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Gadget guide: six new technologies to watch in 2015

12:51AM | Friday, 19 December

A year ago, SmartCompany listed the top new technologies set to race into 2014. Well, another year has come and gone, and a new group of technologies are emerging over the horizon.   So what new technologies should you look out for in 2015? It’s time to gaze again into the crystal ball and take a look at six technologies you should keep an eye on in 2015: 1. Make-or-break time for smartwatches   Over the past year, both in the form of devices running Google’s Android Wear platform and the Apple Watch, the tech giants have made big bets on smartwatches.   However, so far consumers have been a bit ambivalent. Sure, smartwatches can bring notifications to your clockface and apps on your wrist, and being able to do a voice search with Google without pulling out your phone or tablet is nifty.   On the other hand, a majority of the people inhabiting the planet already carry a far more powerful device with a larger screen in their pocket or handbag, in the form of a smartphone.   So the real question now is whether consumers will embrace this new technology.   Over the next year, entrepreneurs and innovators will either come up with a “killer app” for the smartwatch that drives it into the mainstream, or else the technology will be remembered as a flash-in-the-pan tech fad.   Either way, the next 12 months will be crucial to the long-term prospects of this much-hyped technology. 2. Mobile payments and tickets   Another technology rapidly approaching the critical make-or-break point is mobile payments.   These days, from “touch and go” chip-and-pin credit cards to public transport tickets, there are a growing number of smartcards that are based on a technology called near-field communications (NFC).   Over recent years, a growing number of smartphones have embedded these chips, allowing the “tap to share” features on Samsung Galaxy and Microsoft Lumia smartphones.   NFC technology received a surge of mainstream attention with its inclusion on iPhone 6, which uses the chip as part of its Apple Pay payment platform.   Of course, the great thing about NFC is that you don’t need to be tied into a proprietary walled garden platform such as Apple Pay. Potentially, all of the smartcards in your wallet could potentially be replaced with an app on a smartphone with an NFC chip.   Since we’re now at the point where just about every flagship smartphone has NFC, we’re also at the point where it’s plausible for consumers to replace a wallet full of cards with a phone full of apps.   Whether consumers embrace the convenience over the next year will be interesting to watch. 3. Multi-device app development   The number of tech gadgets on offer to consumers is greater than ever before.   A couple of decades ago, the average consumer just had a desktop or laptop in their study at home, and a second on their work desk.   Today, a consumer could potentially use a smartwatch, a smartphone, a tablet, a desktop or laptop computer, a smart TV (or a set-top box or games console) and an in-car entertainment system in the course of a single day – and all of them run apps.   Where Apple, Google and Microsoft once created operating systems for single devices, they’re now creating app platforms and ecosystems for devices.   With Mac OS X Yosemite and iOS 8, Apple added a feature called Handoff that allows users to pass activities from one device to another.   With Windows 10, Microsoft will allow a single app to run across a range of devices, including everything from smartphones and tablets to Xbox game consoles, PCs and servers.   Meanwhile, with 5.0 Lollipop, Android apps can now run on Chromebooks. Not only that, but Google has created a range of versions of Android for different devices, including cars (Android Auto), wearables (Android Wear), and TVs (Android TV).   For businesses, what this means is that consumers are likely to increasingly expect their apps, websites and online services to work seamlessly across a range of different devices and contexts. 4. Health tech   The interesting thing about many of these devices is they have potential therapeutic benefits for people with otherwise debilitating medical conditions. Others could be used as a preventative tool to warn users about possible health risks.   For example, Google Glass can potentially overlay graphics for people with poor vision highlighting potential risks and dangers. Cloud platforms can be used to collate health records and readings from a range of different devices and sources. Robotics can be applied to help people with limited mobility carry out everyday tasks.   The great news is that there are a range of Australian businesses already doing some great research in this area.   A great example is Eyenaemia, a new technology, developed by Melbourne medical students Jarrel Seah and Jennifer Tang, which allows users to diagnose anaemia by taking selfies with their smartphones.   The technology has grabbed the attention of none other than Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates himself.   “I could see a future version for Eyenaemia being used in developing countries, especially with pregnant women, since anaemia contributes to nearly 20% of deaths during pregnancy,” Gates says.   As of August, a health-tech startup group in Melbourne has already managed to attract close to 1000 entrepreneurs and medical professionals to some of its meetings, and a similar group in Brisbane is attracting around 100.   Health tech is an area Australia could become a world leader in over the coming years – if the investment and political will is there. 5. Plastic OLED displays   A year ago, low production yields put a limit to the production volumes of curved or flexible screen devices.   The first curved screen displays appeared on smartphones such as Samsung’s Galaxy Round and the LG G Flex, and at some curved-screen TVs at the International CES trade show. However, prices were high and volumes were limited. It required specialist types of glass, such as Corning’s bendable Willow Glass, to make.   The situation is set to change over the coming year thanks to a new technology called called P-OLED (plastic-organic light emitting diode).   P-OLED works by sandwiching a layer of organic material, which lights up on receiving an electrical charge, between two sheets of plastic. Along with the organic material, there’s a thin grid made up of a transparent material that conducts electricity (known as an active matrix) that can deliver a charge to each individual pixel.   Unlike LCD displays, which require a backlight, all of the light is generated by the organic material, meaning P-OLED displays are thinner as well. It is also thinner than glass AMOLED displays.   LG Display, one of the top three display manufacturers worldwide alongside Japan Display (Sony, Toshiba and Hitachi) and Samsung, says we should expect to see bendable tablets next year, with rollable TVs and foldable laptops screens in 2017. 6. Rise of the Chinese tech giants   This last one is not so much a new technology, per se, as it is a potential tectonic shift in the tech industry landscape.   During 2014, Xiaomi overtook Apple as China’s second-largest smartphone maker and – according to some figures – overtook Samsung as its largest. By the end of the year, it was the world’s third largest smartphone maker by volume, trailing only Samsung and Apple.   But while Xiaomi attracted most of the attention, it’s far from the only Chinese electronics maker set to make an impact over the coming years.   Lenovo became the world’s largest PC maker by buying IBM’s PC division in 2005, and has recently completed its purchase of Motorola from Google. Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker, is also making its consumer electronics play. In their shadows are a range of other brands, such as Coolpad and ZTE.   But it’s not just device makers that are having an impact. Look no further than the record-setting $US231.4 billion ($A258.8 billion) IPO of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. In conclusion   From health tech to mobile payments, there are a range of technologies that will potentially have a big impact on Australian small businesses over the next year.   But perhaps the most important thing for businesses will be to make sure your consumers have a seamless digital experience across all of them.   This article originally appeared at SmartCompany.

Bid-based shopping platform promises fear-free haggling

12:46AM | Tuesday, 16 December

Sydney-based startup Bidz Direct has developed a new shopping platform that’s attempting to give consumers more control over pricing.   Co-founder Phil Tran told StartupSmart Bidz Direct lets buyers select an item, name the price and get an immediate list of agreeable sellers. He says the instant match means buyers can score discounts without having to search through Google for cheaper prices or endure waiting for an auction to end   “You can walk in to a Harvey Norman and see the camera you want for $200. You take a photo of it and upload it to the site for $180 and it will show you sellers that match,” he says.   Tran says the concept is based on special bid pricing for large enterprises where clients negotiate better deals on multi-million dollar accounts. After an extensive career in this field at IBM, he decided to apply it to consumers in the retail market.   Tran hopes Bidz Direct will help people save on products in a global market while making the shopping experience more efficient and enjoyable.   “If you think about the way we shop physically, now, you don’t want to haggle but you don’t want to pay the retail price so you end up walking away because you fear rejection. We’re removing that emotional fear of haggling with shopkeepers,” he says.   Tran says retailers would benefit from fee structures lower than eBay and enhanced productivity through features like auto-approval delegation where a price range is set for an item and sold automatically to any interested buyer.   Bidz Direct is set to go live in February 2015 and has raised $150,000 from private investors so far. Tran says meetings with AngelCube and investors in Silicon Valley are planned for early next year before they expand to the Asia Pacific region.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

THE NEWS WRAP: Instagram surpasses Twitter with 300 million active users

12:51PM | Wednesday, 10 December

Instagram has surpassed Twitter’s 284 million active users, hitting the 300 million mark nine months after recording 200 million users.   “We’re thrilled to watch this community thrive and witness the amazing connections people make over shared passions and journeys,” the company said in a statement.   Instagram also announced it would be rolling out verified badges for celebrities, athletes and brands – in the same way that Facebook and Twitter has verified users.   The social network is also cracking down on spam accounts in order to “improve” the user experience. As a result, the company has warned that some users’ follower counts may change.   Instagram was purchased by Facebook for $1 billion in 2012. More than 70 million photos and videos are shared on the platform each day. Apple and IBM launch their first wave of apps for enterprises Apple and IBM have launched the first apps resulting from their partnership today, in a bid to bring mobile analytics to enterprises.   The software includes apps made for companies such as Air Canada, Citi and Sprint.   Senior vice president of IBM’s Global Business Services, Bridget van Kralingen, said in a statement the new enterprises will see businesses be able to unlock big data and drive individual engagement in a mobile-first world.   “Our collaboration combines IBM’s industry expertise and unmatched position in enterprise computing, with Apple’s legendary user experience and excellence in product design to lift the performance of a new generation of business professionals,” she said. Google tells Android developers to watch this face Google has opened up watch-face creation to third-party developers for the Android Wear community, according to TechCrunch.   The tech giant has also created a dedicated section of the Google Play store so that users can download watch faces just as they do with apps.   The updates will be rolled out over the next week. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 267.7 points to 17,533.47. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US83 cents.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Asia-Pacific region could lead the way on IoT, says Akamai

11:50AM | Monday, 17 November

The Asia-Pacific region is likely to be an early adopter for the internet of things (IoT), creating opportunities for Australian startups, according to Akamai president of products and development Rick McConnell.   “Overall, Australia is one of our top markets in the world in terms of revenue. While IoT specifically depends on adoption of IoT devices by end users, in our experience web delivery will map closely to what happens with IoT,” McConnell says.   “I think Asia is leading the way on smart connected cities, which include a lot of things that are connected devices. It wouldn’t surprise me on connected homes and cities if the adoption rate for devices and capabilities across Asia leads the world.   “For example, there are buses in Singapore that are available to be tracked through an app, a perfect use case where IoT is invaluable.”   Competition in the IoT marketplace is intensifying in recent years. A range of major IT and tech firms are already competing as cloud-based platform providers for the sector, battling for the attention of tech startups. These companies include the likes of Microsoft Azure, Cisco, IBM and others.   McConnell claims his company is in a unique position in the marketplace, with a content delivery network responsible for 15-30% of all internet traffic, with 2000 server regions across 95 countries.   “The one thing that Akamai does better is deliver content fast and reliably around the world, while IBM and Microsoft Azure have their strengths in computing power and storage,” McConnell says.   “We think there’s an ecosystem opportunity to work with other companies, such as IBM for storage or Microsoft for computing power, while we have a highly distributed network to get the content out.   “We have servers within 20 milliseconds of the users of the internet. That provides the transport layer.”   McConnell says there is likely to be opportunities for tech startups in collecting and compiling data, for building devices, and providing functionality to smart devices.   “You have thermostat functionality, pacemaker functionality, the remote management of an MRI machine that communicates to GE notifying it needs to be repaired,” he says.   Security, reliability and real-time communications should be key considerations, according to McConnell.   “Drones are a great example. A drone is in the air making deliveries and will need to compute so it does not hit a person or fly into restricted airspace. Many of those instructions will come remotely and will need to be at near real time,” he says.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

THE NEWS WRAP: China’s iPhone users get caught by the Great Firewall

10:23PM | Monday, 20 October

China received its first official iPhones last week, but the Chinese firewall is blocking all local connections to iCloud.com, instead redirecting users to a dummy site which looks exactly like Apple’s login page.   Users browsing the web with Chrome or Firefox will see a warning page, but those using Qihoo, the most popular browser in China will be taken straight to the dummy site with no indication that it is not run by Apple. A similar attack is being used against Microsoft’s Login.live.com.   The Verge speculates that because the attack is taking place at the level of the Great Firewall, it is likely that it’s an attempt by Chinese authorities to harvest usernames and passwords. IBM abandons 2015 profit target IBM has abandoned a long-promised plan to deliver $20 a share in profits by 2015 after a significant slowdown in spending by its clients that sent its shares falling by more than 8%, Re/code reports.   The company says it missed sales and profit expectations for the quarter, blaming an “unprecedented change” in the IT industry. Apple releases iOS 8.1 The latest update for iOS is now publicly available and comes with new features like Apple Pay, iCloud Photo Library and additional Continuity features.   The update is available on iPhone 4s and higher, iPad 2 and higher, iPad Mini and higher, and iPad touch fifth generation. The Apple Pay feature is only available for iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 19.26 to 16,399.67. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US88 cents.

When the ATM runs Windows, how safe is your money?

10:50AM | Wednesday, 15 October

How safe is Microsoft Windows? After all, the list of malware that has caused major headaches worldwide over the last 15 years is long – viruses, worms and Trojans have forced computers to shut down, knocked South Korea offline and even overloaded Google’s servers.   Now, how safe do you feel knowing that cash machines across the world run Microsoft Windows?   An exploit has been discovered, apparently spread across Russia, India, and China, whereby cash machines can be turned into a free money vending machine.   The hack requires re-starting the cash machine – essentially a Windows terminal – from a prepared CD that injects malware into the system to circumvent the security. At set times of the week, a unique code is generated and given to a “mule” who would approach the machine, enter the code, and withdraw up to 40 notes, anonymously and without trace.   From skimming to hacking   Attacks on ATMs (those more sophisticated than removing the cash machine and cutting into its safe) started around 10 years ago with card reader devices containing a tiny integrated camera and card reader. As a user withdraws cash, the device reads the account details from the card’s magnetic stripe and videos the pin number entered into the keypad.   Earlier generations of ATM machines were often built around computer terminals running IBM’s OS/2 operating system (which started life as a joint IBM-Microsoft venture, and which somewhat ironically spawned Microsoft’s Windows NT, the grandparent of modern Windows, and IBM’s OS/2 when that project collapsed). Due to its more esoteric and rare nature there are far fewer attacks for OS/2, but now it is standard builds of Windows, potentially vulnerable to all the usual malware and exploits, that run modern ATMs.   So it is not surprising that intruders have started to find ways inside the ATM’s card processing and cash dispensing systems. Malware that can offer external control to an ATM have been reported for some years, allowing attackers to dispense cash, record and print out card details and PIN numbers. Under the hood   This latest malware is Backdoor.MSIL.Tyupkin, which while running continuously will only listen for commands on a Sunday and Monday night. The criminal gangs operating the malware generate a random, unique, six-digit keycode that activates the program, which is given to the “mule” who is withdrawing the money.     Like previous efforts to crack into ATMs, the malware requires physical access to the ATM, typically by booting the ATM from a CD prepared to install the malware. At present the malware has been active on at least 50 ATMs in Russia and Eastern Europe, but also in the US, China and India.   The malware is the file ulssm.exe, which is copied into the c:\windows\system32 directory and which is protected and maintained on the system between reboots by modifying the Windows registry (a database of configuration settings) so that Windows automatically runs the program at startup. The program then interacts with the ATM through the Extension for Financial Services (XFS) library, MSXFS.dll. To avoid detection it will only allow access controller commands on Sunday and Monday evenings.   This shows an example of malware installing itself onto a system, updating the Windows registry to autorun when started (at 25:20), and then going into hiding.     Playing catch up   The threat of re-booting machines from CDs or bootable USB sticks in order to install malware and abusing Windows autorun feature to sustain the program in memory, is an exploit that has been common for over a decade. It seems few lessons have been learned in terms of securing physical access to the device, and also in the privileged rights that malware can gain. Even as companies focus on improving and securing the user interface, often the debugging and diagnostic side can provide further routes into a system.   Versions of Windows used in embedded control systems are now sufficiently secure, but as ATM manufacturers use standard installations of Windows they are opening themselves up to further problems – not least because it allows hackers the opportunity to simulate and craft their malware on well-known versions of the operating system.   However, at the core of this attack – as with those before it – is the need for physical access to the device, which implies an insider working in the bank. That means with monitoring of who has access to the cash machine, this can be prevented. The key lesson is that the ATM operating system is a weak link in the chain which needs to be closed.   *This article originally appeared on The Conversation.

Expansion plans made possible for Moneysoft with new funding round of $500,000

8:16AM | Tuesday, 5 August

Australian money management app startup Moneysoft has closed a $500,000 follow on funding round that brings its total funds raised to $1.5 million, which will be used to continue its rapid growth in the financial services space.   The BlueChilli backed startup says the funding will assist expanding its reach in the sector.   The platform automatically collates all of its users’ financial data, making it easy to for them to manage their finances.   Moneysoft’s service, which is available for free, is aimed at people aged between 25 and 45 who take an active role in managing their households’ finances.   While it’s not unlike Pocketbook, Moneysoft’s main competitor is Xero Cashbook, which offers a similar service that’s based on a monthly subscription fee.   It monetizes its service by charging partners in the financial services industry a fee to allow them to use it as a tool to offer improved financial advice to their clients.   Moneysoft founder Peter Malekas says the company, which was founded in late 2010, is on target to achieve its goal of 100,000 users, although he kept the specific details of that goal to himself.   “I think what we are all doing as competitors, if you look at the positives of competition, we’re creating awareness around managing your finances and the tools that are available for Australians in general,” Malekas says.   “As opposed to once upon a time, when it was purely just Excel or digging out receipts.”   Malekas says the company already has over 50 partners and is in negotiation with two of Australia’s largest financial advice groups and a number of additional industry funds.   In addition to helping with growth, the funds will also allow Moneysoft to hire key personnel to fulfil specific needs brought about by that growth.   It’s set to expand from eight full-time employees to between 12 and 15.   It’s already made one of those key personnel hires, naming Jon Shaw, formerly of IBM, as its new head of technology and commercial operations.   “Over the past 18 months, I’ve seen first-hand what a great job Peter and the Moneysoft team have done to get this brilliant application built and market-ready,” Shaw says.   “I’m humbled to be invited in as part of the team that will take Moneysoft to the next stage in its evolution.   “It’s rare to have the opportunity to be involved in such a visionary and exciting technology, and we’re all hugely enthusiastic to grow this little Australian company into a great Australian brand.”   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn

THE NEWS WRAP: Microsoft to axe jobs

7:38PM | Tuesday, 15 July

Microsoft is planning its biggest round of job cuts in five years, as the company looks to slim down and integrate Nokia Oyj’s handset unit, sources have told Bloomberg.   One of the sources speculates the reductions will be in engineering, marketing, and areas that overlap with Nokia.   The restructuring could be unveiled as soon as this week.   Apple and IBM partner to “transform enterprise mobility” Apple and IBM have announced an exclusive partnership on a new range of business apps that will bring IBM’s big data and analytics capabilities to iPhone and iPad.   A statement from Apple announcing the move says the partnership aims to “redefine the way work will get done, address key industry mobility challenges and spark true mobile-led business change”.   This will be done by a host of native apps for iPhone and iPad, unique IBM cloud services optimised for iOS, AppleCare support tailored for enterprise, and new packaged offerings from IBM for device activation, supply and management.   Alan Mulally appointed to Google’s board of directors Google has announced former Ford CEO Alan Mulally will be joining its board of directors and will serve on Google’s Audit Committee.   Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 5.26 to 17,060.68. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US94 cents.

OPINION: Why open source is not always the best tool for the job

6:06AM | Thursday, 19 June

Earlier this year, I reviewed the latest version of an open source computer operating system called Kubuntu. For the uninitiated, like Windows, Mac OS-X or Android, Kubuntu manages a computer’s hardware, provides a user interface and allows users to run apps. It includes a desktop environment called KDE along with a set of apps covering everything from graphics and multimedia to internet, office and games.   While I was critical of the installation process (and deservedly so), I had many complimentary things about Kubuntu to say in the review, including the following:   “The good news is, assuming you get through the installation process, is that Kubuntu and KDE 4.13 does have a lot going for it.” “Firstly, there are preinstalled apps covering most of what you’d need to do, from word processing, to playing CDs, to watching videos and surfing the web.” “There are big improvements in how multiple screens are handled. It’s now literally a matter of dragging and dropping to have two connected screens mirroring each other, or having one to the side of the other.” “With a little tinkering, you can set it up to look like a Mac (including each app’s menu bar across the top of the screen), or like Windows (with the menu bar across the top of each window). You can also set up multiple ‘activities’ each with their own desktop layout.”   Yet, literally for months after the review was published, there were (at times incredibly detailed) comments from open source advocates arguing against the conclusion that this was not a product for everyone.   The open source basics   Kubuntu is an example of what is known as “open source software”. The basic idea behind the open source model is that the developer gives away a computer program for free, including the source code used to create that program. Users are free to make any changes they require in the future and share their modifications with others.   In terms of copyright, open source software is often made available under a licensing agreement such as the GPL, or under a Creative Commons licence.   Can you really have a free lunch?   Of course, this raises a question: How do software developers survive if they give their product away from free?   In many cases, open source projects are the work of hobbyists or not-for-profit groups, with Wikipedia probably the best example.   Some companies (such as Red Hat and IBM) give away software on an open source basis, but charge businesses for services such as setup and support.   An example I’ve discussed in this column previously is Firefox. Mozilla supports giving its popular web browser away for free based on the commission it receives from Google each time someone searches from the search bar. As incredible as it might sound, that little search field is worth around $US280 million per year in revenue.   One of the best known examples of open source software is the Android smartphone and tablet operating system. Here, Google makes its money by selling downloads, as well as the mobile services (Gmail, YouTube, etc.) it bundles with the platform.   Another well-known example is WordPress, which is offered by its developers (Automattic) on an open source basis, with a commercial cloud-hosted version at WordPress.com supported by ads and premium upgrades.   Open source software stands in opposition to proprietary or closed-source software, where the developer retains all intellectual property rights to the software, along with the source code. Windows, Microsoft Office, Photoshop and most other commercial apps are examples.   The best tool for the job   Advocates for open source software are certainly a passionate lot when it comes to their software licensing model of choice.   In many areas of the tech industry, there are open source products that are either market leaders, or are at least competitive in terms with features with their proprietary counterparts.   And certainly for many cash-strapped businesses, if finances are tight, choosing an open source option can be quite appealing.   However, there are many hidden costs in business that stem from using the wrong tech tool for the job, including lost productivity, the cost of IT staff for the initial setup and installation, maintenance costs, IT support costs and lost business opportunities.   When these additional costs are factored into account, the product with the lowest upfront costs might not have the lowest total cost of operation.   And the harsh truth for advocates is the open source option is not always the best option in the market, or the best choice for every business.   As the example of Kubuntu shows, an open source product that works well in one situation might not be the best choice for everybody.   So, when it comes to choosing a tech solution for your business, it pays to evaluate a range of options, both proprietary and open source – because being an ideologue with technology can be costly in the long run.   This article first appeared on Smart Company.

Web Directions celebrates 10 years with a star line-up

6:38AM | Thursday, 19 June

The internet ain’t what it was in 2004 and on the tenth anniversary of Web Directions, the conference organisers are taking the time to remember just how far it’s come.   “When we started Web Directions, we were just looking at ‘the web’, but now it’s the foundation for almost everything,” says Web Directions co-founder John Allsopp.   “It’s powering major financial institutions.”   The conference has two tracks, engineering and product, and its status as one of Australia’s premiere web events is highlighted by some of the big local and international names Allsopp and fellow Web Directions founder Maxine Sherrin have managed to attract.   Genevieve Bell, Intel Fellow and vice president of Intel Labs, as well as director of User Experience Research at Intel Corporation, is delivering a keynote. Bell leads a team of social scientists, interaction designers, human factors engineers and computer scientists focused on people's needs and desires to help shape new Intel products and technologies.   On the product side, Douglas Bowman, who just recently left Twittier as its creative director, is one of the big names they’ve managed to attract.   Also on the product line-up is Scott Thomas, who famously worked on the Obama campaign, but also for the likes of Fast Company, Apple, IBM, HP, Nike, Patagonia, Levis, the Alliance for Climate Protection, and Craigslist.   Younghee Jung from Nokia’s corporate research team, focusing on enablers of social development through mobile technology, will also be speaking at the conference.   On the engineering side, Bill Scott, senior director of business engineering at PayPal, will be speaking, along with Railsbridge founder Sarah Mei and Jake Archibald who works in Google Chrome's developer relations team.   Allsopp says he feels the calibre of speakers makes it the best line-up they’ve had and competitive on an international level.   “These are world class speakers by anyone’s standard,” he says.   This year also means a change of venue, moving from the Convention Centre to the Seymour Centre.   “It’s got a good vibe and it’s both edgy and accessible, which makes sense for us,” Allsopp says.   Allsopp says they’ve always advocated the benefit for teams and individuals to get out of the office and become rejuvenated by immersing yourself in the amazing work so many in the industry are doing.   “We want to create that feeling when you can’t wait to get back to work because you’re just pumped with ideas,” he says.   “For a lot of people who come from all over Australia, it’s the one chance in a year to catch up with people in the industry.”   The full program can be found here.

Latest app trends and what they mean for your business

5:54AM | Tuesday, 20 May

In almost every industry there are innovators, ‘smart companies’ who are leveraging disruptive technologies to stay ahead of competitors and offer the latest and greatest features to their customers. The world of app development is no different.   Here are a few recent innovations and some thoughts on what they might mean for your business.   1. Facebook and IBM active in mobile app space Facebook and IBM aren't usually linked together, but both are currently marketing their presence in the mobile app space as a critical path for their future.   Facebook announced at f8 (their annual developers conference) that they are launching the mobile ads Audience Network. Facebook will start serving ads to third-party mobile apps via this new network. This means that partnerships between mobile companies will increase, and app developers can now serve Facebook ads in their apps. Ads will be more targeted to the recipient, as Facebook understands their members and their interests.   This is good news for companies interested in reaching mobile users who often log into apps via their Facebook account, as this increases the effectiveness of your mobile-delivered marketing messages.   Global behemoth IBM is fuelling an open-source platform movement to help generate more business value from mobile computing.  At IBM’s Impact2014 conference held last week in Las Vegas, the company announced a significant expansion of its MobileFirst Business Acceleration portfolio, which includes IBM Ready Apps offering standardised customisation to reduce time and resources required to create apps. It is also introducing 18 ‘development studios worldwide’ to foster innovation in custom apps – with mobile experts from designers, developers and architects.   If IBM is investing so significantly in making apps more accessible to its customers, shouldn’t you be considering making your company’s services just as open and easily accessible?   2. Mobile app-linking New technology is now directing users to specific areas of mobile apps instead of website pages (Instagram is a good example). This is another leap in mobile innovation as Facebook and others continue to challenge the key issue of the mobile-computing world – ‘users spend most of their time inside apps rather than on the web’. Consider the importance of this in increasing convenience for customers if your business still relies on an old-style, non-responsive (i.e. mobile un-friendly) website.   3. Mobile payments Smartphone apps such as Venmo are now replacing cash on many US university campuses. The era of ‘mobile payments’ – leaving your wallet at home and using your phone to pay for everything – is still in its early days, but its mainstream take-up seems inevitable.   Think about your own ease of purchase in the app stores. It’s plain to see that if the next generation of consumers is eschewing cash and using an app to pay for everything from their lunch to their rent to their parking to their bar tab, then they’ll also expect the convenience of buying your goods or services through an app.   Of course, most companies don't have the internal resources, or actually need the resources to get themselves into the app space. The creation of links within apps and how to take advantage of this new wave of opportunities should be left to companies that specialise in it. Having your own branded app and promoting it well to your customers will pay off – delivering more engagement, more loyalty and more convenience.   Don’t be the one who gets left behind.   Dennis Benjamin is the founder and chief executive of mobile apps specialists AppsWiz and the Informatel Group. He is an expert in the areas of mobile trends, mobile apps, apps for businesses, entrepreneurship, and startups.   This article first appeared on SmartCompany.

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.

Googlers, Beliebers, Magicians, Little Monsters, Droogies or Yahoos: Naming your employees or user base

3:44AM | Friday, 28 March

It seems almost every singer, band, and popstar out there these days comes up with a name for their fans.   For example, Justin Bieber has Beliebers, Lady Gaga has Little Monsters, Katy Perry has Katy-Cats, One Direction has Directioners, and Mariah Carey has Lambs.   Now, Old Taskmaster’s natural instinct in response to this insanity is to yell out: “Kids these days! It didn’t used to be like this in the good old days, Sonny Jim Crockett!” Except even in the days of yore, when music was ever so slightly more tolerable, some artists insisted in employing such shameless marketing tactics.   The classic was the Grateful Dead’s Deadheads, but there were others. For example, Barry Manilow has Fanilows, Jimmy Buffett has Parrotheads, Aerosmith has a Blue Army, KISS has a KISS Army, Phish has Phans and Megadeth has Droogies or Rattleheads, amongst others.   According to the comments on a recent column, there’s even a term for fans of the king of trucker rock, the certainly-not-a-one-hit-wonder who came up with Convoy, CW McCall: Crispy Critters.   (See kids, yours truly does read your comments, so keep ‘em coming!)   Of course, it’s not just musicians inventing collective nouns – many Silicon Valley tech companies have terms for their employees.   For example, Google has Googlers, Atari had Atarians, IBM has IBMers, Yahoo! has Yahoos, Tropo has Tropons, Xerox has Xeroids, Subway has its Sandwich Artists, Disney has Cast Members, and Starbucks has Partners.   Your humble correspondent has it on good authority that the editorial staff of SmartCompany and StartupSmart are known as smarties.   Some of the employee names are admittedly rather witty. For example, General Magic had Magicians, Lockheed Martin apparently has Martians, and Telstra has “future redundancies”.   Now, what about your startup? Do you have a term you’ll use for your current or future employees? Or your user base?   If not, it might be a fun thing to think about as you plan or grow your business.   After all, you couldn’t call yourself a proper Taskapprentice (or StartupSmarter) if you didn’t, now could you?   Get it done – today!

Consider setting up a crowdfunding site – inside your company

2:42AM | Wednesday, 19 February

As loyal readers will know, Old Taskmaster is fond of building employee engagement.   Now of course, this certainly does not mean you should be an amiable well-mannered doormat or a lazy do-nothing slacker of a boss. You should absolutely set the strategic direction, the boundaries and the rules of engagement for your business.   If there are issues, sometimes you do need to be firm and there are times when you need to make a final decision, right or wrong.   However, if you aren’t happy to delegate the finer details of execution to your staff within your objectives and boundaries, frankly you’ve probably done a poor job of hiring.   And if your staff feel like they own those decisions around execution, it can be a powerful motivating force.   In the past week, your humble correspondent came across the perfect example of just such a program in action.   According to this article in Network World, executives at IT giant IBM have recently introduced a Kickstarter-style crowdfunding website for projects within their company.   How it works is this: Each year, each staff member in the program is given a $US100 budget. This money can be “invested” in internal IBM crowdfunding projects.   Meanwhile, each staff member is free to contribute possible projects to run or products that need to be purchased. It might be a robotics research program or a new printer. Like Kickstarter, each project also has a target it needs to reach.   If a project or purchase meets its target, it gets that budget. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t go ahead.   From a cashflow point of view, your staff can choose to either “invest” their budget on small purchases that directly benefit them, or support larger purchases that benefit the whole company. But either way, it will be staff themselves, rather than you as an angry, mean boss, who will make that tough decision.   Now, while your start-up mightn’t be able to organise a project like this on the scale of IBM, if you have a few staff, it might be worth considering a similar project within your business.   Get it funded – today!

Innovators to get grilled by investors at public event in Perth

1:22AM | Friday, 31 January

Entrepreneurs will have an opportunity to pitch to venture capital investors in a rigorous “Silicon Valley style” pitching event in Perth in March.   The 2014 Innovators Pitch Night will take place in March at the national conference of the Licensing Executives Society Australia New Zealand (LESANZ).   Coordinator Graeme Speak launched the first iteration of this event ran with IBM in August after returning from Silicon Valley.   He told StartupSmart it was an incredible learning experience for the start-up founders who pitched as the judges didn’t hold back in their feedback.   “The entertainment and learning is off the scale. It’s great practice but the real value is when the judges started to lay in. They weren’t really angry, it was done with compassion but if it’s a shitty deal they told you exactly why,” Speak says.   Lindsay Lyon, founder of personal safety device start-up Shark Shield, took out top honours last time.   “He’s a good salesman for one, but anyone can learn to pitch. It’s a format and a formula and he made it irresistible. The deal was clear, the return on the investment was clear, the path to market was obvious and the judges couldn’t fault him,” Speak says.   Companies applying to pitch need to have intellectual property that can be protected and be ready to take investment of over $250,000.   “You need to know how to pitch. It’s a tight format, and Silicon Valley style we’ll turn your mic off at five minutes. So you need to make sure you cover what you want, what investors will get out of it, what and when the return will be and who is on your board,” Speak says.   Applicants need to submit a PowerPoint pitch deck or one-page overview by Friday, February 14 to gls@gopc.net   Entrepreneurs will need to apply before the pre-screen pitch day on Friday, February 21. Speak then works with the selected finalists to hone their pitches in preparation for the Wednesday, March 19 event.

The dark side of vertical integration

1:26AM | Tuesday, 21 January

Recently, your humble correspondent looked at vertically integrated companies.   But if you’re just starting a business, the chances are you will – at least initially – be focused on a single stage of production, dealing with companies that are far more vertically integrated than you are.   Well, as Old Taskmaster says, business is war. The dark side of vertical integration comes when someone else tries to take your businesses out of the supply chain.   It happens. Just think about all the small businesses that supplied specialty foods to Coles and Woolies, only to find their lines deleted and a generic product taking their shelf space at $1 per litre.   Or, for that matter, the local servo owners who used their local supermarket as a supplier of their convenience store, only to find a shiny new Coles Express or Woolworths Plus Petrol opening down the road.   In theory, the ACCC should do something about it when it happens. In practice, Australia’s competition watchdog is more of a chihuahua.   On the other hand, Apple seems to be doing just fine, despite the fact its vertically integrated arch-rival (Samsung) also supplies a number of key iPhone components, including the processor and display.   And it’s not the first time Apple has found itself in such a predicament. Way back when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were in their parent’s garage, guess who the supplier was for the main processor in the original Apple I and Apple II computers?   It wasn’t Intel. Nor was it Motorola. And ARM didn’t exist yet.   No, Apple’s first computers from the late 1970s were built around an MOS 6502 chip. From Commodore. As in, Jack Tramiel’s Commodore.   A number of their competitors did likewise, including Atari (including the 2600), the original Nintendo NES and Acorn (who built the BBC Micro B). All used a variation of the processor in the Commodore 64.   When Tramiel started a price war by dropping the retail price of the Commodore 64, all of those companies were left buying processors at retail price while Commodore was effectively buying them at cost price.   Jobs actually referenced the industry shakeout that resulted while unveiling the Macintosh: “Nineteen eighty three… The shakeout is in full swing. The first major firm goes bankrupt, with others teetering on the brink. Total industry losses for ’83 outshadow the combined profits for Apple and IBM, for personal computers.”   So what can you do when a key supplier or customer decides to compete against you?   Apple survived by marketing premium, value-added products. Premium products command premium prices, and are less susceptible to a price war. After all, you might build your own computer, but it won’t be an Apple.   In the long run, Jobs also built his own vertical integration. That’s why you can buy Apple’s Final Cut Pro for your Apple Mac from an Apple store.   Perhaps the best response is to avoid getting locked into a single supplier in the first place. Look for products where you can get a second source – that is, a second company that can competitively supply you a similar product.   Likewise, avoid getting yourself in a position where your entire business is locked into supplying a single customer or outlet. After all, there’s no use crying over spilled, non-generic milk.   Finally, the next time you revise your long-term strategy, evaluate what would happen if your largest supplier, business partner or customer decided to compete with you. Is there a risk? If so, what would you do?   Old Taskmaster says it’s time to evaluate the risks facing your business from potential rivals – and reduce them!   Get it done – today!

The Amiga Video Toaster: Why superior technology doesn’t always win the day

4:48PM | Thursday, 3 April

There is a myth that there is an inevitable path of technological advance where new, superior technologies inevitably knock off their older predecessors.   It’s a myth many tech start-ups are prone to. Build a better mouse trap and they’ll sell by the truckload.   Well, to any of you holding these myths to be self-evident, Old Taskmaster has just three words to say: Amiga Video Toaster.   See, back in the day when people asked “Mac or PC”, (well, Mac or IBM compatible as it was back then), there was a third option many opted for: The Amiga.   Now in 1990, on the Mac side of the fence, Apple was still charging over $6,000 for a black and white Macintosh (like the SE/30). Before 1987, they couldn’t run more than one program at a time. When they finally did do multitasking, it was with a crash-prone method called co-operative multitasking. Contrary to popular myth, the first true pre-emptive 32-bit multitasking colour Mac didn’t arrive until the release of OS-X in 1999.   The PC side of the fence was far worse. For those who have never experienced the "joy" of a PC running MS-DOS refusing to boot because the AUTOEXEC.BAT or CONFIG.SYS file isn’t configured correctly, just imagine the computer equivalent of root canal surgery. It didn’t get a colour pre-emptive multitasking operating system until Windows 95.   In contrast, first released in 1985, the Amiga was a useful colour video editing tool. By 1990, you could hook up to four video cameras up to one and switch between them in real time:   Why the name video toaster? Because it was designed to make high-end video editing something you could do on an everyday appliance.   Aside from video editing, it also did 3D animation, was in full colour, had four-channel stereo sound, pre-emptive multitasking, mouse control, windows, icons and menus. It also ran many of the regular PC productivity apps, including WordPerfect.   From the computer animation on television series like Seaquest DSV, to tracking NASA satellites, to running the displays at Brisbane’s Central station, to the Israeli Air Force, to – by some accounts – powering the graphics at some of the early Macworld shows and in the video production department at Microsoft, there was an Amiga behind the scenes.   Even though it used the same series of processors (the Motorola 68k) as the early Macintoshes, because it had a series of separate graphics and sound processors, it was a magnitude faster and more powerful than its rivals. Yet it still cost less.   However, despite all this, it failed to gain sufficient traction in the marketplace. It's time for some guru meditation on why this happened.   Poor management and poor marketing shoulder a lot of the responsibility. Just like BlackBerry 10, while it was ridiculously more advanced than any of its competitors, this was never effectively communicated to the public.   As a result, its demise ended up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Dealers and sales reps in stores explained to customers that while indeed the Amiga was more advanced, it didn’t have enough traction in the marketplace. In turn, because those customers failed to buy it, it failed to get traction in the marketplace.   Other salespeople, mostly out of ignorance, stressed the importance of getting a “serious” computer (ie an IBM PC) that could run WordPerfect (badly) but not have enough horsepower to do high-end video over one that could do both (the Amiga).   The moral of the story for anyone with a tech start-up is clear. It’s just not good enough to arrogantly assume your technology or product will succeed on merit, even if it is clearly ahead of everything else in the marketplace. You need to do the hard yards in selling and marketing your product, or else it will flounder.   Get it done – today!

The Telecom Computerphone: How poor execution can kill a good business idea

10:04AM | Wednesday, 30 October

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, there was a publicly owned monopoly known as Telecom Australia. It was an institution built on the age-old principles of bureaucracy, gold-plated waste and designing new products in committee meetings.   In this bygone era, this great publicly-owned monolithic bureaucracy noticed that a few leading typewriter brands, such as IBM and Commodore, along with a new start-up called Apple, were beginning to produce a new kind of office appliance called the ‘microcomputer’.   These strange boxes – later known as IBM compatibles and then desktop PCs – were appearing on offices desks across the land. The wise bureaucrats of Telecom said “me too!”   There was a slight catch, however. While they were allowed to sell (or, more precisely, lease) telephones, selling computers went way beyond their charter. Fortunately, there was nothing preventing them from selling a phone which happened to also have a whole desktop computer in the same box. So the Telecom Computerphone was born.   (For those of you who think Old Taskmaster is spinning a yarn and no bureaucracy would have been dumb enough to actually build such an abomination, click here for a photo.)   So in the mid ‘80s, Telecom, in partnership with British mainframe-company ICL and Sinclair (maker of the ZX Spectrum), were shipping these computers – I mean phones – off to the antipodes. Internationally, they were marketed as the “One Per Desk” and the “Merlin Tonto” (“tonto” being a Spanish word roughly translating as “stupid”).   Now, clearly there is a market for devices combining computers and telephones. After all, if you have a smartphone in your pocket or bag, you own a device that effectively does just that.   In fact, you could say the concept was visionary – 20 years ahead of its time. But it wasn’t the concept so much as the execution that killed this beast.   You see, instead of using DOS like most computers of the day, some bright spark in a meeting decided to develop a new operating system from scratch so dumb office workers could easily find the app or file they needed by looking through menus.   Unfortunately for both of the people who bought one, this meant the boxes weren’t IBM compatible. Or Apple compatible. Or Commodore compatible. Or even compatible with the Sinclair computers they were based on.   In fact, it was compatible with no other computer built before or since. Aside from a few built-in productivity apps, those easy to use menus had no other apps to choose from!   Oh, and instead of having a floppy disk drive to store files on, like most computers of the day, the Computerphone saved its files on 8-track cassettes. As in the kind that used to get their tape jammed in the 8-track players of 1970s cars, except on a miniature scale.   This meant you couldn’t save a file and then stick it in the disk drive of the IBM PC or Apple on the next desk. Meanwhile, the miniature size of these cassettes meant you couldn’t even record the Eagles over them and play them in the 8-track player of your dad’s old 1973 Holden Monaro.   As for the phone itself, the phone handset itself was the width of a computer keyboard, making its size perfect for any oompa loompa in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory who needed to make a business call.   While the underlying concept was innovative and arguably well ahead of its time, it will probably come as no great surprise to anyone (except for Telecom’s senior bureaucrats of the day) that a computer with no programs will generate next to no sales.   So do you have an innovative idea for a new technology or business model? Make sure you plan its execution as well as the basic concept – or else you could end up with a tonto (or should that be a “Tonto”) product.   Get it done – today!

THE NEWS WRAP: Victorian government announces $500,000 grant for small businesses targeting China

10:08PM | Sunday, 27 October

The Victorian state government has announced a new $500,000 grant for small businesses targeting China’s $190 billion e-commerce market.   Under its Manufacturing Productivity Networks program, the state government will offer grants to small businesses in Victoria selling food and beverage products to China through the Alibaba e-commerce platform.   "Increasingly, Chinese buyers are turning to e-commerce platforms like Alibaba to source their food products from safe and reliable suppliers, like Victoria," Victorian Premier Denis Napthine says.   IBM to slash 1000 local jobs   IT services giant IBM has announced plans to cut around 1000 jobs from its Australian subsidiary through a cost-cutting program called Project Mercury, which has previously seen jobs shipped to Singapore, Malaysia and Ireland.   "Change is constant in the technology industry," the company says in a statement.   "Given the competitive nature of our industry, we do not publicly discuss the details of staffing plans.”   Electrolux to cut 544 jobs   Whitegoods giant Electrolux has announced plans to close its factory in Orange, New South Wales, with around 544 jobs to be cut in the process.   Electrolux Home Products Australia and New Zealand managing director John Brown says the factory, which makes around 1300 fridges and freezers each year under the Westinghouse and Kelvinator brands, is no longer competitive.   The company's exhaustive investment study, announced earlier this year, concluded that Electrolux is able to manufacture refrigerators currently made here more cost effectively in other factories in Asia and Eastern Europe," Brown says.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is 15570.28. The Aussie dollar is up to US95.86 cents.

Cloud computing explained

10:22AM | Friday, 4 October

Here’s a business proposition for you. I will download all of your work files or emails onto a server sitting in the dungeons under Taskmaster Towers.   Your humble correspondent won’t read them or delete them without permission (like Google did to its Google Reader customers) – I promise!   You can access your content at any time for a low monthly fee. Or perhaps for ‘free’ by putting up with my completely innocuous banner ads – you’ll barely notice them! I swear!   Then, from here on in, you won’t need to worry about server maintenance, security patches, firewalls or Debian dependencies. All of those hassles will be taken care of for you. You won’t get to check those maintenance chores are done, or that the passwords on the server are secure, but they will be. Trust me!   Now, here’s a question for you: would you sign up to such an agreement?   Well, if you sign up for cloud-based services, this is exactly what you’re signing up for: your app or your computer files stored on someone else’s server.   Would there be questions you wanted to ask first? Would you be more likely to agree to use the services of an ASX or Dow Jones Index-listed multinational than the Taskmaster’s? Are there other things you’d like, for example, a local backup in your office of any really essential files?   Of course, once you get these points addressed, it is a computing model with a very long track record.   That’s because, despite the hype, doing your computing on someone else’s server isn’t a particularly new business model. In fact, before the home computer revolution of the 1980s, it was quite common for businesses to lease time on a DEC minicomputer or IBM System/360 mainframe.   Back then, Sonny Jim, using someone else’s server was known as ‘timesharing’. It was a service offered by a number of companies, including Honeywell and General Electric.   If you were lucky, you’d have your own terminal in your office that you would dial in on using a briefcase-sized modem. And by dial-in, I mean you would dial-in directly to their data centre; none of this fancy logging in over the internet mumbo-jumbo. If you were really lucky, you would even have a black-and-green screen, rather than a printer, for a display for your terminal.   But I digress.   Suffice to say, doing your computing on someone else’s server isn’t exactly a new idea. Sure, like most things in computing, those servers are a lot more powerful than they used to be. But in truth, using someone else’s server with a terminal pre-dates even the Commodore 64 or the original IBM PC.   So should you sign up to use a cloud computing service? The answer shouldn’t be an automatic yes or no.   Instead, you should absolutely keep in mind that all cloud services involve storing your data on someone else’s server. Now, depending on your business circumstances, that could be a good idea or a bad one. But there are potential risks involved – especially if your supplier isn’t reputable.   It’s up to you to weigh up those costs and benefits.   Get it done – today.

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