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Gadget guide: six new technologies to watch in 2015

12:51AM | Friday, 19 December

A year ago, SmartCompany listed the top new technologies set to race into 2014. Well, another year has come and gone, and a new group of technologies are emerging over the horizon.   So what new technologies should you look out for in 2015? It’s time to gaze again into the crystal ball and take a look at six technologies you should keep an eye on in 2015: 1. Make-or-break time for smartwatches   Over the past year, both in the form of devices running Google’s Android Wear platform and the Apple Watch, the tech giants have made big bets on smartwatches.   However, so far consumers have been a bit ambivalent. Sure, smartwatches can bring notifications to your clockface and apps on your wrist, and being able to do a voice search with Google without pulling out your phone or tablet is nifty.   On the other hand, a majority of the people inhabiting the planet already carry a far more powerful device with a larger screen in their pocket or handbag, in the form of a smartphone.   So the real question now is whether consumers will embrace this new technology.   Over the next year, entrepreneurs and innovators will either come up with a “killer app” for the smartwatch that drives it into the mainstream, or else the technology will be remembered as a flash-in-the-pan tech fad.   Either way, the next 12 months will be crucial to the long-term prospects of this much-hyped technology. 2. Mobile payments and tickets   Another technology rapidly approaching the critical make-or-break point is mobile payments.   These days, from “touch and go” chip-and-pin credit cards to public transport tickets, there are a growing number of smartcards that are based on a technology called near-field communications (NFC).   Over recent years, a growing number of smartphones have embedded these chips, allowing the “tap to share” features on Samsung Galaxy and Microsoft Lumia smartphones.   NFC technology received a surge of mainstream attention with its inclusion on iPhone 6, which uses the chip as part of its Apple Pay payment platform.   Of course, the great thing about NFC is that you don’t need to be tied into a proprietary walled garden platform such as Apple Pay. Potentially, all of the smartcards in your wallet could potentially be replaced with an app on a smartphone with an NFC chip.   Since we’re now at the point where just about every flagship smartphone has NFC, we’re also at the point where it’s plausible for consumers to replace a wallet full of cards with a phone full of apps.   Whether consumers embrace the convenience over the next year will be interesting to watch. 3. Multi-device app development   The number of tech gadgets on offer to consumers is greater than ever before.   A couple of decades ago, the average consumer just had a desktop or laptop in their study at home, and a second on their work desk.   Today, a consumer could potentially use a smartwatch, a smartphone, a tablet, a desktop or laptop computer, a smart TV (or a set-top box or games console) and an in-car entertainment system in the course of a single day – and all of them run apps.   Where Apple, Google and Microsoft once created operating systems for single devices, they’re now creating app platforms and ecosystems for devices.   With Mac OS X Yosemite and iOS 8, Apple added a feature called Handoff that allows users to pass activities from one device to another.   With Windows 10, Microsoft will allow a single app to run across a range of devices, including everything from smartphones and tablets to Xbox game consoles, PCs and servers.   Meanwhile, with 5.0 Lollipop, Android apps can now run on Chromebooks. Not only that, but Google has created a range of versions of Android for different devices, including cars (Android Auto), wearables (Android Wear), and TVs (Android TV).   For businesses, what this means is that consumers are likely to increasingly expect their apps, websites and online services to work seamlessly across a range of different devices and contexts. 4. Health tech   The interesting thing about many of these devices is they have potential therapeutic benefits for people with otherwise debilitating medical conditions. Others could be used as a preventative tool to warn users about possible health risks.   For example, Google Glass can potentially overlay graphics for people with poor vision highlighting potential risks and dangers. Cloud platforms can be used to collate health records and readings from a range of different devices and sources. Robotics can be applied to help people with limited mobility carry out everyday tasks.   The great news is that there are a range of Australian businesses already doing some great research in this area.   A great example is Eyenaemia, a new technology, developed by Melbourne medical students Jarrel Seah and Jennifer Tang, which allows users to diagnose anaemia by taking selfies with their smartphones.   The technology has grabbed the attention of none other than Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates himself.   “I could see a future version for Eyenaemia being used in developing countries, especially with pregnant women, since anaemia contributes to nearly 20% of deaths during pregnancy,” Gates says.   As of August, a health-tech startup group in Melbourne has already managed to attract close to 1000 entrepreneurs and medical professionals to some of its meetings, and a similar group in Brisbane is attracting around 100.   Health tech is an area Australia could become a world leader in over the coming years – if the investment and political will is there. 5. Plastic OLED displays   A year ago, low production yields put a limit to the production volumes of curved or flexible screen devices.   The first curved screen displays appeared on smartphones such as Samsung’s Galaxy Round and the LG G Flex, and at some curved-screen TVs at the International CES trade show. However, prices were high and volumes were limited. It required specialist types of glass, such as Corning’s bendable Willow Glass, to make.   The situation is set to change over the coming year thanks to a new technology called called P-OLED (plastic-organic light emitting diode).   P-OLED works by sandwiching a layer of organic material, which lights up on receiving an electrical charge, between two sheets of plastic. Along with the organic material, there’s a thin grid made up of a transparent material that conducts electricity (known as an active matrix) that can deliver a charge to each individual pixel.   Unlike LCD displays, which require a backlight, all of the light is generated by the organic material, meaning P-OLED displays are thinner as well. It is also thinner than glass AMOLED displays.   LG Display, one of the top three display manufacturers worldwide alongside Japan Display (Sony, Toshiba and Hitachi) and Samsung, says we should expect to see bendable tablets next year, with rollable TVs and foldable laptops screens in 2017. 6. Rise of the Chinese tech giants   This last one is not so much a new technology, per se, as it is a potential tectonic shift in the tech industry landscape.   During 2014, Xiaomi overtook Apple as China’s second-largest smartphone maker and – according to some figures – overtook Samsung as its largest. By the end of the year, it was the world’s third largest smartphone maker by volume, trailing only Samsung and Apple.   But while Xiaomi attracted most of the attention, it’s far from the only Chinese electronics maker set to make an impact over the coming years.   Lenovo became the world’s largest PC maker by buying IBM’s PC division in 2005, and has recently completed its purchase of Motorola from Google. Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker, is also making its consumer electronics play. In their shadows are a range of other brands, such as Coolpad and ZTE.   But it’s not just device makers that are having an impact. Look no further than the record-setting $US231.4 billion ($A258.8 billion) IPO of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. In conclusion   From health tech to mobile payments, there are a range of technologies that will potentially have a big impact on Australian small businesses over the next year.   But perhaps the most important thing for businesses will be to make sure your consumers have a seamless digital experience across all of them.   This article originally appeared at SmartCompany.

How these six new technology predictions fared in 2014: Control Shift

11:03AM | Thursday, 13 November

Futurologists are a common feature at business conferences.   Unfortunately, many aren’t held accountable to how their predictions pan out. We’re all still waiting for our flying cars, clean reliable fusion power plants and 3D holograms.   In November last year, I picked six new technologies that were likely to make an impact in 2014. So how did they fare?   Here’s what happened:   1. Curved and flexible displays   This first pick came with a caveat:   “Unfortunately, getting devices with a curved or flexible screen produced on a production line designed for flat screen devices has turned out to have been far more difficult than it initially seemed… As a result, you’re unlikely to see these devices outside South Korea in the immediate future.”   Sure enough, at the International CES in Las Vegas, Samsung demonstrated curved-screen TVs as the centrepiece of its display. In January, LG launched the G Flex curved-screen smartphone in Australia.   Meanwhile more recently, at its Unpacked 2014 Episode 2 event alongside the IFA trade show, Samsung unveiled a new curved-edge smartphone called the Galaxy Note Edge.   As predicted, there have been issues putting flexible and curved glass into mass production. However, LG Display appears to have come up with a solution: Using plastic instead of glass in a new display technology called P-OLED (Plastic-Organic Light Emitting Diode).   The thin, flexible display technology helped it to create a round-screen Android Gear smartwatch called the G Watch R, along with a smartphone that has a display that runs right to the edge screen.   The company expects smartphones and tablets that are designed to bend (and fold flat after being bent) to begin appearing next year, with rollable tablets, foldable-screen laptops and flexible TVs coming sometime in 2017.   2. Smart TVs   Whether it’s smart TVs that run apps out of the box, set-top boxes or HDMI thumb sticks (such as Google ChromeCast), 2014 was a massive year on the smart TV front.   The year kicked off at CES with LG reviving the Palm Pilot operating system (webOS) for its smart TVs and Panasonic partnering with Mozilla to put Firefox OS on its TVs.   Not to be outdone, in June Google announced Android TV, a new platform for smart TV apps and content. Last month, it announced the first set-top box to use the platform, known as the Nexus Player. Also from Google, a little device known as the ChromeCast finally reached Australia in May.   Amazon saw the action and said “me too”, releasing its version of the ChromeCast in October and a set-top box called Fire TV in April.   So what will people watch on all these smart devices? The best news is that streaming video service Netflix is set to launch in Australia.   It seems the humble “idiot box” has never been smarter than it was in 2014.   3. Smartwatches   Apple Watch was announced this year. Need I say any more?   Even putting Apple Watch aside, 2014 was a huge year for smartwatches. Google also announced its smartwatch platform, known as Android Wear, which in turn powers devices from a range of companies including Sony, LG, Samsung, Motorola and others.   These devices are all packed with a range of apps and features – and they’ll even tell you what the time is.   4. Augmented reality glasses   Google Glass got a limited public release this year with a range of fashionable frames and prescription lenses. Sony released the software development kit for its Google Glass clone.   But the real big mover was a related technology called virtual reality. Jaws dropped when Facebook paid $2 billion for virtual reality device maker Oculus. Last month, Samsung announced the first consumer device based on the technology, known as Gear VR.   You could say 2014 was the year augmented reality and virtual reality became a reality for consumers.   5. Home automation   Google kicked off the year by launching its home automation push with the $3.2 billion takeover of smart thermostat maker Nest. The tech giant encouraged other businesses, including Australian smart-light maker LiFX, to build new devices that connected to Nest.   Apple responded in June by launching HomeKit as part of iOS 8. The technology makes it easy for third-party device makers to allow their devices to be controlled with iPhones and iPads.   6. Low-end smartphones   This is a topic I’ve touched on over the past couple of weeks. The short version is we’re reaching a saturation point in the smartphone market, while low-cost vendors such as Xiaomi are booming in China.   The great news for consumers is, even with the Australia tax, buying an affordable smartphone has never been more affordable.   Throughout the year, a range of devices (including the Moto E and Moto G, the Kogan Agora 4G and the Microsoft Lumia 635 and 530) hit the local market. Each boasted features once the preserve of high-end devices and – best of all – prices well under $300 outright.   Conclusion   Forget about waiting for that flying car.   From smartwatches to smart TVs and low-end smartphones to home automation, the six technologies on the future gadget form guide ran a strong race in 2014.   When some of this technology will make it into the average person’s home is another question.   This story originally appeared on SmartCompany.

MicroView geeks in the spotlight with 1500 backers on Kickstarter in just four days

3:05AM | Friday, 21 March

Australian electronics company Geek Ammo has caught the attention of close to 1500 backers on Kickstarter just four days after its launch, nearly exceeding its goal of $25,000 by four times.   Its product, called MicroView, is a chip-sized Arduino OLED (light emitting diode display). Arduino is a hugely popular “open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software”. It is commonly used in robotics and the Internet of Things.   What makes the tiny MicroView so revolutionary is that it's the first Arduino compatible board that let's you know what it's thinking without the need to connect it to a computer, something that was necessary up until now.   The OLED display can then be used to create games, smiley faces, dashboards or just about anything that designers can come up with.   A short video on its Kickstarter campaign looks at a number of ways Microview can be used.     The founders originally came up with a pin that lights up so users would know the Arduino was working, but this new product takes the idea a whole lot further.   Geek Ammo CEO Marcus Schappi, formerly at Ninja Blocks, says the products is “for geeks” who play with Arduino, including artists, designers, hobbyists and would make it much easier for teachers working in electronics and robotics.   By being able to do big runs with Kickstarter funds, Geek Ammo hopes to keep the cost of the MicroView down to $45 (including worldwide shipping).   Schappi says it was important to keep MicroView affordable so it remained accessible to artists, designers, educators, inventors, engineers.   He says Geek Ammo would like to be able to create about four Arduino products a year. At the moment his preference is to bootstrap the company rather than take investment.   If you’re still wondering what Arduino can do, meet Pinokio, brought alive by servomotors and an Arduino to a desk lamp:     From its creators:   “Pinokio is an exploration into the expressive and behavioural potentials of robotic computing. Customized computer code and electronic circuit design imbues Pinokio with the ability to be aware of its environment, especially people, and to expresses a dynamic range of behaviour. As it negotiates its world, we the human audience can see that Lamp shares many traits possessed by animals, generating a range of emotional sympathies. In the end we may ask: Is Pinokio only a lamp? – a useful machine? Perhaps we should put the book aside and meet a new friend.”

Top 10 gadgets from CES 2011

1:39AM | Friday, 14 January

The Consumer Electronics Show is gadget heaven. Every year major manufacturers pull out some of the most powerful (and wacky), pieces of technology for attendees and have the chance to show off some of the most impressive and futuristic pieces of hardware ever seen; it's the biggest tech event of the year.

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