Google has taken the idea of a company reorganisation to a new level with a restructure that sees the creation of a new overall parent company called Alphabet. Founder Larry Page will be Alphabet’s CEO with his co-founder Sergey Brin, its President. Sundar Pinchai will become the new CEO of the existing Google company. Google itself will be slimmed down and will become one of the subsidiary companies, along with: Calico – a biotech focused on life extension Sidewalk – smart cities or urban innovation Nest – home automation Fiber – internet provider Google Ventures and Google Capital – investment and venture capital Incubator projects – including Google X and others What’s in a name? Alphabet’s new url, https://abc.xyz/, reflects the quirkiness of the new structure, although this may have been because the domain alphabet.com has already been claimed. In fact, Alphabet’s creation has spurred a race to create domains, Twitter, Instagram and other social media accounts that Google may want. An earlier Twitter account, @aIphabetinc (with a capital “i” instead of an “l”), was mistaken as Alphabet’s official account and has now been suspended. Another account, @GoogleAlphabet is likely to meet the same fate. There are a range of business reasons why the restructure makes some sense. First and foremost, Google found it difficult to justify the diversity of its interests when its primary moneymaking business is online advertising. So being a division rolling out high speed internet within a company that is focused on advertising proved a very tough sell. There is a difference in priorities, culture and, ultimately, moneymaking objectives. Being a separate company increases transparency and allows it to develop its technology and products in its own way. Three other possibilities exist for what triggered the creation of the new structure. The first is that it is simply another way of reducing tax and the second that it is the imposition of financial discipline by Google’s CFO Ruth Porat. The third reason is based on rumours that Twitter was desperate to hire Sundar Pinchai as its new CEO and that Google decided to clear the path so that he could be CEO of Google. The last reason seems a little far fetched, given that being the CEO of Twitter wouldn’t be a particularly attractive proposition given its difficulties in turning a profit. What does it spell? Google Searching for a purpose Ever since search, where Google has dominated, it has had great difficulty in achieving anywhere near the same success with any other technology. This has led to an almost shotgun approach to its technological purchases which have been as diverse as home thermostats from Nest to weaponised robots from its acquisition of Boston Dynamics. Buying into these areas, and others, seemed to have had more to do with the personal interests of Page and Brin than a meaningful business strategy or technological vision. Splitting its diverse technological portfolio into separate companies makes each company responsible for a particular line of business, and more importantly, for their profit and loss. However, as separate companies, they lose the opportunity to share skills and knowledge that they may have had when they were all under one corporate structure. Having everything separate makes that much harder. Worse, the companies could end up competing against each other. Show me the money Another problem with this structure is the imbalance of where the money for the overall structure comes from. 90% of Google’s revenues are from advertising. All of the revenue will continue to be generated from Google. The only way that any of the other companies will be able to get access to money to expand and invest would be from the parent company, and it is not clear how that will work. Google may see itself as an advanced technology company with diverse interests, like cars, home automation and internet infrastructure, but ultimately, it is still an advertising company. All of its technology underpins that single fact. Its mobile platform Android is a sophisticated electronic billboard for its ads. YouTube is all about delivering content in order to display yet more ads, and even its autonomous cars could be argued to be a precursor for advertising to passengers without the distraction of having to actually drive. Google’s attempts in the past to branch out into new businesses have not fared particularly well. Its wearable spectacles, Google Glass, never lived up to expectations and its foray into producing mobile phones with the Motorola acquisition ended as badly for them as Microsoft’s failed attempt with Nokia. Nothing about this restructure suggests any new coherent technological strategy on Google’s part. Rather, it provides a way for Google to experiment with “Moon shots” that can live, thrive and possibly die, in a sandbox without impacting the central business. Splitting the companies and making them financially responsible for their futures could work out better for Google, but it replaces an existing set of known problems with new and perhaps even more challenging ones in their place. David Glance is Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice at University of Western Australia. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
With the recent acquisition by Facebook of voice-recognition company Wit.ai, all four major players in the post-PC market (Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook) now have a significant infrastructure for hands-free communication with your device. But what will that mean for our communication with our devices? Is voice just another method to talk to your computer, or are we on the cusp of a revolution in computer communication? How old is your keyboard, anyway? The humble computer mouse was created in the 1960s by engineer Doug Engelbart. The keyboard, through its ancestor the teleprinter, is even older, having been developed in the 1900s by mechanical engineer Charles Krum and connected to a video display terminal that owes its ancestry to a device developed in the 1930s. Despite the age of these devices, they still remain the main input devices for your personal computer on your desk or laptop. Sure, they have more buttons, or more colours, or higher resolution, but the basic input mechanism for the average home computer is the same now as it was in 1984 when the Macintosh became the first commercially available computer to provide a graphical user interface and mouse and keyboard input. Even the multi-touch screen, made famous by the iPhone and other devices in 2007, could be considered a direct descendant of the mouse, simply moving control of the pointer from an indirect method on your desk to a more direct method on the screen. But perhaps that is all about to change, with voice-recognition technology finally becoming important to the main players and other technology changing the way we interact with computers. Your voice is your password to a world of possibilities Like the mouse and keyboard, voice-recognition technology has been around for a number of years. Commercial voice-recognition software has been available for computers since the early 1990s. But it was only with the advent of technologies such as Apple’s Siri and Google’s Voice Search around 2010 that voice recognition became part of many people’s lives. Through a natural language, context-aware interface that is always connected to the Internet, technologies such as Siri allow users to address a vast range of needs while skipping touching their device altogether. Instead, they rely on their voice to set timers, check the weather, find movie times and even query where to hide a body. In 2014, Microsoft introduced Cortana, a Siri-like competitor, meaning that all three leading smartphone platforms had voice recognition. Also in 2014, Apple introduced the “Hey Siri” feature in iOS 8, allowing users to “hail” a smartphone from across the room (as long as it’s plugged in) and ask it a question without touching any buttons at all. Finally, in 2012 Google released Google Now, an extension to Google Voice Search that provides users with contextual information prior to them requesting it, such as providing traffic information as you leave the office or a list of good restaurants to eat at when you arrive in a new town. And it’s widely rumoured that both Google and Apple have plans for voice-recognition technology in their television products as well. While these solutions sometimes have a way to go (John Malkovich surely remains the only person in history to get Siri to correctly interpret “Linguica”), they present a starkly different view from the mouse-keyboard combination of old. It surely won’t be long before users can have a standard conversation with their device, talking it through a problem rather than frantically tapping the on-screen keyboard or clicking the mouse. Blending the digital and the physical world The revolution extends beyond our voice to other devices as well. It would appear that along with replacing old-fashioned input devices, output devices like the monitor are slowly being phased out. Earlier this year, before it acquired Wit.ai, Facebook made news for acquiring pioneering virtually reality company, Oculus VR for a staggering $US2.3 billion. The major product of Oculus VR is the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset that immerses you fully in a 3D virtual experience. Using positional sensors, the Oculus Rift can track your head movements to allow you to look around the environment. The device is still in development. Given the cost of the development kit at around $A400, it’s expected that the final product will retail for less than $A500, bringing virtual reality to the everyday consumer. Even if you don’t want full immersion, new output products are making it easier for us to step in and out of a digital world without needing a computer monitor. Google Glass, still in development but having been in beta for a number of years, provides a small display that you can view while wearing the glasses. Products such as the new Android Wear watches from Motorola and others, as well as the Pebble smartwatch and upcoming Apple Watch, provide us with small, customised views into the digital world. These can all put notifications, music control, sleep and activity monitoring and all the power of those voice-control systems literally at our fingertips, all without the need to use a full input or output device. Even in your car, Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay provide a glanceable, touchscreen and voice-controlled interface to your smartphone to ensure you’re always connected to the cloud. Sensors everywhere Beyond these standard options, input devices and data-gathering devices are continuing to pop up in places that we don’t expect, making it easier to interact with your devices and control your digital world. At the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) this year, gadgets using Bluetooth Low Energy for communication with your home network abound, from a smart chair that helps you work out to a pot for your plants that monitors their vitals and allows you to apply water with a touch of a button. These add to items from the last year such as the connected toothbrush that monitors your brushing time and style and reports on how you’re doing and the Vessyl cup, a smart cup that can tell you the calorie and caffeine content of your beverages as well as keep track of your daily water intake. No longer are we tied to our keyboard and mouse to look up and record this data. Our devices will now do it for us automatically and let us know when something needs to be changed. This trend towards the Internet of Things has been brewing for a number of years, but if the CES is any indication, this year shows a real explosion in external input devices that collect data about us and feed it into the cloud. It will be interesting to see what the future brings. It could be argued that the new ways of communicating with your computer are already here, although just beginning. As the year progresses and these models mature, perhaps it won’t be long before we are speaking to our device using natural language while wearing a VR headset and being instantly alerted about the status of our plants and how much activity, sleep and caffeine we’ve had so far today. With all of these solutions, perhaps finally the old mouse and keyboard are looking mighty old-fashioned. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
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.
Futurologists are a common feature at business conferences. Unfortunately, many aren’t held accountable to how their predictions pan out. We’re all still waiting for our flying cars, clean reliable fusion power plants and 3D holograms. In November last year, I picked six new technologies that were likely to make an impact in 2014. So how did they fare? Here’s what happened: 1. Curved and flexible displays This first pick came with a caveat: “Unfortunately, getting devices with a curved or flexible screen produced on a production line designed for flat screen devices has turned out to have been far more difficult than it initially seemed… As a result, you’re unlikely to see these devices outside South Korea in the immediate future.” Sure enough, at the International CES in Las Vegas, Samsung demonstrated curved-screen TVs as the centrepiece of its display. In January, LG launched the G Flex curved-screen smartphone in Australia. Meanwhile more recently, at its Unpacked 2014 Episode 2 event alongside the IFA trade show, Samsung unveiled a new curved-edge smartphone called the Galaxy Note Edge. As predicted, there have been issues putting flexible and curved glass into mass production. However, LG Display appears to have come up with a solution: Using plastic instead of glass in a new display technology called P-OLED (Plastic-Organic Light Emitting Diode). The thin, flexible display technology helped it to create a round-screen Android Gear smartwatch called the G Watch R, along with a smartphone that has a display that runs right to the edge screen. The company expects smartphones and tablets that are designed to bend (and fold flat after being bent) to begin appearing next year, with rollable tablets, foldable-screen laptops and flexible TVs coming sometime in 2017. 2. Smart TVs Whether it’s smart TVs that run apps out of the box, set-top boxes or HDMI thumb sticks (such as Google ChromeCast), 2014 was a massive year on the smart TV front. The year kicked off at CES with LG reviving the Palm Pilot operating system (webOS) for its smart TVs and Panasonic partnering with Mozilla to put Firefox OS on its TVs. Not to be outdone, in June Google announced Android TV, a new platform for smart TV apps and content. Last month, it announced the first set-top box to use the platform, known as the Nexus Player. Also from Google, a little device known as the ChromeCast finally reached Australia in May. Amazon saw the action and said “me too”, releasing its version of the ChromeCast in October and a set-top box called Fire TV in April. So what will people watch on all these smart devices? The best news is that streaming video service Netflix is set to launch in Australia. It seems the humble “idiot box” has never been smarter than it was in 2014. 3. Smartwatches Apple Watch was announced this year. Need I say any more? Even putting Apple Watch aside, 2014 was a huge year for smartwatches. Google also announced its smartwatch platform, known as Android Wear, which in turn powers devices from a range of companies including Sony, LG, Samsung, Motorola and others. These devices are all packed with a range of apps and features – and they’ll even tell you what the time is. 4. Augmented reality glasses Google Glass got a limited public release this year with a range of fashionable frames and prescription lenses. Sony released the software development kit for its Google Glass clone. But the real big mover was a related technology called virtual reality. Jaws dropped when Facebook paid $2 billion for virtual reality device maker Oculus. Last month, Samsung announced the first consumer device based on the technology, known as Gear VR. You could say 2014 was the year augmented reality and virtual reality became a reality for consumers. 5. Home automation Google kicked off the year by launching its home automation push with the $3.2 billion takeover of smart thermostat maker Nest. The tech giant encouraged other businesses, including Australian smart-light maker LiFX, to build new devices that connected to Nest. Apple responded in June by launching HomeKit as part of iOS 8. The technology makes it easy for third-party device makers to allow their devices to be controlled with iPhones and iPads. 6. Low-end smartphones This is a topic I’ve touched on over the past couple of weeks. The short version is we’re reaching a saturation point in the smartphone market, while low-cost vendors such as Xiaomi are booming in China. The great news for consumers is, even with the Australia tax, buying an affordable smartphone has never been more affordable. Throughout the year, a range of devices (including the Moto E and Moto G, the Kogan Agora 4G and the Microsoft Lumia 635 and 530) hit the local market. Each boasted features once the preserve of high-end devices and – best of all – prices well under $300 outright. Conclusion Forget about waiting for that flying car. From smartwatches to smart TVs and low-end smartphones to home automation, the six technologies on the future gadget form guide ran a strong race in 2014. When some of this technology will make it into the average person’s home is another question. This story originally appeared on SmartCompany.
Apple is expected to launch the latest version of the iPhone at an event it is hosting at the Flint Center for Performing Arts in Cupertino, California, next week. Apple has already sent invitations to an event taking place on September 9th at 10am, local time. In a curious move, there are reports the notoriously secretive tech giant has gone so far as to construct its own multi-storey structure alongside the venue. The choice of location is particularly significant because it is the venue where Apple launched its first Macintosh computer in 1984. It is also significantly larger than the Yerba Buena Center or the theatre at Apple’s corporate headquarters, where the tech giant normally makes its major new product announcements. Speculation about the new device hasn’t escaped its key rivals, with a list of consumer electronics giants including LG, Samsung, Microsoft and Motorola – and possibly others – all gearing up for major product launches of their own over the next month. So what can we expect to find from the iPhone 6? Here are some of the more credible rumours about what we can expect from the device: 1. A larger screen and, perhaps, a phablet As far back as November last year, there have been persistent and credible reports Apple has been working on two different models of the iPhone 6. According to most reports, the first model is set to feature a 4.7-inch display, while the second will include a 5.5-inch screen. This would make them close in size to the 5-inch display on the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the 5.7-inch display used on the Galaxy Note 3. Along with the move to two screen sizes, Apple is reportedly moving away from the plastic casing used on its current low-end device, the iPhone 5s. Aside from the usual Apple rumours sites, reports about the two screen sizes have appeared in a number of credible business publications, including The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. Unfortunately, it is not clear if both versions of the iPhone will be available at launch, with some speculation the larger 5.5-inch phablet version could be on hold until next year. 2. Mobile payments According to a second credible rumour, Apple has been working on its own mobile payments platform centred on the iPhone 6. During the past week, a number of respected publications including The Information, Re/Code and Bloomberg have independently confirmed with sources that Apple has struck a number of deals with major payment providers, retailers, and banks. Those signing up to the payment platform include credit card and payments giants American Express, Visa and MasterCard. The reports suggest the iPhone 6 will include an NFC (near-field communications) chip, a technology used to power tap-and-pay credit cards and public transport systems. It will allow iPhone 6 users to make purchases with their smartphones, rather than by using a credit card or by paying with cash. While NFC-chip technology has long been a standard feature of Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry smartphones, Apple has long held out on using it in its devices. 3. Does Apple have anything up its sleeve? For years, it has been rumoured Apple has had a smartwatch, or iWatch, up its sleeve. In recent years, the hype surrounding wearable devices, including smart bracelets and smartwatches has grown, with many expecting Apple to eventually join the market. Following the release of the Pebble in January 2013, a number of consumer electronics and device manufacturers have dipped their toes in the market, including Sony, LG, Motorola and Samsung, among many others. Other companies, such as Microsoft, are believed to be working on wearables of their own. At the Google I/O developer conference, the search and mobile giant unveiled its Android Wear device platform. Meanwhile, rival consumer electronics makers are working on smartwatches with their own SIM cards, as well as round clockfaces. The growing speculation is that the time is right for Apple to release its smartwatch – before it’s too late. 4. iOS8 Whether or not the iPhone 6 comes in a larger form, accepts mobile payments or is partnered to a smartwatch, one thing is for certain: it is set to run iOS8. First unveiled during the company’s WorldWide Developer Conference during June, iOS8 will bring along a number of new features for users. The new version of the mobile operating system is designed to be interoperable with the new version of Mac OS X, known as Yosemite. The improved interoperability means users will be able to use their Mac as a speakerphone for their iPhone, read and send their iPhone messages from their Mac, or use a feature called Handoff to pass activities from one device to another. It will also come with a new health tracking app called Health, which uses a new underlying API called Healthkit to gather health tracking data from a range of third-party health tracking apps and devices. iOS8 also includes the foundations of Apple’s Internet of Things home automation platform, known as Homekit. 5. A sapphire display In August, some photos of the new device leaked showing a thinner, lighter version of the iPhone. But one feature in particular was notable: the use of sapphire, rather than glass, for the screen. While the choice of material is likely to make the device significantly more expensive, a less shatter-prone iPhone will certainly be music to the ears of anyone who has ever accidentally busted a mobile phone screen. This article originally appeared on SmartCompany.
At the Google I/O conference, the tech giant unveiled its new operating system designed for wearable devices, known as Android Wear. The operating system powers two devices so far: The Samsung Gear Live and the LG G Watch. A third device, Motorola’s Moto 360, is due out in the coming months. So is this the operating system that is going to catapult Google into a leadership position in the wearables market, as it has done with smartphones? Will it succeed where other devices have failed? Key features: A key feature of the Android Wear platform is that it automatically retrieves notifications from any existing Google app and displays them on your wrist. It also integrated Google Now, the search giant’s Siri-style voice search and personal assistant feature. Google also claims a range of apps specifically designed for Android Wear will begin appearing in the Google Play store. The consensus: In a very comprehensive review, Ron Amadeo from Ars Technica notes that genuine cross-platform support is something that’s difficult to implement. This means that, at least for the time being, you’ll need an Android smartphone or tablet to use an Android Wear smartwatch: Like nearly all smartwatches, Wear devices rely on a Bluetooth-tethered phone, which needs to be running Android 4.3 and up. Running iOS or Windows Phone? You're out of luck: no Wear for you. Smartwatches seem to be the ultimate ecosystem lock-in device. Samsung's requires a Samsung phone, Google's requires an Android phone, and we're sure Apple’s will require iOS. There is so much cross-communication that needs to happen between a watch and phone that supporting multiple OSes becomes really hard. On the upside, Amadeo also explains how Android Wear works with Android’s notification system, meaning it automatically works with most apps out of the box: Android Wear data mines your phone notification panel and then creates its own interface on the watch. The thumbnail gets used as the background, the text is reflowed for the tiny screen, the app icon is pulled from the phone app, and each of the three actions (two buttons and the notification tap) get broken out into a separate action screens. The system's swipe-to-dismiss gesture gets ported over, too. … This is what makes Android Wear so special. Because Google laid the groundwork for Android Wear one year ago with Android 4.3, the OS has out-of-the-box compatibility with most apps. Where most smartwatches need custom-built notification compatibility, what you see above is the baseline functionality for everything in Android Wear. Joanna Stern from The Wall Street Journal likes the predictive notifications the watch gives you. However, at this point, there’s no way to customise which notifications appear on your device: But what sets Android Wear devices apart from previous smartwatches is that they tell you what you need even before you realize you need it. Google Now, which mines Gmail, calendar, Web searches and other Google interactions, is a perfect fit for the wrist. … There's simply not enough customization yet. Either I get buzzed every time someone emails me, or I don't get any email alerts at all. Sure, the watch helps me look at my phone less, but I'd prefer a middle ground, where my wrist vibrates only when my editor or fiancée emails me. Mr. Singleton says Google is working on contact-specific notifications and the next version of Android, due out this fall, will have deeper notification controls. Aside from notifications off an Android tablet, Android Wear integrates the Google Now voice recognition system. This means you can launch a range of commands by saying “OK Google” to your smartwatch. This is a feature that impressed Fortune’s Jason Cipriani: In addition to touch input, Android Wear supports Google’s speech recognition software. I’m happy to report that it takes very little time to fire off instructions like “OK Google, remind me to flip the steaks in 7 minutes.” The same can be done to search, compose an email or text message, set a timer, or even call a Lyft car with a Batman-eqsue, “OK Google, call a car.” Over at Engadget, Brad Molen describes Android Wear as the most advanced smartphone platform so far. However, there are still some issues to overcome: Android Wear is the strongest smartwatch platform we've seen so far, and it has enough support from manufacturers and developers to thrive. But it's a first-generation product, and limited battery life, notification anxiety and other issues make it tough to recommend Wear quite just yet. Meanwhile at Time, Jared Newman sums it up by describing the experience as still being a work in progress: What we have now is a classic Google work-in-progress. The software needs more ways to surpass the abilities of users’ smartphones, and the hardware needs to get thinner, lighter and less clunky. (Motorola’s Moto 360 watch will bring some much-needed style to the lineup later this summer, but it’s not a panacea for bulky tech.) And while I’m not bothered by the one-day battery life of these watches, they need more convenient ways to recharge overnight, such as a wireless charging mat on your nightstand. Should I get one: With Apple heavily rumoured to be working on a smartwatch of its own, it might be worth taking a wait-and-see approach to devices powered by Android Wear at this point. There are also a few rough spots that need to be ironed out, such as battery life, or the ability to prioritise notifications. That being said, Android Wear appears to be a solid first effort by the tech giant, and it will be interesting to see where they take the technology in the future. This article originally appeared on SmartCompany.
10 massive announcements from Google I/O: A new version of Android is coming for cars, smartwatches and TVs6:48AM | 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.
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
Motorola has joined LG in announcing a new wearable device based on Google’s Android Wear wearable device platform, called the Moto 360, as Google releases a developer version of the software powering the new devices. In a statement, Motorola corporate vice president of product management, Lior Ron, positions the new device as a premium product. “The wristwatch has been through several evolutions since it first became a popular fashion accessory more than a 100 years ago… but the basic design has endured for a century because of its elegance and usefulness ‘at a glance’. Our vision for Moto 360 was to celebrate that history as we reimagined the wristwatch for the future. “Moto 360 keeps you on time and up to date without taking you out of the moment or distracting you, telling you what you need to know before you know you need it through subtle alerts and notifications. With just a twist of the wrist you can see who’s emailing or calling, what time your next meeting is or a friend’s latest social post.” Motorola has also announced the Moto 360 will be available in a variety of styles globally in summer 2014, starting in the US. Motorola’s announcement comes as its former parent company, Google, released a preview version of the Android Wear software powering the new device. Key features of Android Wear include its ability to receive notifications from Android apps and integration of the Siri-like Google Now service that allows users to ask spoken questions after saying “Ok Google”. Devices running the platform will also do health and fitness monitoring, and will be able to control Android tablets, smartphones, smart TVs and other devices. In a statement, Google product manager Austin Robison cites the consistency of the new user interface. “These small, powerful devices give users useful information just when they need it. Watches powered by Android Wear respond to spoken questions and commands to provide info and get stuff done. These new devices can help users reach their fitness goals and be their key to a multiscreen world. “We designed Android Wear to bring a common user experience and a consistent developer platform to this new generation of devices. We can’t wait to see what you will build.” As SmartCompany has previously reported, Google first purchased a smartwatch start-up called WIMM Labs in the middle of 2012. Since then, the company has built up a wearables design team at its then-subsidiary Motorola, with the company hiring a senior director of industrial design in July of last year. The Moto 360 comes after LG announced its own smartwatch, dubbed the G Watch, which is also powered by Google’s Android Wear platform. This article first appeared on SmartCompany.
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!
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!
Google hasn't been having a very good day.
The amount of online activity conducted by small businesses took a surprising fall last month, despite steady growth in the number of SME websites, according to new research.
Sydney-born entrepreneur John van den Nieuwenhuizen has big plans for his Apple-inspired start-up Hidden, which is on the cusp of raising $1 million on crowdfunding website Kickstarter.
Mining billionaire Gina Rinehart has threatened to sell her shares in Fairfax if she is not offered director positions at the business “without unsuitable conditions”.
Pressure is mounting on the federal government to call an early election following its decision to ask embattled Labor MP Craig Thomson to move to the crossbenches.
Retail giant Amazon has scheduled a press conference for Wednesday night in the US (Thursday AEST) where many analysts believe it will debut its long-awaited tablet device, which many believe could pose the first biggest threat to Apple’s iPad.
Google has purchased American restaurant review group Zagat, in a move that highlights the search engine giant's interest in user testimonials, as well as its considerable war chest for investing in small businesses.
Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility will “supercharge” the Android ecosystem, according to the company, but an industry expert claims the deal will have no major impact on developers.