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The Australian-designed mobile phone that’s targeting the elderly

7:23AM | Monday, 28 July

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.

The top seven insights from Stripe co-founder John Collison for Australian startups

7:24AM | Wednesday, 23 July

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.”

Melbourne startup aims to kick-start your mobile phone’s battery life

7:21AM | Wednesday, 9 July

  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.”

What the police can get from mobile phone tower data

7:00AM | Wednesday, 9 July

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.

Startups a beacon of hope for snack food giant’s quest to change its culture

7:48AM | Thursday, 3 July

Are beacons the future for snack food companies? You might think so given they were the common theme amongst the startup pitches at Mondelez International’s Mobile Futures Pitch in Melbourne this week.   The snack food giant is searching for startups that can work to solve pressing problems facing some if its major brands.   Mondelez International owns brands like Cadbury Dairy Milk and Philadelphia Cream Cheese, among others.   Thirteen startups pitched over the course of the two day event, which began on Wednesday and ended on Thursday, hoping to become one of five that will receive $40,000 to work closely with Mondelez with the goal of launching a pilot program in 90 days.   The thirteen startups included:   Streethawk – segmentation, messaging, campaign automation and measurement plug-in for apps. Issue – turns brand content into a magazine that is interactive and shoppable, curating content from social media, blogs and product categories. Popup Brands – an online marketplace for listing and booking short-term commercial spaces. Snaploader – uses image recognition to enable users to snap an image and connect to all the relevant content behind the image and augmented reality to enhance the content experience. Kouperific – an app that distributes interactive, gamified coupons to a consumer’s mobile phone in order to drive impulse buying and improve positive brand perception. Proximiti – a location-based services and geo-analytics platform that helps companies craft personalised customer interactions and discover insights from geo-spatial and customer location data. SkyFii – mobile technology that uses Wi-Fi and beacons to help venue owners understand their visitors and engage with them via mobile. Lighthouse – a mobile marketing platform that leverages Bluetooth low energy beacons to deliver content and experiences based on proximity to things in the physical world. MyShout – a mobile app that allows you to shout your friends food and drinks at cafés, bars and restaurants. OnePulse – a new take on market research that produces real-time consumer insights effectively and inexpensively via mobile. GeoMoby – geo-location platform that uses GPS, BLE, Wi-Fi and GSM to deliver the right mobile message to the right person at the right time. BlueCats – allows marketers to add context to any app user’s experience in real time using BLE beacon, an SDK and a cloud-based management platform. Blocks Global – has developed Screener, a disruptive approach to traditional signage software, delivering stable web content to digital signage in-store, in real-time.   Mondelez International corporate affairs manager Julian Polachek, who was one of the judges for the pitch event, says all 13 startups did a fantastic job with their pitches.   The 13 startups were the best of 60 who applied to take part in the program.   “It was really engaging, so professional overall,” he says.   “Really interesting to see a spread of ages, professional backgrounds and also to see the ideas were so refined.   “There was a ubiquitous mention of beacons throughout the whole thing. Beacons were absolutely everywhere, but the particular take that each startup had on the beacons, you see how differently they could use the technology.”   He says the winning startups will be notified late next week and shortly after they will be linked up with the brands they will be working with.   Brand managers from each brand will then spend an ‘emersion week’ where they go and work inside their respective startups.   Mondelez International has run similar programs in the United States and Brazil.   “It’s so interesting seeing the cultural change aspect of the project really dawn on (Mondelez) participants,” Polachek says.   “Startups are vastly different to how we typically work inside the company. For good or bad we come with 100 plus years of knowledge about how we do things in manufacturing.   “In some sense some of that has to be unlearned. For these guys to be successful, they need to learn to fail often and in small ways, which is what startups are absolutely about.   “The challenge of changing our culture into a more entrepreneurial culture is going to take a while, but what we’re trying to do here is change it rapidly.”

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

6:36AM | Thursday, 19 June

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

Google’s plans for internet access from the sky

6:18AM | Tuesday, 17 June

News that Google representatives are in talks with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic are seen as further evidence the web company is looking to set up a series of low-orbit satellites to help connect more people to the internet.   Reports earlier this month said Google was planning to spend more than US$1 billion on a network of 180 satellites to provide internet access from space.   Then Google revealed last week that it paid US$500 million for the satellite imaging company Skybox. It says the deal will give it access to better imaging technology for Google Maps, but it could also see it launch a new satellite network for delivering internet access.   Google is already experimenting with new ways to provide internet access in remote locations through its Project Loon, which began in New Zealand last year and uses antenna held aloft in balloons.   Access to digital networks and information are playing an increasingly important role as we move towards a more networked society.   The global population today is approximately 7.1 billion, yet only 2.4 billion people are connected to the internet. Over the next six years this is expected to double, reaching 5 billion in 2020.   It’s not just about the web   Significantly, internet users will not be the key source of growth. There is increasing demand coming from a range of devices, systems and infrastructure being connected to the internet – home security systems, personal health monitors, cars, trams, trains, smart meters for power, gas and water, traffic lights and offices, as well as public spaces and buildings.   As the internet is further industrialised the big technology companies are tapping into the growth in networked devices – usually referred to as the Internet of Things.   Currently, 16 billion devices such as smart phones, tablets, security systems and smart meters have a network connection. This will grow exponentially towards 50 billion in 2020.   There is a change in the focus of connectivity too - from individual people to houses, towns and cities.   Large information and communication technology (ICT) companies such as Google are driving this increase in global connectivity, as their biggest market growth opportunity lies in the areas of population that do not have internet access.   The World Economic Forum – which monitors the digital divide through its annual Networked Readiness Index – also sees the urgency in making the internet accessible to remote communities from the developing world. They are the people likely to benefit from substantial improvements in the quality of life through access to ICT.   Other players trying to connect the world   Google is not alone in this race. Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg has also announced similar satellite plans to connect the unconnected, through the internet.org project.   There have been past attempts to increase internet connectivity via satellites, such as the Iridium Project by Motorolla, now Iridium Communications. Iridium provides satellite phone connectivity across the globe via a constellation of 66 satellites.   The service is limited by very low data rates - approximately 10kpbs - with costs of around A$1 to A$2 per minute of access.   Well ahead of its time, the Iridium project faced significant challenges with a range of technological issues as well as failing to effectively monetise the idea.   There were serious issues with the inter-satellite links needed to maintain the network, its handsets were bulky and its internet access plans were expensive. It remains largely an emergency communication tool and for infrequent access such as asset tracking in maritime/defence applications.   Iridium plans to launch a new satellite service, Iridium NEXT, delivering peak download rates of 1.5Mbs by 2017. We will have to wait to see if the second incarnation of Iridium can increase its subscriber base.   There have also been several other commercially yet-to-be-proven proposals that looked at high altitude long operation platforms making use of aircrafts and balloons to deliver similar broadband services.   These platforms use the millimetre-wave (30-300 gigahertz range) frequency bands (currently targeting around 28-33 gigahertz range) to deliver broadband wireless services to locations theoretically wherever access is required. But none have yet to offer a product to market.   Current satellite constellations are small (such as the 66 in Iridium) with each satellite often covering an area in excess of 1000km2. With limited bandwidth (often less than 100 megahertz available) to share between thousands of subscribers, individual subscribers get very low internet speeds.   Looking for growth   Yet new services are emerging. The Federal Communications Commission in the United States has approved Globalstar’s request to use a frequency band adjacent to the WiFi frequency window to offer satellite based WiFi coverage.   Additionally, operators such as Intelsat and Inmarsat provide satellite internet connectivity across the globe.   The growth in connected people and things presents an expanding market opportunity. Google’s business relies on its users delivering information upon which it can target advertising. It appears to be pre-emptively meeting the projected demand in order to increase its services. Satellite technology has matured and is now able to provide increased access and throughput to users and devices.   Google’s approach is similar to that deployed by mobile phone operators. By increasing the number of satellites, individual beams can cover smaller areas, approximately 100-200km2 thus sharing scarce frequency spectrum with fewer customers, increasing internet access rates.   Competition for Australia’s NBN   In Australia, NBN Co offers broadband plans using existing satellites to about 3% of Australian population scattered around the massive landmass in areas with lower population density.   The company has been designing its own satellites, which will be launched soon to increase access to broadband in remote Australia.   But the project is facing major obstacles in terms of securing the highly regulated satellite launch rights. It is reported that NBN is in negotiation to secure a launch orbit spot.   Google is not confining its vision to satellites or balloons. Google Fiber also plans to offer fibre connections with greatly improved speeds (compared to that offered by NBN) in selected USA cities directly competing with traditional telcos such as AT&T.   This is driving innovation in the sector, with these new technologies providing possible options for the NBN to deliver broadband to cheaper and faster to remote Australian regions where wireline access to broadband may be difficult.   Google’s satellite play highlights its serious intention to move into the new converging world of computing and communications, driving further competition and changes in the communications sector in the near future.   Thas Ampalavanapillai Nirmalathas is currently the Director of Melbourne Accelerator Programs (MAP) which supports entrepreneurial activities of the University Community through business acceleration models. He is also an Associate Director for the Institute for the Broadband-Enabled Society.   This story was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tax tips to help tackle the ATO hit list

6:26AM | Tuesday, 17 June

With the ATO announcing their hit list for 2013-14, it is time to do some urgent tax planning.   1. Keeping a car log book could increase your refund by thousands   If you use your car for work purposes and keep a log book for 12 weeks then the deductions can be in the thousands. Make sure that you keep all costs associated with the running of your car (such as petrol, insurance, registration, servicing and lease payments) for the whole year, not just the period that you kept the log book. Remember that the ATO motto is no receipt = no deduction so you could be costing yourself $$$ by not keeping those dockets!   2. Claim a deduction for the costs you incur in running your home office   This is a big hit-list item of the ATO this year. More people these days are working at home, but not many are aware they can claim a deduction for costs incurred in running a home office, even if a room is not set aside solely for work purposes.   Deductions are available for the work-related portion of home telephone, internet, stationery, computer equipment and printers. Keep a diary of your time that you work from home and claim a 34 cents per hour deduction for electricity, gas and depreciation of home-based furniture.   For those that use mobile phones, look at a bill for one month to work out your ‘mobile phone log’ and apply the work-related percentage across the whole year.   With respect to internet, tablet and computer usage, take note of the time that you use them for work versus personal (especially the kids playing games or doing homework). Note that it is expected that you will have a personal usage as we become more reliant on this technology for personal and social media purposes. On investigation, the ATO would like to see proof of websites that you regularly look at for work.   3. Minimise capital gains tax (CGT) by deferring sale or offsetting losses against gains already made   The sharemarket has had a roller-coaster year in 2013-14. If you made a nice capital gain or two earlier in the year then you can reduce CGT by selling any non-performing shares that you may be holding. Any unrealised gains should be sold after July 1 to defer tax for another year. And remember that if you hold shares for more than 12 months you reduce CGT by half.   4. Build your nest egg quicker by paying 15% rather than 46.5% by salary sacrificing into super   Salary sacrificing into superannuation is one of the best, and legitimate, ways to minimise your income tax bill. You can contribute up to $25,000 per year into super ($35,000 for those aged 60 and over) which is only taxed at 15% instead of your marginal tax rate (potentially 46.5%). There are not many pay packets left to do it this tax year, so keep in mind to start putting extra away when July 1 arrives.   5. Income expected to be lower next year? Bring some 2014-15 expenses forward into this year   If you are expecting that you will have a lower income next year – due to factors such as maternity leave, redundancy, a smaller bonus or perhaps cutbacks to overtime – then why not try to bring forward your deductions into this tax year.   Stocking up your home office with stationery, laptops and printers or prepaying subscriptions and interest for up to 12 months in advance are just some of the simple ways to reduce your income before June 30.   6. Prepay private health insurance   A 29.04% rebate on private health insurance premiums gradually phases out for those who earn over $88,000 (single) or $176,000 (couple). If you are currently under these thresholds, but think you will earn above these levels in 2014-15, you can still get the rebate in full if you prepay 12 months of premiums before July 1.   7. Take advantage of the government’s free money service known as the “super co-contribution”   It is surprising how few people actually take advantage of some free money from the government. If your income is under $33,516 and you contribute $1000 post tax into super, the government will match it 50 cents in the dollar. Whilst this incentive gradually phases out above this figure at $48,516, it’s free money! Also, if you earn less than $10,800 then your spouse can put up to $3000 into your super fund and they will receive an 18% rebate ($540) on tax via the spouse super contribution rebate.   8. Buy a new business asset for under $1000 and claim it as a tax deduction this year   There have been some great tax concessions over the past few years for small businesses, with none greater than the immediate write-off available for the purchase of new business assets.   However, draft legislation is in place to reduce the threshold for this concession from $6500 to only $1000 for business assets purchased after January 1, 2014, so don’t get caught by wily retailers trying to tell you otherwise! There is no limit to the amount of assets that you can purchase under this concession.   Businesses also can no longer immediately write-off the first $5000 of any new vehicle purchased. If your business is registered for GST, then you can buy a business asset for less than $1100, claim the 10% GST credit and get an immediate write-off for the balance in this year’s tax.   9. Keep your receipts   With the ATO continuing to ramp up their audit activity yet again it is important that you keep your receipts. The ATO motto is no receipt = no deduction so you could be costing yourself $$$ by not keeping those dockets!   10. Get a great accountant   Avoid paying too much in tax or leaving yourself to a visit from the taxman. Great accountants are like surveyors – they know where the boundaries are. And their fees are tax deductible!   Dr Adrian Raftery is a senior lecturer in financial planning and superannuation at Deakin University and author of 101 Ways to Save Money on Your Tax - Legally! 2014-2015 edition.

Dead battery? Charge it with your clothes

6:26AM | Thursday, 12 June

What if you could leave home, safe in the knowledge that your phone would not run out of battery before you return? The latest innovations in battery design could see dead batteries become a thing of the past — by producing and storing energy on ourselves.   Such new technologies could also help reduce Australia’s electronic waste. According to Step Initiative, in 2012 Australia generated around 25.23 kilos of electronic waste per person.   Here’s five of the latest most portable developments; from wearable, stretchable batteries to energy-harvesting textiles which may one day actually replace batteries by generating energy as they go.   People power   People are an an untapped source of energy that could go towards powering our devices.   To tap this energy source, researchers and innovators have had to develop materials that can are activated by environmental conditions — heat, chemicals, movement, and electricity.   Scientists at Berkeley Labs have developed textiles woven with piezoelectric wires. Piezoelectric power is generated when mechanical stress creates an electrical charge. This stress can arise through stretching or twisting the textile. A tiny stamp-sized generator in clothing relies on the piezoelectric property to produce electrical charge when pressed, and (for example) can be integrated into the soles of shoes to allow users to power mobile electronics as they walk.   Australia’s own CSIRO is also trialling smaller scale energy harvesting devices that could one day be accessible to everyday consumers. The Flexible Integrated Energy Device, allows electricity to be generated from an individual’s physical movements. Jogging or dancing, for example, could charge a mobile phone or iPod.   The CSIRO device is comprised of two components: a battery based on advanced, conductive fabric; and an energy harvesting system which responds to movement. As the wearer of the garment moves, the movement of their clothes can be captured and channelled into recharging the battery where it can be stored. The advanced fabric is woven from special conductive fibres made by coating conductive metal layers onto textiles, such as wool or cotton.   At the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology researchers have developed a wearable device that can convert heat into an electrical current to charge a battery. The device is made from glass fibres and is flexible, thin and lightweight as well as relatively efficient at generating power.   A similar project at the University of Southampton is finding ways to print conductive film onto fabric using rapid ink jet and screen printing processes. The film converts movement and heat made by our bodies into electricity which can be used to power personal devices.   You may have noticed a problem: batteries aren’t flexible. So scientists have had to come up with batteries that flex and move.   In the US, Northwestern University and the University of Illinois created a battery which can be stretched to three times its normal size to make them softer and more comfortable.   Powering innovation   These new batteries — new ways to power small, portable devices — have immediate applications in the military. They can help reduce the amount of batteries soldiers carry for computers, phones and other electronic devices. Indeed these military applications are a big driver for academic research into new solutions.   In a market which is coming to rely more and more heavily on electronic devices, there is a demand for more sustainable energy use and decreasing the amount of time spent plugging in and charging up.   At the moment though, these new technologies are too costly for everyday users. The next step in mainstreaming this technology will thus depend on finding ways to make wearable energy storage and harvesting more cost effective, straightforward and attractive products.   Researchers have a way to go before they find exactly the right material and product that can bend to and endure our everyday lives, wash it off, and look like something we would want to carry around, and it may be that commercial research partnerships facilitate this development. But given the number of groups, companies and individuals with an interest in solving the problem, it is probably only a matter of time.   Dr. Glenn Platt currently leads the Energy Transformed Flagship research centre at CSIRO.   Philippa Nicole Barr is a PhD Candidate in Design at University of Technology.   This story was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

THE NEWS WRAP: London black cab drivers take to the streets to protest Uber

6:11AM | Thursday, 12 June

Thousands of black cab drivers in London have protested against technology-enabled taxi services such as Uber.   They are upset that Uber allows its users to call a cab with their mobile phone and the fare is worked out using a mobile phone and GPS.   Cabbies compare this to a taximeter, which legally only black cabs are allowed to use in London.   The protests come just as Uber launches UberTAXI in London, which is open for black-taxi drivers to use unlike its uberX, EXEC and LUX services.   Amazon has another supplier confrontation   Amazon is refusing to sell upcoming Warner Home Video features as part of its effort to gain leverage in a confrontation with a supplier.   In a standoff with Hachette Book Group, Amazon is refusing to take advance orders and delaying shipments.   The two are currently negotiating e-book terms.   Apple tax schemes under investigation   European authorities have launched a probe into whether Apple’s corporate income tax arrangements in Ireland are legal, or whether they qualify as unlawful state aid.   Ireland is the base of choice for many large tech companies’ international operations because of a low corporate tax rate and other favourable laws.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 102.04 to 16,853.88. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US94 cents.

THE NEWS WRAP: Packer set to bet on a return to Las Vegas

4:50PM | Monday, 21 April

James Packer’s Crown Resorts is set to make a bid for a $US2 billion casino on the Las Vegas Strip.   The investment marks a return to Vegas for the gaming tycoon, who was burnt by two Las Vegas Casino investments made on the eve of the global financial crisis.   Packer is believed to be interested in investing in The Cosmopolitan, which was taken over by Deutsche Bank in 2008 after gaming tycoon Ian Bruce Eichner defaulted on a loan, and is located next to MGM Resorts International's Bellagio.   Nokia deal with Microsoft to close this week   Smartphone maker Nokia has told investors it expects the $US7.2 billion sale of its devices and services business to Microsoft to be finalised this week.   The company says it has now cleared all major regulatory hurdles required for the deal to go ahead.   The deal will see Nokia sell its mobile phone division to Microsoft, including its Lumia smartphone line, with the Finnish company retaining its network equipment manufacturing business.   US fibre optic rollout continues   One of the largest telecommunications carriers in the US has announced plans to deploy fibre to the node (FTTN) or fibre to the premises (FTTP) services across 21 US cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and Atlanta.   The AT&T U-verse deployment comes as Google continues its fibre optic network rollout in selected US cities.   The company claims it already has 10.7 million internet and pay television subscribers using its fibre optic services.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up to 16449.2. The Aussie dollar is at US93.27 cents.

Cybersecurity: Time to think like a fox to fend off the hedgehogs

3:26AM | Monday, 31 March

A report into cybercrime and stolen data has highlighted the risks for online companies saying that “the ability to stage cyber-attacks will likely outpace the ability to defend against them”.   The Markets for Cybercrime Tools and Stolen Data report says  “attackers can be hedgehogs (they only need to know one attack method, but do it well) while defenders must be foxes (they need to know everything; not just technical knowledge, but knowledge of networking, software, law enforcement, psychology, etc)”.   It also says big companies will be able to secure themselves and follow new Payment Card Industry Guidelines (e.g. use of chip and PIN systems), "but smaller retailers will be hurt because they may not be able to keep up with these new security requirements imposed on them”.   Drew Sing, platform engineer for Bugcrowd – an Australian startup that offers bounties on behalf of companies to discover website vulnerabilities – says attackers can be beaten by fighting fire with fire – the good guys who think like bad guys.   “By incentivizing security researchers to responsibly disclose vulnerabilities through bug bounty programs, it allows them to utilize their specialized testing skills sets (the "hedgehogs") to help make a company more secure,” Sing says.   “This helps level the playing field against malicious attackers, and has been a successful strategy utilized by companies such as Facebook, Google, and Github.”   The approach has worked for Bugcrowd, which was referenced as a successful example of preventing cyber-attacks at least three times in the cybersecurity report.   Sing acknowledges that smaller companies sometimes don't have the resources to pay bounties, but says that by setting up a responsible disclosure policy, they can still benefit from the knowledge of security researchers without having to provide a sum of money.   “A disclosure policy provides a scope of what can be tested, and gives researchers permission to submit vulnerability information to your company without the fear of legal action,” he says.   It's important to remember security researchers want to help companies, but often aren't offered a simple way to communicate this information.   This necessity was highlighted when 16-year-old Joshua Rogers, a self-described white-hat hacker, found a security hole in the Public Transport Victoria website and reported it to the site.   Rogers hacked the site using an unspecified hacking technique to access a database that held personal data including full names, addresses, home and mobile phone numbers, email addresses, dates of birth, seniors' card ID numbers, and nine-digit credit card extracts of customers of the Metlink public transport online store.   The site didn't respond, so Rogers reported it to the media, who in turn contacted PTV, who in response reported Rogers to the police.   The increased risk to businesses has also seen growth in the cybercrime insurance industry, with Allianz today launching a cybercrime insurance product and saying that cybercrime costs the Australian economy over $1 billion annually.   According to its research, Allianz says cybercrime moved into the top five risks faced by Australian business in 2014.   The new Cyber Protect insurance product will cover up to $50 million to enable businesses to protect themselves against cyber criminals and data loss.   Insurance expert Allan Manning says cybercrime insurance had been around for a while now, but the Allianz announcement was evidence this was an increasing trend with the cybercrime insurance now a billion dollar industry.   “In the future it will be a standard insurance policy that most companies take out,” Manning says. He mentioned that some policies cover bounty payments for people to find vulnerabilities.   Manning says the costs of the cybercrime insurance were not really prohibitive. He took out a policy for his own business which cost around $3000 for coverage between $300,000 and $500,000.   The Australian and New Zealand Institute of Insurance and Finance will release a report comparing the different cyber insurance policies later this year.

Introducing the Best Social Change Entrepreneur finalists for the 2014 StartupSmart Awards

3:16PM | Monday, 31 March

Not all startups and entrepreneurial enthusiasm is wound up in making heaps of money. Increasingly, organisations that are striving to create social good are opting for commercial models for increased flexibility and sustainability.   The winner will be announced at the StartupSmart awards event tonight. You can follow the awards night with the hashtag #susawards.   Eat Me Chutneys   Ankit and Jaya Chopra are trying to change the world, one jar of chutney at a time.   Not only are Eat Me Chutneys ethically sourced, they also pay a fair price by buying Fairtrade ingredients.   They also repurpose otherwise wasted food, including over 300 kilograms of tomatoes and 200 kilograms of eggplants in 2013.     TalkLife   Launched by Jamie Druitt, TalkLife is a mobile phone app and social network for important conversations about mental health using social networking.   Designed to reach out to the thousands who struggle to get the support they need, they offer a helpline via smartphone technology for those considering self-harm, so the barrier to getting help is lowered.   GiveEasy.org   GiveEasy is a mobile donation platform allowing donors to give to the charity of their choice off their mobile device in a simple, smart and social way.   Founded by Jeffrey Tobias, the giving platform provides a channel for over 280 charities and has recently greatly increased its reach through a partnership with Australia Post.   Twenty of the charities are currently involved in a pilot program for donations via SMS technology.   HERO Condoms   Using a partnership model, HERO Condoms donates a condom for every one sold locally to a developing country in an ambitious bid to reduce the spread of HIV.   The startup grew out of a marketing project founder Dustin Leonard did at university.   The range is now stocked in over 900 stores and 72,000 condoms have been donated to Botswana.   Hello Sunday Morning   Founded by Jamie Moore and Chris Raine, Hello Sunday Morning is trying to change Australia’s relationship with alcohol.   The online platform offers community support and programs for people to take short breaks from alcohol.   Launched in 2010, the community now includes 22,000 users who have taken three to 12 month breaks from drinking and documented their experience online.   According to the founders, more than 90% of Hello Sunday Morning bloggers use alcohol dangerously and 52% are dependent on alcohol, and an audit has shown the platform has reduced participants’ risk of alcohol-related harm by 40%.

All the winners from the 2014 StartupSmart awards

4:46AM | Tuesday, 1 April

The fourth annual StartupSmart awards have again uncovered a diverse and creative entrepreneurial spirit alive and well in the Australian startup community.   The judges remarked it was tough just getting the entrants down to five finalists, never mind selecting the winners of categories.   This year also saw the addition of a People’s Choice Award with over 7000 votes recorded by our enthusiastic community.   The awards ceremony was held on Wednesday night, culminating in a celebration of all the hard work so many have invested in their startups.   StartupSmart would like to congratulate all the winners.   The winners for each category are listed below:   Best NEW Start-up: Pocketbook   This personal finances management app has been growing rapidly, accruing its first 50,000 users without spending a cent.   Pocketbook combines a variety of financial information such as bank statements, bills and receipts in one easy to follow forum.   Co-founded by Bosco Tan and Alvin Singh, the app has been making waves online with their own Whirlpool thread and across the media. The app brought in just over $50,000 in revenue in 2013.   Pocketbook recently raised $50,000 and shared their growth plans with StartupSmart.   A full list of finalists in this category can be found here.   Best Start-up Idea: CareMonkey   CareMonkey is a software for schools, clubs and businesses that enables these groups to access parent-controlled emergency and medical forms.     From permission slips to serious medical information, the app is designed to ensure carers have access to the information they need to make the right decision for kids.   The app was part of a Startup Leadership Program and has rolled out into 21 schools in 2013.   Launched by Troy Westley and Martin Howell, they’ve been building their sales team and are looking to expand into the UK and US later this year.   A full list of finalists in this category can be found here.   Best Disruptor: Health.com.au   The simple name may belie how significant an impact this online-only health insurance offering could cause in the competitive but slow-moving health insurance industry.   After struggling to understand their own health policies, co-founders Andy Sheat, Chloe Quin and Alex Geers decided there had to be a better way to do insurance and decided to find out.   Health.com.au is two years old and makes over $58 million in annualised revenue. Sheats spoke to StartupSmart about becoming the first new health insurer in 30 years in August last year.   A full list of finalists in this category can be found here.   Start-up Hero: BENT OVER Silicone Nozzles   The idea for this nifty flexible plumbing tool was born after founder Alex John landed badly on his back while using a self-constructed home waterslide, dislodging a fragment of his spinal cord that could have turned him into a quadriplegic.   While watching a demonstration of what happened to his spine in hospital, John had a lightbulb moment about a problem he kept facing in his plumbing business with silicone and sealant application.   He patented the BENT OVER Silicone Nozzles technology and has been busy selling it ever since to the building and construction.   A full list of finalists in this category can be found here.   Best Regional Start-up: She's Empowered   Before She’s Empowered launched, pregnant women working the construction, resources and transport industry struggled to find safe, high-vis gear that they could fit into and often had to resort to wearing male clothing with dangerous long or large sleeves.   Based in regional Queensland, founder Kym Clark created a range of appropriate maternity wear for the growing number of women employed in these industries. Clark has sold over 300 shirts already and says she’s just getting started.   A full list of finalists in this category can be found here.   Best Social Change Entrepreneur: TalkLife   Launched by Jamie Druitt, TalkLife is a mobile phone app and social network for important conversations about mental health using social networking. Designed to reach out to the thousands who struggle to get the support they need, they offer a helpline via smartphone technology for those considering self-harm, so the barrier to getting help is lowered.   A full list of finalists in this category can be found here.   People's Choice: Simply Raw   Simply Raw was established in October 2011, offering a range of organic, raw super food products, handmade in a home kitchen at Bondi Beach, Sydney. Simply Raw started selling its products at local Sydney food markets in early 2012.   Simply Raw then introduced a range of Raw Superfood bars to the Sydney retail market, with a handful of stockists in Melbourne and Adelaide. Four of the most popular Raw Superfood bars were launched on to the national market in March 2013.    Fastest Growing Start-up: Paws for Life   Pet supplies may not sound like a rich opportunity for startups at first, but when you consider the prevalence of pets and how much their owners are willing to spend on them, it becomes a very attractive industry quickly.   For Paws for Life cofounders Mike Frizell and James Edwards, it was too good an opportunity to miss, as they saw the millions of venture capital dollars being poured into similar online offerings in the US.   The company made over $5 million in revenue last year and are growing rapidly.   They spoke to StartupSmart about their $1.5 million raise and growth plans last year.   A full list of finalists in this category can be found here.   Best Startup: Wine Cru (Vinomofo)   After a couple of years trying to find the right business model to monetise their passion, wine deals site founders Andre Eikmeier, Justin Dry and Leigh Morgan have settled on a good one that brought in over $10 million in revenue last year.   Taking on the two biggest grocery sellers in the country, Vinomofo connects wine consumers to deals and a wider range.   In the past six months, the user base has almost doubled, and their ecommerce rates already have.   Eikmeier spoke to StartupSmart about the struggle to find the right business model and the risks they took to make it work in November last year.   We'll be profiling all the winners in a series running over the next few weeks. 

Tech’s intrusion in the bedroom

3:44AM | Tuesday, 25 March

A digital distraction survey, commissioned by Durex, which describes itself as “the #1 sexual wellbeing brand worldwide”, has found that technology is having a negative impact on relationships.   Well, 35% of them which, when you consider that texting during sex is a well-known phenomenon (the survey says 13% do it), might actually make it a fairly positive statistic.   More alarming, the research also revealed that annoying alerts have acted as the catalyst for fights across the nation with more than 40% of Australians acknowledging that they have argued with their partner about the use of smartphones during alone time.   The findings also revealed more than one-quarter of Aussies (27%) have experienced their partner putting off or not wanting to have sex because they were using technology.   It’s not just the bedroom where couples are finding distractions, with over half of Australians (57%) claiming that mobile phone use during meals has interrupted their conversations and connection. Though, this might be good news for introverts.   Over three-quarters of Australians (77%) are active on social media with almost half (49%) using it first thing in the morning or just before bed. Almost two-thirds of Australians (63%) prefer to communicate with their partner through social media rather than talking to them directly.   This study was conducted online among a representative sample of Australians aged 18-64 years.   The sample was 1004 respondents, distributed throughout Australia including both capital city and non-capital city areas.   The research was conducted in the lead up to Earth Hour (March 29) as Durex calls on Australians to use the hour of lights out to turn off their technology and reconnect with their partner.   Legitimate technology findings aside, we’re not sure what environmentalists will make of Earth Hour being turned into a call for ‘sexy time’.

Wallets could be obsolete by 2021 as mobile payments take over

3:11AM | Tuesday, 25 March

Mobile payment technology could swipe out the use of traditional wallets in eight years, a Commonwealth Bank survey finds.   After surveying 1024 Australians the bank forecasts that paying with cash or cards could give way to mobile phones by 2021, according to a report in the Australian Financial Review.   Commonwealth Bank executive general manager of cards, payments, analytics and retail strategy, Angus Sullivan, told the AFR he thinks a digital or e-wallet will become an important part in people’s lives.   “We’re reaching almost to the point of ubiquity around smartphones so I think that’s one big driver,” he said.   “You’re also seeing more convergence around technology solutions – the wide scale rollout of contactless terminals in Australia has been a really big tipping point.”   The AFR reports that mobile phone payments are growing by around 58.5% a year.   Kounta founder and chief executive Nick Cloete says he thinks the prediction of 2021 is too cautious and that change will likely happen much sooner.   “I most definitely agree with the findings but I’d bring that date forward,” he told SmartCompany. “Most countries like Australia now have such a high mobile phone penetration… Because the future of technology is moving so fast, consumers are demanding that they want to do everything on their phone.”   Cloete says with the payment technology his business creates, many businesses are already using it to offer mobile phone payment to customers, but a challenge is building customer awareness in order to increase uptake.   He explains that a typical mobile payment works with a customer logging into a payment App on their phone, choosing the business they are in, and allowing it to connect to the retailer’s computer system. “The future of retail online and the future of online is mobile,” he says.   However, while Cloete and the Commonwealth Bank are confident about consumer uptake, late last year Reserve Bank of Australia governor Glenn Stevens told an Australian Payments Clearing Association conference that elements of Australia’s payments infrastructure are “a bit dated”.   “It is very clear that both individuals and businesses are demanding greater immediacy and greater accessibility in all facets of their day-to-day activities,” Stevens said.   “This includes payments.”   The results of Accenture’s Consumer Mobile Payments survey from 2013 found that many consumers know that mobile payments are an option, but still do not make them.   Once consumers had made a mobile payments, they were much more likely to become converts.   Incentives from retailers or businesses also helped take-up rates. Accenture found 60% of consumers who already make mobile payments said they would probably do so more often if they received instant coupons as a result.   It also found that 36% said they would hand over personal information in exchange for such rewards, while 46% of users indicated that they would increase payments if offered short-term location-based coupons.   Security concerns were found to hold back consumers from taking up mobile phone payments more rapidly.   “While the industry is pre-occupied with the technology roll out, consumers are much more concerned about the security, privacy, convenience and value of using their phones to make payments,” Accenture reported.   This article first appeared on SmartCompany.

Phone startup rethinking keys off to Brazil for accelerator program

3:29AM | Tuesday, 18 March

Dextr, an Australian startup offering an alphabetically-ordered keyboard for mobile phone, has been accepted from over 1400 applications to join an accelerator program in Brazil.   Founder John Lambie told StartupSmart they were creating a more straightforward solution sans the QWERTY keyboard learning curve for the “forgotten five billion” of emerging mobile phone users.   “Very few people are as fortunate as us Australians to have grown up surrounded by luxury and devices. They’ve got one piece of tech kit if you go Nigeria, Brazil and Indonesia – it’s a hand phone,” Lambie says.   Dextr is the only Australian startup in the 40 selected for the SEED Accelerator Program, which offers training, mentoring and coworking space as well as $37,000 in equity-free capital.   Founders will need to locate to Brazil for the six-month program.   This is the second South American accelerator program for founder John Lambie, who has recently graduated from the Start-up Chile program.   At the time, he told StartupSmart relocating to South America made a lot of sense for his startup, describing Latin America as the “sweet spot for this kind of product”, with access to large emerging middle class markets.   Brazil has the fifth largest population in the world. Coupled with a rapidly developing economy and uptake of technology, it’s a big market for entrepreneurs and well situated for entrepreneurs to access the wider South American continent of emerging markets teeming with millions of people.   Prior to the Start-up Chile program, Lambie has been mostly bootstrapping with a couple of AusTrade rebates and grants.

Weekly digest: This week’s stories in one easy to check place

3:46AM | Friday, 14 March

We tackled some big topics this week, from the worst red tape for start-ups to five myths about scaling a business to how Australia can overcome a fear of failure many believe is holding the start-up ecosystem back.   We heard from a successful start-up about how it took nine years and a massive fallout among the founders to become profitable.   We also heard from a start-up that’s raised $250,000 from the federal government’s venture capital arm, one who is completely redesigning the mobile phone for older users, one that’s rolling out 3D body scanners across the country and discovered why this founder is launching a business in a crowded marketplace.   In community news, 15 organisations have launched a social enterprise manifesto, the Awesome Foundation is seeking crazy ideas to back, a Melbourne co-working space has combined forces with a charity for cancer advocacy, and an international start-up mentor has warned the Perth community about the need to unify.   In training news, 10 start-ups have graduated from a Queensland accelerator program, Melbourne University’s start-up internship program has been declared a success, and we found out why only 28 of the 80 applicants to join the University of New South Wales Startup Games were accepted.   We also shared a wide range of advice including how to protect your intellectual property assets, how to turn a mistake into a marketing opportunity, and five personal branding tips from Kyle and Jackie O.   We also heard from a start-up that gathered their first 50,000 users without spending a cent, and learned how to turn your blog into a business, as well as what steps to take to not get fined under the new privacy laws.

The eight biggest announcements from the 2014 Mobile World Congress

2:47AM | Friday, 28 February

This week in Barcelona, the GSMA – the peak global standards body for the mobile phone industry – is hosting its annual industry trade event, the Mobile World Congress.   The MWC is arguably the largest annual event in the telecommunications industry. It brings together carriers with mobile phone makers, equipment makers and app developers.   It’s where handset manufacturers make the big pitch to mobile carriers for the year ahead. A strong presentation can bring your products to the attention of mobile carriers the world over.   Perhaps more than the Consumer Electronics Show in January, the MWC is the big event where mobile phone makers unveil their new smartphones and other products for the year ahead.   This year’s event certainly hasn’t underwhelmed, with major announcements from some of the industry’s biggest players.   It’s time to take a look at eight of the biggest announcements from this year’s show:   1. Samsung Galaxy S5   Samsung is now easily the biggest handset maker in the industry. According to IDC, for the full year of 2013, it shipped a massive 313.9 million smartphones worldwide – that’s three out of every 10 smartphones shipped anywhere in the world.   Forget about Apple versus Samsung, it’s not even a race anymore at this point. Apple shipped 153.4 million units in 2013, meaning that for every handset Apple shipped, Samsung shipped more than two.   In fact, with the exception of the US and Japan, Apple is not even really competitive with Samsung anymore. That race was lost two years ago.   In addition to manufacturing smartphones, it also supplies itself with almost every component, from batteries and processors to cameras, memory chips and displays.   It is both the world’s second biggest chip builder, and the world’s second biggest ship builder.   So when Samsung unveils its main, flagship smartphone for the year, you better believe that everyone in the industry – from carriers to competitors – is watching very closely.   This year’s flagship, the Galaxy S5, was largely an incremental improvement on its predecessor, with the South Korean tech giant confirming speculation the new device is both dust-proof and waterproof.   Needless to say, both Telstra and Optus have already announced they’re carrying the new smartphone.   Aside from the Galaxy S5, Samsung shocked the industry when it snubbed Google for the latest version of its Galaxy Gear smartwatches. Instead of Android, the new devices will be powered by its own operating system, known as Tizen.   2. Microsoft’s Nokia X smartphones – powered by Android   For nearly two decades, Microsoft’s Windows operating system had battled an open source rival, known as Linux. While Linux has struggled to make inroads in the desktop PC market, it has emerged as the dominant operating system for servers.   Linux also forms the basis of Google Android, which competes head-to-head with Microsoft Windows Phone.   Meanwhile, in September last year, Microsoft bought the mobile assets of Nokia, along with a licence to use its patents, for $US7.2 billion.   In light of this, there was some scepticism when rumours first surfaced that Nokia was gearing up to release a series of smartphones powered by Android.   At MWC, Nokia confirmed the rumours by unveiling a new smartphone product line powered by Android called the Nokia X series. The new devices will come with Microsoft’s cloud-based apps and services pre-installed and won’t come with the Google Play app store.   Nonetheless, when Microsoft takes control of Nokia in April, it will be selling a consumer product based on Linux. Who would have thought it? 3. Facebook buys WhatsApp for $US16 billion   A week before the MWC, Facebook announced it is taking over mobile messaging service WhatsApp for an incredible sum – $US16 billion.   With both WhatsApp co-founder and chief executive Jan Koum and Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg delivering keynote speeches at MWC, the tech world was certainly going to pay attention.   During the keynote, Koum did not disappoint, announcing WhatsApp was launching free voice calls through its app during the second quarter, once the takeover by Facebook has been completed.   No doubt some of the mobile carriers were a little edgy about the prospect of Facebook launching an all-out assault on their lucrative voice call and text message businesses.   4. Mozilla unveils a $25 smartphone   This year’s Mobile World Congress marked the one year anniversary of the debut of Mozilla’s smartphone platform, Firefox OS.   For those unfamiliar with the platform, Mozilla is best known for its Firefox web browser. Last year, it announced it was creating a mobile operating system based on Firefox that would compete head-to-head with Google Android, Apple iOS, Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry 10.   In Firefox OS, all apps basically work like interactive websites and are coded in web standards, including HTML5 and CSS. Since this is less demanding than running a “full” operating system with apps, the theory went that Firefox OS would perform well on low-end devices aimed for emerging markets.   In practice, some of the first Firefox OS smartphones, including the ZTE Open, have left a lot to be desired.   As I explained in Control Shift last week, Mozilla’s expansion drive has left it in a precarious position in the marketplace:   As if the situation weren’t already urgent enough already, Mozilla’s lucrative deal with Google expires in November of this year. In a sense, it’s fitting that [Mozilla founder Mitchell] Baker has taken up trapeze as a hobby, because Mozilla’s in the middle of a high-wire act. It might be that, over the coming months, one of Mozilla’s growing number of Firefox OS-driven side-projects gains traction in the market place. However, it could also backfire spectacularly, endangering its main source of revenue in the process.   Aside from the seven new smartphones on display, Mozilla also announced that a smartphone costing just $25 would hit the market this year.   Given that, up until the fourth quarter of last year, more than half of all mobile phones sold worldwide were still featurephones, mostly in emerging markets, the $25 phone might just be the big hit Mozilla’s looking for.   Story continues on page 2. Please click below. 5. Major updates for BlackBerry enterprise customers   BlackBerry chief executive John Chen’s bid to turn around the fortunes of the smartphone pioneer were filled out in a series of major product announcements at MWC.   Up until now, enterprises using BlackBerry Secure Work Spaces on BYOD (bring your own device) smartphones needed to use different versions of BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES) depending on whether staff used newer BlackBerry 10/Android/iOS devices, or older BlackBerrys.   That has been cleared away with the release of BES 12, in the process clearing away many headaches for IT administrators. As an added bonus, it supports Windows Phone devices too.   The company also unveiled a new flagship phone with a full keyboard called the Q20 and an enterprise version of its BlackBerry Messenger service called eBBM Suite.   6. At least Sony’s new products are water-tight   Earlier this month, Sony announced it is selling its VAIO PC business to investment firm Japan Industrial Partners, spinning off its Bravia TV business into a separate subsidiary and slashing its global headcount by 5000 as part of a major restructure.   At the time, the Japanese tech giant announced it’s setting its sights on the smartphone, tablet and wearables markets for its future growth. Suffice to say, the company is hoping it delivered a hit with the products it unveiled at MWC.   The company unveiled a new flagship smartphone called the Xperia Z2, a 4G Android 4.4 KitKat smartphone powered by a 2.3 GHz quad-core Qualcomm processor. The company is proclaiming its 20.7-megapixel camera capable is the most ever used in a waterproof smartphone.   Which I’m sure is fantastic news for scuba-diving photographers.   The company also unveiled a 10.1-inch tablet called, imaginatively enough, the Z2 Tablet. The tablet is being marketed as the lightest ever used in a waterproof tablet.   Finally, the company unveiled a smart wristband called the SmartBand.   7. Opportunity knocks for LG?   The highlight for LG was an update of the KnockON security system called “Knock Code”, which uses a series of knocks rather than a password to secure a device. The new feature will appear on the LG G Pro 2 phablet, a new six-inch phablet set to go head-to-head with Samsung’s popular Galaxy Note devices.   The company also unveiled its “L Series 3” range of low- to mid-range smartphones at the show.   That said, most of LG’s big announcements came at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, including its LG Lifeband Touch activity tracking bracelet, LG Heart Rate headphones, and webOS-powered smart TVs.   8. Tickets please!   With the rapid growth of mobile ticketing, it’s no surprise the world’s largest telecommunications show would embrace NFC tickets.   Telstra was one of a range of carriers to trial NFC badge technology for tickets to this year’s event.   The badges use information stored by a mobile carrier, including name and telephone number, to help verify an attendee’s identity. The validation process also includes a photo ID check.   This year’s show also features an NFC Experience demonstrating NFC-based mobile commerce systems for payment, retail, transport, mobile identity and ticketing/access.   In addition, there are 61 NFC-enabled Tap-n-Go Points providing event news, schedules, documents, presentations, videos and other information.   According to figures published by ABI research, in the next five years, 34 billion tickets to be sent to mobile devices,. In terms of technology used to authenticate tickets, the figures show 48% will rely on QR codes, near-field communications (NFC) will be used on 30%, while SMS or other technologies will be used on 22%.   If the forecast is accurate, it suggests using our smartphones to touch on for events, public transport or entry into secure areas could soon be a part of everyday life.

Don’t create a doberhuahua!

2:42PM | Thursday, 6 February

Especially if you’re an inventive sort – not an unreasonable guess, given you’re reading StartupSmart – there can be a temptation to take two successful inventions and combine them.   Now, there’s a place in this world for tools that do many things. Your humble correspondent always carries around a Swiss Army knife, for example.   But, while convenient for those times you need a cross-head screwdriver in a hurry, your average Swiss Army knife makes neither a great magnifying glass, nor a great pair of scissors.   Don’t get me wrong, there have been cases where combining two different inventions into one can be useful. After all, the smartphones in our pockets are basically PDAs with mobile phone capabilities tacked on.   What sets smartphones apart is the combined functionality – being able to send data or make calls from PDA-style apps – fills a useful purpose.   But, more often than not, combining two different inventions means you end up with a splayd, or worse, a Microsoft Surface!   Seriously, what additional use case is filled by combining a laptop and a tablet that you couldn’t fill better with a proper laptop and a tablet? None!   Now, earlier this week, Old Taskmaster was watching the Super Bowl while cheering on the winning team – capitalism – when an ad perfectly illustrating the point came on the TV:     So are you toying with the idea of combining two different products into one?   Before you do, think through about whether any additional benefits are gained by combining the two inventions. You don’t want to create a doberhuahua!   Get it done – today!

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