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Seven takeaways from the Web Directions South Conference

11:38AM | Monday, 3 November

Developers, designers, entrepreneurs and corporate innovators gathered at the Web Directions South Conference in Sydney last week to hear about some of the big picture issues facing the technology industry. Here are seven takeaways from the conference. 1. The network is the new electricity The world is entering a new era, where thanks to the Internet of Things, everything is on “the network”, BERG co-founder Matt Webb told the conference. It’s a technological development that has the potential to be just as impactful as electricity was in the 20th century.   He says the network is not about Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth, the things that make up the Internet of Things, but it’s about relationships between people. 2. Communication is key for user research Nokia product marketing team head dreamer Younghee Jung passed on some wisdom she learned during her time conducting user research in India for Nokia. She says given it can be difficult to judge whether or not testers are telling the truth about the products they’re being exposed to, it’s important for researchers to follow their gut instinct, and put their testers in the best possible environment for honesty.   For Jung, this involved ensuring her testers had tools to communicate that they were comfortable with, including chalk and blackboard and coins to help with value attribution. When confronted with extremely polite testers she manufactured a situation in which it would be socially acceptable for them to be critical of the product – a debate. 3. Be open to discovery Building on the idea that it’s difficult to know exactly how accurate user research can be, Jung says it’s important to expect the unexpected. That ensures researchers become aware of, and open to hearing about, issues they might not have even known existed. 4. It is important to understand the concept of time and how that relates to the interaction of users with products When working on products, designers should take into account both the measureable and unquantifiable aspects of time and how that influences users, Twitter senior UX designer Erin Moore says.   Moore came up with a handy formula to help designers and developers negotiate this topic: In order for people to feel (blank) > We must build an experience that (blank)> some ways we could achieve that are (blank) > and in order to do that we need to (blank). 5. There’s an opportunity for startups targeting the aspects of humanity that are “in flux” Intel anthropologist Genevieve Bell says there are a number of stable and “in flux” attributes that make up what it means to be human. While many startups and technology have appealed to those stable attributes, those in flux attributes have been neglected to some extent, and that presents an opportunity for new startups.   Those in flux attributes include the need manage our reputations, a desire to be surprised and on occasion bored, a desire to be different, an ability to be forgotten and a need to feel time. 6. Trust amongst team members is essential to design great products Google UX designer Jonny Mack’s had an interesting insight into team dynamics, when he was working on two projects, one with a large team that struggled with team work, and another smaller team of three where each individual went out of their way to make it work.   He says while designers tend to want to jump right in and get to work, it’s necessary to first think hard about how to foster a great team. One way to go about this is by tackling four separate stages. The first stage is forming, a period where the team get to know one another and the project and make decisions about high level goals. The second stage is storming, which occurs once the team has built up enough initial trust so as everybody feels comfortable speaking their mind. This ensures everybody feels their views of been heard, and helps them feel like stakeholders in the process.   The third stage is norming, where people have aired their grievances but have now committed to the direction the group has decided to take the project. The final stage is performing, where all members of the team are collaborating well and operating with less oversight from managers. 7. The concept of open internet is under threat There’s a growing movement among entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley to avoiding using the phrase the internet, according to designer and futurist Tobias Revell. He says it’s important to remember and protect the idea of the internet as a great democratic, egalitarian platform not a “series of increasingly expensive walled gardens where you’re constantly spied on”.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Technology won’t change everything: Intel anthropologist Genevieve Bell

10:42AM | Friday, 31 October

Technology isn’t changing humanity, certain parts of what make us human have always been changing, according to Intel anthropologist Genevieve Bell.   “What I want to suggest is that sometimes it’s really easy to be taken with all the things that change, and you forget the things that don’t,” she says.   “The reality is there are things that make us humans, that have made us human for an incredibly long time that move slowly.   “In fact, the way to think about it in my mind is there are some things about being human that make us very stable, and some things that make us human that have been in flux forever. Or at least as long one might want to contemplate.”   Bell says startups that want to make a product aimed at satisfying those stable traits are on a good path to success. They include the importance of relationships, shared values, meaning beyond our individual lives, things that help us talk about who we are, and the need to keep secrets and tell lies.   “Big longstanding technologies of the arcs of our lifetime have aimed here and been successful,” she says.   “And technologies that play to one of those things usually endure.”   However, where Bell believes there is a real opportunity for “flashes of sudden brilliance” is in some of those human traits that are constantly in flux.   They include reputation, the desire to be bored or surprised, the need to be different, the desire to feel time, and an ability to be forgotten.   “If you can be the person to crack the code in one of these spaces, or find a new way of thinking about it, a new approach to that set of problems, or a new way of assuaging those anxieties, there is extraordinary work to be done there,” she says.   “It’s in some ways easy to say people care about friends and family, we’re just going to build things that let you have more friends.   “What it would mean to think about crafting a new generation set of algorithms that deliver the delight and surprise and wonder is a very different kind of project.   “It’s different intellectual work, it’s different design work, it’s different regulatory work.”   Over the next 10 years, Bell says she’d like to see the tech industry have a conversation about the fact that there are things about being human in multiple cultural contexts that are stable. But also there are parts that are in flux. And those things that aren’t changed by the internet, but by electricity and lots of other things before it.   “These technologies were made by us, and as a result they will encode all of our preoccupations and biases and in some ways blind spots,” she says.   “And we have an obligation as human beings, as citizens, as builders, as designers as creators, to make sure we’re asking the harder questions and doing the hard work.”   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

THE NEWS WRAP: Dropbox refutes claims it was hacked

10:16PM | Tuesday, 14 October

Dropbox says it hasn’t been hacked, after claims surfaced that seven million accounts have been compromised.   The company says it performed password resets on the accounts named when it detected suspicious activity a few months ago.   “Recent news articles claiming that Dropbox was hacked aren’t true,” the company says.   “The usernames and passwords referenced in these articles were stolen from unrelated services, not Dropbox.   “Attackers then used these stolen credentials to try to log in to sites across the internet, including Dropbox. We have measures in place to detect suspicious login activity and we automatically reset passwords when it happens.”   The company encouraged users not to reuse passwords across services and recommended enabling two-step verification on accounts. Intel reports better-than-expected results Intel has announced its revenue rose $US1.1 billion ($A1.26 billion) year-on-year to $US14.55 billion.   The company revealed its third quarter financial performance, which along with that revenue jump included earnings per share of $0.66.   Analysts had expected that Intel would earn $0.65 per share and revenue of $15.45 billion. Checkr raises $9 million San Francisco-based background check startup Checkr has raised $9 million to expand, The Wall Street Journal reports.   The startup reduces the time it takes to complete background checks on new hires and delivers them in bulk to businesses. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 5.88 to 16,315.19. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US87 cents.

Digital literacy in the developing world: a gender gap

7:44AM | Tuesday, 8 July

In the pervasively connected world of the 21st century, creating and sharing knowledge has never been easier. But the fact remains that many people still lack the skills required to access this information and an inequity gap is growing.   Consider this quote:   You know you’re from the ‘90s if you remember being disappointed when the CD’s leaflet didn’t have the lyrics to the songs. How else were you going to learn that damn line on track three?   For those of us with smartphones in our pockets, we simply Google the lyrics and voilà! The answer materialises in less than a second. Yet this is a privilege available only to those who have access to the internet and the means to use it.   Inequality of access   Two-thirds of the world’s population do not have access to the internet, many of whom are women. These 4.6 billion people rely on the lyrics in the CD case to learn that song, assuming they have a CD player at all. This is a representative issue on the far side of the great digital divide between the technically literate and illiterate.   The benefits of digital technology can only be realised if people are empowered with the knowledge and skills to access and use them. In developing countries, women are 25% less likely than men to be online. This gap soars to 45% in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa. By way of comparison, in both France and the US, women’s internet use exceeds that of men.   Illiteracy is a barrier to online access that affects women more than men. Averaged across all developing countries, 75% of women are literate compared to 86% of men. In India, as few as 51% of women are literate compared to 75% of men.   Internet-based economic activity in India accounts for more than 5% of GDP growth. Without access to the internet, and the fundamental skills required to use it, women cannot benefit from the tools, resources and opportunities that the internet affords.   Bringing women into the mainstream of the digital revolution can empower them with access, information, choices and opportunities that they have never had before. Not just for themselves, but for their families, communities and nation.   But what might this look like? Being digitally literate means more than simply knowing how to operate a computer. Digital literacy means having the ability to find resources, critically evaluate and create information, and to do this by using digital technology. UNESCO considers it a necessary life skill.   Technology is knowledge and power   Digital literacy promotes democracy by giving access to a vast repository of knowledge. It also provides a platform from which to speak out and make your views heard.   An Iranian woman, for example, who posted a scarf-less photo of herself on Facebook, now has over 230,000 followers who are supporting her crusade of bareheaded subversion. These women want to voice their opposition to the compulsory hijab. Facebook gives them the means.   Social networking sites greatly increase women’s understanding of what is possible, giving them a powerful tool that can be used to change their situation.   For women in developing countries, the internet is an open doorway to tangible benefits; education and employment opportunities. According to Plan UK, an extra year of education increases a woman’s income by 10-20%. It is a necessary step on the road to breaking the cycle of poverty.   A number of worthy initiatives are underway to develop women’s digital literacy skills. The Women’s Annex Foundation was established to train women in digital literacy so they can create a viable economic model for themselves and their families.   The She Will Connect project, an initiative by Intel, is similarly committed to improving the digital literacy skills of women in developing countries. Intel recognises the role that technology plays in improving the quality of and access to education.   Closing the gender gap   There is a recognised link between a woman’s level of education and the size of families. The more educated she becomes, the fewer children she is likely to have. With over-population being one of the principle difficulties faced by developing countries, digital literacy has the potential to give women access to education and the means to begin reversing the trend towards ever-expanding populations in the developing world.   The inequality of internet access around the world is compounded by where you live and your gender.   If you are a woman in a developing part of the world, you are likely to be coming up very short on access to the kinds of digital resources that are readily available elsewhere. This can make a big difference to the quality of life for your whole family.   The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.   This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

10 massive announcements from Google I/O: A new version of Android is coming for cars, smartwatches and TVs

6:48AM | Thursday, 26 June

Google’s head of Android, Sundar Pichai, delivered a keynote speech overnight to the tech giant’s annual developer conference, Google I/O.   In terms of big announcements, he didn’t disappoint, with key points including a new version of Android – called Android L – that will work with smart cars, wearables and TVs.   For small businesses, a major piece of news is Google Drive for Work, a new cloud computing product set to go head-to-head with Microsoft’s Office 365 and OneDrive.   The new product will cost businesses just $US10 per user per month, and allow them to access unlimited storage. Where Microsoft bumped its storage limits to one terabyte earlier this week, Google will allow individual files of up to five terabytes in size.   Meanwhile, Google Docs, Sheets and Slides are now able to create or save Microsoft Office files in both Android and Chrome Browser, with support coming soon to iOS.   Here are 10 other massive announcements from the Google I/O keynote:   1. Android is absolutely hammering Apple in the marketplace   Sorry Apple fans, but the iPhone has well and truly been left in the dust.   According to figures read out during Pichai’s keynote, the number of users to have actively used an Android smartphone in the past 30 days has grown to over a billion. This is up from 77 million in 2011, 233 million in 2012, and 538 million last year.   But it’s not just in smartphones that Apple is being left behind.   Google revealed that in 2012, 39% of all tablets ran Android, growing to 49% last year. This year, that has grown to 62%.   In even worse news for the iPad, those figures exclude non-Google Android devices such as Amazon’s Kindle.   As if Google needed to stick the boot in to Apple further, Pichai told the conference: “If you look at what other platforms are getting now, many of these things came to Android four, maybe five years ago.”   The quote was a reference to a number of features, such as maps, text prediction, cloud services, widgets and support for custom keyboards, which have long been features of Android since around version 1.5, but have only recently been added to iOS.   2. Android L, with a new app platform and interface   The biggest news out of the conference was, of course, the newest version of Android, codenamed “Android L”.   The latest version is designed to power a range of new devices, including wearables, cars and TVs. The assumption will be that while users will always carry their mobile around with them, they are increasingly likely to be simultaneously using a second device.   Cosmetically, the new version will be built around a new, “flat” design language called “Material”, which bears a slight resemblance to Microsoft’s tile interface. The new interface will be carried through Google’s mobile apps, including its Chrome web browser.   However, the biggest changes are under the hood, with Android L getting upgraded to 64-bit. It also adds BlackBerry-style containerisation separating work and personal apps.   Meanwhile Dalvik, the app runtime environment used in Android, is getting dumped in favour of the new Android Runtime Environment (ART). For most developers, the change will mean better performance with no need to change their code.   ART is also truly-platform, meaning developers will be able to write apps once and deploy them to devices running Intel x86, ARM or MIPS processors.   Android L will be available to developers starting from today.   3. Android Wear   One of the big growth areas for mobile device makers is in wearables. Google has developed a platform for these devices, known as Android Wear, which it demonstrated at the conference.   “Android Wear supports both round and square displays, because we think there will be a wide array of fashionable choices,” said Pichai.   As many have predicted, notification cards and Google Now integration are key features of its wearables platform.   LG has made its first Android Wear device, the LG G Watch, available for pre-order, while Samsung is releasing a version of its Gear smartwatches that runs Android Wear, known as “Samsung Gear Live”.   Meanwhile, Motorola’s smartwatch, with a round clockface, will be available later this year.   For developers, Google has made a software development kit (SDK) available allowing for customer user interfaces, support for voice actions, and transferring data to or from a smartphone or tablet. This article continues on Page 2. Please click below. 4. Android Auto   Google has also released its smart car platform, known as Android Auto. Google says it has now signed up 25 major auto makers to the platform, including Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Chrysler, Chevrolet, Volvo, Volkswagen, Kia, Renault, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Skoda, Jeep, Suzuki and Nissan.   Android Auto will be able to be driven by voice commands, and is designed to make app development for cars as simple as developing apps for smartphones and tablets. Again, for developers, Google has released an SDK allowing for car and auto apps.   Key focuses for the platform are navigation (Google Maps), communications (both audio and messaging) and streaming audio services.   Android Auto also contains a screen that displays notification cards in real time.   5. Android TV   Google’s new smart TV platform, announced during the keynote, is known as Android TV. It can be used to power a range of different devices, from smart TVs to set-top-boxes and dedicated streaming sticks.   Android TV allows the user to use their smartphone, tablet or smartwatch as a voice-powered remote control for their TV.   Android TV devices will include all the functionality of ChromeCast, but also add the ability of directly running apps directly.   6. ChromeCast   Speaking of things TV related, Google says its low-cost ChromeCast sticks are currently outselling every other streaming device combined.   New capabilities coming to the sticks include a new section on the Google Play app store for apps designed with added ChromeCast capabilities.   ChromeCast owners will soon be able to mirror the screen of their Android smartphone or tablet wirelessly on their TV screen.   Users will also soon get the capability of sending content to a ChromeCast device by logging in with a PIN, even if they aren’t on the same WiFi network.   Another new feature is that users will be able to set a picture or photo as a wallpaper on their ChromeCast for when they’re not using the device.   7. Android L integration with ChromeBooks   Up until now, Google has maintained two separate operating systems: Android for smartphones and tablets, and Chrome OS for its ChromeBook series of laptops.   A massive update for Android L is that ChromeBooks will now be able to run Android apps.   Meanwhile, apps running on a users’ tablet or smartphone will be mirrored on the screen of their ChromeBook device.   8. Google Fit   At Apple’s WWDC, the introduction of a health framework was one of the largest announcements. Given the sheer volume of announcements at Google I/O, the introduction of Google Fit is almost an afterthought.   Basically, like Apple HealthKit, Google Fit is a single set of APIs that blends data from multiple apps and devices to create a comprehensive picture of a users’ health.   Google is promising a developer preview of Google Fit in the next few weeks.   9. Google Play   Already, I’ve noted one big upgrade to Google Play, namely the addition of a section dedicated to apps with ChromeCast playback. Presumably, there will be similar sections dedicated to Android Wear and Android Auto.   But there are other changes afoot for Google’s Play download store.   First, Google says that it has paid out $US5 billion to app developers over the past year, which is two-and-a-half times higher than a year earlier.   Second, Google also announced the takeover of a startup called Appurify, which will provide automation services for apps being developed either for Google Play and Android or iOS.   And thirdly, for those interested in games, Google Play is adding the ability to save a snapshot of your progress in a game to the cloud, as well as special quests for games.   10. Cloud tools and services   Last, but certainly not least, Google has added a range of new cloud tools and services.   These include Cloud Monitoring, which provides a dashboard with real time metrics for apps running in Google’s cloud services.   A second, called Cloud Dataflow, is a data pipeline service similar to Amazon’s Data Pipeline. And a third, called Cloud Debugger, allows developers to more easily trace slowdowns in cloud-based apps.   This article first appeared on Smart Company.

THE NEWS WRAP: Apple iCloud users hacked, warned to change passwords

5:18PM | Wednesday, 28 May

Apple has suggested users should change their Apple ID password after a number of Australian users reported finding their iCloud-connected devices locked with a message asking for money.   According to ZDNet, Apple said that iCloud had not been compromised.   “Impacted users should change their Apple ID password as soon as possible and avoid using the same username and password for multiple services,’’ the statement said.   Intel jumping on wearables   The chip maker has unveiled a new push into wearables and robotics.   Intel CEO Brian Krzanich appeared at the Code Conference in California wearing a ‘smart’ shirt featuring sensors that measure heart rate and other vital signs aimed at joggers and cyclists.   He also showed off Jimmy, a white robot designed to walk, talk and dance.   Krzanich says the company is focusing on these new trends because it felt they missed an opportunity with the rise of tablet computers.   Apple announces Beats Music Acquisition   The company will purchase Beats Music and Beats Electronics for approximately $2.6 billion and $400 million that will vest over time.   Beats co-founders Dr Dre and Jimmy Iovine will join Apple.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 42.32 to 16,633.18. The Australian dollar is trading at US92 cents.

A brief history and future of the Internet of Things

5:00AM | Friday, 9 May

6:55am Five minutes before Lyle is scheduled to wake up. Wrist monitors check his pulse to figure out when the best time to stimulate him awake is. Good, he has been asleep for at least eight hours and his heart rate and breathing is almost optimal. A quick traffic check confirms no need to wake him up early. His water heater starts for his daily morning shower and his thermostat for the bathroom is increased for when he gets out.   7:05am Lyle’s coffee-maker turns on and starts brewing a fresh cup of joe. His fridge checks to make sure he has his usual breakfast ingredients–orange juice, eggs, yogurt, and a banana–and orders more eggs for the next week.   7:35am Lyle departs his house on time and ready for the day ahead because of a refreshing shower and delicious breakfast.   All of this has become possible because of a recent paradigm shift in technology known as the Internet of Things, or as it is most commonly referred to in tech circles and articles, the IoT.   In 1999, Kevin Ashton, a British technologist who helped to found the Auto-ID Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, coined the term ‘Internet of Things,’ but the idea of devices connecting with each other hails from as far back as the creation of the internet itself. The dawn of the internet age kickstarted an era of growing and shrinking. The amount of information that could be created, stored, and shared grew exponentially with the ability to create and harvest from across the world–or, at least, from across the world wherever servers were at the time. Simultaneously, places and people that once seemed far away and beyond one’s own scope could now be reached and interacted with on a more personal level.   Unfortunately, the interactions allowed by the internet were limited to only those few scholarly elites or academic institutions that invested in this process and new contact was limited. And connection with devices was even more stringent since wireless technology did not exist and wired connections had to be used through ethernet cords to communicate with the internet. As a result, machine-to-machine (M2M) interactions were nearly impossible, and M2M links over long distances were unheard of; Internet interface was solely between a computer and a human.   How did the Internet of Things come to be then?   Futurist and technologist Richard Yonck, who has written extensively about the IoT, explained the precipitation of devices connected to the internet and each other:   "If you think about it, the IoT is a fairly natural evolution of processing and communications technologies. Computers have continued to become smaller and cheaper over the decades. As they continue doing so, where will they go and how can we use them? Throughout our environment, naturally!"   The first internet-capable machines do not seem like much today, but when they were first created, Carnegie Mellon University programmers and engineers developed the first appliance connected to the internet in the early 1980s. They rigged a Coca-Cola machine to send status updates and messages about the availability of a can of Coke so that a trip to the snack area would not be in vain.   Other similarly sized projects became the norm for bored or experimental college students with enough resources and time. None of these devices became commercially viable and the Internet of Things remained a topic confined to academia.   It wasn’t until the late 1990s and early 2000s that the concept of having a network of interconnected devices became popular and drew interest from corporations and consumers. Kevin Ashton led the movement at his Auto-ID Center at MIT with research into the field of radio-frequency identification, or RFID.   Bill Joy supplemented Ashton’s research with a proposal for a “Six Webs” framework. Joy graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a Master of Science degree in electrical engineering and computer science, and then went on to co-found Sun Microsystems. His initial thoughts into the development of a standardized system (a Web) paved the way for M2M interactions that occurred through similar protocols and syntaxes. However, it was a combination of his theory and Ashton’s research that a truly useful and pervasive Internet of Things could be developed.   Although Ashton and Joy began the process of creating a standardized system of communication and interaction in the beginning of the millennium, the Internet of Things remains a rather fragmented and developing field. Since the Internet Coke machine, many more devices have been created by university researchers and commercial companies, but most have stayed rather proprietary and do not discuss results with other devices.   Some of the most prominent products today represent huge leaps in technology from even ten years ago, but the status of the Internet of Things remains a gradual acceptance into society. Many media outlets predict that 2014 will be hailed as “The Year of the IoT” but few care to define by how much or through which methods. In fact, despite most tech pundits believing this year to be the year, many also point out that the IoT will grow slowly. Brian Proffitt of ReadWrite, a prominent online magazine about technology, argues that, “the Internet of Things won’t see any big splashes in 2014, just steady and incremental progress toward automating … everything.”   Currently, the biggest problem facing the IoT is the lack of standards for communication. Without a “common communication method,” devices will only be able to talk to their own brands and severely limit the helpfulness of connected machines. For example, currently, sleeping monitors only give results to phones for users to analyze themselves. Imagine a future where sleeping monitors could give results to doctors or alert users of abnormal or unhealthy sleeping patterns and suggest fixes that could in turn be prompted by communication with a coffee machine (if caffeine is suspected of hurting the user) or thermostat (if temperature could be negatively impacting sleeping habits).   To remedy this situation, Intel, Cisco, GE, and IBM have come together to form the Industrial Internet Consortium, a conglomerate nonprofit with the goal of increasing inter-operability standards in devices connected to the Internet.   As a thriving industry, M2M has proved that people are willing to allow more and more technology into their lives. Yonck wrote an article last year that discussed the adoption of innovation into mainstream culture and the process a prototype undergoes to become a product:   "Consider that in order to move all the way from concept to prototype to marketable product, every idea has to pass through a succession of filters. Is the idea possible within the laws of physics as they’re currently understood? Then forget retro-causality (time machines), perpetual motion, faster than light travel/communication, etc. Do our existing, or soon to be existing, engineering capabilities, materials, tolerances, etc., allow us to realize the idea or will it remain on the drawing board for centuries, as did Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machines or Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine? Can a need be established? That is, can consumers, corporations, or the military be convinced this is something they must have? Because without a perceived need, it will surely go the way of the [Ford] Edsel.   "And what of other institutions? Regulatory bodies, insurers, political organizations and others must be persuaded to support or at least tolerate and accept the new tech. And ultimately is this an idea that is right for its time? An invention must fit within the established mores, accepted behaviors and realities of user understanding and functionality. Without all of these, the idea will die stillborn. Given all this, it may seem a miracle any new tech ever comes to life and gets the opportunity to walk the earth, even if only for a few years."   The Internet of Things meets all of these criteria and therefore has seen dramatic commercial success.   In fact, according to a Business Insider Intelligence report on the future of the internet:   "The IoT will account for an increasingly huge number of connections: 1.9 billion devices today, and 9 billion by 2018. That year, it will be roughly equal to the number of smartphones, smart TVs, tablets, wearable computers, and PCs combined."   And Cisco CEO John Chambers predicts that the Internet of Everything (as he refers to it) could be worth $19 trillion in the near future–a future where objects all over from house to airport will know people’s preferences and set themselves to certain modes to best suit the individual.   However, The Internet of Things caters to a growing category of what people enjoy calling “first world problems.” The technology that has been developed in hopes of creating the IoT is great and innovative and nothing can be said to take away the promise of advancement. Unfortunately, many of these technologies have not been created with the idea of helping developing countries and economies. A thermostat that optimizes the temperature of your floor and shower down to a degree may seem like a necessary item to some who struggle with a bathroom that is too cold after a searing bath, but to a farmer in Africa or artisan in India it fails uselessly.   As more and more companies start connecting their products to the internet and the markets of industrialized and modernized countries become saturated, hopefully devices will be created to help the people who truly struggle and could benefit with a system of interconnected machines. Perhaps an irrigation system that interacts with a weather prediction service and a local water storage facility for baths and showers of citizens as well as drinking water for local livestock. With better water management, farmers could optimize crop yield and sell to other through an online or other system that tracks grain production. The application of such devices to different environments is inevitable, so it is just a matter of when companies will realize the opportunities in creating an IoT for those countries.   Yonck, as a futurist, understands the current trends of technology and predicts where they are headed.   "As it develops, the future of IoT is to basically make our world more intelligent. Technology everywhere will literally have the ability to sense it’s environment and respond to it. While this may not result in direct physical action on the particular device’s part, it will be capable of relaying data to servers elsewhere that will potentially cause other devices to respond."    In the information age that we live in technology regularly changes the way we live. In the 1970s it was mainframe computing. In the 80s it was the PC. The 2000s saw the rise of social media. Today, the Internet of Things is revolutionizing the way we live.   Techie and entrepreneur with a passion for soccer and a distaste for chocolate, Dylan Steele dabbles in a little bit of everything, including that new crypto-currency/property. This post first appeared on Medium.

THE NEWS WRAP: Twitter posts 119% year-on-year revenue jump

4:11PM | Tuesday, 29 April

Twitter released its 2014 results this morning with revenue reaching $250 million for the period, up 119% on a year-over-year basis.   In addition the social media giant added 14 million new monthly active users.   Twitter chief executive Dick Costolo says the quarter was very strong.   “Revenue growth accelerated on a year-over-year basis fuelled by increased engagement and user growth,’’ he says.   “We also continue to rapidly increase our reach and scale.”   Analysts were predicting revenue of around $241 million for the quarter.   eBay beats revenue expectations   Also announcing better than expected results for the quarter was eBay, which posted revenue growth of 14%.   The company announced that revenue for the quarter reached $4.3 billion.   Apple drops Macbook Air prices   Consumers in the market for a Macbook Air will now be able to pick one up starting from $899. The refresh features Intel's Haswell processor and is now $100 less than the previous model.   Overnight   The Australian dollar was trading at US92.68 cents, up from 92.39 cents on Tuesday. The Dow Jones average is up to 16535.37.

The dark side of vertical integration

1:26AM | Tuesday, 21 January

Recently, your humble correspondent looked at vertically integrated companies.   But if you’re just starting a business, the chances are you will – at least initially – be focused on a single stage of production, dealing with companies that are far more vertically integrated than you are.   Well, as Old Taskmaster says, business is war. The dark side of vertical integration comes when someone else tries to take your businesses out of the supply chain.   It happens. Just think about all the small businesses that supplied specialty foods to Coles and Woolies, only to find their lines deleted and a generic product taking their shelf space at $1 per litre.   Or, for that matter, the local servo owners who used their local supermarket as a supplier of their convenience store, only to find a shiny new Coles Express or Woolworths Plus Petrol opening down the road.   In theory, the ACCC should do something about it when it happens. In practice, Australia’s competition watchdog is more of a chihuahua.   On the other hand, Apple seems to be doing just fine, despite the fact its vertically integrated arch-rival (Samsung) also supplies a number of key iPhone components, including the processor and display.   And it’s not the first time Apple has found itself in such a predicament. Way back when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were in their parent’s garage, guess who the supplier was for the main processor in the original Apple I and Apple II computers?   It wasn’t Intel. Nor was it Motorola. And ARM didn’t exist yet.   No, Apple’s first computers from the late 1970s were built around an MOS 6502 chip. From Commodore. As in, Jack Tramiel’s Commodore.   A number of their competitors did likewise, including Atari (including the 2600), the original Nintendo NES and Acorn (who built the BBC Micro B). All used a variation of the processor in the Commodore 64.   When Tramiel started a price war by dropping the retail price of the Commodore 64, all of those companies were left buying processors at retail price while Commodore was effectively buying them at cost price.   Jobs actually referenced the industry shakeout that resulted while unveiling the Macintosh: “Nineteen eighty three… The shakeout is in full swing. The first major firm goes bankrupt, with others teetering on the brink. Total industry losses for ’83 outshadow the combined profits for Apple and IBM, for personal computers.”   So what can you do when a key supplier or customer decides to compete against you?   Apple survived by marketing premium, value-added products. Premium products command premium prices, and are less susceptible to a price war. After all, you might build your own computer, but it won’t be an Apple.   In the long run, Jobs also built his own vertical integration. That’s why you can buy Apple’s Final Cut Pro for your Apple Mac from an Apple store.   Perhaps the best response is to avoid getting locked into a single supplier in the first place. Look for products where you can get a second source – that is, a second company that can competitively supply you a similar product.   Likewise, avoid getting yourself in a position where your entire business is locked into supplying a single customer or outlet. After all, there’s no use crying over spilled, non-generic milk.   Finally, the next time you revise your long-term strategy, evaluate what would happen if your largest supplier, business partner or customer decided to compete with you. Is there a risk? If so, what would you do?   Old Taskmaster says it’s time to evaluate the risks facing your business from potential rivals – and reduce them!   Get it done – today!

All the smartphone questions you’ve pondered but never bothered to ask

9:28PM | Wednesday, 25 September

When it comes to smartphones, there’s a whole heap of jargon. Quad-core processors? AMOLED displays? Android or iOS?   If you’re not a techie, it can be tough to make sense of it all. So here’s a layman’s guide to some of the mobile mumbo jumbo you’ve always wondered about, but been too afraid to ask.   (Before we get started a note to the techie uber-geeks reading this. Old Taskmaster is completely aware some of these points are gross oversimplifications, that your early-90s BeBox had more than one processor or that I didn’t bother to mention MeeGo. No need for snarky comments. This is intended as a layman’s guide, so sue me!)   What exactly do iOS, Android and Windows Phone do?   A good, simple way of thinking about your mobile phone is as a pocket-sized computer that can also make calls.   On most computers, there’s a piece of system software, called an operating system that basically manages the relationship between a computer’s hardware and the programs that run on it. In the computer world, most PCs use Windows or Linux, while Apple Macs use Mac OSX.   Operating systems like iOS, Android and Windows Phone basically do the same thing, except they’re designed to work on a smartphone.   If you run an iPhone, you run Apple’s iOS. If you run a recent Nokia, it almost certainly uses Windows Phone. Pretty much everything else – most notably Samsung Galaxy smartphones – use Android.   So why do Androids come in Cupcake, Ice Cream Sandwich or JellyBean?   Each major version of Android is code-named after a dessert. The first letter of each dessert goes up in alphabetical order. So you’ve had Android Cupcake, Donut, Éclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich and Jellybean.   Why? Basically, because Google thinks ‘Android Gingerbread’ sounds cuter than ‘Android Build G’.   What are the most recent versions of the major smartphone operating systems?   The current version of Android is 4.2/4.3 Jellybean, although Google has announced Android 4.4 KitKat is coming soon.   As fairly well publicised by their recent announcement, the latest version of Apple’s iOS is iOS 7.   Windows is up to Windows Phone 8, although 8.1 is just around the corner.   Finally, BlackBerry is up to BlackBerry 10.2. Given their current business status, Old Taskmaster wouldn’t bet on 10.3.   LCD or AMOLED?   LCD (of various descriptions) and AMOLED are the two common technologies you’ll find powering smartphone screens.   An LCD (liquid crystal display) display is made up of thousands of tiny liquid crystals that modulate light to achieve a desired colour. The light itself is either provided through backlights or through a reflective back panel on the display.   AMOLED (active-matrix organic light-emitting diode) displays are made of a thin film of organic material that lights up when charged by an electric current. The charge that makes different parts of the screen light up is provided by a thin-film transistor that sits behind the organic material.   Which is better?   LCD is the more mature technology of the two. Generally speaking, LCD will be clearer at different viewing angles and produce more realistic colours, but is less good at contrast.   AMOLED colours are brighter, have better contrast and (because they don’t need to be backlit) generally use less power. Traditionally, they are less viewable in direct sunlight.   What’s this resolution business?   Whether your display is LCD or AMOLED, the number of pixels or dots of colour per square inch of screen size determine how clear your image is. In the past, Windows PCs used 96 points per inch, while Apple Macs used 72. The usual standard for the printing industry is 300 dots per inch. By comparison, Samsung’s Galaxy S4 displays 441 pixels per inch.   Dual-core? Quad-core? Octo-core? What-the-core?   Historically, most computers were built around a single processor – called the CPU (central processing unit) – that computer programs ran on. One processor core, one chip, one computer.   These days, most smartphones have more than one of these processor cores on a single physical computer chip, and these are known as multi-core processors. In effect, it’s like having two or four computer CPUs on your phone, except they’ve been shrunk down to fit on a single piece of silicon.   Most current smartphones use a quad-core processor, although some older ones use a dual-core processor, while octo-core processors are beginning to be offered on some newer models.   How is the processor in my smartphone different to the one in my computer?   If you open up your PC or Mac, you’ll probably find it’s built around an Intel processor. The ancestor of this chip was the 8088 and 8086 chips in the very first IBM PCs.   Over the past couple of decades, the design of these chips has been optimised for maximise performance, often at the expense of using more power.   In contrast, the processor in your smartphone is most likely an ARM chip. Its great ancestor first appeared in a 1985 accelerator card add-on for the BBC Micro B. (Yes, the BBC Micro B is a distant relative of your smartphone!) Acorn’s Archimedes and Apple’s Newtons used this series of chips, too.   Because they’ve spent most of the past 20 years being used in mobile devices, they’ve been optimised for battery life as well as performance.   But my smartphone processor is built by Qualcomm/Nvidia/Samsung?   ARM comes up with the basic designs for its processors. It then licenses them to a range of other chip companies, including Qualcomm, Nvidia, Samsung and Apple.   In turn, these companies don’t usually make chips, they just market them. The chips themselves are manufactured by companies with chip manufacturing plants (foundries), including TSMC and Samsung.   SNS integration?   It stands for Social Network Service. It’s a fancy, jargony way of saying this phone has an app or hub that pulls your social media messages into one place.   Over to you   Are there any other bits of smartphone jargon you’ve heard but have been too afraid to ask about? If so, leave your question in the comments below!   Mobile and mobile commerce is an increasingly critical part of every business. If there’s some piece of mobile mumbo jumbo you don’t understand, make sure you get it cleared up!   Get it done – today!

Why do customers really do business with you?

3:24AM | Thursday, 14 March

Current research tells us the average person thinks about themselves, and how the world impacts them as an individual, almost every minute they are awake.

BMW tops global business reputation rankings: Report

6:25AM | Tuesday, 12 June

European car brand BMW is the world’s most reputable company in an age where consumers are more swayed by a business’ image than its product, according to the latest Global RepTrak 100.

Start-ups warned about borrowing from friends and family

4:29AM | Monday, 23 April

Start-ups are being encouraged to think twice before borrowing money from loved ones, with a new report revealing 20% of Australians have lost friends over borrowed money.

Hiring friends and family

4:25AM | Friday, 13 April

There is an old adage that you should keep your personal life and business separate, but it is a rule James Milne chose to ignore when recruiting for his technology company.

Selling without a strategy

3:06AM | Friday, 23 March

Selling your wares online is an instant recipe for success, right? Not according to Pierre Boutros, who learnt that even the most straightforward business needs strategies in place to secure sales.

Government looks to spark home-based business surge with National Telework Week

3:01AM | Monday, 11 March

The Federal Government will stage National Telework Week in November in a bid to highlight the benefits of working from home, on the back of the National Broadband Network rollout.

Intel Capital creates $100 million AppUp fund

11:57AM | Wednesday, 16 November

Intel has created a $100 million fund to invest in developing technologies that work across multiple devices, announcing the fund at its annual Global Summit.

November's top business book

2:01AM | Friday, 10 February

Great by Choice by Jim Collins and Morten T Hansen (Random House, RRP$45)  

THE NEWS WRAP: Fund manager buys stake in GraysOnline for $35 million

1:47PM | Monday, 24 January

Online auction house GraysOnline has cashed in on the popularity of internet retailers, selling a quarter of its business to fund manager Caledonia Investments in a deal believed to be worth about $35 million.

10 lessons start-ups can take from Oprah

2:22AM | Wednesday, 9 February

Following months of hype, the Oprah publicity bandwagon has finally hit our shores.

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