according to a Business Insider Intelligence report on the future of the internet:   "The IoT will account for an increasingly huge number of connections: 1.9 billion devices today, and 9 billion by 2018. That year, it will be roughly equal to the number of smartphones, smart TVs, tablets, wearable computers, and PCs combined."   And Cisco CEO John Chambers predicts that the Internet of Everything (as he refers to it) could be worth $19 trillion in the near future–a future where objects all over from house to airport will know people’s preferences and set themselves to certain modes to best suit the individual.   However, The Internet of Things caters to a growing category of what people enjoy calling “first world problems.” The technology that has been developed in hopes of creating the IoT is great and innovative and nothing can be said to take away the promise of advancement. Unfortunately, many of these technologies have not been created with the idea of helping developing countries and economies. A thermostat that optimizes the temperature of your floor and shower down to a degree may seem like a necessary item to some who struggle with a bathroom that is too cold after a searing bath, but to a farmer in Africa or artisan in India it fails uselessly.   As more and more companies start connecting their products to the internet and the markets of industrialized and modernized countries become saturated, hopefully devices will be created to help the people who truly struggle and could benefit with a system of interconnected machines. Perhaps an irrigation system that interacts with a weather prediction service and a local water storage facility for baths and showers of citizens as well as drinking water for local livestock. With better water management, farmers could optimize crop yield and sell to other through an online or other system that tracks grain production. The application of such devices to different environments is inevitable, so it is just a matter of when companies will realize the opportunities in creating an IoT for those countries.   Yonck, as a futurist, understands the current trends of technology and predicts where they are headed.   "As it develops, the future of IoT is to basically make our world more intelligent. Technology everywhere will literally have the ability to sense it’s environment and respond to it. While this may not result in direct physical action on the particular device’s part, it will be capable of relaying data to servers elsewhere that will potentially cause other devices to respond."    In the information age that we live in technology regularly changes the way we live. In the 1970s it was mainframe computing. In the 80s it was the PC. The 2000s saw the rise of social media. Today, the Internet of Things is revolutionizing the way we live.   Techie and entrepreneur with a passion for soccer and a distaste for chocolate, Dylan Steele dabbles in a little bit of everything, including that new crypto-currency/property. This post first appeared on Medium.

Toyota closure reinforces need for innovation to create new jobs

2:17AM | Tuesday, 11 February

Toyota’s announcement that it will stop making cars in Australia by 2017 adds to the urgency for productivity and new jobs to be created elsewhere in the economy, says one of the leaders of Australia’s start-up sector.   “My personal experience over the years has been that as far as innovation is concerned, necessity is the mother of invention,” Leni Mayo, chairman of Startup Victoria, told StartupSmart.   Toyota’s announcement draws the curtain on Australia’s car manufacturing industry, following earlier announcements that Ford and General Motors Holden were also closing.   Thousands of people working for the companies will lose their jobs and there are fears thousands more are under threat as car component makers consider their futures.   Mayo says while it will be difficult for the workers who lose their jobs and their families, manufacturing as a share of Australia’s economy had been declining for the past 40 years.   “That’s a trend that’s going to continue,” he says, noting that service-related businesses now make up the bulk of Australian jobs.   Mayo says thought must go into what can be done to accelerate the growth of start-ups to fill the gap left by manufacturing.   He points to more innovation in the services space as a key area to promote where companies such as Seek and Carsales.com.au found success.   He also urged politicians to celebrate start-up successes and openly talk about failure, as well as create more visibility and legitimacy around start-up activity and encourage people into pursuing science and technology at university.   “We’ve got a long way to go in Australian compared to the US and Israel with how we feel about failure.”

Lessons for Ford from Steel City: Jobs lost, but skills gained

5:52AM | Thursday, 30 May

Ford has the opportunity to give the 1200 employees it will soon retrench a new start. The closure of another iconic Australian plant — BHP’s Newcastle steelworks — offers an example.   In 1999, around 1800 BHP employees were left jobless by the closure of the Newcastle steelworks. Their average age was 44, and their average length of service 21 years. As with Ford, there was considerable time between announcement and closure, two years in the case of the steelworks. This gave BHP time to work with unions, the community and government to devise initiatives that would give employees and the regional economy the strongest grounding for a positive transition. The result was an innovative response to the plant’s closure, a key element of which was BHP’s “Pathways” program.   Pathways was a personalised and flexible retraining program that supported employees to train in almost any area of their choice if it was likely to help them find employment. The program was not based on financial constraints or a set training program. Instead, each employee was interviewed about his or her aspirations in a post-steelworks world. BHP would cover whatever was required, including university or TAFE fees, textbooks and flexible work arrangements around study. The scheme gave rise to a wide range of individually chosen career changes — everything from nursing to flying to public relations.   In several instances, employers experiencing a skills shortage approached Pathways and offered guaranteed employment. The match between the experience of the employees and the shortage of technology teachers in NSW sparked collaboration between BHP, the NSW Department of Education and the University of Newcastle. Around 80 employees trained onsite at the steelworks to become teachers. In this case the Industry Recognition of Prior Learning principle was developed to draw on the skills of employees with little or no tertiary education.   When the Pathways program was wound up a year after the steelworks’ closure, around 7000 separate training events had taken place and around 90% of participants were employed. BHP fully funded and managed the program. Despite the unconstrained nature of support to individual employees, the scheme was cost-effective. Employees were offered a bonus payment (on top of redundancy entitlements) if they stayed until closure, but as many were moving into other jobs as a result of Pathways, they gave up this bonus and the salary they would have been paid in the remaining time. That meant the scheme paid for itself.   The success of Pathways  — which becomes apparent when you talk to anyone who took part in it — was that it brought hope and new purpose to a community facing the end of what had been their lifeblood for generations.   As with the Newcastle steelworks, both the Commonwealth and state governments have pledged funding to support economic development and diversification in the Geelong and Northern Melbourne regions following the Ford closure. This support will help to create new opportunities. However, for many Ford workers, years of experience and specialised skills will not necessarily be transferable from sunset to sunrise industries. While the mismatch between declining and emerging industries is in the nature of structural adjustment, a program such as Pathways helps employees to bridge that gap. It may also trigger initiatives, like the Newcastle teacher training program, that use existing skills in new ways.   As Ford brings its more than 90-year history in the region to a close, it has an opportunity to generate new beginnings, and do something momentous for its workers.   *Alicia Payne is an economist and public servant. She undertook a research project on the response to the Newcastle steelworks closure while at the University of Sydney. These views are her own.

Start-ups urged to be vigilant after Twitter hack wipes $136 billion off US stock market

4:29AM | Wednesday, 24 April

Another high-profile Twitter hacking attempt has caused havoc in the United States, with the Dow Jones shedding 143 points after the hacked Associated Press Twitter account incorrectly reported President Barack Obama had been injured in an explosion.   The hack is the most serious of the attempts which have occurred over the past several months, with other hacks targeting the accounts of automotive group Ford and Burger King.   Businesses have been issued yet another warning by social media experts to keep their accounts locked up tight, and start developing better security around their social media practices.   While previous Twitter hacks have resulted in controversy, this is the first time such a hack broadcast a story which could have been seen as believable.   Anthony Mason, manager of digital research and analysis at online reputation management group SR7, told SmartCompany this latest incident is a "mixture of both security and social media strategy".   "More importantly, this an issue around governance of media, an aspect commonly neglected throughout the broader business maturation of the medium," he says.   Mason points to the recent HMV case in Britain where staff were able to post on the official account while they were being fired, giving an account of the firing process.   He also points out some security issues – Twitter doesn't have two-factor authentication, and is thus more susceptible to attack.   Mason says small businesses need to take note of who has access to social media accounts and then put in place monitoring protocols so that any access breaches are identified at an early stage.   "Small businesses should be across any third-party suppliers that may have access to official social media assets. These may include web designers, social media strategists and community managers."   A debate often posited among social media advisors is whether or not small businesses should be using third-party companies to monitor their social media accounts. While this often means less total control, it does mean employee breaches are less likely.   It also means these companies are more likely to pick up on a breach.   Mason says businesses need to start taking social media more seriously, especially as he notes business models are beginning to value social media insight and "the immediacy of information".   "Ownership and transition of social media account access should be included in employment contracts to make expectations clear and to provide companies with a legal basis on which to take action."   This story first appeared on SmartCompany.

THE NEWS WRAP: Former Ford boss says death of Australian auto industry “inevitable”

4:15PM | Thursday, 11 April

Former Ford boss and BHP Billiton chairman Jac Nasser has lamented Australia’s lack of patriotism in the auto industry, claiming the closure of the Australian operations of either Holden, Ford or Toyota could spark a “domino effect” in our local auto industry.   “The signs aren't good, and particularly when the car industry is reducing the number of engineers they have in the workforce. That's a leading indicator of a reduction in future programs and future technology,” Nasser said.   “Let's assume one of the three decides to exit Australia in terms of manufacturing, then you end up potentially with a sub-scale supplier infrastructure and, once that happens, I think it's a domino effect. It would be a very sad day for Australia, but unfortunately it looks like it could be inevitable.”   Coalition flags possible industrial relations changes   Shadow workplace relations minister Eric Abetz has raised possible limits on the conditions unions could place in enterprise bargaining agreements as a possible Coalition industrial relations reform, with agreements limited to matters directly relating to the employment relationship.   Senator Abetz has also attacked recent and proposed amendments to the Fair Work Act, including a proposal to introduce compulsory arbitration in long-running disputes.   “You've got to wonder, if it was so important that compulsory arbitration not be a hallmark of the Fair Work regime in 2007 and 2008, what's changed? Unions threatening to withdraw election funding unless this extra change is fast-tracked?” Abetz said.   Telstra to cut up to 55 jobs from its online media unit   Telstra’s chief marketing officer Mark Buckman is heading up a review of the company’s digital media division that could see up to 55 jobs cut, according to The Australian.   The aim of the review is to streamline the company’s focus around its three key media assets, including T-Box, exclusive digital music and sports content, as well as Foxtel, of which the telco giant owns 50%.   “We think that if we focus on being a core partner for Foxtel in reselling Foxtel through Telstra, if we become the number one IPTV provider in the country and if we deliver the best and most compelling content in the digital content services business… we have the opportunity to be a leading player (in this space)," Mr Buckman said.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 0.42% to 14,865.14. The Aussie dollar is up to US105.3 cents.

The Australian economy under a re-elected Gillard government

3:20AM | Thursday, 14 March

Yesterday we looked at how the economy would fare if the Coalition’s broad economic and fiscal policies — to the extent that we know them — were successfully implemented.

Insiders and the mainstream: How knowledgeable are your customers?

1:18AM | Monday, 14 January

Many aeons ago, Old Taskmaster noticed that there are two distinct groups of consumers in many industries.

THE NEWS WRAP: BHP Billiton calls for executive pay disclosure reform

3:15AM | Monday, 11 March

Mining giant BHP Billiton has called on the Gillard government to overhaul current executive pay disclosure laws.

Top 10 PR disasters

5:44AM | Wednesday, 2 May

Just two weeks ago, Airbnb appeared to be on an unstoppable rise to the top. The business had expanded internationally, including Australia, and had raised $112 million in funding.

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