mobile computing


New iPad? Tech firms have abandoned radical innovation for mediocrity

9:52AM | Wednesday, 23 September

The dust has now settled on the latest product launch from Apple, which for many trumped headlines about refugees, poverty and the battles for the Republican nomination and leadership of the UK Labour Party. We have new iPads, iPhones and more. But how new are they really?   Innovation is often characterised as being either “radical” or “incremental”. When it is radical, it sets new precedents and fundamentally changes the way we do things. From self-administered insulin to solar powered houses to driverless cars, radical innovation releases potential. Incremental innovation on the other hand builds upon what is already there in small steps.   In the world of mobile phones and tablets, incremental has become the new radical, and true radical innovation has been relegated to the sidelines. Incremental innovation has become the norm because of a belief that “slow and steady wins the race”, that people don’t like the risks that come with big dramatic changes. That seems to be Apple’s long-term strategy and, as a dominant player, it is setting the culture for other players in the market.   Using staged marketing in the form of annual or biannual high-profile media launches, tech firms have groomed us as consumers to accept small change as normal. More radical innovation, such as a modular phone that can be continually upgraded, is seen as crazy, quirky or even science fiction.   No radical innovation   The new iPad Pro that is a few inches bigger than the last one is being hailed as a “big leap” when it’s really just tinkering with the old design. Despite the new features, it in no way represents a radical innovation worthy of ecstatic celebration. The whoops of delight at its launch were followed by voices of disappointment online.   It is primarily for commercial reasons that Apple has institutionalised incremental innovation and tried to convince us all it is radical. iPhones and iPads are brilliantly designed things. Incremental innovation requires expertise and excellence in design and improvement. Phones and tablets play a major part in millions of peoples' lives. But continued innovation happens at a slow pace designed to suit the supplier not the user, who is nonetheless pushed to pay significant amounts of money each year for minor changes.   Fear of failure may have also contributed to the disappearance of radical innovation. The struggles of more unusual designs such as that of the Amazon Fire phone may have made innovators more cautious, delaying and lengthening product development and rollout to compensate. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that virtually none of the radical (labelled “crazy” at the time) concept phones of 2010 have never appeared on the market.   We may have also reached a point where phone design is so good that truly impressive change has become much harder to achieve. So we continue to buy similar looking products, putting them to our ears (just as we did with landlines), snapping cameras with slightly better picture clarity, and getting slightly more intelligent answers from Siri. Same game, tiny changes, price hike.   A smartphone revolution   At the same time, major new challenges are emerging for smartphone makers, from evidence that current phone designs may be fuelling unhappiness and reducing productivity to the worrying environmental impact of manufacturing them. Radical innovation is needed so that phones fully serve customer interests in a sustainable way.   But for the time being, more radical products, such as the Yotaphone 2, (which offers a dual screen), or the Runcible (round, beautiful and rather different), will be at best seen as quirky and niche. The existing market leaders will only change their tortoise-speed approach to radical innovation if a major new player genuinely disrupts the market with fast, penetrative changes.   For example, Chinese company Xiaomi is creating a range of products for the home (from TVs to air purifiers) that automatically link with their smartphones in a single, integrated system. This is the kind of radical idea that could shock Apple into becoming more radical and adventurous.   We could eventually see mobile computing move away from hand-held, screen-based devices towards seamless interaction across different devices and platforms such as wearable technology and projected holograms.   For the foreseeable future, however, innovation in the mobile and wearable space is going to be dominated by incremental and fairly mediocre approaches to innovation. Radical thinking will be consigned to concepts for the future and the iPhone 7 will probably look a lot like the iPhone 3. But the launch will be offered as another revolution.   This article was first published on The Conversation.

Smaller is smarter at the 2015 International CES

1:16AM | Monday, 12 January

An app that can unlock your front door with a digital key and the latest wearable sex tech OhMiBod are just some of the next generation of high-tech gadgets and devices on display this week at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES).   So what are some of the big things to look out for from the show, held each January in Las Vegas, in the United States? And how far has our technology evolved over the past year? The Internet of Things This year’s CES presented the largest ever showcase of Internet of Things (IoT) products.   The IoT is all about connectivity. It aims to use the internet to connect a whole range of devices and appliances, as well as things like the lighting and window coverings in your home.   Large growth is expected within this sector, which Dr Michael Cowling, a senior lecturer in mobile computing at Central Queensland University, said was “long overdue”.   “This year [at CES] is all about the gadgets,” he said. “So many little gadgets that can do a specific job. That’s great for diversity.   “It’s quite different from previous CES. Previous years it’s been more big showcase things, like last year’s curved TVs from big companies Samsung or LG. Now we’re talking about small start-up companies.”   One such company is Petnet. It has produced a device that allows pet owners to monitor the food they are giving their cat or dog, as well as being able to remotely give them their dinner.   Other smart appliances for the home include Milky Weigh, a device for your fridge that can tell you how much milk you have left while you’re out shopping. Tracking your health and wearables The plan for Wearables is to be seamlessly inserted into our everyday lives. A major feature in numerous wearables is their health-tracker capabilities.   Bragi Dash Smart Headphones won an award for best innovation at the 2015 CES. These are wireless headphones with an accelerometer, heart rate monitor and an oxygen saturation sensor built in.   Swarovski Shine is a bracelet and the first solar-powered wearable. It also includes sleep-tracker capabilities.   Vessyl is a cup that communicates with an app to measure your calorie intake. These are just some of the technologies to come out of CES this year that are focusing on people’s health and well-being.   Dr Kourosh Kalantar-Zadeh, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at RMIT University, said that he sees “the next stage of health as the surveillance of your health”.   He compared this next step forward for diagnostic sensors to the continued development of GPS systems.   “Remember a few years ago, people followed their GPS into a lake,” he said. “But they have became much more accurate since then. It’s the same for diagnostics.”   He was “amazed” at the new sensors coming to the market with much higher sensitivity, and sees this trend continuing.   “The biggest thing for me is biomedical in the next five years, as the technology is allowing them [the sensors] to become more selective and accurate.” The future of entertainment A big feature at last year’s CES was curved screens for TVs, but these have received a mixed response over the 12 months with some critics labelling it a gimmick.   This year, the main focus for new televisions was to get even better quality images with a continued interest in 4K TVs.   A new addition to the line-up is the use of quantum dot technology, which is a cheaper alternative to OLED with higher definition.   “This year saw TVs with much better resolution and also much better colour, as they introduced quantum dots, so they have very sharp colour,” Dr Kalantar-Zadeh said. “They were able to expand on this into very large dimensions.” 3D printing It’s only in the past few years that 3D printers have become commercially available. The focus at last year’s event was on getting plastic filaments for consumer printing. This year, the CES showcased new materials and techniques.   Robo has blended colours into its print, while XYZPrinting now uses laser-cured liquid plastic to create a more structurally sound product. It has also created a food printer.   Makerbot is using composite filaments to create products that feel like real wood.   Dr Matthew Sorell, a senior lecturer at the University of Adelaide, said real progress was being made in 3D printing although it was still early days in what the technology could do.   “I’m reminded very much of having a nine-pin dot printer 30 years ago,” he said. “That was what you could get as a consumer, whereas nowadays we all have a laser or an inkjet. Pretty much everyone has a laser printer in the office.”   Dr Sorell sees 3D printers following a similar progression, where we are still in the early nine-pin dot stage.   “2014 was just ‘here we are’,” Dr Sorell said. “2015 is really showing the evolving technologies of what we can do.”   While 3D printers are becoming more affordable and diverse in their applications, it can be difficult for consumers to create their own designs.   Designs can be shared across communities such as Thingiverse, but new products at the CES such as Scanify could also help the consumer. Scanify is designed like a point-and-shoot camera, but will take a 3D image of an object in under a tenth of a second, which you can then print out as an exact replica. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

What to do when your biggest friend is also a foe – a lesson from Mozilla

11:31AM | Thursday, 27 November

This past week Mozilla, the developer of the popular Firefox web browser amongst a number of other products, announced that Yahoo!, rather than Google, will become the company’s default search index in the US. In China, the default search engine will be Baidu, it will be Yandex in Russia, and it will remain as Google in all other markets. Hiding within this announcement, however, is a valuable case study for any business on what to do when your biggest paying customer turns into a competitor.   As I discussed in this column back in February, around 90% of Mozilla’s revenues come from Google, which pays a commission for searches originating from the search field in the Firefox tool bar.   As incredible as it might sound, that little search field in the top-right hand corner of Firefox on a PC or a Mac is worth around $US280 million ($327.5 million) per year in revenue.   To find out why that deal initially came about, we need to go back in time nearly a decade to when an engineer named Mitchell Baker – one of the most overlooked female leaders in Silicon Valley – launched Mozilla from the ashes of a company called Netscape.   Back when Firefox launched in September 2012, such an arrangement between Mozilla and Google was ideal for both sides. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer dominated the web, shipping by default on every PC and every Mac, and used MSN Search (now Microsoft Bing) as a default search engine.   As Firefox’s user base grew, so did the number of users it directed to Google. For Google, that growth in terms of users meant its lucrative search ad revenue grew, making the deal lucrative for both sides.   But a decade is a long time in the tech world. In that time Google released its own web browser, known as Chrome, and Google became the default on more than 1 billion devices using its Android or Chromebook platforms. Not only does Google now no longer need Firefox, but Firefox is now its chrome-covered competitor.   This put Mozilla in an incredibly awkward position: Its main source of income was now also its biggest rival. What Mozilla did next is rather counter-intuitive.   First it released Firefox OS, a slimmed down operating system based on the Firefox web browser primarily aimed at low-cost smartphones in emerging markets. At this year’s Mobile World Congress, it announced a smartphone that runs Firefox OS that sells for just $US25 outright. It was now competing head-to-head with Android devices at the very moment low-cost smartphones became a key growth market for Google.   Then it launched its own app store – known as the Mozilla Marketplace – that sells apps for any PC, Mac or smartphone that runs either Firefox or Firefox OS.   It followed this with the announcement of a string of devices running the platform, including tablets, smart TVs in partnership with Panasonic, low-cost computers and – most recently – a Chromecast-like HDMI stick called the Matchstick.   The new products and the app store will potentially create a new source of revenue for Mozilla, but also saw Firefox jump right in the path of Google’s mobile computing juggernaut, Android. That same Google – keep in mind –was also still Mozilla’s main source of income.   To paraphrase Sir Humphrey from Yes Minister, it was potentially a very “courageous” move. However, there was one strategic masterstroke by Baker and her team that hadn’t been revealed yet.   Google is not the only company on the internet that’s willing to pay to have a large number of web searches sent in its general direction. This is where the deal with Yahoo! comes in.   Better still, Yahoo! has no ambitions as far as making smart TVs, web browsers, HDMI sticks or app stores. In fact, if it leads to more people searching with Yahoo!, the online media giant has a good reason to promote those efforts.   As I said near the start of this article, there’s an important lesson hidden in this for any business or organisation whose biggest customer is also a competitor. In fact, it’s almost a case study on what to do (or try to do) in a very tricky commercial predicament, as Mozilla was.   That is to make sure you leave the door open for another customer or backer (in this example, Yahoo!) to potentially step in, while at the same time developing new sources of revenue over the longer term. Also, so long as your business has a Yahoo! waiting in the wings, it potentially matters less if those new revenue sources put you in direct conflict with your biggest customer (Google).   Because sometimes in business, your best friend can quickly turn into your biggest enemy.   This story originally appeared on SmartCompany.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Google Wallet not planning an Australian launch, leaving a big opportunity for local mobile payment startups

8:15AM | Friday, 22 August

Google has revealed it has no plans to launch its Google Wallet mobile payment platform in Australia, with the news leaving a large gap in the local market for Australian tech startups to fill.   As Fairfax reported, at a Trans-Tasman Business circle lunch in Sydney, Google Australia’s managing director Maile Carnegie revealed it had no plans for an Australian launch.   During a wide-ranging discussion, Carnegie listed off a number of priority areas for the tech giant in Australia, mentioning that there are no plans for a local launch for Google Wallet.   A Google spokesperson confirmed to Private Media the tech giant didn’t have any plans for a local launch of its online payments platform.   "Right now, we're focusing on Google Wallet in the US, and don't have a plan to share for international roll out,” the spokesperson says.   It’s good news for local startup entrepreneurs in the online and mobile payments space, such as Rewardle founder and managing director Ruwan Weerasooriya.   Rewardle recently added support for Android Wear devices, after appointing the former head of Fairfax’s digital and metropolitan news divisions, Jack Matthews, as its chairman.   Weerasooriya told Private Media that tech and banking incumbents don't have a lock on the future of payments, particularly when it comes to the mobile devices.   "Mobile computing is changing the game; the disruption allows a nimble start up the opportunity to compete and win against large, powerful incumbents,” Weerasooriya.   “As demonstrated by the recent porting of Rewardle onto the Android wearable OS which allows our members to make payments using their smart devices, mobile payments is becoming a bigger part of our offering and focus.”   However, the news is not universally positive for mobile payments startups. Earlier this month, Tappr launched a pilot program, its JUVO system, which integrates an MPOS (mobile point of sales) app with a card reader.   Co-founder and chief executive Brett Hales told Private Media Google’s entry to the market will bring a lot more attention to the sector.   “We handle more on the merchant side of things rather than the consumer side, where Google Wallet operates, so our emphasis would be on integrating support for Google Wallet and other payment systems into JUVO,” Hales says.   Hales also speculates that Google’s decision to focus Wallet on the US market is because banks in the US have not made the sorts of investments local banks, such as CBA, have in mobile payments.   “Google have seen this and seen it might not be a good idea to tackle the Australian market,” he says.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Rewardle bets on consumers embracing wearables in a bid to bring tech to merchant reward cards

8:54AM | Tuesday, 19 August

Melbourne-based tech startup Rewardle has released its first version of technology that enables merchants to accept payments from their customers via wearable technology such as smartwatches.   Believing that wearables are here to stay, Rewardle founder and managing director Ruwan Weerasooriya says they pre-ordered test devices and started working through concepts for how wearable tech could extend and enhance the Rewardle offering.   “We’re on a mission to provide the digital engagement tools and business intelligence used by large retail chains to local High St merchants by unlocking the power of mobile computing, cloud based software and big data analysis,” he says.   “We've made sure that local High St merchants are armed with the technology to take advantage of this emerging consumer trend and to our knowledge we are among the first in the country to provide smartwatch users with the ability to pay for an item such as a coffee using their wearable device.”   Typical merchants that use the Rewardle platform include cafes, restaurants, hair and beauty salons, pubs/bars, gyms, grocery stores, day spas, pharmacies, juice bars and quick service food outlets.   The company has given the traditional “buy nine, get one free” paper punch card a digital makeover and extended its utility by adding prepayment, mobile ordering and social media integrations.   Merchants place a tablet running the Rewardle app on their counter allowing customers to interact with the tablet using a card, the Rewardle smartphone app and now their wearable device to check-in. Once checked in the customer can record their visit, collect points, redeem rewards and make payment.   "We've only scratching the surface with this initial iteration but as a lean start up we'll continue experimenting and go much deeper as we learn," Weerasooriya says.   Juniper Research forecast that the retail revenue from smart wearable devices, including smart-watches and glasses, will reach $19 billion by 2018. Locally, Australian research firm Telsyte has predicted Aussies will spend more than $1 billion on wearables, including smart-watches, wrist bands and glasses by 2016.

What Facebook’s device tracking means for advertisers … and you

8:18AM | Friday, 15 August

Facebook today unveiled the latest weapon in its digital arsenal: cross-device tracking capability. This enables advertisers to track individuals' usage behaviours between devices.   This means that your Facebook (and related) usage patterns are being tracked and matched across devices whether you are using an old-world PC, your latest feature-packed smartphone or possibly even your internet-capable wearable technology.   The common thread is your Facebook login.   This, in turn, will allow Facebook to offer its paid advertisers the added accuracy to track precisely who had been presented which specific advert, and when, where, how (such as which device you’ve used) and whether they accessed (or clicked) the advert. They will also be able to track your individual site or app usage patterns and behaviours.   In other words, your every move is constantly in the crosshairs of the online marketers and our globally dominant digital landlords.   Ignore the hype – it’s old news   Cross-device or cross-platform reporting is nothing new. Google announced last October a similar cross-device capability for its AdWords paying customers, so the marketing hype around Facebook’s offering has more to do with attracting and keeping its paying advertisers, with you being the product.   Your online identity is the key that unlocks the doors to the online advertiser’s kingdom. By being able to attribute your purported Facebook identity such as user name, gender, age and so on to every online interaction through Facebook and related sites, irrespective of which device you are using, this will allow interested parties to stitch together and link these patterns to you and not just the device.   For the most part, and without being aware of it, the rules of the marketing jungle are continually being reshaped by the evolution of the underlying technologies, all tied together with our online identity.   Face(book) the facts   The fact that privacy and internet should not be used in the same sentence is nothing new.   What is new, though, is the increasing intensity of the arms race by marketers and commercial organisations in grabbing their share in the monetisation of your every step in cyberspace. As the capabilities of our technologies evolve, your every move on the internet is being increasingly scrutinised with finer and finer granularity.   The accelerating uptake of mobile computing devices such as tablets and smartphones together with the relentless push by organisations to have you preferably interact with them online, is further fuelling the global monetisation of our individual use of the internet.   The increase in people accessing the internet or using apps from their mobile devices means that there are more “views”, “hits” and “clicks”. These numbers are the fuel for the global digital marketing and advertising engine.   The adage that “if you’re not paying, then you’re the product” applies more now than ever before.   Rob Livingstone has no financial interests in, or affiliations with any organisation mentioned in this article. Other than his role at UTS, he is also the owner and principal of an independent Sydney based IT advisory and mentoring practice. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Facebook investor Peter Thiel launches $402 million global VC firm

6:33PM | Thursday, 21 June

Early Facebook investor Peter Thiel has used the fortune he made from Facebook’s IPO to launch a new $402 million venture capital firm, which is looking globally for potential deals.

Tablets and apps dominate 2011 CES

1:25PM | Sunday, 16 January

Start-ups have been urged to take note of the hottest trends at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show, which showcases the latest innovations in gadgets and technology.

Start-ups primed for mobile app boom

12:43AM | Monday, 6 December

Start-up developers look set to take advantage of the rocketing popularity of mobile computing devices, with new research predicting a surge in the sector over the next five years.