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Australian startup to coach office workers on how to improve efficiency by writing better

7:26AM | Wednesday, 30 July

An Australian startup is looking to help office workers write cleaner, sharper documents and in doing so boost productivity in the workplace.   Credosity, the brainchild of Magneto Communications, is a virtual writing coach for Microsoft Word. Co-founder Petrina Buckley told StartupSmart the idea for the software came from the desire to create a tool that will help people write more effectively.   “Credosity will not only give simple, visual feedback on the readability and professionalism of your Microsoft Office documents, but also use interactive eLearning to teach the principles behind its suggestions,” she says.   Buckley says one in three employees could write better, saving both themselves and their boss time by not having to go back and rework draft letters and other documents.   “People spend up to 75% of their week writing, so the cost to business is huge,” she says. “It includes inefficiencies, lost sales and degraded brand image and reputation.”   Buckley and the team hope to utilise their experience at Magneto Communications – which has involved combining copyrighting psychology with business writing – and apply that to Credosity.   “Good writing is not just about getting the spelling and grammar right,” she says. “It is about the thinking behind your communication.”   The reason for pairing the software with Microsoft Office came down to research and common sense, says Buckley.   “Microsoft office has 95% market share so it was a logical step as to how to add the most value in a corporate environment,” she says.   The startup is currently undertaking private beta testing. Buckley says they have been lucky enough to have key clients that have been involved from the start in order to provide them with important feedback.   “It’s a massive journey to do enterprise software,” she says. “We know from our experience with Magneto just how important it is to create something that hits the mark and is professional when it is going into the enterprise space.”   Buckley is one of three co-founders and says the right partnership can make or break a startup.   “We just have a really nice match of skills and that’s what allowed us to bootstrap,” she says. “When you get that little mix of skills so right that, between us, we can pick up most things because someone has done it before or learnt from a mistake, that’s really valuable.”   Buckley and her two other co-founders have received support from the Microsoft Innovation Centre in Brisbane for about a year, although they have not worked on Credosity for all of that time.   “Microsoft Innovation Centre and Microsoft have been really helpful,” says Buckley. “Just being in the Microsoft protégé program has given us great internal support and helped us build a robust marketing plan.”   Buckley says Credosity has just received a Commercialisation Australia grant and is in discussions with a potential investor. Her advice to fellow entrepreneurs would be to constantly ask how to improve.   “That honesty audit I think is really, really important,” she says. “Do that honesty audit from every angle: about yourself, about your business, about the idea, about your team.”

THE NEWS WRAP: Twitter quarterly results confound analysts’ expectations

7:18PM | Tuesday, 29 July

Twitter stocks have surged by almost 30% in after-hours trading following the announcement of its second quarter financial performance, which included revenue of $312 million and $0.02 earnings per share.   The figures beat analysts’ estimates, with Wall Street expecting Twitter to post revenue of $283.07 million and losses of $0.01 per share.   Its revenue for the quarter is up 124% from the same period a year ago.   Eighty-one per cent of revenue in the period came from mobile advertising.   Its average monthly active users (MAUs) increased by 24% year-over-year, to 271 million, while Mobile MAUs reached 211 million, an increase of 29% year-over-year and made up 78% of the company’s total MAUs.   Twitter chief executive officer Dick Costolo says the strong financial and operating results show the company’s continued momentum.   “We remain focused on driving user growth and engagement, and by developing new product experiences, like the one we built around the World Cup, we believe we can extend Twitter’s appeal to an ever broader audience.”   New Microsoft Windows phones arriving soon Microsoft is planning to launch two new Windows 8.1 devices shortly, The Verge reports.   Sources told The Verge that Microsoft Devices chief Stephen Elop revealed the two handsets, a “selfie phone” and an “affordable high-end phone” at an internal company meeting this week.   E-commerce company Jet raises $55 million Marc Lore, the former CEO of Diapers.com parent company Quidsi, which was sold to Amazon for $550 million, has raised $55 million to build out a new e-commerce company called Jet, Re/code reports.   Little is known about what Jet plans on selling, but sources tell Re/code that the startup will be extremely tech focused and is working on innovating around its logistics network.   Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is 16,912.11 down 70.48. The Australia dollar is currently trading at US94 cents.

Serial venture capitalists Daniel Petre and Craig Blair announce $60 million fund for tech businesses

7:38AM | Tuesday, 29 July

Former tech executives Daniel Petre and Craig Blair are planning to use the $60 million they’ve raised for their AirTree Ventures Fund to support the growth of 15 local technology startups.   While it was revealed Petre, a former Microsoft executive, and Blair, formerly of Expedia, were seeking to raise $50 million from private investors earlier this year, the duo said today they decided to extend the fund to $60 million and closed the fundraising early after attracting “significant interest from investors”.   “We were surprised at how quickly it happened and how quickly we met the target,” Blair told SmartCompany. “I think it is a function of investors realising that technological disruption is not going away any time soon, we’re just starting, and that venture capital is not broken.”   Blair says AirTree will invest between $2 million and $5 million in up to 15 technology businesses over the next three to four years.   He says the businesses chosen by AirTree will likely have already received some seed funding, and AirTree will provide their first professional round of funding.   “We’re looking for businesses that, broadly speaking, are using the internet to disrupt the digital market,” says Blair, who says the retail, media, finance and online marketplace sectors will be among the area AirTree looks closely at.   “We are quite agnostic there and we’re not necessarily looking for the next big global players to come out of Australia,” he says.   Blair says AirTree is looking for companies which have already gotten some “traction” and which understand their KPIs and the direction they are heading in.   “With the explosion of incubators and accelerators around the country, they are spawning dozens and dozens of companies, and not all of them will make it,” says Blair. “But the ones that do emerge who have their product and team right, we want to be the guys to help them.”   AirTree does not have a strict timeline for when its first investment will be made, with Blair saying “it’s more important to make the right decision rather than a fast decision”.   This is not the first time Petre and Blair have partnered to invest in new businesses, having previously run the Netus investment fund along with eBay Australia managing director Alison Deans, which invested in nine companies over six years.   AirTree is the third investment fund for Petre, who established and later sold Ecorp, which invested in eBay Australia and ninemsn.   “The Australian startup space is expanding significantly with a wide variety of accelerators and incubators helping bring more companies on stream than ever in the past,” said Blair in a statement.   “AirTree will complement this effort by being able to commit growth capital to the best of this new class of ventures. Great startups, once they have worked out what their product or service offering is, need the capital to fuel growth but they also need investors who can bring proven experience in helping to build successful companies. We feel this combination of funding and expertise is something that AirTree can provide.”   But while smaller startups will likely welcome the presence of the AirTree fund, the announcement of the fund did not impress some members of the startup community earlier this year.   “This isn’t a breakthrough,” Nitro co-founder and chief executive Sam Chandler told Private Media in March. “We still need more later-stage funding from funds in the $200 million plus range who can invest more like up to $20 million over the lifetime of the investment.”   This article first appeared on SmartCompany.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn

THE NEWS WRAP: Internal documents reveal Amazon plans for credit card reader

7:24PM | Sunday, 27 July

Amazon is reportedly set to launch its own mobile credit card reading technology, according to internal documents from the office supply store Staples, obtained by 9to5mac.   The documents say Staples stores are preparing to stock a new product called the “Amazon Card Reader” alongside existing card readers from Square, PayPal, and Staples’ in-house brand.   Amazon recently launched a new wallet app for smartphones and 9to5mac speculates that Amazon’s card reader will likely connect to that.   Rocket Internet’s Easy Taxi raises $40 million   Easy Taxi, a taxi calling app from Rocket Internet, has raised $40 million in a Series D funding round.   The company launched in 2011 and has roughly 185,000 drivers, with 150,000 of those added over the past year. It’s available in 160 cities across 30 countries predominantly in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.   Easy Taxi co-CEO Dennis Wang says the funding will allow the startup to continue its growth in existing markets, while also scaling its operations and improving its service so as to appeal to “more audiences and geographies”.   US cable companies say Google and Netflix biggest threat to net neutrality   In a filing to the US Federal Communications Commission, Time Warner Cable claimed that the controversy over internet providers potentially charging websites for access to “fast lanes” on the internet is a “red herring”.   It says the real danger is that Google or Netflix could start demanding payments from internet providers, as customers expect access to the most popular websites, an internet provider would have no choice but to pay.   The National Cable and Telecommunications Association says a relatively connected group of large internet companies such as Google, Netflix, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and Facebook have enormous and growing power over people’s ability to access what they want on the net.

Apple iPad and Samsung duopoly slips as tablet market grows 11%: IDC

7:57PM | Sunday, 27 July

Tablet sales surged by 11% year-on-year during the second quarter of 2014, despite sales of Apple’s iPad plunging by 9.3% over the same period, according to new figures from IDC.   The figures, compiled from IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker, shows total shipments of tablets grew to 49.3 million units during the second quarter, up from 44.4 million a year earlier. The figures include sales of both traditional slate tablets, as well as “two-in-one” devices such as the Microsoft Surface.   Apple remains the largest competitor with a market share of 26.9%. However, its worldwide shipments for the quarter dropped to 13.3 million units, down from 14.6 million for the same quarter a year earlier.   Despite Apple’s falls, Samsung’s sales remained close to flat, growing from 8.4 million units a year ago to 8.5 million for the same quarter this year. Despite the small increase in volume, the South Korean tech giant’s market share dipped from 18.8% to 17.2%.   The big winner in the market was third-place Lenovo, which saw its tablet volumes grow 64.7%, from 1.5 million units during the second quarter of 2013 to 2.4 million this year.   Rounding out the top five were Asus, which shipped 2.3 million units during the quarter, and Acer, which shipped 1 million.   The 21.9 million units is divided between a range of smaller Android and Windows tablet makers, including Microsoft, with each shipping less than 1 million units.   In a statement, IDC research analyst Jitesh Ubrani says Apple and Samsung’s stranglehold over the tablet market is slipping.   “Until recently, Apple, and to a lesser extent Samsung, have been sitting at the top of the market, minimally impacted by the progress from competitors," Ubrani says.   "Now we are seeing growth amongst the smaller vendors and a levelling of shares across more vendors as the market enters a new phase.”   Image credit: Flickr/ m01229

How the internet was a big reset button for business

7:59AM | Thursday, 24 July

"Every large company is just another color of a spore in a petri dish."   In the latest ‘Decoding the New Economy’ video, internet pioneer Doc Searls discusses The Respect Network, online privacy and the future of business on the web.   Doc Searls is one of the internet's pioneers who helped write The Cluetrain Manifesto, which laid out many of the ideas that underpinned the philosophies driving the early days of the internet.   Searls' visit to Sydney was part of the rolling worldwide launch of the Respect Network, a system designed to improve internet users' privacy through 'personal clouds' of information where people can choose to share data with companies and others.   A big reset button for business   In many ways The Respect Network shows how the internet has evolved since the days of the Cluetrain Manifesto, something that Searls puts in context.   "We wrote the Cluetrain Manifesto in 1995," says Searls. "At that time Microsoft ruled the world, Apple was considered a failure – Steve Jobs had come along and they had the iMac but it was all yet to be proven – Google barely existed and Facebook didn't exist at all."   "On the one hand we saw the internet, we being the four authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto, and this whole new thing in the world that basically hit a big reset button on 'business as usual'."   "It did that. I think we're vindicated on that."   New giants, new data   "What we have now are new industrial giants; Apple became an industrial giant, Microsoft are fading away, Nokia was the number one smartphone company and they're all but gone."   One of the key things with today's markets in Searls' view is the amount of information that businesses can collect on their customers; something that ties into the original Cluetrain idea of all markets being conversations.   With the evolution of Big Data and the internet of things, Searls sees challenges for companies using old marketing methods which rely upon online tracking. Something that's a challenge for social media services and many of the existing internet giants.   "The interesting thing is there's a lot more intelligence that a company can get directly from their customers from things they already own than following us around on the internet."   Breaking the silos   Searls also sees the current trend towards the internet being divided into little empires as a passing phase, "every company wants a unique offering but we need standards."   For Searls, the key thing about the current era of the internet is we're only at the beginning of a time that empowers the individual, "the older I get, the earlier it seems."   "Anyone of us can do anything," Searls says. "That's the power – I'm optimistic about everything."   This article first appeared on SmartCompany.

NEWS WRAP: ‘Strong sales of iPhone and Mac’ boost Apple’s third quarter revenue

7:25PM | Tuesday, 22 July

Apple has reported its third quarter results, posting a quarterly revenue of $37.4 billion and a quarterly net profit of $7.7 billion, or $1.28 per diluted share.   International sales drove 59% of the quarter’s revenue.   Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook says the company’s revenue in the quarter “was fuelled by strong sales of iPhone and Mac and continued growth of revenue from the Apple ecosystem”, which drove “the company’s highest EPS growth rate in seven quarters”.   “We are incredibly excited about the upcoming releases of iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, as well as other new products and services that we can’t wait to introduce,” he says.   Microsoft Cloud drives strong fourth quarter results Microsoft has announced revenue of $23.38 billion for the quarter ended June 30, posting a gross margin of $15.79 billion, an operating income of $6.48 billion, and diluted earnings per share of $0.55 per share.   Microsoft chief executive officer Satya Nadella says the company’s focus cloud technology was behind the strong results.   “I’m proud that our aggressive move to the cloud is paying off – our commercial cloud revenue doubled again this year to a $4.4 billion annual run rate,” he says.   Timehop raises $10 million Timehop, an app that serves as a personal “today in history” memo by sourcing social networking photos and posts from your past has raised $10 million in new funding, TechCrunch reports.   The Series B funding round was led by Shasta Ventures with the participation of previous investors Spark and O’Reilly Tech Ventures and angel investors including Randi Zuckerberg.   Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 61.81 to 17,113.54. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US94 cents.

How selfies can be used to diagnose anaemia

7:15PM | Thursday, 17 July

Selfies may now be used as a simple and easily accessible tool to detect anaemia, thanks to the efforts of two Monash University medicine students.   Jarrel Seah and Jennifer Tang’s startup Eyenaemia uses technology that allows a user to take a photo of their eye using a smartphone, from which it’s able to calculate that person’s risk of anaemia.   Anaemia is a deficiency in the number or quality of red blood cells, which can be dangerous if left untreated.   Symptoms include tiredness, breathlessness and pale skin.   Eyenaemia is a world finalist in Microsoft’s Imagine Cup program. Seah and Tang will fly to Seattle in July to compete later this month.   Seah and Tang – who are both in their fifth year of studying medicine – came up with the idea while on a placement at a general practitioner in Mildura.   Tang says they came to realise how many people would need to come in for a blood test, often commuting considerable distances and at quite an inconvenience.   “We know that worldwide there are approximately 2 billion people with anaemia and it’s often very silent, but it can have consequences like heart failure, lung failure, and can continue undetected if you don’t see a doctor,” he says.   “The thing with anaemia is if you do pick it up early it can be preventable. Our app is trying to help early detection.”   Seah is a game designer in his spare time, while Tang says she has a passion for web design, and it was this basis, along with their knowledge in medicine, that allowed them to approach the problem from a unique angle.   “I think that’s what makes us a little bit different, going from that medical perspective, to being able to create a solution and try to work out if we can make it work,” Tang says.   Juggling such a venture while studying medicine hasn’t been difficult, despite the obvious time constraints.   “I think for both of us, when you kind of enjoy spending the time that way, when you really love doing something, you just keep doing it,” Tang says.   “Doing things after hours or whenever you can, fitting it in for both of us can be challenging, but we both love doing it.”   Microsoft Australia director of developer experience Sarah Vaughan says over the years Microsoft’s Imagine Cup has showcased many amazing ways technology can be used to solve real-world problems and Team Eyenaemia is another great example.   “The selection of Team Eyenaemia to represent Australia at the world finals later this month showcases Australian innovation at its finest,” she says.   “The beauty of the app for the Windows Phone lies in its simplicity and takes advantage of the platform to address the real need in discovering early onset anaemia.”  

Bill Gates reveals his top six books for 2014

7:00PM | Wednesday, 16 July

He might be the world’s richest person, but did you know Bill Gates is an avid reader?   The billionaire co-founder of Microsoft releases a list of six recommended books at the start of each US summer. And his endorsements have weight: the books climb up the bestseller charts as soon as Gates reveals his picks via his blog.   While the six books Gates has picked this year are not all manuals for business—there’s a debut novel by a Melbourne author on the list—taken together they give some insights into the mind of one the most successful businessmen of recent times.   Here’s Bill Gates’ annual summer reading list:   Business Adventures by John Brooks Gates says his close friend Warren Buffett first recommended this book to him in 1991, “and it’s still the best business book I’ve ever read”.   “Even though Brooks wrote more than four decades ago, he offers sharp insights into timeless fundamentals of business, like the challenge of building a large organisation, hiring people with the right skills, and listening to customers’ feedback,” says Gates.   “He is also a masterful storyteller, peppering his articles with compelling portraits of everyone from General Electric executives to the founder of Piggly Wiggly groceries … I wish all business writing were half as good.”   While you won’t find a hard copy of Brooks’ book in your local bookshop as it is out of print, the e-book version is readily available.   Stress Test by Timothy F Geithner Gates says it’s ironic that Timothy F Geithner, who was accused of lacking in communication skills during his tenure as the US Treasury Secretary, has written such a good book.   “Geithner paints a compelling human portrait of what it was like to be fighting a global financial meltdown while at the same time fighting critics inside and outside the administration as well as his own severe guilt over his near-total absence from his family,” says Gates.   But despite the ugliness of “the politics of fighting financial crises”, Gates says if more people read about the background of financial crises, it just might make a difference next time around.   The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin Gates says he read a lot about US President Theodore Roosevelt last year, but Goodwin’s book is a standout.   What interests him most about this biography is the central question: How does social change happen?   “Can it be driven by a single inspirational leader, or do other factors have to lay the groundwork first?” asks Gates. While some leaders can make a difference on their own, Gates says Roosevelt’s political reforms only really took off once he had the support of others, including members of the media.     The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion   It’s high praise for debut Melbourne author and former data modeller Graeme Simsion to make Gates’ list with his tale of a genetics professor with Asperger’s Syndrome on the lookout for a wife.   “It’s one of the most enjoyable novels I’ve read in a long time,” says Gates. “I started it myself at 11pm one Saturday and stayed up with it until three the next morning … It’s a funny and profound book about being comfortable with who you are and what you’re good at.”   Simsion’s book has been published and translated in more than 30 markets since its publication in Australia in early 2013, and the author has a sequel, The Rosie Effect, on the way this September.   The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert   Gates’ views on climate change are well-documented, and in the past he has spoken out about the dangers of global warming as well as invested in potential climate solutions. So it’s no surprise that one of the books on his list would be about environmental challenges.   “Natural scientists posit that there have been five extinction events in the Earth’s history … and Kolbert makes a compelling case that human activity is leading to the sixth,” says Gates.   “Unlike a lot of people who write about the environment, Kolbert doesn’t resort to hype. She just lays out the facts and wraps them in memorable anecdotes. It’s a sobering but engaging and informative read.”   Reinventing American Health Care: How the Affordable Care Act Will Improve Our Terribly Complex, Blatantly Unjust, Outrageously Expensive, Grossly Inefficient, Error Prone System by Ezekiel J Emanuel   Emanuel is one of the architects of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and Gates recommends this book to “anyone involved in the debate over health care, no matter what their point of view is”.   “Although he was deeply involved in its creation, Emanuel is good about making it clear when he’s educating you about the history of health care and when he’s advocating for his ideas,” says Gates. “And unlike a lot of experts, he’s willing to make predictions about how health care will change in coming years.”   This article originally appeared on SmartCompany.

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.

How to build a virtual reality system – in your living room

7:13AM | Thursday, 3 July

Virtual reality is no longer the expensive, cumbersome exercise it once was. Google Cardboard, launched at last week’s Google I/O conference, is a no-frills, cardboard frame that, when used with open software, transforms a smartphone into a basic virtual reality headset.   But for a more immersive experience, hobbyists can build their own virtual reality system in their living room using equipment they already have (and if not, can buy relatively inexpensively).   All you need to beam yourself onto the bridge of the USS Enterprise or into Jerry Seinfeld’s apartment is:   a computer an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset a Microsoft Kinect for Windows motion sensor a battery headphones a tablet with software used to create and develop videogames (also know as a game engine).   A stroll through virtual reality history   The term “virtual reality” was initially coined by American computer scientist Jaron Lanier in 1989 to describe a three-dimensional, computer-generated environment which a person can explore and interact with.   Virtual reality quickly attracted media attention and inspired films such as the The Lawnmower Man in 1992 and Disclosure in 1994 – but this fuelled expectations of virtual reality that couldn’t be met by the technology available at the time.   Virtual reality gaming interfaces such as the Virtuality HMD headset in 1991, Cybermaxx VR in 1994 and Nintendo’s Virtual Boy in 1995 left many enthusiasts of the technology disappointed, and often quite dizzy.   Systems that enable users to walk and interact in the space are generally expensive (to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars), unsuited to routine use and obtrusive, so it’s unsurprising that virtual reality has mostly remained in the laboratory.   Virtual roaming at home   To make virtual reality practical for home use, you need a system that is inexpensive, easy to set up, does not encumber the user and works in a lounge room-sized area.   The availability of head-mounted displays such as the Oculus Rift, motion tracking devices such as the Microsoft Kinect and game engines such as Unity 3D or UDK are a step into the right direction.   The Kickstarter success of the Oculus Rift in 2012 reinvigorated the appetite for virtual reality experiences and paved the way for new wave of virtual reality head-mounted displays such as the Sony Morpheus and the Google Cardboard.   The Nintendo Wii and the Microsoft Kinect have already started a revolution in home gaming by getting the gamer out of the chair. The Kinect tracks the user’s movement in the living room in seconds without the need for special markers or lengthy calibration.   Ultra-light tablet computers are also becoming more powerful and are now capable to render convincing three dimensional environments at acceptable frame rates.   Okay, I’ve got the goods. Now what?   SpaceWalk is a platform developed by researchers in the GEELab at RMIT University that allows a user to physically walk around and interact in a virtual environment. The platform uses two systems:   a virtual reality backpack a separate tracking station.   The tracking station consists of a standard desktop computer connected to Kinect. The Kinect has a practical tracking area of approximately 6m2, about the size of most people’s living rooms. It can track movements as little as 1.3mm when users are close to the sensor and 6mm at the end of its tracking range.   The user’s backpack contains an external phone charger battery pack [B] connected to the Oculus Rift controller box [C] via a USB to DC Barrel Jack [E] and provides the Oculus Rift [A] with power. The Oculus Rift connects via HDMI [G] to the tablet computer [D].   The platform is only meant at this point to serve as an experimental setup and users have to move slowly in the space as particularly fast movements have the potential to induce nausea. Frame rates, screen resolutions, tracking accuracy and latency are expected to improve with the availability of new hardware.   The Oculus Developer’s Kit 2 already promises refresh rates of up to 75Hz and a third higher screen resolution of 960 x 1080 pixels per eye. Similarly, the Kinect 2 for Windows features more accurate user tracking and a larger practical tracking area.   Moving and interacting naturally in virtual reality creates an extraordinary sense of immersion that cannot be experienced sitting down, and the experience of walking and interacting in a virtual game space has been explored by number of recent projects.   Apart from Architectural Visualisation and Industrial Training, defending yourself against a horde of zombies is a popular use case that has been explored by Project Holodeck and ZeroLatency.   On a similar vein, participants could experience vertigo using a setup developed by Inition at the 2013 Digital Shoreditch Festival.   If encountering your worst nightmare within the confines of a few square metres is not enough, users can explore the vast expanse of their virtual world on foot with an omni-directional treadmill.   To understand how virtual reality can be become a useful extension of our real world, the technology must break the boundaries of the dedicated virtual reality laboratory and become accessible by a wider user group with a variety of backgrounds and motivations.   We have just begun to realise the potential of virtual reality and there are many strange new worlds for us to explore. Stefan Greuter does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.   This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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.

To backup or not to backup – there really is no question

6:28AM | Thursday, 26 June

There’s a scandal brewing in the US – a scandal that might be as big as Watergate was. And it all hinges on NOT backing up.   The short story of the investigation: The Democrats (and potentially President Obama) might have been using the IRS (the US tax office) to target their political adversaries.   It all hinges on two years of emails that were ‘lost’ in a hard disk crash. The loss of emails is at best “convenient” for the Democrats – at worst it’s a cover-up that leads all the way to the top. Time will tell.   And the issue surrounds why such a large government department does not have a good (or any) backup system. They expect you to keep all your tax information for seven years but they don’t have a backup storage system in place?   There’s a lesson for every small business in this story. There is no excuse for not backing up your emails. In fact, there’s no excuse for not backing up ALL your electronic business assets.   Are you backing up your emails?   Losing emails is not only embarrassing, but it shows a lack of professionalism. Up until a few years ago – while we were all hooked on Microsoft software and Outlook to manage our emails – the best solution was to regularly export our emails, archive them and then save the files on a backup hard drive in the office.   For the most part, that was fine. But what if, heaven forbid, the office was burgled, flooded or burnt down. Don’t laugh, we received an email from a client last year whose front room office WAS destroyed by a runaway truck!   Today there’s a better solution. Manage your emails online. That doesn’t mean have a Yahoo, Gmail or Hotmail email address but you can direct all your emails through an online service. Here at Legal123 we use Google Apps for Business. We pay a small monthly fee for each user and all our emails are automatically backed up.   And because we’re lawyers and we take these things seriously, we pay for another additional upgraded Google backup service, called Vault. You don’t need to do both but should consider at least one backup service.   Are you backing up your documents?   Now here’s a scary statistic: the annual failure rate of the average consumer hard drive is between 4-6%. I’ve experienced two hard disk failures in my working career – both were traumatic and lessons have been learned.   Happily the second time, we had online backup services to the rescue. They ensure that whenever your computer is connected to the internet, all the documents on your hard drive are backed up automatically, real-time.   After my last hard disk crash, I was able to recover all my documents – downloaded overnight from the online backup service – within 24 hours.   There are a couple of good high profile online backup services out there that we know of. We use Carbonite at Legal123 but there’s also Mozy and CrashPlan. For a small monthly fee you get peace of mind.   Are you backing up your website?   The most important backup should be your business website. It is your livelihood and it is worth the cost of a backup fee. With your website, the danger these days is not necessarily a hard disk crash but being ‘hacked’. It seems to be happening more and more frequently and it happened to us – out of the blue, one of our websites was peppered with online ads for Viagra!   Many website hosting services include website backup. But you need to check and often it is not included in the regular basic hosting fees but is an additional cost.   The most professional website hosting services will be taking “snapshots” of your website every day. You should be able to log into your host and see the backups and download them at any time, just in case. This way, if you are ‘hacked’ you’ll be able to roll-back to the last daily backup point before the hack and go from there.   Note: We’re not techies, we’re just lawyers. So please forgive us if some of the terms or details aren’t quite right in this article. But this is what we’ve learned over the years about the importance of backing up and not leaving it to chance. Take the time, spend the small amount and protect your business.

Want to improve your VCE English score? There’s an app for that

6:33AM | Monday, 30 June

Benchmarked is a new online tutoring service startup that hopes to help Victorian VCE English students “smash the system”.   The startup, which launched earlier this year, enables students to submit practice essays online to be marked by “benchmarkers” a team of markers all of whom have received perfect scores in VCE English in the past two years.   Students have a number of options when it comes to the amount of feedback they get on essays they submit, ranging from $24, which buys you a mark out of 10 and extensive feedback, or a $75 “redo” which ‘transforms your essay into a high-range response’.   Co-founder Ari Wenig says he and his fellow co-founders, all of whom attended private schools and completed their VCE in 2012, realised they knew things about VCE English that teachers might not be able to help with.   “We became a bit obsessed with English in year 12, trying to understand the system and what the markers really want with people,” Wenig says.   “Something really cool about benchmarks that no one gets in education is fresh insight from someone who has succeeded themselves.   “While teachers are qualified because they’ve got the teaching degree, we feel like we’re qualified because we played the game.   “As much as I’d like to think of VCE as an educational platform, a lot of it is a game. There are tricks, tips and insights from students that teachers might not come across.”   Wenig says he feels like VCE marking can be “a little bit arbitrary” at times and benchmarked is helping students find what markers are looking for.   He says with a good teacher, English is about finding yourself as a writer and learning how to think in ways you haven’t thought before and Benchmarked is trying to balance that with “knowing which strings to pull and which corners to cut”.   Wenig says the Redo option, which offers to ‘transform an essay into a high-range response’, isn’t letting users cheat.   “I definitely wouldn’t call it cheating. Most assessments are not do at home, they’re in class, and we don’t really think students do that, those aren’t the kind of students we’re trying to target,” Wenig says.   “For so many kids, being told what to do doesn’t work, you need to see it done.   “We use track changes on Microsoft Word so when we edit, you can see exactly what’s been changed, exactly what’s been wrong.   “It’s less about giving the student a finished product, but showing them what their own writing can be.”

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.

Amazon’s Fire Phone launch offers a warm platform for growth

6:36AM | Thursday, 19 June

Amazon, the e-commerce internet giant, is launching its first smartphone. Media attention is focusing on whether the phone’s features, such as its rumoured 3D interface, are really as cool as portrayed in its trailer video which aims to wow early users. But by entering into the fray of an already hyper-competitive mobile phone industry, Amazon is doing a lot more than adding another gee-whizz feature to a smartphone.   This launch tells us a great deal about CEO Jeff Bezos' strategy for his company – and what it might mean for the future of competition and innovation in our increasingly digital world.   First, let’s ask the obvious questions. Why is Amazon, known for internet retailing and related software development, entering a hardware market where leading incumbents like Nokia have already failed? After all, what does Amazon know about the telecoms business? Can it succeed where Google has failed?   We have seen Google, which has virtually limitless financial resources, enter the mobile phone handset industry by purchasing Motorola Mobile in 2012, only to take a heavy loss after selling it on less than two years later. Even incumbent firms who had a very strong set of phone-making capabilities have taken tough hits in this turbulent market – witness Nokia’s dramatic plunge, which led to a sale of its mobile phone business to Microsoft.   Platform Number 1   You cannot understand Amazon’s move without situating it in the broader context of platform competition. Platforms, these fundamental technologies such as Google search, Facebook and the Apple iPhone, are the building blocks of our digital economy. They act as a foundation on top of which thousands of innovators worldwide develop complementary products and services and facilitate transactions between increasingly larger networks of users, buyers and sellers. Platform competition is the name of the game in hi-tech industries today.   The top-valued digital companies in the world (Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook) are all aggressively pursuing platform strategies. App developers and other producers of complementary services or products provide the armies that sustain the vibrancy and competitiveness of these platforms by adding their products to them. The more users a platform has, the more these innovators will be attracted to developing for them. The more complements available, the more valuable the platform becomes to users. It is these virtuous cycles – positive feedback loops, or “network effects” – that fuel the growth of platforms and transform them into formidable engines of growth for the companies and developers associated with them.   The smartphone is a crucial digital platform. Achieving platform leader status in this space is a competitive position all the hi-tech giants are fighting for. Google has its ubiquitous Android operating system, Apple has shaped the whole market with the iPhone, Microsoft has purchased Nokia’s phone business, and Facebook has invested $19 billion in WhatsApp among other acquisitions for its growing platform.   In fact, I suppose I should have rephrased my question a little earlier – why hasn’t Amazon already staked its claim to lead this digital space after having launched its Kindle Fire tablet and Fire TV set-top box?   Opening the door   Simply put, the smartphone is the main gateway to the internet today, and, in the hand of billions of users throughout the world, is the physical embodiment of a conduit that links those users to each other and to the whole content of the internet. There are almost 7 billion mobile phones in the world (and only 1 billion bank accounts). And the trend is staggering. Mobile payment transaction value surpassed $235 billion worldwide in 2013, and is growing at 40% a year, with the share of mobile transactions already reaching 20% of all worldwide transactions.   So, while risky, Amazon’s entry into the smartphone business is a classic play: a platform leader entering an adjacent platform market that is also complementary to its primary business. All platform leaders aim to stimulate complementary innovation (think how video game console makers aim to stimulate the provision of videogames), and they often attempt not to compete too much with their complementors in order to preserve innovation incentives. But at some point all platform leaders start to enter these complementary markets themselves. Google has done it through Android, Apple has done it with iTunes, Facebook has done it with Facebook Home.   It happens when platform leaders feel threatened by competition in their core market, or when they want to steer demand, competition and innovation in a particular direction. The idea is to use their own user base as well as their own content and technologies to create an unassailable bundle, one that is difficult for external competitors to break into. Think of it as creating barriers to entry, while expanding the core market.   The reasoning behind entering a complementary market is well known, and related to the benefits of bundling. In the case of hi-tech platforms, the benefits are even stronger. By optimising and controlling the interface between a platform and complements, a company can have a structuring impact on the evolution of the platform ecosystem – and that means on all the innovators around the world that invest and make efforts to develop complementary products and services.   In your hands   So, these are the reasons why Amazon is entering the mobile phone market, despite the difficulties inherent in taking on an über-competitive market. This strategic choice makes a lot of sense.   As to whether Amazon has a fighting chance of succeeding, there are reasons to be optimistic. Beyond its deep financial resources, Amazon has learned something of what it takes in the development and successful commercialisation of various versions of the Kindle. That has given it expertise in hardware, on top of its software background, and should prove a useful training ground to allow it to launch other consumer products such as the smartphone.   But the ultimate judge will be you, gentle readers. Will you be willing to swap your favourite mobile phone for a yet another new kid on the block, even if it does let you browse Amazon’s ever-growing catalogue in splendid 3D?   Annabelle Gawer is Associate Professor in Strategy and Innovation at Imperial College Business School.   This story was originally published at The Conversation. Read the

THE NEWS WRAP: GHash moves to become miner of choice for bitcoin

6:16PM | Sunday, 15 June

For the first time in bitcoin’s history, a single entity has repeatedly provided more than half of the computing power required to mine new bitcoins.   If the entity known as GHash, which describes itself as the number one crypto and bitcoin mining pool, continues to retain that majority it would be the end of the crypto currency’s decentralized structure.   Bitcoin wallet apps re-enter Apple app store   In line with a recent shift in policy by Apple, a new bitcoin wallet app has been made available in its App Store.   The app, Coinpocket, allows users to do anything they could do on previously available iPhone wallet apps like Coinbase and Blockchain, which had been removed from the iTunes store.   Last week, Apple updated its policy to include approved digital currencies.   Tech giants unite against US search warrants   Apple, Cisco, Verizon, AT&T and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are backing Microsoft’s effort to prevent the United States government from using search warrants to demand data that’s not stored in the United States.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 41.55 to 16,775.74. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US94 cents.

Will Apple’s HealthKit and Health app empower or frustrate?

6:00PM | Tuesday, 10 June

If you thought that self-tracking and the collection of personal health and fitness metrics was just a fad then an announcement last week by Apple CEO Tim Cook at the annual Apple Worldwide Developers Conference might suggest otherwise.   A Health app and a developer tool named HealthKit, which is designed to serve as a hub to allow various health apps and fitness tracking devices to “talk” to one another, have been included in iOS 8.   But are these “new” developments from Apple really all that new – and do they indicate that matching hardware in the form of wearables is next on Apple’s launch list?   What Apple and partners such as the Mayo Clinic envisage is, for example, an app that monitors heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar or cholesterol. It would then be able to seamlessly share data with a hospital app or directly with healthcare professionals.   Building a technical infrastructure to develop health apps, or to enable the sharing of information between various third party apps, is an ambitious task.   Both Microsoft and Samsung are already entering the field of wearables with announcements of plans to release smart watches.   Apple’s latest offering adds to the speculation of the long awaited iWatch with reports in could be released as soon as October.   Meanwhile the latest advertisement (below) for the iPhone 5S shows people using a variety of wearable products already on the market.   The benefits of aggregating health and fitness data in this way are fairly clear in terms of how medical histories will be taken, how they are shared and the aggregation of personal data. It should provide better experience for those who use personal metrics in various aspect of their daily lives.   What’s in a brand name?   Some of the celebratory hype around HealthKit was overshadowed by an Australian start up which took Apple to task for using the same name of their practice and patient management software.   In a blog post the Melbourne-based company was both flattered and annoyed that Apple had used its established brand name:   They didn’t feel that they had to do a quick domain search – it would have taken 5 seconds to type www.healthkit.com into their browser and discover us. Would it have made any difference to them? Are they so big that they are above doing an ordinary Google search?   We might also wonder what other issues Apple’s health data aggregation system might face beyond this naming fiasco.   When a user opens any of Apple’s HealthKit enabled apps the information they produce will be housed in database and is immutable and read-only. What this means for developers is that apps can be developed which can collect and analyse this data in a variety of pre-determined ways.   Permissions and privacy   This highlights a range of problems that are likely to implicate and frustrate users, health care professionals and administrators. Naturally issues of privacy are likely to be significant factor in how well Apple’s health apps actually work.   Developers will need to seek end-user permissions to collect data on their behalf when they build Apple’s HealthKit into their apps, which means spelling out exactly which permissions they are seeking.   Given the whole logic of HealthKit assumes, to some degree, an interoperability between applications and datasets, it would be fair to suggest that there are likely to be gaps between what the technical capacities and outcomes for end-users.   Take for instance an app that has been designed to use a measurement from one device and ignore data on that same variable from another device. Or a user may grant access to a third party app to their pedometer data but this might not mean that the same app has the permissions to access other variables to produce meaningful data (such as location, heart rate, age, weight or gender).   Not so healthy competition   Vendors operating in this market will compete not only at the level of the brand but also at the level of components, algorithm and databases. An app might use Nike Fuel Band data over Fitbit when it takes calorie data to make some or another secondary calculation based on that data.   Organisations such as Microsoft are also partnering with developers who are designing apps available for medical practitioners to use in telemedicine and the consulting room.   This tethering of devices and data to proprietary platforms (Apple vs Microsoft) means that patients and doctors might need to use a certain product and patients might be restricted in terms of what systems they can use to track their health.   The trade-off of openness to get systems to market quickly is going to make attracting users and developers difficult and makes Apple’s (and others) vision of health data aggregation far less attractive or whole.   Suneel Jethani is a PhD candidate and lecturer in the media and communications program in the school of culture and communication at the University of Melbourne. This story was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

Swift: How Apple’s new coding language lives up to its name

6:51AM | Tuesday, 10 June

As Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) winds up in San Francisco today, 1,000 Apple engineers and 5,000 developers will return to their parts of the world armed with Apple’s own programming language.   In his keynote on Monday, Apple CEO Tim Cook unveiled – among other new developments – programming language Swift and claimed it to be a significantly faster code for development across iOS and OSX.   Apple is the latest tech firm to produce their own programming language (Google and Microsoft also have their own languages) and Swift can be used by Apple developers as of today with 677 pages of documentation available in the iBooks store.   But why would a company want their own programing language – especially when existing, general purpose codes such as Objective-C and C have been successfully used for 20 years?   So what’s so good about Swift?   It pretty much comes down to speed.   While Apple (and other companies) supply the hardware, developers ultimately bring the most utility value out of technologies. The faster developers can code, the more apps can be created.   So let’s have a look at why Swift is the next big thing (and why developers should take the time to learn a new language, as it were):   Swift is much easier to code with. Swift looks much “cleaner” than traditional code. In addition to getting rid of nested brackets and semicolons (which makes code look very complex and harder to maintain), programmers can now use inferred types, which means that variables and constants can be declared without necessarily specifying the data type.   Developers can reduce debugging time over mundane and trivial errors (if you’re interested in the nitty-gritty, Swift manages unsafe codes by self-managing memory, preventing overflows – in arrays, for example – and properly handling nil objects).   It also means that new developers can be spared the need to learn Objective-C’s complex and verbose syntaxes (but Swift will sit alongside existing Objective-C and C codes).   Swift is fast and powerful. Fast programming is a key ingredient in Apple’s new hardware and software capabilities. Swift codes will be compiled using the same high-performance compiler, and it will be run natively to combine the best features from Objective-C and C.   Based on the presentation in WWDC, we saw statistics showing complex algorithms can be run much faster than Objective-C.   Swift supports “interactive playgrounds”. “Interactive playgrounds” allow developers to immediately see the results of changing codes and keep track of progress timelines. This is particularly useful for debugging complex loops, algorithms and animations.   Speaking of new developments …   As widely expected, Apple joins Google and Microsoft’s moves towards delivering health and home automation applications, as well as supporting stronger integration between native features (such as Siri and Notification View) and third-party apps and sensors.   The Health app joins Samsung’s Gear Fit, Nike and Fitbit to bring health and fitness data, measured by mobile and wearable devices, into our palms.   A new tool for developers called HealthKit adds to the standard activity, heart rate and diet measurements by allowing developers to create third-party apps and sensors to measure factors such as blood pressure and sleep patterns.   Users can also create emergency cards with important health information such as allergies and blood types, accessible from the lock screen and emergency call screen.   Another development tool – HomeKit – will let us control aspects of our homes (such as lights and temperature) using our phones.   To enable natural interactions with our phone for home and health apps, iOS has evolved to allow Siri be hands free, similar to its Android counterpart Google Now.   We could say: “Hey Siri, I’m ready for bed”, then the lights will automatically dim for sleep and the phone will go into “do not disturb” mode – perhaps even playing our favourite relaxing music.   With the introduction of Swift, we can expect to see more apps than ever – truly building upon Apple’s 2007 slogan, “There’s an app for everything”.   Dian Tjondronegoro is an Associate Professor of Mobile Multimedia at Queensland University of Technology. This story was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

THE NEWS WRAP: Long-awaited Amazon smartphone likely to be unveiled on June 18

6:39AM | Thursday, 5 June

Amazon is holding a product announcement on June 18 which is likely regarding its long-rumoured smartphone.   The company posted a video to YouTube which teases the device.   It will likely run a heavily modified version of Android just like the company’s Kindle Fire tablets.   Former Microsoft exec joins GoPro as president   GoPro has named former Microsoft executive Tony Bates as president and added him to its board.   The 47-yearold Bates will join the company as second in command, reporting to GoPro founder and chief executive officer Nicholas Woodman.   Bates left Microsoft in March after he was passed over for the CEO job that went to colleague Satya Nadella.   Apple allows all apps to use Safari’s JavaScript Engine in iOS 8   When iOS 7 was launched developers discovered that their apps with built-in web browsers were unable to achieve the same level of JavaScript performance as the stock Safari app as Apple restricted the use of its improved Nitro JavaScript engine to its own app.   That decision has been reversed with iOS 8 and all apps will now be able to use the same improved JavaScript engine.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 15.19 to 16,737.53. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US93 cents.

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