A Hong Kong-based ASX-listed company is planning to take on the internet’s biggest name, Kim Kardashian, with a rival celebrity mobile phone game. Pure-play mobile game developer Animoca Brands, which debuted on the Australian Securities Exchange in January, has signed a deal with celebrity heiress Paris Hilton to license her name and likeness and for a mobile app game. Hilton, the great-granddaughter of Conrad Hilton, the founder of Hilton Hotels, signed the deal for an undisclosed sum. The announcement has seen the Animoca’s share price jump 36% on opening, currently sitting at 27 cents at the time of publication. Chief executive Robby Yung told SmartCompany Animoca was very pleased with the result. "Obviously people seem to be interested in what we’re doing," says Yung. The game follows the incredibly successful release of celebrity app Kim Kardashian Hollywood, which has being downloaded over 83 million times since its release last June, generating more than $US74.3 million ($A95.8 million) in revenue for its developer Glu Mobile. The game allows a player to play Kardashian’s “friend”, following her around Hollywood in order to achieve her level of fame. It’s free to download, but users pay real money for “koins” that allow them to make in-app purchases on items like different outfits or events. Glu Mobile is now planning to capitalise on its success with the release of a new game featuring pop star Katy Perry. But Animoca will try and poach some of the young female audience away from Glu with the Hilton app, with Young deeming Hilton as "one of the world’s most recognized names". "One of the ways to stand out on the app store is to align yourselves with brands, and amongst the many types of brands out there, celebrity brands have proven to have tremendous currency," he says. Although Hung says a specific game has not been yet been determined, he says it is likely the game will work on the same monetisation method as the Kardashian game, which is the "predominant business model in the industry". Young says he expects many app makers to approach other celebrities for deals. “I think the Kim Kardashian app from Glu really tapped into the zeitgeist," he says. "You’ll find if you went and looked at top ten people on Twitter with the most followers, they will be approached for apps." He rejects the idea that the Paris Hilton game is a "copycat" version of the Kardashian game. "We haven't even launched the game yet so that is difficult for anyone to say," he says. Danny Gorog, founder of Australian app developer Outware Mobile, says a flurry of similar apps are often released after the success of one. “Just look at Flappy Birds,” he says, referring to a game that came out in the wake of the success of popular game Angry Birds. “Angry Birds really spawned its own genre and I’d say the Kim Kardashian game has now spawned its own genre, and this is the follow up.” Gorog says games are by far the most popular genre on Apple’s app store, but there is a “steep curve” between the most popular games and those that are also bidding for success. “The difference between number one and number 100 on the app store is huge,” says Gorog. “It’s a very hit-driven business. Kim Kardashian may be number one on the charts now, but where will it be in a year’s time? Look at Angry Birds, it’s completely dropped off [the charts].” Animoca, which was only established last year, also lists other game titles including Doraemon, Ultraman and Garfield. Hung says Doraemon, a Japanese cartoon cat, has proven to be one of the company's biggest successes. "Paris Hilton has a very big brand name in a variety of countries, but I wouldn't put too much on consideration into that compared to some of our other products," he adds. This story originally appeared on SmartCompany.
Hardly a week goes by without a new social media platform launching, with one Melbourne founder suggesting social media startups need to carve out a niche if they are to survive in such a highly competitive environment. With this in mind, StartupSmart rounded up five Australian social media startups we think you should keep an eye on in 2015. 1. Nabo Sydney-based startup Nabo is a social networking platform for neighbours. The idea is to bring people in the same suburb together online so they can organise play dates for their children or even have their goldfish babysat while they’re on holiday. The startup has secured $2.25 million in funding from Seven West Media and Reinventure Group, and launched nationally in December last year. 2. Vent Complaints have always thrived online. However, a Melbourne startup is looking to collate them in the one place and allow people to be supported by others if they need to get something off their chest and don’t want to pollute their Facebook or Twitter feeds. Vent has grown into a community of more than 10,000 users and to date the startup has raised $100,000 in funding. 3. TalkLife Talk Life is a mobile phone app and social network designed to host important conversations about mental health that people might not necessarily wish to talk about on a general platform or share with family and friends. The Adelaide startup’s founder, Jamie Druitt, has received support from London’s Bethnal Green Ventures and is collaborating with Microsoft Research and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in order to analyse real-time user data to predict high-risk mental health episodes in young people. 4. Mothers Groupie Social network Mothers Groupie aims to reduce the isolation felt by young mothers by helping them meet face-to-face and talk to each other online. The site allows people to create or join groups based on a location – such as Melbourne’s inner northern suburbs – as well as other factors such as “young mums” or “new mums”. The platform also features a directory of “helpers” such as babysitters, cleaners and sleep consultants. Mothers can also post their own job ads and the startup is looking to expand into the US. 5. Mineler Mineler is a professional social network for people who work in the mining industry. Based in Perth, the platform allows people to bid for work and contracts as well as connect with others in the mining industry. The startup currently has more than 60,000 members as far away as Colombia and Canada, and has raised $500,000 in seed funding. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
The Australian economy will drop out of the G20 by 2050, according to research published today by PwC. And the slide will continue unless the nation’s leaders fundamentally change the way they think about investing in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills, says one of the country’s leading technology entrepreneurs, Matt Barrie. The PwC The World in 2050 report predicts the Australian economy will drop 10 places in world rankings by the middle of the century, dropping from its current rank of 19 to 29. This would put the Australian economy behind the likes of growing economies such as Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Philippines and far behind economic powerhouses China, India and the US, which are predicted to stay at the top of the rankings over the next 35 years. According to PwC, the end of the Australian mining boom, and a lack of investment in other parts of the economy, will cause the Australian economy to fall behind. The PwC rankings are determined by comparing the purchasing power parity of each economy and this year’s result shows a broad shift from developed economies to emerging economies. While China is predicted to remain the largest economy by 2050, India is expected to overtake the US for second place, and Indonesia, Mexico and Nigeria could push the UK and France out of the top 10. The Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia are expected to shoot up the rankings, while Colombia and Poland will grow at a faster rate than the large economies of Brazil and Russia. Read more: STEM is critical for Australia’s economy PwC Australia economics partner Jeremy Thorpe told SmartCompany the research indicates the Australian economy will “revert to trend” and we “won’t see the mining boom in the same way”. While Thorpe says PwC is not trying to predict exactly what the Australian economy will look like, the takeaway from the research is that “we know the economy is going to be different and STEM will be important wherever it goes”. “The Australian economy is not going to be as large in relative terms and so our companies are not going to be competing on scale,” Thorpe says. “They will be competing at the smarter end.” Thorpe says this represents an opportunity for “smaller, nimble companies”, especially those built on digital disruptive technology, and that is why it is essential to make long-term investments in STEM capabilities. “Many of these things don’t pay off immediately,” says Thorpe. “You can’t cut the ribbon in the same way you can for a new bridge, you have to look beyond the political cycle. But as the events of the past week have shown, it can be heard to divert attention from the here and now.” Freelancer founder Matt Barrie agrees with Thorpe’s analysis, telling SmartCompany he fears the Australian economy will follow the same path as the resource-rich Argentina, which saw a dramatic decline in its wealth because of government policies that did not alter the composition of the economy. Barrie has spoken out regularly about the need for investment in STEM skills in Australia, including to Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull last year. “We have actually gone backwards in our thinking about the tech industry or science,” says Barrie, who lays the blame with “successive Australian governments”. “There have been rampant cuts. I don’t think it would be possible to do more damage.” Barrie points to cuts to funding for science research, declining university enrolments in STEM subjects and courses, the “dumbing down” of curriculum in primary and secondary schools, as well as the “screwing up” of remuneration schemes for technology companies, as just some of what he believes are damaging policies. “It just goes on and on and on,” he says. “We’re at risk of becoming a shipwreck … It’s death by a thousand cuts.” If given the chance, Barrie says the first thing he would change is the K-12 curriculum taught in Australian schools. “Every little kid wants to design the next Facebook … the next mobile phone app but they don’t know how,” he says. “We need to help them connect the dots.” He would also encourage more people to work in STEM fields and appoint a national chief technology officer who would be responsible for setting longer-term goals. But as long as the topic remains off the table in Canberra, Barrie says he “is at a loss”. “There is fundamentally something wrong in the way our country is governed,” he says. This article originally appeared at SmartCompany. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Prepare to open your wallets, ladies and gentlemen: Microsoft has announced the release of an augmented reality (AR) headset called HoloLens. Although having been announced only a fortnight ago, tech media are already dreaming feverishly of the potential applications for such a device. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s own press images seem to promise a benign utopia replete with living room Minecraft games and attractive, tech-savvy white people. It might look rather like an excitingly chunky pair of wrap-around sunglasses, but Microsoft promises that it is entirely self-contained, with speakers, lens and CPU housed entirely within the chassis. Being substantially smaller than the Oculus Rift, and intended to be less invasive than Google’s much-maligned Glass, HoloLens provides perhaps the most credible attempt to introduce augmented reality into our homes. What is augmented reality anyway? Even though HoloLens is new, the idea of augmented reality is certainly not. First proposed by L. Frank Baum (author of the Wizard of Oz) in his 1901 novel The Master Key, AR has a long and illustrious history, at least in theory. But what is it, exactly? Augmented reality is a form of “mediated perception”: an AR device overlays a virtual world on the real one. It does this by taking a live video feed of the external world and then supplementing it with computer-generated sensory input. In this sense, it is unlike virtual reality, which entirely replaces the external world with a virtual one. Instead, AR embellishes the real world to make it more fun, clear or informative. Already there is a huge number of AR apps, most of which have been built for mobile devices. One such is Layar, which synchronises camera input with data from Google Maps in order to let you see the world with the digital marginalia built in. Meanwhile, games like Ingress enable smartphone users to win points and compete with other players by “hacking” with virtual nodes that are attached to real-world landmarks. In order to hack the node, they need to actually stand near the landmark, giving it a distinctly physical dimension. Some of these AR programs are genuinely remarkable, and carry with them the seeds of a changing paradigm. The new version of Google Translate, for example, can perform real-time spoken-word translation, as well as translating written words almost instantaneously. The Babel fish from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy gets one step closer. However, HoloLens provides you with something a little different. Unlike mobile phone apps and Google Glass, the sensory overlays provided by HoloLens are interactable digital objects. They don’t merely provide parenthetical or additional information about things in the world; instead, those objects serve to further populate the world around us. The futures of where we live and work If you’re interested in Microsoft’s vision of a future filled with digital objects then check out its publicity video: the promises may seem overwhelming (one might even say “unbelieveable”). According to Microsoft, with a liberal application of augmented reality, the home and office become deeply and richly interactive in a way that has been hitherto impossible. Objects are designed and tested on the fly. A single pinched finger or flicked wrist enlarges or crumples or dismisses instantly and organically. Meanwhile, entire classes of consumer items are rendered completely redundant, collapsed into HoloLens and products like it. If Microsoft realises the future it proposes, AR products will see televisions, gaming systems, music players, desktop computers and even cosmetic objects like wall art and decorative carpets consigned to the dustbin of history. We will no longer have a need for these physical objects; instead, they will be projected into our field of perception as strictly digital entities. To be clear: this is not a prediction on my part. Far be it from me to make predictions about the purchasing habits of other people (I can barely keep track of my own). This, however, appears to be Microsoft’s vision. Although varnished into a high gloss, what is perhaps most telling about its vision of the future is not what isnew, but more what is missing. Televisions, gaming consoles, paintings: these objects have no place in Microsoft’s future. The future of consumption If this outcome is realised, it seems obvious to expect radical shifts in manufacturing and other secondary industries. Already there have been murmurs of concern and excitement about the possible economic ramifications of cheap 3D printing, particularly with regards to what it means for the manufacture of simple items. If Microsoft is successful in killing off the television and other media apparatuses, we may well also see manufacturing shrink from the other end. If the HoloLens and products like it do supplant other consumer electronics, we will be witness to the slow, awful collapse of what is currently a highly speciated consumer landscape into a homogeneous field of kooky-looking headsets. However, even as manufacturing will be forced to grapple with greater decentralisation and greater automation, not to mention potential market erosion at both the top and bottom ends of the sector, those who create, market and sell entertainment content will almost certainly find AR technologies an enormous boon. Marketers and content producers will have a window into our habits and tastes, sharing material funded by consumer commitment to almost-negligible microtransactions. Meanwhile, consumers will almost certainly fight back. Already a great many web browsers come installed with native ad and pop-up blockers. Moreover, having tired of product placement in movies and the indignity of “advertorials” in magazines, several designers and developers are working on products that block ads in the real world. It seems fair to expect that this presages a subtle, extremely sophisticated arms race between those who consume content and those who produce it. The sky is not falling These developments might sound like the first stages of a miserable Gibsonian future, but there’s no need to panic just yet. Indeed, there’s plenty of reason to think that the widespread uptake of AR technologies will, on the whole, make life easier. However, just like the internet dramatically changed the way business is conducted (such as the slow demise of brick-and-mortar bookstores), it seems reasonable to expect that the spread of AR technologies will introduce its own difficulties. But we should not take our own predictions too seriously. After all, we’ve been privy to these kinds of statements before. People who visited Norman Bel Geddes' Futurama exhibit at the New York World’s Fair in 1939 were awarded a souvenir pin upon departure: “I have seen the future”. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, we can look back upon this claim, along with some of the more outlandish predictions made by our forebears (flying cars, robot servants, Jetsonian spaceflight, post-scarcity economics) with an indulgent smirk: chrome, finned cars and bakelite have swung seamlessly into fashionably kitsch; ill-fated relics of a future that never was. There is, of course, a lesson here. In our own era of social networking, genetically modified foodstuffs and tawdry capitalism, it behoves us to be a little cynical about the promises and drawbacks of an augmented reality, in much the same way that we mock the promises of the Atomic Era. Of course, I’d be lying if I said I weren’t excited. I am, and very much. There’s too much of the techno-utopian in me not to feel a subtle thrill that the future we’ve been promised is finally arriving. But nonetheless, I worry, and I reserve judgement. Not very much, granted, and not very loudly, but amid the excitement there is a subtle sense of disquiet, and the sly hint of a disdainful sneer. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
The National Roads and Motorists’ Association (NRMA) has announced the startups taking part in the company’s first accelerator program. Six startups have been chosen for the Jumpstart program, an initiative looking to help startups scale by tapping into the NRMA’s 2.4 million customers. The startups include: Careseekers; a national service that connects people needing in-home carers with people looking for carer work. WunderWalk; is a personalised pocket tour guide. The app creates your ultimate outing, shopping, eating, drinking, entertainment and sightseeing anywhere in the world. Gamurs; a gaming social network. Gamers connect with others and personalise their gaming experience. Camplify; connects would be campers with owners of caravans and RVs, holiday parks, camping grounds and camping related experiences. Their goal is to be the ‘airbnb’ of the camping world. OTTO by Gizmosis; advanced voice recognition technology to reduce driver distraction. Makes and receives mobile phone calls and texts without touching the phone. Hive UAV; provides automated remote aerial monitoring using drones (UAV's) for agriculture, emergency services and industry. Participants receive a $30,000 grant, a free co-working space and take part in a six-month mentorship program in exchange for a 10% stake. NRMA Group chief executive Tony Stuart said in a statement the startups chosen to take part in the program have a steep learning curve ahead of them. “Each business group is given the opportunity to learn from the best,” he says. “They will receive business advice, training and mentoring from recognised experts in the startup world.” Stuart also pointed out that the program’s participants are from all across Australia and included companies founded by women. “We are thrilled with the diversity of our Jumpstart participants and have selected teams from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane,” he says. “Participants are of all ages with two of the businesses established by young women.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
When technology, and the companies behind it, fails, the end can come in a number of different ways. A technology can be mercifully put down, as with Google’s failed hardware media player, the Nexus Q. Alternatively, a failing company can be bought and shut down, as in the case of the once famous personal digital assistant maker Palm, who were bought, and then shut down by HP. Failing companies can also enter a more indeterminate, zombie state where the company may still earn enough money to stay open, but the company itself, and the products they produce, will never again be a significant force in the technology landscape. Recognising a zombie company Recognising zombie companies and technology is relatively easy. Companies with a languishing share price that shareholders are clearly only holding onto because they hope the company will be bought, is one clear indicator. Blackberry’s shares for example, popped 30% on the rumour that Samsung was about to buy the beleagured mobile phone company. The shares crashed back to their original value after the company denied the reports. Twitter and Yahoo also both benefited from the suggestion by ex CEO Ross Levinsohn that they should merge. The fact that the market should respond to these types of rumours are clear signs that the companies have exhausted the option of developing their own products to continue making them relevant or competing against the market leaders. Discussions about the death of a company or technology Another indicator of a zombie company are the number of discussions that occur about whether the company/technology is actually dead or whether it will see a resurrection. This is being played out right now after Google’s announcement that its much maligned smart glasses were being pulled from public sale. Commentators are divided as to whether this signifies the complete death of the product or merely a pause before some form of re-launch. Google Glass has become a zombie product because even if it does survive, it will never have anything other than marginal interest. In another case, reviews of BlackBerry’s latest phone, the Passport have tried to imply that this will somehow reverse its fortunes. Others propose growth for the company through services rather than hardware. The key thing for zombie companies however is not to confuse the ability to stay in business with the fact that the business is actually viable. In the UK in 2013 for example, there were approximately 160,000 companies that were capable of staying afloat because they could pay the interest on their loans but had no way of ever being able to pay back the actual loans themselves. Companies like Twitter for example, who are as yet to make a profit from anything other than the selling of their shares, can keep going on their IPO proceeds and by convincing people to invest further on the basis that they will eventually make money. The interesting thing with Twitter is that there is the belief that it can still make money somehow, with the right management. There are increasing calls for the CEO Dick Costolo to resign even though it may simply be that there is no viable way for Twitter to make enough money from its social network. Zombie technologies Zombie technologies pose a greater problem than zombie companies because it covers everyone involved in that technology. Zombie technologies are interesting because they often result from over-hyped expectations about their significance leading to a gold-rush surge of companies trying to catch the early wave of expectation. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for example, were going to transform the higher education sector by offering high-quality, free, online courses to the world. Companies like Coursera are still going only because of the large amounts of money that they have raised from venture capitalists. Unfortunately, the higher education industry proved resilient to change and Coursera’s attempts to make money out of ongoing professional education is never going to realise the ambitions of their investors. The same outcome is true for other MOOC companies like Udacity and edX. Another topical zombie technology are crypto-currencies like Bitcoin. Bitcoin’s 80% fall in value since its peak in the past year has cemented its general failure to gain acceptance by governments, the financial sector and the public at large. This doesn’t mean the end of Bitcoin as there will be fringe uses for this technology supported by a core group of loyal fans. Its zombie state however will continue to be confused with a technology simply waiting for the right market opportunity to become the basis for the world’s future digital economy. Zombie companies present a real problem in that they lock in funds, and employees who could otherwise be working more productively within their own startups or other companies. Of course, eventually companies will stop trading, or be bought for their remaining assets, but that time may be surprisingly far into the future. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Two-year-old Sydney health tech startup mCareWatch is attracting interest in overseas markets with a smartwatch and platform that can help carers to monitor seniors both inside and outside the home. mCareWatch’s core product is a waterproof smartwatch that bundles a mobile phone with its own SIM with GPS and Wi-Fi to track location. Unlike other pendant and personal alarm systems, such as sensor platform Curo, the standalone smartwatch works outside the home. Aside from telling the time, the watch has an SOS emergency notification button and can make calls to one of three numbers in an emergency. It can also be set to send a ‘geo-fence’ notification when the wearer moves beyond a particular distance from their home, which can be used to alert carers to a lost dementia patient. Carers, be they a family member or a staff member at an aged care facility, can remotely monitor patients either through an app (available for iOS and iPhone), or through a cloud-based web dashboard. The system was created by brothers Paul Apostolis and Peter Apostolopoulos after a health scare involving their elderly father, and comes as the health tech innovation community is booming across Adelaide, Brisbane and Melbourne. Apostolopoulos told Private Media the device is aimed at providing extra mobility for wearers inside and out, allowing them to visit friends, go shopping or have an evening walk with peace of mind. “We launched the first generation about two years ago. We knew we wanted to enter quickly to test the market and get feedback,” Apostolopoulos says. “When we first launched, the service focused around the mobile app and was originally around the consumer being able to monitor mum and dad remotely. “We launched the second generation with new features like Wi-Fi and an improved charging mechanism, and we took it into aged care providers with a software solution… Our customers now include Able Care, St Vincent Care and Bankstown City Aged Care, which introduced it as part of their independent living package.” The product is also gaining a significant amount of interest across South East Asia, appointing a distributor in Malaysia last year and recently opening an office in Indonesia. The company plans to introduce a ‘third generation’ version of the product sometime around April or May. It has also identified other potential verticals as possible markets, such as lone workers, employees in the logistics industry, and the security industry. “The next generation will take it more into the mobile health space. It will allow the watch to be a community hub. You will be able to connect biometric measures throughout the home to it, and it will send that information to a cloud platform and then package it for the appropriate person.” Apostolopoulos says that, especially with an aging population, health tech is set for growth over the coming years. “Health tech is definitely a growth area and that’s based on wearables. Preventative care is important as people stay at home more and you need technology to monitor patient’s health in a way that’s efficient. “Preventative care is an important issue because you can provide an intervention before someone winds up in a hospital, which means more spending by governments.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
A majority of Australians would rather go without television than their smartphone, while the number of users using their mobile phone for just calls and SMS has fallen to just 9%, according to a new survey. The Australian Mobile Phone Lifestyle Index was conducted by the Australian Interactive Media Industry Association and conducted by strategic research analysts Complete the Picture. It combined a survey of 1459 respondents with Australian Bureau of Statistic Census demographic data and socioeconomic status data from the Household Expenditure Survey. The figures show that 61% of Australians would rather go without television than their mobile phone, while 50% would rather go without their PC or tablet than their mobile. Meanwhile, 30% would rather do without their car than their mobile phone. Meanwhile, a little over one-third of Australians (34%) have already ditched the landline in favour of just their mobile phone, with a further 48% saying that while they still have a landline connected, they use it rarely. Another key finding is that growth in the Australian smartphone market is close to a saturation point. Around 89% of Australians now owning a smartphone, up slightly from 88% last year, and up significantly from 67% in 2011. “The recorded ownership figures will also vary depending on whether it is being measured as a percentage of the overall number of mobile phone subscriptions in Australia (higher than the total number of Australians) or as a percentage of all Australians or just adult Australians,” the report cautions. The ownership rate for smartphones (88%) are now higher than for either computers (88%) or tablets (60%), with 53% owning all three devices. However, if given the choice between the three devices, 50% would choose their mobile phone, 34% would pick their computer, and just 16% would pick their tablet. Despite this, when it comes to buying online, many still opt for their desktop or laptop. Around 90% of PC owners have used their computers to make a purchase and 75% of tablet owners have used a tablet to buy a product. In contrast, the percentage of mobile phone users to use their devices to make a purchase is lower, at 60%. Of those making purchases from their mobile phone, the most common thing to buy is tickets (including movie and plane tickets) at 60%. This is followed by digital content (54%), clothes/shoes/jewellery (41%), books (25%), services (16%), consumer electronics (15%) and groceries (11%). Finally, the report looked at the controversial topic of whether users prefer mobile websites or apps. It found 7% of users mostly use websites and 28% predominantly use websites. In contrast, 3% use apps exclusively and 24% prefer to use apps. Around 25% of users use both equally, while 12% opt to use neither. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Mobile messaging apps such as Whatsapp are killing traditional text messages while multi-screening is going mainstream, according to an Australian Communications and Media Authority. The ACMA paper, titled Six emerging trends in media and communications, attempts to identify disruptive media and communications trends that “strain the effectiveness and efficiency of existing regulatory settings”. Here are the six media and communications trends identified in the report: 1. Communications go over the top Consumers are increasingly rejecting carrier-based phone calls and text messages in favour of apps and online services such as Apple iMessage, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, Snapchat and Microsoft’s Skype. According to the report, revenues from fixed line phone services have collapsed by 34% in five years, from $18.296 billion in 2008 to just $12.045 billion in 2013. Over the same time frame, the number of voice over internet protocol (VOIP) users has surged from 2.1 million to 4.6 million. However, this extra data users has been good news to mobile phone carriers, which have seen their revenues surge from $15.967 billion to $20.014 billion. 2. Consumers build their own links It’s not just the number of communications apps that is booming. Australian consumers are using them with a wider variety of devices, which are connected over a growing number of network technologies. Consumers now regularly switch between fixed-line internet connections, Wi-Fi, mobile broadband and – especially in remote areas – satellite connections, depending on the time of day. The number of devices they use is also increasing, with the number of Australians owning a tablet, laptop and smartphone increasing from 28% in 2013 to 53% in 2014. 3. Wearables are set to boom On top of smartphones, tablets and laptops, the report predicts wearables (including Google Glass, smartwatches and fitness trackers) are set to become increasingly common over the coming years. The report suggests the number of wearables worldwide will grow from 22 million in 2013 to 177 million in 2018. It also predicts that an increase in the number of devices running Google’s Android Wear platform, along with the release of the Apple Watch early next year, will lead this trend to accelerate. 4. Online content is going mainstream The internet is not just disrupting the way we communicate. According to the report, consumers are increasingly viewing a greater number of TV services (including pay TV, broadcast TV, streaming TV and catch-up TV) delivered to a growing number of devices, over a growing number of network technologies. In a typical week, 97% of Australians watch a free-to-air or pay TV service. By contrast, one-in-two Australians have watched online TV over the past six months. This includes professionally produced catch-up or streaming TV services, pirated movies and content from video sites such as YouTube. Meanwhile, people aged between 16 and 24 now watch more TV over the internet than they do from broadcast television services. 5. Multistreaming is now mainstream In many cases, new forms are television are complementing, rather than replacing older ones. The report shows 74% of Australians with internet access regularly watched TV and used the internet at the same time, up 25 percentage points from 2009. It is as high as 89% for people aged 25 to 34. Overall, 71% of people still prefer to watch TV shows and movies on television, compared to on mobile phones (5%), tablets (4%) and computers (29%). Meanwhile, user-generated content is mostly watched on computers (71%) or mobile phones (41%), rather than tablets (17%) and televisions (10%). 6. TV is still the one for news Finally, when it comes to getting the news, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The report shows that 92% of free-to-air or subscription television viewers watched a news or current affairs programs on television in 2014. While newspaper circulation has dived 18% between 2009 and 2013, the drop has been a drop of just 10% from TV over the same time. Image credit: Flickr/alvy Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Incoming Media, a mobile video engagement platform out of NICTA, is one of 16 startups from around the world to receive a slice of $US62 million ($A71 million) worth of funding from Intel Capital, the chipmaker’s venture capital arm. The startup announced it has closed a $US4.9 million Series A financing round led by Intel Capital and Australian venture capital firm One Ventures. Incoming Media uses data analytics and intelligent push technology to enable the creation of personalised mobile video experiences that, it says, leads to significantly longer engagement times, more revenue opportunities and new mobile video business models. It increases the quality and decreases the loading time for streaming video on smartphones by preloading videos onto the device itself. The technology can be used on smartphone apps by content providers. Co-founder David McKeague says the current video streaming experience on smartphones is broken. “It predicts and looks ahead at what you’re interested in as a person and provides an instant start HD experience,” he says. “Imagine you’re a consumer, video now is a two second start at 270p, at a time when phone screens are going to 4K. It’s a pretty terrible experience for the content owner. “The other part is ads, which often aren’t much longer than 15 or 30 seconds, if you have a one or two second start for an ad, that’s not appealing to advertisers.” Incoming Media’s prototype only preloaded videos when the devices were connected to Wi-Fi, but preloading would be available via mobile phone networks, a decision that’s ultimately up to those content providers who use the software in their apps. While the speeds of those networks have increased over the years – for example, between 3G and 4G – McKeague says Moore’s Law is on Incoming Media’s side. “Capacity is growing slower than device technology and that will continue,” he says. “All the device guys are innovating very quickly. Think 4K screens, larger memory. Device organisations are really looking to produce higher quality video experiences to differentiate their devices. “Where everyone is going is 4K and that’s scary to think about. How do you create a great mobile video experience? If you look at 4K streaming, it’s a real issue.” Having technology with the potential to solve that problem is what makes Incoming Media an attractive investment. Intel managing director of new business in the company’s Perceptual Computing Group, Mark Yahiro, says the company’s vision is to enhance natural human perception with affective computing and machine learning capabilities. “Imagine being able to truly personalise your viewing experience and recommendations from your real interactions.” One Ventures managing director and CEO, Dr Michelle Deaker, praised Incoming Media as an example of the world class technology startups that can be spun out of NICTA. “The need to deliver a great mobile experience is growing, with Forrester Research predicting a $32 billion market for mobile engagement providers in 2018,” she says. “We believe Incoming (Media) has significant potential to be a key provider in this market and we are delighted to support this great team in the next phase of Incoming’s development.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
In a report that is due to be released next month, the OECD has drawn a picture of the state of the world’s digital economy, or at least that of its member countries. The reported data paint a picture of our modern digital life, with growing numbers of people accessing the internet via high speed broadband or wireless on their mobiles, enabling them to take part in social networks and online shopping. The digital citizen Overall, the number of adults in the OECD countries that use the internet increased from 60% in 2005 to 80% in 2013. The gap between young and old varies according to country but in the most advanced economies, up to 95% of young people are now internet users. 70% of them also access the internet at school. Buying products and services online has now become the norm, with 50% of users doing so, and an increasing proportion of that is now via a mobile device. E-Government services were used on average by 35% of individuals and about 80% of businesses. E-Government is defined as people accessing information and submitting completed forms, including tax returns. A particularly interesting set of data showed the degree to which users in a particular country would watch YouTube content from that country. This was highest in Japan where 75% of YouTube views were of Japanese videos, through to the USA where 33% of content viewed was of US origin and Australia where only 8% of views was of Australian content. Unfortunately the data doesn’t tell us where the majority of content Australians watched came from but one can only assume that it was from countries like the US and UK. It seems that being a digital native starts young in most OECD countries. The age of first access to the internet in 2012 ranged from 33% being under 6 in Denmark to the majority of Russians being over 10 years old. Australia, as with many things digital, was somewhere in the middle with the majority of kids being under 9 when they first accessed the internet. The not-so-digital citizen Not all is quite as switched on as it would appear however. In the EU, over 60% of the labour force reported that they had insufficient computer skills they considered necessary to apply for a new job. This included just under 40% of people with a university education. Again in the EU, 30% of internet users cited concerns about security as the reason they wouldn’t buy anything online. Computer use at work also varied dramatically across OECD countries with countries like Russia and Italy reporting over 50% of workers not using a computer at work. This figure was around 26% in the US and as low as 17% in Norway. Digital companies Companies have been slower than individuals to adopt digital ways but they have recently been speeding up. According to the OECD, “It took 15 to 20 years for slightly more than three quarters of enterprises to develop a website, but only a few years for around 30% of businesses to become active on social networks”. In the OECD countries, 94% of businesses have access to broadband, 75% had a website, but only 20% conducted any sales online. The standout country here was New Zealand where 80% of companies purchased goods online and 45% of companies sold goods online. The use of enterprise resource planning tools was lowest in the UK where only 10% of companies used this type of software. Wired (and wireless) countries A key enabler for a digital economy and digital citizens is access to broadband. The main driver here has been access to wireless broadband, principally enabled through the mobile phone. Almost 75% of OECD citizens now have a mobile wireless broadband subscription. In Australia, there has been a radical increase in subscriptions since 2009 where the figure was less than 20%, to now where there are more subscriptions than inhabitants. Australia now has the second highest wireless broadband usage of all OECD countries. Fixed, or wired, broadband subscriptions in OECD countries tell a different story. Korea leads the world with over 70% of fixed broadband subscribers having speeds above 10 Mbps. The USA is over 30% but Australia is down near the bottom of the list at 10%. The Digital Economy The impact of information and communication technologies (ICT) on the economy is huge. ICT companies spend more on the research and development than the rest of the economy and across the OECD productivity in IT companies is about 60% higher than the rest. Other analyses have estimated that the impact of wireless broaband on the Australian economy has been around $34 billion a year. As countries continue to look for ways of boosting their economies, investing in productivity and innovation through information technologies seems the most feasible way of achieving this. This is especially true for countries like Australia where the reliance on mining is not sustainable. This article was originally published at The Conversation. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
The ease of buying shoes or managing our banking over a mobile phone connected to the internet has changed our expectations regarding accessible services. But not everyone is connected to the internet in Australia so how do we make sure any growth is equalled by ability to use and navigate services online? Australian governments are attempting to deliver more of their services using mobile apps or over internet platforms such as myGov. The federal government’s ICT Sustainability Plan argues for the promotion of Government 2.0 listing the obvious benefits such as reducing costs and improving the convenience and speed of solving problems. Yet lingering inequalities of access have made the shift to online service provision less effective. The term digital divide describes a form of inequality derived from diminished access to technological services, such as internet access. While basic access to the internet has improved in Australia, other divisions have become crucial: in speed, hardware and know-how. Educating people to use the internet to access services, and making this easy, should be the next step for government agencies attempting to push their services online. So who is and who isn’t online? Research by the Australian Communications Media Authority says internet usage is growing in both regional and urban areas. Most growth is driven by the use of internet enabled mobile phone handsets. During the period December 2009 to December 2013, the proportion of the population using the internet via their mobile phone increased from 12% to 49% in major capital cities, and from 5% to 32% in non-urban areas. Beyond the use of smartphones, the gap is closing slowly. There is a 12-percentage point difference between urban (84%) and rural (72%) Australians with a home broadband internet connection. The Australian Bureau of Statistics’s report on Household Use of Information Technology also highlighted divisions in use and access based on age and socioeconomic background. In 2012–13 it found only 46% of older people were internet users and only 44% of this age group had accessed the internet from home in the previous 12 months. Meanwhile the ABS report says 98% of households with household income of $120,000 or more had internet access, compared to 57% of households with household income of less than $40,000. Limited access in indigenous communities Rates of access in remote indigenous communities are particularly low. A joint study by Swinburne University and the Central Land Council looked at home internet use in three remote indigenous communities – at Kwale Kwale, Imangara and Mungalawurru in the Northern Territory. Only 10% of total adult participants owned their own computer, and only 10% of those were connected to the internet at home. Even people with access to a computer could not always get a satellite connection and some run off generators rather than the electrical grid. Australia is trying to solve the problem of the digital divide with the development of the National Broadband Network (NBN). This will provide high speed broadband access to all Australians through a combination of fixed, mobile and satellite networks. While the Liberal/National coalition government elected in 2013 has reformed the NBN project to provide lower speed connections, they should consider prioritising museums, schools, libraries and community centres with high speed access. These could provide education and training to members of their communities with a reliable internet connection and functional hardware. The role of high-speed connected schools Schools have a particularly important role to play in educating young people and servicing communities in rural areas. Skills training in computer literacy and navigation skills are essential to improve accessibility and use of online services. Therefore schools should be considered as both access points and training centres, and prioritised. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s report on rural education made it clear that the cost and reliability of internet access must be improved if schools are to play a strong role in closing the digital divide. Some examples of good inclusiveness policies were listed by the Economist Intelligence Unit in its 2012 Best Practice from Around the World report. It commended the work of Telstra in narrowing the digital divide. Three of the telco’s projects for managing this change include: The Access for Everyone program reportedly trained more than 62,000 people in how to access the internet. It targeted low income households, people with disabilities, the elderly and people living in rural areas. Connected Seniors gets high school students teaching older Australians on how to use smartphones and tablets through group workshops. Indigenous Digital X in collaboration with the Telstra Foundation has established the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence to strengthen indigenous participation and entrepreneurship in the digital economy. Many countries confront divides between their rural and urban population in internet access, yet Australia, with one of the lowest population densities in the world, is particularly challenged by its own geography. So until universal accessibility is guaranteed, any money government agencies and public service providers save as services shift online should be invested into quality internet access, skills training and other inclusiveness strategies. These strategies are key to ensuring existing inequalities are not reinforced by shifting to online delivery of services. Philippa Nicole Barr 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.
Microsoft will skip the version 9 of Windows and will release instead Windows 10 in 2015. This upgrade will be the last major release of Windows. The decision to stop releasing Windows as a series of major releases is long overdue and follows the approach (including the choice of the number 10) taken by Apple in releasing minor versions of its Mac OSX system. After the disastrous release of Windows 8, subsequent releases have been largely about rolling back the more radical changes in the user interface. As attention shifts to mobile, the marketing and commercial advantages of releasing major upgrades to operating systems have all but disappeared. Microsoft will now release changes to Windows via smaller point upgrades, following Apple’s lead with Mac OSX which will shortly be at version 10.10. This is actually good news for both consumers and businesses who have to deal with the inevitable bugs that come with upgrades along with updates of software changed only to support the new operating system. At the same time, the new features in the upgrade are bringing diminishing direct benefits to consumers as changes become increasingly gratuitous. Insult is added to injury of course when consumers are actually asked to pay for the new versions, a practice that Apple at least has largely stopped. Businesses who use Windows will also find the end of large upgrades easier to manage as it becomes simpler to deal with more frequent and smaller changes than to deal with a major version change. For Microsoft as well, this will have the added benefit of eventually persuading more of its users to all be on the same operating system. Currently only around 14% of Windows users are actually using Windows 8.x. Nearly twice that are still using Windows XP, a system they offcially stopped supporting this year. Operating systems should never really have to change as much as they have. The fundamental core of the operating system, called the “kernel)” does now what it has always done. New hardware can be accommodated by adding “device drivers”, something that doesn’t need a change in the kernel to achieve. Likewise, Microsoft learned the hard way that major changes to the user interface are not necessarily welcomed by its customers and even in this case, it would be possible to change this without a major release in the operating system as a whole. The fact the we may not see radically different versions of Windows, Mac OS or even Linux does not mean that this signals the death of the PC. Like the software that runs on it, hardware on PCs is unlikely to change radically in the future because it has turned out that people are prepared to use multiple devices. Functionality that might have been built into a PC is unnecessary because that functionality becomes available in distinct device types like tablets, phablets, mobile phones and wearables. It has also turned out that adding features like a touch screen to a laptop didn’t make much sense as this was largely made redundant through the use of the keyboard and mouse. Likewise, it is unlikely that devices like the “leap” motion tracking device will become standard on the laptop or PC because again it doesn’t radically improve on what you can already do. It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that products can reach a point where they fundamentally do not evolve any further and reach a steady state. Technologies that we interact with every day are fundamentally the same as they have been for years, if not decades. A trivial example being the electric toaster which utilises the same technology that it has done for the past 100 years. With computing technology however, we have constantly held an expectation that each year will bring revolutionary change. This is because the mobile phone and tablet have really driven highly public declarations of change in annual launch events. Even here though, we will see mobile phones reach the so-called “climax state”, it might just take the public some time to accept and come to terms with it. David Glance 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.
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.
The worldwide market for smartphones hit a record 301.3 million units worldwide during the second quarter, according to the latest Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. To put the market size into perspective, the worldwide market for PCs stands at around 75.5 million units per quarter, meaning that there are now just under four smartphones sold each quarter for each PC. The overwhelming majority of smartphones shipped worldwide during the second quarter ran Android, with the platform claiming 255.3 million units and 84.7% market share. This was up 33.3% from 191.5 million units and 79.6% market share during the same quarter a year earlier. In a statement, IDC mobile phone team research manager Ramon Llamas says Android is making significant gains in emerging markets. "During the second quarter, 58.6% of all Android smartphone shipments worldwide cost less than $200 off contract, making them very attractive compared to other device," Llamas says. "With the recent introduction of Android One, in which Google offers reference designs below $100 to Android OEMs, the proportion of sub-$200 volumes will climb even higher." Within the Android market, IDC previously released figures showing Samsung claimed a market share of 25.2% off 74.3 million units, down by 3.9% from 77.3 million a year earlier. By comparison, Apple and iOS smartphones now make up just 11.7% of the market off shipments of 35.2 million units, with the company’s share of the market falling slightly from 13% a year earlier. Meanwhile, Windows Phone shipments fell to 7.4 million units, down 9.4% from 8.2 million a year earlier, while BlackBerry’s fell a massive 78% from 6.7 million units a year ago to just 1.5 million. This article originally appeared on SmartCompany.
With the Australian government “actively considering” data retention, and Australian Security Intelligence Organisation chief David Irvine telling a Senate committee that it is crucial to intelligence-gathering and that Australians have nothing to fear from it, it’s time for a clarifier on exactly what data retention is and the concerns it raises. What is data retention? The compulsory retention of information about a citizen’s telecommunications and online usage, either by telcos and internet service providers themselves, or by a government agency, so that law enforcement and intelligence agencies can use it to investigate crime and national security threats. What sort of data? Depends. The European Union scheme (now ruled illegal) was limited to telecommunications metadata — whom you called and when, duration of call, location, and the account linked to a particular IP address. The previous Australian government cited the EU model as what it had in mind when it invited a parliamentary inquiry into the idea in 2012. However, some individual countries (like Denmark) went further than the Eu directive and included web browsing history. Most Australian agencies officially only want metadata, not content data (like browsing history and email contents), but some agencies and police forces want the lot. Some things, like email subject lines, could arguably be either metadata or content data. The definition of what data will be subject to a data retention regime is thus crucial. What would it cost? In evidence to the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security that considered the issue in 2012, iiNet said it might cost them $5 a month for every customer to store data. That, in effect, is a $60 a year surveillance tax on every household. iiNet has recently significantly increased its estimate of the likely cost. Remember, both companies and government agencies will not merely need to store this data, but ensure it is stored safely — the vast trove of personal data that data retention will produce will be immensely attractive to criminals (and online activists looking to demonstrate how unsafe it is — in 2012, Anonymous hackers released customer data obtained from AAPT to protest the then-government’s data retention proposal). What happens currently? Traditionally, telcos have retained phone records because that was how they billed you. But there is decreasing need for specific call-based billing as consumers move to data-based plans. Moreover, companies have no need for metadata beyond the billing cycle, and given there’s a cost to storing such data, they are keeping less of it for the sort of periods agencies prefer — usually two years. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies call this “going dark” — losing access to phone information of the kind they’ve had for decades. So what’s the problem - isn’t this just maintaining the status quo? No. Let’s just focus on phone data. Your mobile phone data includes your location as your phone interacts with nearby phone towers, so in effect it can be used as a tracking device. But more importantly, forget that “it’s just metadata” (or “just billing data” as the Prime Minister said). A single phone call time and duration won’t tell anyone much about you. But in aggregate, metadata will reveal far more about you than content data. With automated data-sifting software, agencies can accumulate a record of everyone you have called, everyone they have called, how long you spoke for, the order of the calls, and where you were when you made the call, to build a profile that says far more about you than any solitary overheard phone call or email. It can reveal not just straightforward details such as your friends and acquaintances, but also if you have medical issues, your financial interests, what you’re buying, if you’re having an affair or ended a relationship. Combined with other publicly available information, having a full set of metadata on an individual will tell you far more than much of their content data ever will. And if you don’t believe us, ask the people who know: the General Counsel for the United States National Security Agency has publicly stated, “metadata absolutely tells you everything about somebody’s life. If you have enough metadata, you don’t really need content”. According to the former head of the NSA, Michael Hayden, the US government kills people based on metadata it has accumulated on them. As Edward Snowden says: “You can’t trust what you’re hearing, but you can trust the metadata.” OK, but we’ve already given away our privacy to Facebook etc, haven’t we? Why shouldn’t agencies that want to protect us get the same data? This is an argument routinely used by data retention advocates, and by Irvine himself. But going on Facebook isn’t compulsory. Citizens choose to use social media or other online platforms and voluntarily engage in the swap of privacy for services that so many applications are built on. Maybe they don’t understand the full nature of what they’re losing in that transaction, but it’s still voluntary. There is nothing voluntary about data retention — not unless you want to withdraw from the 21st century and not use telecommunications and online services. But agencies say they need it to help prevent and solve crimes. Let’s look at what happened in Europe. A German parliament study concluded data retention in Germany had led to an increase in the crime clearance rate of 0.006%. (The German scheme was later ruled unconstitutional.) Danish police, who have a much wider metadata and content data retention scheme, said the sheer amount of information was too unwieldy to use. But such-and-such a high-profile crime was solved with metadata. Maybe. But that metadata was available without a data retention regime. As the German study demonstrates, the number of crimes solved because of old metadata that would not otherwise have been available is negligible. And anyway, in western societies, we have long accepted that there is a trade-off between the rights of the individual, including a right to privacy, and the state’s power to protect its citizens. We understand that our civil liberties make it harder for the state to prevent, detect and punish crime, but value them enough to keep them anyway. Data retention alters this balance in favour of the state. But we can trust our agencies to do the right thing. Australia’s agencies generally have a better record of behaviour than foreign agencies. For example, repeated abuses such as stalking women, sharing intimate photos and listening in to intimate conversations, have been revealed to have occurred in the NSA; the CIA recently spied on the Senate Intelligence Committee while it was preparing a report exposing the agency’s use of torture; MI6 abducted and rendered Libyan dissidents to the Gaddafi regime for torture in exchange for help in the War on Terror. However, ASIO, the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service are by no means perfect and serious questions remain, for example, about both ASIS’s bugging of the East Timorese cabinet in 2004 and ASIO’s efforts to intimidate and gag the whistleblower who revealed it late in 2013. We also know from Edward Snowden that Australians intelligence agencies use electronic surveillance not for protecting us from terrorists, but for economic espionage. The problem is that, unlike normal government bureaucracies, intelligence agencies have minimal public oversight or accountability, and can use national security as a justification to resist media scrutiny. The lack of oversight means incompetence, corruption, mission creep and criminal activity are far less likely to come to light than in normal government agencies. Public transparency is one of the key motivations for public servants to behave appropriately, and it doesn’t exist for agencies engaged in surveillance. And the more personal data they have access to, the greater the temptation. But if you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to hide. Wear clothes in warm weather and have blinds in your windows? What are you hiding? Are you happy for everyone to know where you are all the time, who your friends are, whom you’re having a relationship with, everyone you call, whether you have a medical or financial problem? It is not up to privacy advocates to “prove” the right to or importance of privacy. All governments acknowledge it is a fundamental right. If you support breaching that right, it is up to you to make the case, not demand privacy advocates defend it. And law enforcement and intelligence agencies don’t merely target people “with something to hide.” People as diverse as whistleblowers, journalists, politicians, non-government groups and activists are subject to surveillance by such agencies, despite not having “done anything” other than reveal wrongdoing by governments and companies and protest against it. Data retention thus indirectly threatens core processes of democracy like whistleblowing, political organisation and scrutiny of governments. And once information is collected, agencies will press for its permanent retention. Some already argue that information should be retained forever. That means all future governments will have access to it. You may be comfortable with the current government having access to your data - but what about all future governments? And law enforcement and intelligence agencies aren’t the only groups who have access to metadata. In Australia, bodies as diverse as local councils, the RSPCA and health bodies can obtain telephone metadata on citizens without a warrant. But this is about stopping terrorism – the ends justify the means. Terrorism is a wildly overhyped threat in western countries. About three times more Australians have died falling out of bed since 2001 than have died at the hands of terrorists; more Australians die from diseases like shingles and chickenpox than from terrorism. More women and children die at the hands of the partners and parents in Australia every year than the total number of Australian victims of terrorism. More Americans die from causes like malnutrition, falls, swimming accidents and work accidents each year than the entire death toll from 9/11. The level of spending we direct toward national security is completely unjustified in terms of the harms it prevents. As a threat to the health and lives of western citizens, terrorism is negligible compared to deaths caused by poor infrastructure, bad health policies, unsafe workplaces or poverty. Data retention would be yet another expensive, intrusive national security policy that has no objective justification. Doing things in the name of stopping terrorism relies on our emotional fear of attacks, rather than making the case for taking away our rights. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. This story first appeared on Crikey.com.au.
Google designed a car without a steering wheel, and now Australian startup KISA has released a phone without a screen or keypad. As smartphones become more and more advanced, they become increasingly inaccessible to the elderly and those with disabilities, KISA phone co-founder Dmitry Levin says. Levin and his fellow co-founders Dennis Volodomanov and Leon Kosher founded KISA in the middle of last year, after watching family members struggle to use smartphones. The KISA phone, which launched last Friday, looks like a bulky, less sleek iPhone and features only the most absolutely necessary buttons, contact buttons, on/off, volume, and a SOS button for emergency calls. Users choose up to 10 dedicated contact buttons which are pre-programmed when they purchase the phone. If one needs to be changed, then this can be done remotely by the KISA phone support team. The phone is designed to be as light as possible to ensure it’s not cumbersome to use and not dangerous when dropped. “This is a purpose designed and built device, it’s not for everyone, but it’s designed specifically for the needs of certain people,” he says. “Even the simplest mobile phones on the market assume something about the user; they assume that they already know how to or are capable of using digital menus, touch screen interfaces, audio commands, or even at the most basic level, they assume the user can read. “We set out to make a mobile phone that assumes close to nothing.” While work is being done to make smartphones and communication gadgets as accessible as possible, Levin says there will always be a market for a phone like KISA. “As humans our ability to deal with new technology diminishes over time,” he says. “Technology moves on and it makes it easier, but it doesn’t take the fear of technology. For people that are afraid of tech, no matter what you do, if it looks complex it won’t work.” The phone has been heavily tested, and designed with extensive consultation with Vision Australia and Guide Dogs Victoria. Levin recalls the experience of one tester which he believes illustrates the value of the KISA phone. “One of our first testers, she did not know anything about the device, it was given to her, we weren’t present there, but we were told when she was presented with the box, she was disappointed, she thought it was another smartphone,” he says. “When she opened it her face lit up, and she said I know what this is and I know to how to use it.” Testers of the phone had difficulty using a regular cable charger, and as a consequence the KISA team developed a cradle charger to make powering-up as easy as possible. KISA will also be offering what co-founder it says are the simplest mobile phone plans available in Australia, with no lock in contracts, and easy to understand terms. Levin says KISA has been approached by investors, but plan to continue without investment for as long as possible. “We believe in it enough to fund it ourselves,” he says.
On Tuesday night John Collison, who co-founded online payments startup Stripe with his brother Patrick Collison, spoke with SEEK co-founder Paul Bassat on all things Stripe, startup and internet related, to help celebrate Stripe’s Australian launch. Here are our top seven pieces of advice Collison offered startups on a range of topics. 1. On co-founders: “You want to have a very high level of trust and the ability to work together because there’s so much for you to do, there isn’t time to sort out other stuff. Every day there’s this big lump of work and you both attack it and it works great, but as the company grows in size you really have to start splitting the responsibility.” 2. On co-CEOs: Collison recalled a chat he had with an investor while searching for funding for Stripe during which the investor highlighted appointing co-CEOs doesn’t work. “He tells this to people anytime they come in and say they are co-CEOs,” Collison says. “He says ‘ok just to clarify here, you’re trying to be co-CEOs? So you’re making everything confusing for all your employees today and all the employees you’ll ever hire. Who will get decisions from the both of you and they’ll never quite understand where they stand, just so you guys don’t have an awkward conversation right now?” 3. On hiring: “We hired fairly slowly throughout Stripe. “We’ve always been willing to simply not hire for a role and leave it unfilled rather than settle and be willing to compromise. And I think it’s been really important if you’re looking at it from a really long term perspective. “When you’re hiring a person you’re not just hiring them, you’re hiring the next ten people after them. I remember when we were hiring a graphic designer, it took a year to find the right person and so for that intervening year Stripe was just really ugly. “But again we preferred to be ugly for that year and have the right designer over the next many years, than settle immediately. They’re going to affect the quality or the calibre of people you recruit after that. You’re not hiring on a role by role basis, you’re gradually corralling people into this nebulous sphere. “Your ability to directly influence hires actually decreases as the group grows in size so you better hope you’re doing a good job with those early hires. 4. The future of e-commerce? “The way we think about it is, if we’re just getting people to move over from a competitor to Stripe, stirring up the existing pot but not actually changing things, that’s not actually that interesting. “The global e-commerce market, coming up with these figures always involves a heavy dose of making up numbers, but people generally put it at around a trillion dollars, and it sounds like a big figure, but is it actually that big? “Around two per cent of consumer spending globally happens online right now. You can kind of argue where that’s going to end up, and if you base it on the time you all spend online on our phones, we’re going to end up with a very significant spend of our portion online.” 5. How to build a successful global business? “If you think of any global business that has been very successful, you quickly find they have a pretty clear idea about their core competency. “I use this app if I need to travel, and I’m not using Airbnb, I’ll open Hotel Tonight and book the first thing available, they’re heavily discounted, but I realised my loyalty has shifted, it’s not with any particular hotel chain, it’s now with the app itself and staying in Hotel Tonight. “They decided that the really valuable brand, the really valuable piece to own is the app and the booking experience and who runs the hotel and who employs all the people that’s not that important. “If you’re a hotel that’s terrible. You’ve spend decades building up this brand. A lot of these companies have backed themselves into these corners.” 6. Do you need to go to Silicon Valley to start a startup? “In general I think people see Silicon Valley as this place that has a monopoly on tech innovation and I think there’s actually some pretty good reason to believe it’s becoming increasingly spread out. “You’re getting to a point where a team of 50 or a team 100 talented people can completely disrupt a market. “I think the jury is still out a bit on how much the availability of capital affects things, because certainly there are plenty of problems where you do need outside capital for the tech to grow quickly, otherwise it can be very slow.” 7. Is Silicon Valley encouraging the best and brightest of our generation to only solve problems felt by the middle class? “I think it’s actually a very good thing to be worried about. We solve problems for people like us, and so we come from a very privileged background so we’re going to solve problems of people from our background and there’s a large spate of the population that you ignore. “People talk about WhatsApp being acquired by Facebook for $19 billion dollars, but I think there’s kind a bit of an availability bias here. You only hear about the most egregious examples right. You hear about Yo! getting funding, but you don’t hear about Theranos in Silicon Valley which does blood diagnostics on your iPhone and they’ve raised $400 million. No one talks about it because it’s more fun to talk about Yo! “You look at where WhatsApp was most popular, it was in reasonably poorer countries like India where the cell phone providers who previously were charging these extortionist rates. [WhatsApp] came along and used the fact that people had smartphones to completely eliminate $100 million of carrier revenue from SMS.”
Is your phone constantly out of juice? Not to worry, a Melbourne-based startup is coming to the rescue. Eubi, an Australian business that specialises in portable phone chargers, launched yesterday with products that resemble a small, stylish battery. The chargers, which are available in a range of colours, are compatible with any mobile device as long as the user has their phone’s USB cable. Co-founder Melvin Chee says he started out selling electronics online and soon realised there was a gap in the market for portable mobile phone chargers. However, the concept for Eubi really took hold after completing an internship with Groupon Malaysia in December 2013. “I was really, really surprised that people don’t actually know the usefulness of a portable charger,” he says. Immediately after his internship, Chee flew back to Melbourne and started working on Eubi with three other co-founders. In March this year he started searching for a manufacturer in China. While Eubi chargers are currently only available in Australia, Chee told StartupSmart he is looking to take the idea beyond our shores. “We are looking to expand to New Zealand soon,” he says. Eubi’s website is modern and sleek, with taglines like “stay on the go” and “cherish moments”. Chee says this is all part of the business’s marketing plan – he would like users to think of Eubi as more than just an electronic device. “We don’t just brand it as an electronic brand but a lifestyle brand,” he says. “Something you carry around every day like a laptop or iPad.” So far Chee has been bootstrapping the project. “It’s been quite difficult,” he says. “Every penny we spend we say, should we spend this money? It would be great if we had an investor.” The fact the project is being self-funded is all the more admirable when you discover that Chee is still a student, juggling his passion for startups while studying business, economics and finance at RMIT University. But he says he is getting the work/life balance “right for now”. When asked what his advice to fellow entrepreneurs would be, Chee says sometimes you just have to put down the textbooks and take a leap of faith. “Just do it,” he says. “Theory is good, but I always like to get out and do things.”
Metadata is in the news again with revelations that police in Australia have been getting access to data collected from mobile base stations (cell towers). In the wiretapping world there is a distinction between call content and call metadata. The call content is the actual recording of the conversation. Metadata is data about the call, such as who has called whom and when. In the Fairfax report it says the metadata is about the location of mobile phones and hence the location of the mobile phone owner. According to the report law enforcement agencies are accessing data that tells them who was located within particular cells at particular times. What’s the cell in cellphone? Mobile telephony is based on the idea of cells. As we move around we are connected to a nearby base station. The coverage of a base station is called a cell. The size of a cell depends on many factors but its diameter ranges from a kilometre or less in densely populated areas up to about 30 kilometres in rural areas. Consequently, data on which base station we are connected to can provide information as to our location. Most people do not appreciate just how “chatty” their mobile phone is. When a mobile phone is switched on, there is a constant dialogue between it and the network, even without a call being made. In particular there is a constant exchange of data as to which cell the device is currently located in and which base station it should be connected to. If a signal becomes too weak because we have moved out of the cell, or if the current base station we are connected to becomes too congested the phone connection may be handed over to another base station. All this happens without our intervention and without us making a call. Locating the baddies The data exchanged as part of this process can be of great use to law enforcement agencies since it can provide information as to the approximate location at certain times of the owner of the mobile phone. At the very least it can tell an investigator which cell the mobile device (and hence the owner of the device) was located in at a particular time. But if the investigator is prepared to analyse the data, much more accurate location information can be obtained. To manage handover between cells, the base station monitors the signal strength from the handset. This can give an approximate measure of the distance from the base station. Also, since most base stations use directional antennae, the base station can give a good estimate as to the location of the mobile device. Multiple base stations may be monitoring the signal strength, making it possible for an investigator to pinpoint the location of the mobile phone to a particular house. It is worth pointing out this method of estimating location is quite distinct from GPS used for location aware apps in smart phones. Apps in smart phones may include GPS data (such as location services in mapping applications or geotagging in images) but accessing it by law enforcement agencies is not straightforward. In contrast, determining location using tower data is much simpler since the method relies only on monitoring who is connected to the base station and what their signal strength is. Should we be worried? The main concern expressed so far is the indiscriminate nature of data collection. Rather than collecting data for particular individuals, it is claimed that all location data for the base station is collected and the investigators pull information of interest. If true, there are obvious possibilities for data to be collected and leaked about people who are not suspected of being involved in criminal behaviour. There is also concern about disposal of collected data. So unless we are confident that there is some trusted oversight of it, then yes, there is some cause to be worried. Trusted oversight in the past has been through a magistrate issuing a warrant for an intercept. At the moment police do not need a warrant to access phone tower data. Maybe that should be changed. This article originally appeared on The Conversation.