Microsoft’s aim to make Windows 10 run on anything is key to its strategy of reasserting its dominance. Seemingly unassailable in the 1990s, Microsoft’s position has in many markets been eaten away by the explosive growth of phones and tablets, devices in which the firm has made little impact. To run Windows 10 on everything, Microsoft is opening up. Rather than requiring Office users to run Windows, now Office365 is available for Android and Apple iOS mobile devices. A version of Visual Studio, Microsoft’s key application for programmers writing Windows software, now runs on Mac OS or Linux operating systems. Likewise, with tools released by Microsoft developers can tweak their Android and iOS apps so that they run on Windows. The aim is to allow developers to create, with ease, the holy grail of a universal app that runs on anything. For a firm that has been unflinching in taking every opportunity to lock users into its platform, just as with Apple and many other tech firms, this is a major change of tack. From direct to indirect revenue So why is Microsoft trying to become a general purpose, broadly compatible platform? Windows' share of the operating system market has fallen steadily from 90% to 70% to 40%, depending on which survey you believe. This reflects customers moving to mobile, where the Windows Phone holds a mere 3% market share. In comparison Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure platform Azure, Office 365 and its Xbox games console have all experienced rising fortunes. Lumbered with a heritage of Windows PCs in a falling market, Microsoft’s strategy is to move its services – and so its users – inexorably toward the cloud. This divides into two necessary steps. First, for software developed for Microsoft products to run on all of them – write once, run on everything. As it is there are several different Microsoft platforms (Win32, WinRT, WinCE, Windows Phone) with various incompatibilities. This makes sense, for a uniform user experience and also to maximise revenue potential from reaching as many possible devices. Second, to implement a universal approach so that code runs on other operating systems other than Windows. This has historically been fraught, with differences in approach to communicating, with hardware and processor architecture making it difficult. In recent years, however, improving virtualisation has made it much easier to run code across platforms. It will be interesting to see whether competitors such as Google and Apple will follow suit, or further enshrine their products into tightly coupled, closed ecosystems. Platform exclusivity is no longer the way to attract and hold customers; instead the appeal is the applications and services that run on them. For Microsoft, it lies in subscriptions to Office365 and Xbox Gold, in-app and in-game purchases, downloadable video, books and other revenue streams – so it makes sense for Microsoft to ensure these largely cloud-based services are accessible from operating systems other than just their own. The Windows family tree … it’s complicated. Kristiyan Bogdanov, CC BY-SA Platform vs services Is there any longer any value in buying into a single service provider? Consider smartphones from Samsung, Google, Apple and Microsoft: prices may differ, but the functionality is much the same. The element of difference is the value of wearables and internet of things devices (for example, Apple Watch), the devices they connect with (for example, an iPhone), the size of their user communities, and the network effect. From watches to fitness bands to internet fridges, the benefits lie in how devices are interconnected and work together. This is a truly radical concept that demonstrates digital technology is driving a new economic model, with value associated with “in-the-moment” services when walking about, in the car, or at work. It’s this direction that Microsoft is aiming for with Windows 10, focusing on the next big thing that will drive the digital economy. The revolution will be multi-platform I predict that we will see tech firms try to grow ecosystems of sensors and services running on mobile devices, either tied to a specific platform or by driving traffic directly to their cloud infrastructure. Apple has already moved into the mobile health app market and connected home market. Google is moving in alongside manufacturers such as Intel, ARM and others. An interesting illustration of this effect is the growth of digital payments – with Apple, Facebook and others seeking ways to create revenue from the traffic passing through their ecosystems. However, the problem is that no single supplier like Google, Apple, Microsoft or internet services such as Facebook or Amazon can hope to cover all the requirements of the internet of things, which is predicted to scale to over 50 billion devices worth US$7 trillion in five years. As we become more enmeshed with our devices, wearables and sensors, demand will rise for services driven by the personal data they create. Through “Windows 10 on everything”, Microsoft hopes to leverage not just the users of its own ecosystem, but those of its competitors too. Mark Skilton is Professor of Practice at University of Warwick. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
The latest version of Microsoft’s Windows operating system will begin rolling out from Wednesday (July 29). And remarkably, Windows 10 will be offered as a free upgrade to those users who already have Windows 7 and 8.1 installed. That the upgrade is free is an interesting move and comes off the back of much criticism over Windows 8. Interestingly, the software giant has also skipped over any planned version 9 of Windows. So what does this mean for Microsoft and the 1.5 billion people it says use Windows every day? Can the company restore some of the consumer and user confidence it has lost in recent years? Under Satya Nadella’s leadership, Microsoft is transforming itself into a “productivity and platforms company”. This is a bold re-invention of the company as it seeks to secure its future in a market moving steadily towards cloud-based services and mobile devices powered by Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. Nadella sees it as necessity to broaden the company’s scope of operations beyond its current family of products and conventional modes of delivery. The market does not leave him with much choice if the company is to stay in the game, if not be a leader. After Windows 10 it’s just Windows For decades, the latest release of Windows has been a major event in itself. But that is set to end. Windows 10 will be the last numbered version of the operating system. After Windows 10, it will simply be known as Windows. And you will get your updates incrementally from from the cloud via a subscription service. Many Windows users will have noticed the upgrade notification appearing on their taskbar. Microsoft In what it is calling a “platform convergence strategy”, Microsoft is creating a unified operating environment for phones, tablets, ultrabooks, laptops, desktop computers and Xboxes. All will be integrated by Windows 10, and increasingly so with the later Windows. The platform convergence strategy allows the creation of universal applications that can run on any platform with Windows 10. Surprisingly, applications that have been developed to run on Android and iOS devices will also be able to run on Windows 10, albeit once they have been converted to make them compatible. Still, this will open up a vast number of potential applications to run across Windows platforms. Focus on gaming Microsoft’s acquisition last year of the hit game Minecraft for US$2.5 billion is a measure of how seriously Nadella and his strategists take mobile gaming. Minecraft is a hugely popular open world game that gives players the freedom to create create and manipulate an on-line world made of Lego-like blocks. The move will establish Microsoft in the booming world of mobile games as well as further popularising the Xbox gaming console. But the question on many people’s minds is whether the personal computer itself is dead, and along with it Microsoft? It’s not the first time we have heard such dire predictions. It is true that PCs are today part of a more complicated personal computing environment, but it is a stretch to declare the PC dead. There is only so much you can do with a phone or a tablet. For serious work or fun, a full-spec laptop or desktop is still the machine of choice and will remain so. For example, I am writing this article using a laptop. Microsoft’s latest upgrade of Windows will be free for many users. Flickr/Eric Li, CC BY-NC The new digital economy The Internet of Things is expanding, with embedded sensors and data gatherers becoming pervasive. Open platforms and operating environments that feed data into the cloud and allow people to derive value will be an important part of the new digital economy. With traditional jobs under threat from automation and artificial intelligence, imagination and creativity will be more important than ever. Microsoft’s strategy to diversify and integrate its platform offerings and move its services to the cloud while opening itself up to using its competitor’s apps would seem to be a bold but rational response to the current challenges; one that stands a good chance of succeeding. There will no doubt be loud complaints from those who claim to speak for all of us. But in the end if a computing environment delivers value and allows people to live their lives as they please, then that platform is likely to succeed, particularly when it has the muscle and know-how of a well-established company behind it. How Google and Apple respond will be very interesting, but competition is a good thing. David Tuffley is Lecturer in Applied Ethics and Socio-Technical Studies, School of ICT, at Griffith University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
This week brought news of the challenge that Apple faces with dwindling sales of the Apple Watch. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella also pulled the plug on its smartphone business purchased from Nokia with the announcement of 7,800 job layoffs and writing off US$7.6 billion in assets. Another beleaguered CEO was Reddit’s Ellen Pao. After Reddit’s shutdown earlier this week, a petition calling for her resignation passed the 212,000 signature mark. Apple Watch sales reportedly fall sharply in the US This week Slice Intelligence reported that Apple Watch sales in the US had dropped to 15% of their levels in April, with only 5,000 watches selling per day. Selling large numbers of the Apple Watch was always going to be a big ask. Even for something that actually does function better than its competitors in this space, the price of the Apple Watch and its accessories, is going to be a disincentive for many. The generalised adoption of the smartwatch as a technological category will rely on changing behaviours that have become ingrained over the past 20 years as we have adapted to using mobile phones. The last 10 years has seen smartphones become a real general computing device on which we are prepared to spend a great deal of time. Apple has done a good job with the interface on its watch, but the small screen is always going to limit its capabilities. It will take take time before people decide what can be done on the watch and what they need to get the phone out for and ultimately that will determine the value they are likely to place on having that type of functionality on their wrist. It is early days, however, and this is only version 1 of the watch. Until Apple release worldwide sales figures, it isn’t going to be possible to decide whether this has been a financial success from Apple’s perspective. (Ed's note: AppleInsider has a good piece on the questionable nature of the Slice Intelligence research. In short: the stats also show that the Apple Watch is the most succesful smart watch by a considerbale margin.) Microsoft repeats history and writes off its smartphone business In what is the final act of the tragedy that has been Nokia’s decimation, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced that Microsoft would be laying off a further 7,800 staff and writing down US$7.6 billion in assets associated with its smartphone business. It could be argued that Nokia, like BlackBerry, would have struggled to survive in the smartphone business in any event. It had already chosen the wrong side by deciding to focus on using Microsoft’s operating system for its phones instead of embracing Android. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made an equally bad decision to buy the company in order to stop Nokia from changing its mind and abandoning Windows and adopting rival Google’s platform. Microsoft has a history of making poor acquisitions. In 2012 it booked a US$6.2 billion charge for its acquisition of digital marketing company aQuantive. Driven again by wanting to compete against Google in the online advertising space, Microsoft was unable to make its online business profitable. A year later, Microsoft took a US$900 million charge on poor sales of the Surface RT a line of devices that lost Microsoft US$2 billion in the first two years of sales. If nothing else, the experience with Nokia should have finally convinced Microsoft that it is not ever really going to succeed as a devices company. For the moment, this is what CEO Satya Nadella seems also to have accepted. It is a pity that so many people should have had to lose their jobs for Microsoft to learn that lesson. Reddit CEO Ellen (Chairman) Pao clings on to the role The shutdown of parts of Reddit earlier this week eventually came to an end. But a belated apology from CEO Ellen Pao hasn’t satisfied the moderators who took this action. Two moderators involved in the earlier action wrote in the NY Times that the company leaders still hadn’t fully explained their actions in removing staffer Victoria Taylor, a move that triggered the users’ protest. It seems a very large number of the Reddit community are also still unhappy with the CEO’s response to this crisis, and a petition asking for her to stand down has passed the 212,000 signatures mark. Ironically, the skills a CEO would need to possess to be able to recognise when they should go are similar to those that would have made them a good CEO in the first place. Bad leaders, by definition, aren’t able to take the the best decision for the sake of a company and leave when they should. So far, nobody in a position to tell Pao that it is time to move on has surfaced. In Reddit’s case, and also an indicator of poor governance, there seem to be only two board members. Alexis Ohanian, a founder of the company and arguably not any better at handling the company than Pao, and Samuel Altman, who is involved with startup incubator Y Combinator. In the absence of a board to manage the CEO, it will be left to Reddit’s users to decide if it is worth sticking around to find out what she will eventually do. David Glance is Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice at University of Western Australia. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Technolog is the first in a (mostly) weekly wrap up of the highlights of the technology news and events of the week. These are the tech stories that hopefully are the most relevant to knowing what is likely to have an impact on our daily lives. Former CEO of Nokia, Stephen Elop is fired from Microsoft Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, this week announced the departure of ex-Nokia CEO Stephen Elop and several other Microsoft executives in a reorganisation of the company that saw the creation of three groups; Windows and Devices, Cloud and Enterprise, and Applications and Services. Whilst at Nokia, Elop arguably destroyed any chances of Nokia remaining relevant in the smartphone world by insisting that all of Nokia’s smartphones move to support the Windows platform instead of Android. Nokia’s death blow came when Elop steered the sale of the smartphone business to Microsoft where Elop then presided over its inexorable journey into obsolescence and the sacking of most of the former Nokia staff. The reorganisation is a good one for Microsoft and will allow them to concentrate on their core strength, namely enterprise software. They are also having increasing success with the move of this software to the cloud. Security Password Manager provider LastPass is hacked Users of the password manager LastPass were advised this week to change their master password after hackers stole users' details including emails from LastPass servers. The hackers did not compromise users’ stored password information itself. It seems unlikely that they will be able to crack the stolen encrypted master passwords with the information they obtained because of the particular security measures LastPass uses. The hack of LastPass showed that even though almost anything can be hacked, how you handle customers afterwards can make all of the difference. LastPass’s fast response and disclosure was praised along with the extensive security measures that they had in place to protect user data in the event of this type of occurrence. Using a password manager is still seen as preferable to using the same password for every account or keeping passwords in Notepad on your computer. Finally, using two-factor authentication with the password manager would still have protected users even if their passwords were compromised and so is still seen as a must with this type of software. 600 million Samsung Phones vulnerable to being hijacked A security researcher this week demonstrated a vulnerability that exists in Samsung phones which allows hackers to send malicious code to install and run on those phones. The vulnerability is specific to Samsung phones, and comes from the way Samsung updates the SwiftKey software embedded in its keyboard on the phone. These updates are not encrypted and Samsung allows code downloaded in this way to get around the normal protections of the Android operating system. Although Samsung has issued an update for this problem, it will depend on phone carriers to actually push it out to customers, and they are typically very slow at doing that. In the meantime, there is little users can do to protect themselves, other than not connect to unprotected Wifi, and this may be a good time for them to consider switching to another brand of Android phone? E3 Game Expo 2015 E3 is the biggest electronic games expo for the games industry held each year in Los Angeles. Upcoming releases of games are announced at the expo along with new games hardware and accessories. There were simply too many announcements to summarise here, but the remake of the first-person shooter game Doom, although stunning in its detail, seemed gratuitously graphic and violent. Another anticipated release was the action role-playing open world game, Fallout 4. Set in post-nuclear apocalypse Boston, the game player can adopt a male or female role, enters a fallout shelter and after 200 years have passed, emerges to explore the world above. What will be interesting about this game is the addition of a device (Pip-Boy wrist mounted computer) that will hold a mobile phone and strap to the wrist of the player, allowing them to interact with the game through that device. Other top upcoming games include Star Wars: Battlefront, Batman: Arkham Knight, Final Fantasy XV and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. On the console side, Microsoft announced that the Xbox One will support streaming of games to a Windows 10 PC where it will also be able to support Facebook’s Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. Microsoft’s also showed off their own augmented reality headset Hololens being used with Minecraft. The video highlights some of the amazing potential of this technology that will be available in the not too distant future. This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Australian app developer Shifty Jelly was one of six companies honoured in Google’s Material Design Awards last week for its Pocket Casts podcasting app. The award was announced last week at the Material Now session of the Google I/O developer conference, with Pocket Casts taking out the ‘Seamless Browsing’ category. Other award winners included Tumblr and the New York Times. The six award winners also beat out a number of big-name apps including Tumblr, Evernote, Indiegogo, Lyft and Buzzfeed. The awards honour well-designed Android apps that apply Google’s Material Design guidelines, with the nominees honoured in a best-in-class Android design section of the Google Play app store. The Material Design guidelines were introduced by the tech giant at the Google I/O conference in 2014, as part of Android 5.0 Lollipop. Aside from Android, the guidelines are also used to inform Google’s design for apps, the Chrome web browser and online services. Other key announcements from Google I/O included a new IoT platform called Brillo, a virtual reality platform called Jump, a photo sharing service called Google Photos, its Android Pay mobile payments service, and the latest version of the Android operating system, known as Android M. This article originally appeared on SmartCompany. Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Brillo, a cut-down version of Android aimed at embedded devices, and Weave, a framework designed to compete against Apple’s HomeKit API, were among the key announcements from the Google I/O developer conference this year. Other key announcements from the tech giant include a photo sharing service and app designed to compete against Flickr called Google Photos, a series of major virtual reality announcements, and the latest version of the Android operating system, which is known as Android M. Clinicloud founder Hon Weng Chong told StartupSmart that while Brillo and Weave are aimed more at the home automation end of IoT rather than medtech devices, a key issue for any embedded device is the trade-off between ease of programming and memory use. “Right now, we’re not even using Embedded Linux. We’re working on bare metal in Assembler,” Chong says. “There’s always a trade-off. When you use Windows 10 or Embedded Android, you need to have extra memory and more processing power, and that comes at a cost. So the trade-off is between the cost versus how easy it is to program. “Certainly, it will be good for new startups that are just prototyping their ideas. But when it comes to the nitty-gritty of getting a product ready, you need to do a bit more work. I’m not sure the trade-offs and chip costs are something Microsoft and Google have really taken into consideration.” Assembler still the only way to go The sentiment is shared by Procept products and marketing manager Rob Crowder, who also serves as the managing director of Smash Wearables. He told StartupSmart Assembler is the only way to go right now, assuming you can write apps that basic. Crowder also says multi-purpose wearable devices such as Android Wear smartwatches and the Apple Watch still lack the precision needed to do something like accurately measure a player’s tennis swing, as single-use wearables such as Smash Wearables’ device does. “Right now, if we asked a wearable to do everything the Apple Watch does, and at the same time have the precision we need it to, you’d probably need a battery the size of a backpack, and no one would buy it. “Our own wearables, that are useful for some very specific purpose, have a shelf life of somewhere around three to five years. At some time, someone will come up with a general device that’s precise enough with a battery good enough for tennis. But right now, there’s still a trade-off. How hard you ask it to work led us to develop our own wearable.” Concerns around Brillo’s memory use David Soutar, co-founder and chief executive at Wattcost, says a lot of embedded devices couldn’t support the memory use Brillo requires. However, not all startups are as pessimistic. Oomi vice president Chris Hall says he intends to take a close look at Google’s IoT ecosystem – as long as it doesn’t compromise the user experience for Apple and Windows users. “At our end, we’ve encouraged an open ecosystem. What’s been happening in the IoT space is a lot of fragmentation. So we’ve tried to be as platform-agnostic as possible,” Hall says. “Oomi Touch integrates with Apple HomeKit to give full value to iOS users. We’re also a partner in Samsung’s Tizen Alliance. “On the Google side, the big talk last year Nest Thread. However with Weave, there seems to be a distancing away from Nest and on the hardware side, we’ll take a close look at what the hardware offers.” Great to have an Apple HomeKit rival LEAPIN Digital Keys cofounder Steve Dunn says he thinks it’s great that Google have finally stepped in and set a new IOT platform with Brillo and Weave to rival Apple's HomeKit. “It means that we can now more easily interface our smart lock products with other IOT products without having to go through a lengthy negotiation exercise with all the different companies with all their different IOT products one at a time. “We’ve been talking with some overseas telcos, other startups, security product manufacturers, and even insurance companies about building interfaces, and pulling together smart home products and kits with our smart locks. But up until now it feels like we've been going on dates with all these other companies, talking and looking at each other’s products, discussing taking action, but not actually doing anything. This Project Brillo announcement by Google levels the playing field now, so it means that the best products can more easily come together and offer more choices for the consumer. “Up until now, it’s only been the loudest voices and best negotiators (mostly in the US) and not necessarily the best products, which are coming together because there hasn't been one primary platform for IoT products… Hopefully, Brillo will enable the smaller startups like us with great IoT products to get all the interfaces done, and get their products out there in front of consumers easier than they do now.” Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
On one level, the European Commission’s argument with Google is unsurprising. The EC’s commissioner for competition, Margrethe Vestager’s job is to investigate possible breaches of EU competition law. That is exactly what she is doing with her official complaints against Google’s use of its Google Shopping service. Equally unsurprising, is the investigation of Google’s other possible breaches of its monopoly position with how it controls the use of its mobile operating system, Android. One should also set aside the melodrama that accompanies such cases. News reports of the case have highlighted calls for the break up of Google as suggested by the European Parliament last year. The reports have also focused on the possible massive Euro 6 billion fine Google faces if the antitrust complaints are upheld. Finally, there is the fact that the case is the result of a conspiracy of competitors, led by Microsoft. All of the drama however, masks what is going to be a protracted process that could take years, during which time the entire landscape that is being fought over could have changed, not once, but several times. Google themselves were at pains to respond to the accusations that they were harming consumers by pointing out that search was quickly being superseded, and that: “People are increasingly using social sites like Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter to find recommendations, such as where to eat, which movies to watch or how to decorate their homes” Whilst it may be true that Google has a monopoly on search of the Internet as a whole, that is certainly not the case when it comes to the “social web” which is well and truly dominated by Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and others. Likewise, Google may have dominated advertising on the desktop but that is increasingly not the case on mobile. Law and trade policy operate on timescales that are always going to significantly lag technological change. As if understanding the full impact of an existing technology on consumers and competition was already not challenging enough, attempting to do this in the context of what will happen in even a few years is almost impossible. In fact, even determining monopoly in a technological market is not always straightforward. For example, even though Android controls over 80% of the world’s smartphone market compared to Apple’s share of 15%, in terms of mobile e-commerce, users of Apple’s mobile devices account for 5 times the value of Android users. For all of the EC’s past actions against Microsoft, they were irrelevant in shaping what eventually happened in the market. The actions had no effect on Microsoft’s behaviours, and came as little-to-no benefit to consumers. As with the EC’s complaint against Android, the fact that software comes pre-installed does nothing to preclude a consumer’s ability to run alternative software. The EC’s objections against Google again raises the more general issue that it is a futile exercise to use antitrust law to retrospectively try and influence the way the technology companies, and the digital economy as a whole, work. As with copyright and patents, the law has simply not been able to adapt and keep pace with the disruptive change brought about by technology and society at a global scale. It has led policy and law makers, and companies not wanting to adapt to change, to focus on the past and act as a break, rather than an enabler, of progress. It would be a far better use of the EC’s time and resources if their energies were spent creating policy that enabled the digital economy that they profess to want rather than keeping their vision of it restricted to a time that has long since passed. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
“It’ll never work.” “It’s not trustworthy.” “It’s not fair.” “It’s illegal.” For the last 20 years, this sequence of responses has become quite common to those who watch the internet and the creative companies it’s spawned. Incumbent businesses confronted by these digital disrupters resist changes to the status quo for understandable reasons: they were winning at a game they had mastered. When the game changes, efforts to strengthen the previous barriers to entry are standard procedure. Microsoft did it to Linux (an open-source operating system), the Bell companies fought voice service competition from cable-TV triple-plays and startups like Vonage, and record labels defeated Napster and then proceeded to sue their own customers once they realized peer-to-peer file sharing could not be shut down at a central locus. More recently, Airbnb and Uber have inspired a new generation of incumbents to play these same cards. Both companies have grown at phenomenal rates over short lifetimes, both rely on not owning the core asset (sleeping rooms in the former case, cars in the latter), and both have attracted sky-high equity valuations. Because of these traits, they have also attracted the attention of asset-owners who formerly profited from scarcity and thus are threatened by the lower prices brought by the asset-light coordination model of these two disrupters. This threat has prompted the asset-owners to erect barriers to entry wherever they can, often in the guise of more regulation. Just this month, Airbnb faced a proposal in San Francisco that would place more restrictions on rentals, while Uber has inspired fierce opposition to a bill that would allow its entrance into the Nevada (read “deliberately scarce Las Vegas taxi”) market. More interestingly, New York hotel interests are fighting Airbnb’s efforts to pay lodging taxes, in part because doing so would seem to legitimize the new competitor. In all cases, the incumbents are trying to use their links to legislators to increase regulation of their sector, biased toward status-quo definitions of same. But such efforts that purport to protect consumers lead to all sorts of unintended consequences. Previous efforts to stifle disruptive technologies have often been costly for the economy and in the end unsuccessful, no matter how logical and attractive they appeared to be at the time. Sharing beds and cars Both Airbnb and Uber make commissions by matching sleepers or riders with beds or cars, aided by the internet’s tendency to lower coordination costs and smartphones' unique combination of geographic context, rich visuals and ubiquitous wireless networking. It’s a much more attractive model than owning infrastructure and having to pay health care for employees. Across the world, many taxi and limousine commissions (TLCs) have ruled Uber illegal (even so, the service currently operates in 55 countries). Couch-surfing is more difficult to regulate: a 30-story hotel in Times Square is impossible to miss, while 20,000 available rooms in New York city (the figure dates from 2014) are mostly invisible from the street. In both cases, however, the incumbents can only do so much by way of competition: cab fares are set by law and taxi medallions are scarce for obvious reasons. In New York, the price of those medallions dropped by 17% (about $200,000) between 2013 and 2015, so Uber is hurting incumbents where it counts. Hotels with high fixed expenses, meanwhile, can only compete with Airbnb in subtle ways: saying “we’re cleaner than Joe Blow’s guest room” might be seen as damaging the brand while validating the competition. As a result, these incumbents can do little except drop prices or resort to regulatory protection. In part, this paucity of options reflects the highly fragmented nature of both markets. Trying to organize 50,000 licensed New York taxi drivers (who share 13,600 vehicles) to improve service, speed up pick-up times or otherwise compete with Uber on quality would be a logistical impossibility. Incentives aren’t aligned: the medallion owners don’t drive cars. Furthermore, taxi companies have been slow to invest in GPS and similar technology, guarded as they were by the regulated scarcity. Hailing and hoping Compare this model to Uber, in which the car owner is the driver. The smartphone app is a far superior method of arranging a ride compared with hailing and hoping – or even calling a dispatcher then hoping. Much like Fedex, Uber’s supply chain visibility (knowledge of where the package or cab is) contributes to the overall value of the experience. Conversely, waiting for a cab to get to the airport is made much more stressful by the lack of knowledge of where the ride is or how bad traffic is on a given route. Airbnb uses a similar confidence builder, wrapping information around the transaction. Much like eBay (its business-model grandfather), Airbnb rates both buyers and sellers, making both opening one’s home and staying in a private residence less of a gamble. For both Airbnb and Uber, the low barrier to entry and then the decentralized structure of the asset threatens the incumbents' moats: medallions in the taxi setting, real estate investment and heavy overhead (branding, IT systems and labor costs) in the case of a hotel. Complex regulation protects incumbents It’s important to realize how complex business regulation has become. What started as an effort in consumer protection (think of Upton Sinclair, “The Jungle,” and the creation of what became the FDA) now serves to do multiple additional things: to employ regulators who have a vested interest in keeping their jobs to maintain barriers to new-market entry and thus innovation to reassure markets and investors of a stable competitive environment. Thus what looks like “illegal” or “unfair” competition is in fact often a matter of innovation breaking an outdated, well-protected business model that has focused on profits rather than customer service or competitive differentiation. Note that in every case we have mentioned, the consumer protection function of regulation did not drive efforts to outlaw the competitive threat: Linux, VoIP, and unbundled CDs all dropped prices in the market while arguably improving quality. Regulators, however, need things to regulate, as we have just seen when the Federal Communications Commission defined the internet in such a way as to make up for millions of Americans abandoning wireline phone service, its primary locus of influence and revenue. Thus the incumbents and the regulators face a common threat. Room for regulation, but… At the same time, it’s worth noting that Airbnb’s and Uber’s independent contractors, with few exceptions, are looking littler and littler in light of the massive valuations and global aspirations of the two startups. In the latter case particularly, drivers have faced repeated and arbitrary changes in compensation models. Uber asserts that these changes should increase gross revenues, but the effect on operating expenses (and thus take-home pay) is less clear. Given the power imbalance between very big money at headquarters and independent contractors at the edge of the network, there is scope for harm, for protection and for risk – and thus a potential place for regulation – but those affected lack the political weight to compete with the more powerful motivator of eroded profits among a small number of incumbents. Labor unions and regulations protecting both workplace safety and the right of workers to organize were part of the answer to a similar imbalance in the 20th century. It’s as yet unclear what new arrangements could emerge now. So when a TLC tries to block Uber cars from accessing airport terminals, or hotels ask a city to refuse Airbnb’s efforts to pay lodging taxes, it’s worth asking: whose interests are being protected? Most likely, the legal efforts directly relate to the incumbent businesses that have been insulated from competition rather than to the common good, public safety, or economic progress. This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Cyanogen, a startup that distributes software based on Google’s Android mobile operating system, has raised $US80 million in series C funding in order to hire talent and accelerate software development. The round was led by PremjiInvest and included participation from other investors such as Twitter. "We’re committed to creating an open computing platform that fundamentally empowers the entire mobile ecosystem from developers to hardware makers, and most importantly, consumers around the world,” Cyanogen’s chief executive Kirt McMaster said in a statement. “We’re excited to have the backing of an amazingly diverse group of strategic investors who are supporting us in building a truly open Android.” The startup has received a total of $110 million in funding to date. The company reportedly rejected a buyout offer from Google last year. Instagram launches standalone photo-editing app Instagram has launched a standalone photo-editing app in order to give users the ability to make collages or mirror effects before uploading them to the photo-sharing app or other sites, such as Facebook. “From imagining mirrored landscapes to sharing multiple moments from an entire adventure, we’ve seen these kinds of visual storytelling happening on Instagram and we’re inspired by it,” the company said. “With Layout, it’s easier than ever to unlock your creativity — and we can’t wait to see what you’ll make next.” Layout is currently available on iOS and will be available on Android devices in the next few months. Twitter testing autoplay videos on iPhone and iPad apps Twitter has started testing a new feature in the US that will mean videos in a user’s timeline play automatically. “We’re running a small test on a few variations on the video playback experience,” a Twitter spokesman told Advertising Age. The autoplay test will apply to video advertisements. Facebook has had autoplay videos since September 2013. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 11.61 points, falling 0.06% overnight to 18,116.04. The Aussie dollar is currently trading at around 78.89 US cents. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Google has announced it is going to begin introducing paid search results for apps into its Google Play app store, with the news drawing a mixed reaction from Australian app developers. Under the changes, sponsored results will soon begin appearing at the top of search queries in Google Play in a manner similar to Google’s web search results. The move is designed to help the search giant to monetise the global installed base of its Android operating system, which runs on around 1 billion devices globally. According to figures published by Kantar Worldpanel last year, smartphones running Google’s Android operating system account for around 58.1% of the Australian market, meaning the Google Play app store is also a significant gatekeeper in the local market. David Mah, co-founder of mobile shopping app BlueSky, told StartupSmart he was among the app developers approached to participate in a trial of the paid ads, but turned down the invitation. “They approached us to do just that, but we didn’t go ahead with it. Apple also approached us for something similar by putting us at the top of their app store on the front page. We were their top shopping app for 2014, and [Apple] didn’t charge us for that,” Mah says. Klyp mobile lead Tyson Bradford told StartupSmart if the ads work like Google’s existing search ads, it will be advantageous for app developers to look at the ads as a channel to build exposure. “The apps stores can be hard to navigate and get to new content on. You’re trying to view over a million apps on a four-inch screen. Especially if Google gets the contextual part right, this is going to be valuable for app developers,” Bradford says. “It’s not going to cost you millions of dollars to get an ad on there, but if they put down $50 their ads won’t be there as long as someone with a million dollar budget. So it could be more cost-effective for app developers than other mobile channels.” Zoom2u cofounder Steve Orenstein told StartupSmart the benefits of advertising will vary depending on what marketplace each app serves. “In our instance there could be some relevance – gaming apps might be more relevant because people search for those a lot. If it’s good, it will give Google a new revenue stream while adding value for app developers,” Orenstein says. Meanwhile, Freight Exchange co-founder and chief executive Cate Hull told StartupSmart she hopes the news prompts Apple to improve its search results. “Anything that improves Apple’s search results will be great for users and developers,” Hull says. In a post on Google’s official Android Developers Blog, Google Play product management director Michael Siliski said that in the coming weeks, selected users will begin to see ads in the app marketplace from a pilot group of advertisers. “With more than 100 billion searches every month on Google.com, we’ve seen how search ads shown next to organic search results on Google.com can significantly improve content discovery for users and advertisers, both large and small,” Siliski said. “Search ads on Google Play will enable developers to drive more awareness of their apps and provide consumers new ways to discover apps that they otherwise might have missed.” Image credit: Flickr/ashkyd Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
The purpose and implementation of the Australian government’s proposed metadata retention scheme is making less sense as political pressure mounts to get the legislation passed. So what’s going on? The bill, as written, suggests it can be easy for criminals to “opt out” of data collection, while the remainder of Australians still have their personal communications spied on, retained for two years and kept in commercial data centres at taxpayers' expense. The Australian Greens senator Scott Ludlam recently raised a number of such concerns about the bill which has already met opposition from privacy advocates. But the bill’s worth as a tool to specifically fight terrorism, or any other serious crime, seems dubious if potential terrorists and criminals in Australia can easily “opt out” of having their data retained simply by choosing any internet messaging service where the persons operating the service do not own or operate “in Australia, infrastructure that enables” that service. So what does that mean for the apps commonly used on smartphones today? Whatsapp, the popular mobile messaging app with 700 million users, around 10% of which come from the Middle East, or Viber, a similar app with 20 million users in Pakistan alone, would both be excluded from data retention. These are some of the apps that the UK’s prime minister David Cameron recently mused about baning in the UK. According to answers given by Australian Attorney General’s (AG) department staff during the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Reference Committee, the “in Australia” provision also means that even Google’s web-based Gmail service is excluded from data retention. So what does the bill call for? With all the reports of what the bill leaves out and doesn’t do, no one seems to acknowledge what is actually in the draft bill, and how that language might affect policing, government and privacy. So what is at play? One possible explanation is that Australia is carrying out its obligations as part of the “five eyes” network of English speaking intelligence partners. The logic here is that it makes economic and political sense to have Australian internet service providers (ISPs) such as Telstra and iiNet retain what originates in their infrastructure rather than have the US’s National Security Agency (NSA) collect it. A more plausible explanation is that, contrary to the PM’s politiking, the data to be retained is not valued by the Australian government for its national security or anti-child abuse value. Instead, Australians are to be spied on for data that will become valuable for other state functions including the expanded reach of civil litigation. The expanded value considers normal policing, civil subpoenas and even copyright disputes. A look inside the bill The Australian government is not explicitly interested in the internet protocol (IP) addresses that you visit. The bill in its current form states in section 187A that the government: […] does not require a service provider to keep, or cause to be kept […] [information that] states an address to which a communication was sent on the internet, from a telecommunications device. In more detail, the helpful “explanatory memorandum” codifies that: Under proposed paragraph 187A(4)(b), the retention obligation is explicitly expressed to exclude the retention of destination web address identifiers, such as destination internet Protocol (IP) addresses or uniform resource locators (URLs). So what are we talking about then? It’s all about the destination What the government does seem to be after is “destination” data that basically amounts to an assortment of dummy variables that help identify you, and who you are communicating with. Instead of IP address or web pages, it is interested in retaining email accounts, Skype handles and phone numbers, etc. for the connections you have made. The government’s “destination” is in many ways more invasive than IP addresses or web URLs alone. For instance, think about how each person in Australia connects to the IP address 220.127.116.11. That’s the IP for Facebook.com, and is physically located in the US. Retaining the metadata of time spent at that address would not produce much actionable intelligence on you or the other 8 million Australians who browse Facebook each day. Nor would it be all that invasive to privacy. “Destination” data is different. “Destination” data seeks to capture who, specifically, you’re spending time with online; who is the destination that you are messaging through email, Skype or possibly even Facebook’s real-time apps and services? Think of it this way: two “destinations” pass data through the same communications service at a series of very specific times, again, again and again. No other two “destinations” share this unique pattern of time and connection. The government’s definition of “destination” is multiple click here, search for “destination”), but we can isolate a key phrase: This information can then assist with determining the subscribers who sent or received relevant communications. That is to say, who you’re talking to online, not where you went. Analysing how these “destinations” link together with other metadata (geo-location, device type/operating system, etc.) allows the government – or anyone else who snoops in on the retained data – to predict, for instance, that these communications were yours, and whether you targeted them to, let’s say, your spouse, or an “old friend” across town. And whether you meet up with that person from time to time. And where. And for how long. Geolocation data alone is incredibly powerful when we all carry smartphone and other devices that connect to the internet in our pockets. People are just starting to learn how powerful this type of metadata is. Retaining all of that metadata provides an incredible amount of information for civil litagants that can ask for it through a subpoena. As an former iiNet lawyer wrote: The Data Retention Bill does not impose any limitation on access to the retained data by other legal avenues. This means there’s nothing stopping your ex-husband, your employer, the tax office or a bank using a subpoena to get access to that data if it is relevant to a court case. All this data also creates a very valuable target for hackers, including “adversarial intelligence agencies” trying to infiltrate your identity, ransom you for your secrets, or run some form of economic espionage. Can we trust Australian service providers can keep all the data safe once they’ve accumulated two years worth of intimate connections for each Australian who uses any sort of telecommunications device? Sadly, recent security breaches at companies as diverse as Apple, Target, and the latest heist from “100 banks and other financial institutions in 30 nations” suggest otherwise. The flawed explanations of what good the bill does, what privacy risks it creates and the reality of how our retained data will be used, offers many red flags on why this legislation should be reconsidered. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Australian startup Kounta has launched in the United States in order to stake a claim in the increasingly competitive point-of-sale software market. Kounta, which is based in Sydney, has proved popular with retailers who want the flexibility of both online and offline solutions across multiple platforms – including iPads, Android tables, Mac OS, Windows and existing point-of-sale software. North American president of Kounta, Jason Seed, says while the company is entering a “busy market” it is up for the challenge. “On the one hand you have companies like Square and Groupon that have entered the POS market and done quite well,” he said in a statement. “However, they have ulterior motives to get you on to a specific payment provider or service, which they obviously earn money from. They are far from being open and this lock-in is dangerous for small business owners.” Despite taking on an investment from MYOB in June last year, Kounta will face stiff competition from other POS startups – including mobile payments company Square which was started by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey. However, Seed says he expects Kounta to stand out because in his view the startup’s approach is “completely different”. “We have built an open platform that integrates with everything else, so small business owners can choose the payments provider, or accounting software or ordering applications, that suits them best.” “Similarly, the current crop of POS startups are too simplistic. They either tie you down to a specific operating system, or are beautiful, but lacking in deep features that small business owners need.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Ninja Blocks has begun shipping the Ninja Sphere and announced it has signed up as a key partner for Canonical’s Ubuntu Core embedded device operating system, as it opens its first office in the US. The startup launched in 2012, when it was selected to participate the Startmate accelerator program, and also smashed a Kickstarter campaign for its first product, which was also called Ninja Blocks. In January 2014, the startup raised $702,937 against a $115,000 crowdfunding target on Kickstarter for their second product, Ninja Sphere. Then in October, it raised $US700,000 from local and international investors including SingTel Innov8, Blackbird Ventures and 500 Startups. Ninja Blocks chief executive Daniel Friedman told StartupSmart the first 500 units are in the process of being shipped to Kickstarter backers, with manufacturing and production now in full swing. "Obviously, we had wild success with our Kickstarter campaign and that that level – we have orders for 2500-odd Ninja Spheres – we couldn't make them ourselves. We had to get a manufacturing partner. "There are a lot of challenges that come along with a larger order, including supply chain issues, quality control and quality assurance, certification, packaging and trademarks. "For big scale projects – if things go really well on Kickstarter – my advice to people would be to be prepared to find people to give a helping hand. We had experience with our first product – Ninja Blocks – and never underestimated the challenges." The product design also posed some unique challenges, including ground-breaking work mass-producing a device that does gesture control with capacitors. It also set a goal to get wireless control mechanisms certified in all markets simultaneously, allowing it to ship to all parts of the world at the same time. Ninja Blocks has also gained global attention by signing on as one of the first partners for Canonical's Linux-based Ubuntu Core embedded device operating system. "We're really, really excited about this announcement. Ninja Sphere is one of the most advanced smart IoT systems on the market – it's a full Linux system in people's homes. So it needs to be reliable, resilient and secure. "We went with Ubuntu because it's the biggest name in Linux – in fact, you'll find a lot of the cloud runs on servers that are powered by Ubuntu." Meanwhile, Ninja Blocks recently hired a chief marketing officer and opened an office in San Francisco. The office will focus on marketing and funding the company's future growth, with Friedman himself preparing to move to the US shortly. Despite these moves, Friedman says Ninja Blocks remains committed to Australia, with design and engineering set to remain here. "We will still do our engineering and design in Australia and we have strong roots here. So it's really about having people in the places where they'll be the most impactful."
As part of Apple’s revamp of Beats Music, the recently acquired music streaming service will be bundled directly into iOS. The service will be bundled with the operating system early next year, instantly making it available on hundreds of millions of iPhones and iPads, the Financial Times reports. Beats will continue to be a paid service and will likely be rebranded under the iTunes umbrella. UK government funds free online startup education courses An initiative funded by the UK government and backed by the tech industry has launched, offering free online courses to those who want to learn commercial digital business skills, TechCrunch reports. The Digital Business Academy is being overseen by Tech City, working in partnership with a host of educational institutions and tech mentorship organizations including Cambridge University Judge Business School, University College London, and Founder Centric, which in turn works with tech accelerators such as Seedcamp and others. 500 Startups launches 10 million mobile collective fund Global seed fund 500 startups has launched a new micro-fund, a $US10 million ($AU11.6 million) fund it’s calling the 500 Startups Mobile Collective, TechCrunch reports. The fund will be headed up by Edith Yeung, who joins after running marketing and business development for Sequoia-backed mobile browser Dolphin Browser. She also co-founded angel investment firm RightVentures, where she made more than 20 investments. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 2.09 to 17,685.73. The Australian Dollar is currently trading at US86 cents. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
It’s a list that includes an Australian author, a former United States federal prisoner, a CEO of a multinational consumer goods company, a Harvard business school professor, a millionaire entrepreneur and more. These nine TED talks are sure to inspire, stimulate and generate thought about how to successfully run a business. They’re a must watch for SMEs and entrepreneurs. 1. The failurist: Markus Zusak This one’s a little bit different. Markus Zusak isn’t a businessman – he’s an author, but he details an important subject many in the business world have to confront: failure. The Australian writer is best known for his novels The Book Thief and The Messenger, but in this TED talk he explains how his personal failures cultivated motivation, and how his failures and humiliations made success feel so much better. Zusak discusses his original failures, first as a child, then as an adult, which helped propel him to success. It was his original failures that gave him the motivation to do so much better; this is perhaps someone everyone in the business world can learn from. Story continues on page 2. Please click below. 2. Profit not always the point Harish Manwani, the chief operating officer of Unilever, calls for a redefining of business models in society, and asks for businesses – if they want to remain relevant in the 21st century – to define themselves beyond what they sell and produce. Manwani asserts that in the 21st century for business, it shouldn’t be about generating revenue or turnover; it should be about creating a better culture – changing lives – in the process of doing business. Story continues on page 3. Please click below. 3. How data will transform business Philip Evans provides a fact-driven, theory-based look into the future of the business landscape. In this video, Evans, a senior partner at the Boston Consulting Group, looks at how the power of technology is driving the boundaries of how we think about business strategies, and how it will change in the future. Evans explains why he thinks two longstanding theories in business strategy are invalid in today’s market and what he thinks the future of business holds. Story continues on page 4. Please click below. 4. Success is a continuous journey Richard St John, entrepreneur and founder of marketing company the St John Group, poses the question of why so many people reach success and then fail. St John reminds us that success isn’t a one-way street, rather, it’s a consistent journey. He uses his own personal experience of going from being a successful businessman to a failing and depressed shell of his former self. His search for true passion coupled with the use of eight key principles, “passion, work, focus, push, ideas, improving, serving, persisting” helped him to climb the ladder of success once again after his early failures. Story continues on page 5. Please click below. 5. Dan Pink: The puzzle of motivation Business author Dan Pink explores the mismatch between what science knows and what business does, and in doing so, opens up an entirely new operating system for business models. Pink examines the rules underlying current workplace structures and unveils that, in fact, the rules are ill-defined. “The rules – if they exist at all – should be surprising and non-obvious,” he says. During his presentation, Pink looks at Australian success story Atlassian, which grants employees 20% of their work time to autonomously work on ‘whatever they want’ to promote creativity, free thinking and a healthy working environment. An interesting talk if you want to tackle the topic of motivation and rewards in business. Story continues on page 6. Please click below. 6. Work-life balance is an ongoing battle The most poignant of all the TED talks on this list, Nigel Marsh talks about finding the balance between work and life, and how the ongoing battle can either destroy or build an individual and their business. Marsh is the author of three books, Fat Forty and Fired, Overworked and Underlaid and Fit, Fifty and Fired Up, he is also the co-founder of Earth Hour. Marsh says an individual needs to be responsible for setting and enforcing the boundaries that they want in their life. He shows that the “small things” matter and that being more balanced doesn’t mean dramatic upheaval. With the smallest investment in the right places, Marsh believes you can radically transform the quality of your relationships, the quality of your life, and society. Story continues on page 7. Please click below. 7. Lessons in business … from prison Jeff Smith, a former US senator and prisoner, discusses the ways in which he saw a reflection between the top CEOs in the United States and the prisoners he spent time with in federal prison. Smith talks of the ways in which the ingenuity of the prisoners behind the walls, their ambition, drive and can-do attitude, is something that those in the business landscape can definitely learn from and recreate to ensure greater success in the business realm. Story continues on page 8. Please click below. 8. Your body language shapes who you are Harvard Business School associate professor in social psychology Amy Cuddy talks about what nonverbal communication does in terms of judgements from those we associate with. Cuddy says our body language not only affects how other people see us, but also how we see ourselves. What results is an interesting take on how to be more confident in your work, your life, interviews or general interactions, a key skill which will certainly help you become more successful in your business. Story continues on page 9. Please click below. 9. How to get your ideas to spread It’s not important how good your idea is, marketing guru Seth Godin says, it’s about how good your method of spreading the idea is – the idea he promotes is that “Ideas that spread, win”. Godin says consumers don’t care about ‘you’ at all – they have more choices and less time – and in a world where everybody has more choices and less time, the obvious thing to do is just ignore things. The challenge is to spread an idea worthy of the attention of other people. Godin says the most important question to ask when marketing an idea is: “Is it remarkable; is it worth making a remark about?” This story originally appeared on SmartCompany.
Futurologists are a common feature at business conferences. Unfortunately, many aren’t held accountable to how their predictions pan out. We’re all still waiting for our flying cars, clean reliable fusion power plants and 3D holograms. In November last year, I picked six new technologies that were likely to make an impact in 2014. So how did they fare? Here’s what happened: 1. Curved and flexible displays This first pick came with a caveat: “Unfortunately, getting devices with a curved or flexible screen produced on a production line designed for flat screen devices has turned out to have been far more difficult than it initially seemed… As a result, you’re unlikely to see these devices outside South Korea in the immediate future.” Sure enough, at the International CES in Las Vegas, Samsung demonstrated curved-screen TVs as the centrepiece of its display. In January, LG launched the G Flex curved-screen smartphone in Australia. Meanwhile more recently, at its Unpacked 2014 Episode 2 event alongside the IFA trade show, Samsung unveiled a new curved-edge smartphone called the Galaxy Note Edge. As predicted, there have been issues putting flexible and curved glass into mass production. However, LG Display appears to have come up with a solution: Using plastic instead of glass in a new display technology called P-OLED (Plastic-Organic Light Emitting Diode). The thin, flexible display technology helped it to create a round-screen Android Gear smartwatch called the G Watch R, along with a smartphone that has a display that runs right to the edge screen. The company expects smartphones and tablets that are designed to bend (and fold flat after being bent) to begin appearing next year, with rollable tablets, foldable-screen laptops and flexible TVs coming sometime in 2017. 2. Smart TVs Whether it’s smart TVs that run apps out of the box, set-top boxes or HDMI thumb sticks (such as Google ChromeCast), 2014 was a massive year on the smart TV front. The year kicked off at CES with LG reviving the Palm Pilot operating system (webOS) for its smart TVs and Panasonic partnering with Mozilla to put Firefox OS on its TVs. Not to be outdone, in June Google announced Android TV, a new platform for smart TV apps and content. Last month, it announced the first set-top box to use the platform, known as the Nexus Player. Also from Google, a little device known as the ChromeCast finally reached Australia in May. Amazon saw the action and said “me too”, releasing its version of the ChromeCast in October and a set-top box called Fire TV in April. So what will people watch on all these smart devices? The best news is that streaming video service Netflix is set to launch in Australia. It seems the humble “idiot box” has never been smarter than it was in 2014. 3. Smartwatches Apple Watch was announced this year. Need I say any more? Even putting Apple Watch aside, 2014 was a huge year for smartwatches. Google also announced its smartwatch platform, known as Android Wear, which in turn powers devices from a range of companies including Sony, LG, Samsung, Motorola and others. These devices are all packed with a range of apps and features – and they’ll even tell you what the time is. 4. Augmented reality glasses Google Glass got a limited public release this year with a range of fashionable frames and prescription lenses. Sony released the software development kit for its Google Glass clone. But the real big mover was a related technology called virtual reality. Jaws dropped when Facebook paid $2 billion for virtual reality device maker Oculus. Last month, Samsung announced the first consumer device based on the technology, known as Gear VR. You could say 2014 was the year augmented reality and virtual reality became a reality for consumers. 5. Home automation Google kicked off the year by launching its home automation push with the $3.2 billion takeover of smart thermostat maker Nest. The tech giant encouraged other businesses, including Australian smart-light maker LiFX, to build new devices that connected to Nest. Apple responded in June by launching HomeKit as part of iOS 8. The technology makes it easy for third-party device makers to allow their devices to be controlled with iPhones and iPads. 6. Low-end smartphones This is a topic I’ve touched on over the past couple of weeks. The short version is we’re reaching a saturation point in the smartphone market, while low-cost vendors such as Xiaomi are booming in China. The great news for consumers is, even with the Australia tax, buying an affordable smartphone has never been more affordable. Throughout the year, a range of devices (including the Moto E and Moto G, the Kogan Agora 4G and the Microsoft Lumia 635 and 530) hit the local market. Each boasted features once the preserve of high-end devices and – best of all – prices well under $300 outright. Conclusion Forget about waiting for that flying car. From smartwatches to smart TVs and low-end smartphones to home automation, the six technologies on the future gadget form guide ran a strong race in 2014. When some of this technology will make it into the average person’s home is another question. This story originally appeared on SmartCompany.
With all the new mobile devices come the potential new methods for advertisers to keep track of you across all your devices. They are given access through deals done by the large platforms and gatekeepers of your information. Here are a few of the ways the big social media and tech companies are accessing your data and using it for profit. Facebook: It has access to enormous amounts of very personal metadata collected from all of its users, including everything from employment, family, hair colour, friends, travel, home location and many other details. Mined from its users, this information is considered very valuable for advertisers and marketers. Another way Facebook tracks your movements is when you use your Facebook sign-in for other websites. This is also tracked by Facebook. And Facebook owns a number of apps, including WhatsApp and Instagram, that collect your information through your usage of the app. Facebook is large and looking to expand both its platform and ability to track your movements. It will keep purchasing and creating new ways to find and sell your information as this is its greatest income source. Apple: Its main tracking is through your email address and iTunes account, which tracks your credit card data and usage. When you purchase anything through an Apple device or using any Apple system, this information is used so the ads you see are normally reflecting your past activities. Google: When you log in to any Google account, you are then tied into the massive Google network. It also uses an Android mobile operating system which assigns each user a Google Ad ID. Google has many ad products and services such as AdSense, which access your ad identifier and compile the information with all the other YouTube, Gmail, Search and other personal digital history information, irrespective of what device you may be using. So why don’t they have to notify you of the use of your personal information? Because when you sign up to their services, you agree to their terms which include using your personal data as they please for advertising purposes. However, Google is still involved in class-action suits in various states in the US regarding its right to analyse message content and sell byproducts to advertisers. It is argued as beyond the scope of what is intended by the use of personal information. Google maintains it has the right to collect even your most sensitive data as long as it flows across an open Wi-Fi network. Google has been doing a lot more than its lobbyists and executives are disclosing when they are defending their initiatives. They could easily make collection of information for advertising more privacy-friendly if they wanted or were forced to, but at the moment we are at the mercy of the dominant operating system vendors who are not required to do so. Be aware: deals are being struck selling your information As you may have seen in the news recently, Facebook has struck a deal to sell access to your data to MasterCard. It claims it is not your ‘personal data’ but it includes your location, spending, connections and much more. This may not be personal data to some but it still seems very ‘personal’. This is likely the first of many deals to help monetise the ‘free’ Facebook model and seems to be the model for many large platform service providers on the internet. It is likely not to be the last. One thing that is important to remember about all this: it does not matter whether you are using an Android or an iOS device; you can still turn off many of the tracking mechanisms in the menu settings. Yet it still makes one wonder what is left under the ‘personal data’ legal definition anymore.
How safe is Microsoft Windows? After all, the list of malware that has caused major headaches worldwide over the last 15 years is long – viruses, worms and Trojans have forced computers to shut down, knocked South Korea offline and even overloaded Google’s servers. Now, how safe do you feel knowing that cash machines across the world run Microsoft Windows? An exploit has been discovered, apparently spread across Russia, India, and China, whereby cash machines can be turned into a free money vending machine. The hack requires re-starting the cash machine – essentially a Windows terminal – from a prepared CD that injects malware into the system to circumvent the security. At set times of the week, a unique code is generated and given to a “mule” who would approach the machine, enter the code, and withdraw up to 40 notes, anonymously and without trace. From skimming to hacking Attacks on ATMs (those more sophisticated than removing the cash machine and cutting into its safe) started around 10 years ago with card reader devices containing a tiny integrated camera and card reader. As a user withdraws cash, the device reads the account details from the card’s magnetic stripe and videos the pin number entered into the keypad. Earlier generations of ATM machines were often built around computer terminals running IBM’s OS/2 operating system (which started life as a joint IBM-Microsoft venture, and which somewhat ironically spawned Microsoft’s Windows NT, the grandparent of modern Windows, and IBM’s OS/2 when that project collapsed). Due to its more esoteric and rare nature there are far fewer attacks for OS/2, but now it is standard builds of Windows, potentially vulnerable to all the usual malware and exploits, that run modern ATMs. So it is not surprising that intruders have started to find ways inside the ATM’s card processing and cash dispensing systems. Malware that can offer external control to an ATM have been reported for some years, allowing attackers to dispense cash, record and print out card details and PIN numbers. Under the hood This latest malware is Backdoor.MSIL.Tyupkin, which while running continuously will only listen for commands on a Sunday and Monday night. The criminal gangs operating the malware generate a random, unique, six-digit keycode that activates the program, which is given to the “mule” who is withdrawing the money. Like previous efforts to crack into ATMs, the malware requires physical access to the ATM, typically by booting the ATM from a CD prepared to install the malware. At present the malware has been active on at least 50 ATMs in Russia and Eastern Europe, but also in the US, China and India. The malware is the file ulssm.exe, which is copied into the c:\windows\system32 directory and which is protected and maintained on the system between reboots by modifying the Windows registry (a database of configuration settings) so that Windows automatically runs the program at startup. The program then interacts with the ATM through the Extension for Financial Services (XFS) library, MSXFS.dll. To avoid detection it will only allow access controller commands on Sunday and Monday evenings. This shows an example of malware installing itself onto a system, updating the Windows registry to autorun when started (at 25:20), and then going into hiding. Playing catch up The threat of re-booting machines from CDs or bootable USB sticks in order to install malware and abusing Windows autorun feature to sustain the program in memory, is an exploit that has been common for over a decade. It seems few lessons have been learned in terms of securing physical access to the device, and also in the privileged rights that malware can gain. Even as companies focus on improving and securing the user interface, often the debugging and diagnostic side can provide further routes into a system. Versions of Windows used in embedded control systems are now sufficiently secure, but as ATM manufacturers use standard installations of Windows they are opening themselves up to further problems – not least because it allows hackers the opportunity to simulate and craft their malware on well-known versions of the operating system. However, at the core of this attack – as with those before it – is the need for physical access to the device, which implies an insider working in the bank. That means with monitoring of who has access to the cash machine, this can be prevented. The key lesson is that the ATM operating system is a weak link in the chain which needs to be closed. *This article originally appeared on The Conversation.