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Soon smartwatches will listen to your body to work out how you’re feeling

3:25AM | Wednesday, 11 March

Final details of Apple’s new smartwatch have finally arrived at the firm’s glitzy Spring Forward event. But while the hype machine steps up another notch, there are other issues regarding health and self-tracking and, possibly even more important, over wearable tech companies' interest in our emotional lives.   Apple’s Watch records exercise, tracks our movements throughout the day, assesses the amount of time we are stood up and reminds us to get up and move around if we have been sat for too long – let’s not forget Tim Cook’s “sitting is the new cancer” line. It achieves this by means of an accelerometer, a heart rate sensor, WiFi and GPS. There are already many smartwatches on the market such as the Pebble and offerings from LG, Sony, Samsung and Motorola, among others. Of course, these haven’t had the Apple marketing Midas touch.   Whether the Watch will be a flop or success, Apple’s entry is a significant contribution to industry-wide attempts to get us using wearable devices. The market is predicted to grow from 9.7m units in 2013 to 135m in 2018, according to CCS Insight, while a report from UK retailer John Lewis also records steady growth in wearables for health and well-being: sales were up 395% from 2013. This is notable because John Lewis is not aimed at the tech-savvy, and therefore presents a reasonable indicator of mass-market take-up of wearables. Information is power   To understand the significance of Watch and other self-tracking wearables, we should look to Silicon Valley and the Quantified Self movement. This began in San Francisco around 2007 as the editors of Wired magazine, Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly, initiated a group of like-minded people interested in “self-knowledge through numbers”, a motto and philosophy of sorts for the Quantified Self movement. It entails a deeply libertarian outlook of de-centralisation, a shrunken state, autonomy and self-reliance, and pre-emptive and preventative measures based on the use of data.   Apple’s move into wearables is inevitable as the market grows, but the broader interest in health is also notable. It reflects an interest from corporations and national health providers alike in promoting preventative and anticipatory technologies. The promise wearable technology offers is information: about consumers' and patients’ behaviour, their health, and whether they stick to prescribed treatments.   This has ushered in an age of medical self-interrogation, in real time and real life contexts, whether this be from office pressure, in relationships, or the impact of disease or physical stresses on the body. Wearables are only part of the health story, as advocates of digital health care foresee how the doctor-patient approach would be radically altered by means of wearable monitors and sensors in the home. Technology behemoths such as Apple and Google alongside many startups would clearly be interested in the possibilities offered by reorganising health provision along these lines. Think and act   Beyond health, Apple’s interest in emotion is key to understanding the significance of its watch. Apple’s website promises that we will reach out and connect in ways we never have. Watch will allow us to draw doodle pictures and observe others as they create theirs, give loved ones a “tap” on the wrist to show we are thinking of them, send real-time heartbeats to others, and so on.   The message is to use connectivity to be intimate even at a distance, with the language Apple uses an attempt to claim intimacy and sociability from afar, and to humanise and make palatable what are essentially tracking technologies.   There is however a more literal emotional dimension to biometric technologies: the Watch is an example of what I term empathic media – machines able to assess, collect and make use of data about our emotions. This can be achieved through interpretation of speech patterns and tone, gesture, gaze direction, facial cues, heart rates, and respiration patterns. While Apple’s product does not offer all this (although earlier iterations of Watch made similar promises), it still sits within a wider context of technologies that quite literally feel our bodily reactions.   Until now the online world has understood our preferences through the search term keywords we use and what we click; empathic media will quite literally feel our reactions. This is important because if companies can understand moods, emotions or states of arousal, they have access to information that may sway the decisions we make.   We have yet to see Apple’s privacy policy for the watch. While I’m sure it will state that no personally identifiable information will be disclosed to third-parties, what remains to be seen is what can be drawn from aggregated biometric and emotional data, and where that data ends up. This is a key revenue stream for other empathic media and wearable companies. Will Apple be doing the same?   *This article originally appeared at The Conversation.

We are all suspects now thanks to Australia’s data retention plans

3:45AM | Wednesday, 4 March

Australia’s Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence & Security (PJCIS) last week endorsed the data retention bill, which means we’re all suspects now.   The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014 provides for mandatory retention by internet service providers (ISPs), phone companies and other entities of telecommunications metadata -– data that in aggregate provides a picture of our lives.   The data will be accessible by a wide range of law enforcement and other bodies, potentially extending from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to your local council, the unrestrained Independent Commission Against Corruption Website (ICAC) and even the RSPCA.   Access will be without warrant. The Bill privileges bureaucratic convenience –- and political opportunism or cowardice –- over what is effective and proportionate in the prevention and prosecution of crime.   PJCIS endorsement -– presumably to be followed by enactment hot on the heels of the New South Wales state election -– is an epochal event.   It comes after a decade in which the Australian Law Council, industry, academics, civil society advocates and concerned individuals have cogently criticised proposals for retention.   Each time the Opposition of the day has expressed disquiet and a range of parliamentary committees (as late as 2014) have condemned the particular proposal as going a step too far.   This time, it seems, things are different, as the government wraps itself in the flag and the Opposition ensures that it’s seen to be tough on national security. The arguments haven’t changed, but a lone man with a gun in Sydney gained headlines with a terrorist flag. On that basis civil liberties disappear, and will presumably continue to erode.   What does the report say?   The 362 page report is interesting for what it doesn’t say. It disregards a range of authoritative overseas national security reports, such as this high level report to the White House, demonstrating that retention is ineffective.   It also disregards warnings by analysts regarding population-scale data retention: storing data about every communication is an invitation for hacking and misuse.   It disregards the very substantial body of law in Europe, where courts have recurrently said that treating everyone as a suspect is profoundly disproportionate to the needs of law enforcement and national security. (Contrary to claims by the AFP, law enforcement in Europe hasn’t collapsed when the courts have accordingly struck down retention law.)   The report does note some concerns, albeit particular recommendations can be disregarded or obfuscated by the Government. The PJCIS recommends establishment of data breach reporting –- alerting consumers when their data goes AWOL.   Given the history of data breaches involving leading phone companies and other entities such as Sony we might wonder whether breach is inevitable. The government is urged to address business criticisms by making “a substantial contribution to the upfront capital costs” facing ISPs and telcos.   The PJCIS urges the government to amend the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill in order “to make clear that service providers are not required to keep web-browsing histories”.   The Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC), Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), AFP and a slew of other agencies thus won’t have warrantless access to a record of every mouse-click.   The committee also calls for restricted access regarding civil litigation, although questions remain about criminalisation of intellectual property infringements in “the war against piracy”. But who will watch the watchers?   The PJCIS notes substantive concerns by the media about freedom of expression. It appears to assume that governments will never misuse powers to track journalists and their sources.   We should, it seems, believe our watchers and disregard incidents we hear such as those in NSW where the highest executives of the police force appear to be bugging each other and where ICAC is accused of misusing its powers.   The report calls for supervision by the Commonwealth Ombudsman, meaningless unless that body is properly funded. It does not address evisceration of the Office of the Information Commissioner (whose current head is currently working from home after withdrawal of the agency’s funding last year).   Presumably we are to trust a watchdog that is toothless and has been very reluctant to bite the hand that under-feeds it. Suspicion and complicity   It is easy to blame Attorney-General George Brandis for this over-reaching national security legislation. But we should be looking at ourselves –- as a society -– and at our representatives. The silence of Bill Shorten – who appears to have forgotten that the duty of an Opposition is to oppose – is lamentable.   Liberal democracies should be confident about their values, sufficiently confident to accept that dangers -– or purported dangers -– don’t necessitate creeping abandonment of civil liberties.   The government currently has strong powers to access metadata and communications content under warrant. Mandatory retention with warrantless access is an unprecedented and unnecessary step deserving robust condemnation by the PJCIS.   Failure to do so places the onus on all Australians at the next election.   This article was originally published at The Conversation.

Eye tracking is the next frontier of human-computer interaction

2:49AM | Thursday, 26 February

Eye tracking devices sound a lot more like expensive pieces of scientific research equipment than joysticks – yet if the latest announcements about the latest Assassin’s Creed game are anything to go by, eye tracking will become a commonplace feature of how we interact with computers, and particularly games.   Eye trackers provide computers with a user’s gaze position in real time by tracking the position of their pupils. The trackers can either be worn directly on the user’s face, like glasses, or placed in front of them, such as beneath a computer monitor for example.   Eye trackers are usually composed of cameras and infrared lights to illuminate the eyes. Although it’s invisible to the human eye, the cameras can use infrared light to generate a grayscale image in which the pupil is easily recognisable. From the position of the pupil in the image, the eye tracker’s software can work out where the user’s gaze is directed – whether that’s on a computer screen or looking out into the world.   But what’s the use? Well, our eyes can reveal a lot about a person’s intentions, thoughts and actions, as they are good indicators of what we’re interested in. In our interactions with others we often subconsciously pick up on cues that the eyes give away. So it’s possible to gather this unconscious information and use it in order to get a better understanding of what the user is thinking, their interests and habits, or to enhance the interaction between them and the computer they’re using. Practical uses outside the lab There are lots of useful applications. For example, in marketing and usability studies, eye trackers are commonly used to study the impact of an advertising campaign or the design of a website. For people who cannot use their arms or are completely paralysed, eye tracking can be used to operate a computer or speech synthesiser: eye-based applications allow them to move a mouse cursor and spell out sentences using only their eyes.   Other more futuristic-sounding applications have been explored, such as appliances that listen to your commands when you look at them: imagine speaking “on” and “off” commands to your lamp, your hi-fi system or your television, which until you looked at them had been in standby. Other examples include automatic scrolling when you have reached the bottom of a screen of text, or automatic pausing of a movie if you look away.   While there are uses for eye tracking in industry and among researchers, firms are now looking seriously at how to make them useful for the general public. Tobii – the same firm that brought us pizza ordering by mind control – recently launched a consumer-priced remote eye tracker, the Tobii EyeX (US$139) with the aim of encouraging games developers to build eye tracking support into their products. For comparison, research lab-grade eye trackers cost around US$20,000.   Another large eye tracking company, SMI, has announced a partnership with Sony to integrate eye-tracking into games for the PlayStation 4. Interactivity at the cutting edge There’s a lot of potential for eye tracking in video games. For example, in the popular first-person view (“3D shooter”) style of games, eye tracking can be used to automatically pan the screen to where the player is looking, replacing a task usually performed by the mouse. The eyes can be used to target weapons, too.   One of the most interesting applications is interaction with game characters. When using eye tracking video game characters can be made to react to the player’s gaze the same way a human would. Imagine entering a shop and letting your eyes rest on a sword you find interesting: the merchant could tell you directly about this item, making the interaction that bit more real. Or a character might get upset if, instead of looking at him while he’s talking, your eyes rest on his wife. The eyes are very powerful means of nonverbal communication. Implementing human-like reactions in virtual characters could mean a whole new level of immersion in video games.   Beyond games, there is another range of applications where eye tracking is becoming a hot topic: smart glasses. Because of its shape, a lot of people think Google Glass also tracks the eyes, but it doesn’t. But it wouldn’t be surprising to see the next generation of smart glasses including eye tracking capabilities. This could provide further ways of interacting with the head-up display projected onto the glasses, adding automatic scrolling and navigation that leaves the wearer’s hands free instead of having to use the manual control.   There’s already an eye tracking upgrade for the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. If users are willing to wear something on their heads, why not add an eye tracker too and enhance interaction using all that information that’s being given away by the eyes? Using the eyes as a tool opens up the possibility for more natural, subtle interaction.   This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Video made the YouTube star: ATO crackdown on YouTube businesses

1:55AM | Tuesday, 20 January

The Australian Tax Office has warned those who make money from YouTube are “performing artists” who can be liable to pay income tax.   An ATO ruling recognises application of above-average special professional income provisions to individuals who earn income from uploading videos on YouTube.   Big Australian names on YouTube include beauty vlogger Lauren Curtis, who has 2.6 million subscribers to her self-titled YouTube channel, and Jason Simper, who has 715,000 subscribers to his Simple Cooking channel.   Simper told SmartCompany his YouTube channel is now his full time job. He makes over $100,000 a year from his channel but says there is unlimited opportunity.   "It's pretty much the sky is the limit. If you have that niche that strikes a chord with people there is a lot of potential."   But Simper says producing a YouTube channel is also hard work. "You can't drop the ball as things are always changing on YouTube," he says.   "It is a smaller market [in Australia] which can make it more difficult."   Tim Cooper, co-founder of BoomVideo, an Australian YouTube certified multi-channel network, represents a number of YouTube stars including Simper.   Cooper told SmartCompany some vloggers earn “six figures a year” on YouTube, but for the majority the video-sharing platform is just a hobby.   “Its not a silver bullet creating a YouTube channel, it’s not guaranteed money and the creators who have turned it into a full-time job have more often or not spent years of hard work creating an audience,” Cooper says.   He says it takes “hundreds of thousands or millions of views a month” to monetise a YouTube channel.   Cooper says YouTube businesses should have been disclosing their earnings anyway if they have reached the tax thresholds.   “When YouTube creators turn from a hobby into a profession they often get professional advice on the best way to set up those earnings,” he says.   Paul Brassil, partner in Private Clients at PwC, says the ruling is an acknowledgement by the ATO that performers seek to gain income via YouTube and other digital means.   “It’s a perennial question when people start to do things that stem from a passion or hobby, when does it become a business activity?” he says.   “The old adage is that if you are making a profit it must be a business; if you are making a loss it must be hobby. But it’s not quite that straight-forward.”   Brassil says the ATO looks at all the circumstances including regularity, business plan and a view to making a profit but “you are unlikely to convince the ATO you are not carrying on a business if you are making a lot of money.”   According to Brassil, the vast bulk of people who put things on YouTube do not make a profit.   “For the few that do strike it lucky the ATO is now saying … in the YouTube arena it is regarded the same as someone going and playing a gig or getting a recording contract with Sony or something.”   Brassil says this is a “salutary warning” to those who have not been declaring income and has broader implications for anyone making an online income.   “All forms of internet commerce need to address this question.”   This story originally appeared on SmartCompany.

THE NEWS WRAP: Nvidia hopes to drive auto market with new platforms

1:30PM | Monday, 5 January

Chipmaker Nvidia has unveiled new platforms for in-car infotainment and self-driving cars at a press conference ahead of the International CES trade show in Las Vegas.   TechCrunch reports Nvidia has unveiled an in-car entertainment system called Drive CX that can power 16.6 megapixels across multiple displays, along with an image processing platform for self-driving cars called Drive PX.   The new systems are built on the company’s new X1 processor, which can power up to four full HD screens or two 4K resolution screens, along with speech and image recognition. Netflix-approved TVs are on the way Netflix is set to rollout “Netflix Recommended” logo for selected internet-connected smart TVs, with brands including Sony, LG Electronics, Sharp, Vizio and Roku signing up for the program.   According to Re/Code, Netflix says it will grant the certification to televisions that deliver “consumer benefits including turning the TV on instantly, faster app launch and faster resume of video playback”. LG updates its G Flex phone LG has announced an upgrade of its flexible G Flex Android smartphone at its pre-CES press conference.   As with its predecessor, the banana-shaped G-Flex 2 features a self-healing coating on the back that is resistant to scratches, and flexes back to its original shape when bent.   It includes a 403 pixel-per-inch 5.5-inch OLED display, powered by a 64-bit 2GHz octa-core Snapdragon 810 processor, and will initially be released in South Korea later this month. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 1.73% to 17524.1. The Aussie dollar is up to US80.97 cents.

Gadget guide: six new technologies to watch in 2015

12:51AM | Friday, 19 December

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

THE NEWS WRAP: Netflix rules out offline viewing

12:32PM | Wednesday, 17 December

A Netflix executive has ruled out offering customers the ability to view popular television shows and films offline.   “It’s never going to happen,” Netflix’s director of corporate communications and technology Cliff Edwards told TechRadar.   The statement has shot down hopes the popular video streaming service would allow customers to download videos to watch offline in a similar fashion to music streaming service Spotify.   Instead, Edwards argues better Wi-Fi coverage – particularly on public transport – is a more suitable long-term solution as opposed to offline viewing.   Last month Netflix confirmed it would expand into Australia and New Zealand in March 2015. The company has more than 50 million members worldwide.   Leaked emails reveal Snapchat acquisitions   Emails leaked during the Sony Pictures hack have revealed multimillion-dollar acquisitions made by Snapchat, as well as the startup’s plans to include a music feature.   TechCrunch reports that emails leaked between Sony Entertainment chief executive Michael Lynton and Snapchat board member Mitch Lansky reveal the picture and video-sharing app acquired QR scanning startup Scan.me for $14 million in cash, $3 million in restricted stock units and $33 million in Class B common Snapchat stock.   Other emails reveal Snapchat reportedly paid $10 million in cash and $20 million in stock and bonuses for startup AddLive.   Dating startup Zoosk puts IPO plans on hold   Online dating platform Zoosk has backed away from its IPO plans and will revisit its options at a later date, according to TechCrunch.   The company launched in 2007 and filed for a $100 million IPO in April.   The news comes at the same time as a leadership reshuffle, with chief financial officer Kelly Steckelberg replacing cofounder Shayan Zadeh as chief executive. Zadeh will be taking up a position on the company’s board.   According to IBIS World, the dating services market is work $113 million in Australia.   Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 312.33 points or 1.83% to 17,381.2. The Aussie dollar is currently trading at US81 cents.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Tapit opens US office following rapid international expansion

12:26AM | Tuesday, 16 December

An Australian startup leading the way in contactless communications has opened an office in New York as part of its expansion into the US market.   Tapit, founded in 2011, has been finding new ways for consumers to access information instantly on their phones – all off the back of an aggressive international expansion.   Earlier this year the startup collaborated with the likes of Google and HBO to allow people to access film and television-related content on their smartphones by scanning event posters.   In September, Tapit entered the Chinese market via a partnership with mobile commerce giant 99 Wuxian.   Co-founder and chief executive Jamie Conyngham told StartupSmart the company opened an office in New York because it wanted to position itself where its clients were.   “There’s a concentration of media in New York and a lot of iconic brands have their global headquarters there, so it made more sense for us to relocate there rather than San Francisco,” he says.   Conyngham says the startup has been using Australia as a “launchpad” for global deals, which has worked well because it can bring those case studies to the US.   “If you do a deal with Google or Microsoft in Australia you have that case study and you can then go to their global teams,” he says.   “You can’t do that unless you do those deals in the US – Skype only takes you so far.”   The company has been helped by the fact that Australia is ahead with contactless communication in comparison to other countries, according to Conyngham.   “You’ve seen the massive take-up of tap and pay with credit cards and that has put us ahead in the contactless ecosystem. So we’ve been lucky to have headquarters here in that regard because the US is a bit behind – even in the UK.”   Tapit also has offices in Tokyo, Shanghai and Dubai. The fast-growing startup has pioneered contactless communications for brands such as Telstra, Vodafone, Coca-Cola, Samsung and Sony.   There are around 635 million smartphones fitted with near-field communications technology around the world, and Tapit expects that number to grow to one billion by 2015.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

THE NEWS WRAP: Twitter now monitors which other apps you have installed

11:27PM | Sunday, 30 November

Twitter has added a new feature called “app graph”, which collects a list of all the other apps you have installed on your smartphone.   “To help build a more personal Twitter experience for you, we are collecting and occasionally updating the list of apps installed on your mobile device so we can deliver tailored content that you might be interested in,” Twitter states on its website.   The social media giant claims the list will “help build a more tailored experience for you on Twitter” and that it does not collect information stored within third party apps, just which apps you have installed.   To switch off the feature, Twitter advises users to switch off the “Tailor Twitter based on my apps” option in Settings, with the option appearing under “Other” in the Android version of the Twitter app or “Privacy” on the iPhone version. Uber suspends operations in Nevada Uber has suspended its operations in the US state of Nevada following a court injunction.   Reuters reports the Washoe County District Court issued a preliminary injunction against the ridesharing startup conducting its services in the state.   Uber claims the injunction will cost nearly 1000 jobs. Sony blames North Korea for hack attack Sony is investigating whether the North Korean government is to blame for an attack that has seen Sony Pictures employees locked out of their work computers.   A group named “Guardians of Peace,” or #GOP, is claiming credit for the attack, with the media conglomerate and its outside security consultants investigating whether the attack was carried out by hackers in China on North Korea’s behalf.   According to Re/Code, the attack comes ahead of the release of an upcoming film starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, titled The Interview, in which a pair of journalists are recruited by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 0.49 points to 17828.2. The Aussie dollar is down to US84.70 cents.

THE NEWS WRAP: Sony goes for style over tech with electronic paper watch

11:22PM | Wednesday, 26 November

Sony is developing a watch made out of electronic paper for release as soon as next year in a trial of the company's new venture-style approach to creating products, Bloomberg reports.   The watch’s face and wristband will be made from a patented material that allows the entire surface area to function as a display and change its appearance, sources say.   The watch will focus on style, rather than trying to outdo products like Apple Watch and Sony’s own SmartWatch technologically. Twitter to track user app downloads Twitter is set to start tracking which apps its users have downloaded, Re/code reports.   The social media giant says it will only be collecting a list of applications users have installed, not any of the data contained within those applications.   The feature will be opt-out, meaning Twitter will begin collecting the data from users unless they explicitly say otherwise.   “To help build a more personal Twitter experience for you, we are collecting and occasionally updating the list of apps installed on your mobile device so we can deliver tailored content that you might be interested in,” the company says. Lyft experiences best week yet Transportation network Lyft says it had record usage last week in the wake of the Uber controversy, VentureBeat reports.   While the company isn’t releasing specific figures, it says it experienced its biggest week in terms of number of rides, beating a previous record week during Halloween. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 12.10 to 17,802.84. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US85 cents.

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

11:03AM | Thursday, 13 November

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

Five key features you can expect to find up Apple’s sleeve with the iPhone 6

9:22AM | Wednesday, 3 September

Apple is expected to launch the latest version of the iPhone at an event it is hosting at the Flint Center for Performing Arts in Cupertino, California, next week.   Apple has already sent invitations to an event taking place on September 9th at 10am, local time. In a curious move, there are reports the notoriously secretive tech giant has gone so far as to construct its own multi-storey structure alongside the venue.   The choice of location is particularly significant because it is the venue where Apple launched its first Macintosh computer in 1984. It is also significantly larger than the Yerba Buena Center or the theatre at Apple’s corporate headquarters, where the tech giant normally makes its major new product announcements.   Speculation about the new device hasn’t escaped its key rivals, with a list of consumer electronics giants including LG, Samsung, Microsoft and Motorola – and possibly others – all gearing up for major product launches of their own over the next month.   So what can we expect to find from the iPhone 6? Here are some of the more credible rumours about what we can expect from the device: 1. A larger screen and, perhaps, a phablet   As far back as November last year, there have been persistent and credible reports Apple has been working on two different models of the iPhone 6.   According to most reports, the first model is set to feature a 4.7-inch display, while the second will include a 5.5-inch screen. This would make them close in size to the 5-inch display on the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the 5.7-inch display used on the Galaxy Note 3.   Along with the move to two screen sizes, Apple is reportedly moving away from the plastic casing used on its current low-end device, the iPhone 5s.   Aside from the usual Apple rumours sites, reports about the two screen sizes have appeared in a number of credible business publications, including The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.   Unfortunately, it is not clear if both versions of the iPhone will be available at launch, with some speculation the larger 5.5-inch phablet version could be on hold until next year. 2. Mobile payments   According to a second credible rumour, Apple has been working on its own mobile payments platform centred on the iPhone 6.   During the past week, a number of respected publications including The Information, Re/Code and Bloomberg have independently confirmed with sources that Apple has struck a number of deals with major payment providers, retailers, and banks.   Those signing up to the payment platform include credit card and payments giants American Express, Visa and MasterCard.   The reports suggest the iPhone 6 will include an NFC (near-field communications) chip, a technology used to power tap-and-pay credit cards and public transport systems.   It will allow iPhone 6 users to make purchases with their smartphones, rather than by using a credit card or by paying with cash.   While NFC-chip technology has long been a standard feature of Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry smartphones, Apple has long held out on using it in its devices. 3. Does Apple have anything up its sleeve?   For years, it has been rumoured Apple has had a smartwatch, or iWatch, up its sleeve.   In recent years, the hype surrounding wearable devices, including smart bracelets and smartwatches has grown, with many expecting Apple to eventually join the market.   Following the release of the Pebble in January 2013, a number of consumer electronics and device manufacturers have dipped their toes in the market, including Sony, LG, Motorola and Samsung, among many others. Other companies, such as Microsoft, are believed to be working on wearables of their own.   At the Google I/O developer conference, the search and mobile giant unveiled its Android Wear device platform. Meanwhile, rival consumer electronics makers are working on smartwatches with their own SIM cards, as well as round clockfaces.   The growing speculation is that the time is right for Apple to release its smartwatch – before it’s too late. 4. iOS8   Whether or not the iPhone 6 comes in a larger form, accepts mobile payments or is partnered to a smartwatch, one thing is for certain: it is set to run iOS8.   First unveiled during the company’s WorldWide Developer Conference during June, iOS8 will bring along a number of new features for users.   The new version of the mobile operating system is designed to be interoperable with the new version of Mac OS X, known as Yosemite.   The improved interoperability means users will be able to use their Mac as a speakerphone for their iPhone, read and send their iPhone messages from their Mac, or use a feature called Handoff to pass activities from one device to another.   It will also come with a new health tracking app called Health, which uses a new underlying API called Healthkit to gather health tracking data from a range of third-party health tracking apps and devices.   iOS8 also includes the foundations of Apple’s Internet of Things home automation platform, known as Homekit. 5. A sapphire display   In August, some photos of the new device leaked showing a thinner, lighter version of the iPhone. But one feature in particular was notable: the use of sapphire, rather than glass, for the screen.   While the choice of material is likely to make the device significantly more expensive, a less shatter-prone iPhone will certainly be music to the ears of anyone who has ever accidentally busted a mobile phone screen.   This article originally appeared on SmartCompany.

How to build a virtual reality system – in your living room

7:13AM | Thursday, 3 July

Virtual reality is no longer the expensive, cumbersome exercise it once was. Google Cardboard, launched at last week’s Google I/O conference, is a no-frills, cardboard frame that, when used with open software, transforms a smartphone into a basic virtual reality headset.   But for a more immersive experience, hobbyists can build their own virtual reality system in their living room using equipment they already have (and if not, can buy relatively inexpensively).   All you need to beam yourself onto the bridge of the USS Enterprise or into Jerry Seinfeld’s apartment is:   a computer an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset a Microsoft Kinect for Windows motion sensor a battery headphones a tablet with software used to create and develop videogames (also know as a game engine).   A stroll through virtual reality history   The term “virtual reality” was initially coined by American computer scientist Jaron Lanier in 1989 to describe a three-dimensional, computer-generated environment which a person can explore and interact with.   Virtual reality quickly attracted media attention and inspired films such as the The Lawnmower Man in 1992 and Disclosure in 1994 – but this fuelled expectations of virtual reality that couldn’t be met by the technology available at the time.   Virtual reality gaming interfaces such as the Virtuality HMD headset in 1991, Cybermaxx VR in 1994 and Nintendo’s Virtual Boy in 1995 left many enthusiasts of the technology disappointed, and often quite dizzy.   Systems that enable users to walk and interact in the space are generally expensive (to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars), unsuited to routine use and obtrusive, so it’s unsurprising that virtual reality has mostly remained in the laboratory.   Virtual roaming at home   To make virtual reality practical for home use, you need a system that is inexpensive, easy to set up, does not encumber the user and works in a lounge room-sized area.   The availability of head-mounted displays such as the Oculus Rift, motion tracking devices such as the Microsoft Kinect and game engines such as Unity 3D or UDK are a step into the right direction.   The Kickstarter success of the Oculus Rift in 2012 reinvigorated the appetite for virtual reality experiences and paved the way for new wave of virtual reality head-mounted displays such as the Sony Morpheus and the Google Cardboard.   The Nintendo Wii and the Microsoft Kinect have already started a revolution in home gaming by getting the gamer out of the chair. The Kinect tracks the user’s movement in the living room in seconds without the need for special markers or lengthy calibration.   Ultra-light tablet computers are also becoming more powerful and are now capable to render convincing three dimensional environments at acceptable frame rates.   Okay, I’ve got the goods. Now what?   SpaceWalk is a platform developed by researchers in the GEELab at RMIT University that allows a user to physically walk around and interact in a virtual environment. The platform uses two systems:   a virtual reality backpack a separate tracking station.   The tracking station consists of a standard desktop computer connected to Kinect. The Kinect has a practical tracking area of approximately 6m2, about the size of most people’s living rooms. It can track movements as little as 1.3mm when users are close to the sensor and 6mm at the end of its tracking range.   The user’s backpack contains an external phone charger battery pack [B] connected to the Oculus Rift controller box [C] via a USB to DC Barrel Jack [E] and provides the Oculus Rift [A] with power. The Oculus Rift connects via HDMI [G] to the tablet computer [D].   The platform is only meant at this point to serve as an experimental setup and users have to move slowly in the space as particularly fast movements have the potential to induce nausea. Frame rates, screen resolutions, tracking accuracy and latency are expected to improve with the availability of new hardware.   The Oculus Developer’s Kit 2 already promises refresh rates of up to 75Hz and a third higher screen resolution of 960 x 1080 pixels per eye. Similarly, the Kinect 2 for Windows features more accurate user tracking and a larger practical tracking area.   Moving and interacting naturally in virtual reality creates an extraordinary sense of immersion that cannot be experienced sitting down, and the experience of walking and interacting in a virtual game space has been explored by number of recent projects.   Apart from Architectural Visualisation and Industrial Training, defending yourself against a horde of zombies is a popular use case that has been explored by Project Holodeck and ZeroLatency.   On a similar vein, participants could experience vertigo using a setup developed by Inition at the 2013 Digital Shoreditch Festival.   If encountering your worst nightmare within the confines of a few square metres is not enough, users can explore the vast expanse of their virtual world on foot with an omni-directional treadmill.   To understand how virtual reality can be become a useful extension of our real world, the technology must break the boundaries of the dedicated virtual reality laboratory and become accessible by a wider user group with a variety of backgrounds and motivations.   We have just begun to realise the potential of virtual reality and there are many strange new worlds for us to explore. Stefan Greuter does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.   This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

THE NEWS WRAP: Samsung joins the race to get real with VR headsets

5:14PM | Thursday, 22 May

Samsung is developing a VR headset for its phones and tablets.   Sources told Engadget a Samsung VR headset is not only under development by the company’s mobile division, but it’s set to be announced this year.   The urgency is said to be in order to beat Facebook’s Oculus Rift and Sony’s Project Morpheus to market.   More problems for Apple’s iMessage   The problem of having text messages trapped in the cloud when customers move a phone number from an iPhone to an Android has been made worse.   A recent server glitch undermined one of Apple’s key methods of trying to fix the issue.   The company says a fix is coming, although it hasn’t indicated when.   The matter is now the subject of legal action by a Californian woman who is seeking class-action status against Apple.   The suit claims Apple has violated California’s unfair competition law and also interferes with a wireless carrier’s abilities to deliver its promised service to customers.   HP to cut up to 16,000 jobs   The company reported results for its second fiscal quarter with sales figures slightly below expectations. HP says it expects to add to the 34,000 job cuts it announced in 2012.   Between 11,000 and 16,000 more jobs are expected to go.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 10.02 to 16,543.08. The Australian dollar is trading at US92 cents.

Give 'em the razor, sell 'em the blades!

3:24AM | Tuesday, 4 March

Recently, Old Taskmaster looked at freemium pricing as a possible pricing model for your business. In short, the idea is you give away part of your product for free, with the expectation you will persuade your customer to purchase a value added extra.   For example, you might have heard the phrase “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”. It comes from a practice in New Orleans during the 1970s of offering customers a free counter meal item with any drink they purchased.   While the drinks did not cover the cost of the meal, the saloons prospered on the fact that customers would purchase two or three drinks at inflated prices with their meal, more than covering their meal cost. For the publicans, as in life, there indeed was no such thing as a free lunch.   Of course, while it might be feasible to give a customer a free counter meal, what if your product is too expensive to viably give away for free? What if your margins are already razor-thin?   This is when we start talking about razors and blades.   In 1901, an entrepreneur named King Gillette from Fond du Lac in Wisconsin noticed most barbers used razors with large, bolted-on blades. They had been nicknamed “cut-throat razors” for their propensity to wound the customers of a barber with a less-than-steady hand. And just think, you say you work in a “cut-throat” industry! Cowards!   Anyway, while the handles remained sturdy, the blades quickly dulled, requiring regular sharpening. Being the entrepreneurial sort, King Gillette developed a new type of razor. These featured a razor handle with an easily replaced blade.   Far more revolutionary than his blade design, however, was the design of his pricing structure. Gillette sold his handles at a significant loss in order to secure as many customers as possible.   Where Gillette made his money was in the sale of blades, which were sold at a significant premium. By purchasing the handle, customers were effectively locked into purchasing several blades, which more than covered the subsidy on the handle.   Today, Gillette’s razor and blade pricing model today is applied to a number of industries.   For example, that cheap little ink-jet printer on your office desk was sold to you at a considerable subsidy, like a razor handle. The ink cartridges it uses, like Gillette’s blades, are sold at a significant premium. Once you’ve printed a few documents with ink more expensive per litre than crude oil, it turns out the total cost of ownership is higher than you anticipated.   Likewise, it’s not feasible to give away plane tickets for free. However, low-cost carriers sell tickets on the cheap in the hope you’ll pay a premium for using a credit card, having extra baggage or enjoying an in-flight meal.   Similarly, your kids’ PlayStation or Xbox is, at its core, a computer powerful enough to play graphics processor-intensive games. It’s also sold to you at a subsidised price – but Sony or Microsoft extract a licensing fee for every game they sell.   Optus will sell you an $899 Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone for just $17 a month for 24 months, or $408. Oh, but you’ll also need a $50 per month plan, which means it’ll cost you a total of $1608 by the time 24 months are up – nearly double the cost of the phone.   And the cinema sells you tickets for roughly the extortionate price the Hollywood studios and distributors charge them for public exhibition of their film. However, if you want some popcorn or a choc-top during the show, be prepared to pay.   You get the picture.   As the publicans of New Orleans discovered well over a century ago, in life there’s no such thing as a free lunch. However, if that model doesn’t work for your industry, consider giving your customers a subsidised razor – and sell them the blade at a profit.   So can the razor-and-blade model work in your industry? Even in a cut-throat industry, Old Taskmaster says it’s worth considering.   Get it done – today!

The eight biggest announcements from the 2014 Mobile World Congress

2:47AM | Friday, 28 February

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

New co-working space opens for social enterprises and not-for-profits in Melbourne

2:03AM | Thursday, 13 February

A new co-working space has opened its doors in Melbourne for social enterprises and not-for-profit firms.   Makeshift Studio was founded by humanitarian engineers Julian O’Shea and Huy Nguyen, who wanted to create a space to support social enterprises.   “It’s bringing social entrepreneurship into a social space which invigorates us,” Nguyen told StartupSmart.   Nguyen is the founder and chief executive of Enable Development, which seeks to address the challenges of disability, while O’Shea is the director of Engineers Without Borders Australia, a group that works to address lack of access to clean water, sanitation and other basic infrastructure.   Nguyen says he wants to demonstrate that there is value in doing good.   He says he has done a lot of volunteering but is now more interested in establishing sustainable businesses with a social impact.   The studio is already making a mark in the social innovation community after winning the Foundation for Young Australians PitchUp competition and receiving a $20,000 prize pack including a trip to the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship and electronics equipment sponsored by Sony.     As well as hosting other enterprises, the studio plans to seed and lead its own social impact projects.   Its first project is Open Bike, an accessible community bike share system being developed with the University of Melbourne.   O’Shea says in a statement that their research found that emerging social businesses and not-for-profit start-ups want to work collaboratively and have little funding for office space.   “This is our way of helping them kick start their projects,” he says.   The studio is located in a renovated old bicycle warehouse in Capel St, West Melbourne.

10 events and trends that shaped the tech industry in 2013

12:02AM | Friday, 6 December

The tech sector has always been hyper-competitive, and never has this been truer than in 2013.   For the likes of Twitter, Samsung and Google, the harvest of 2013 was bountiful.   However, from the perspective of Nokia, Microsoft, BlackBerry or the PC industry, it was a year to forget.   Here’s a look back at 10 of the big events and trends that shaped the tech sector in 2013.   1. One billion smartphones sold this year – and counting   The most important tech story of 2013 didn’t take place with a major product announcement or a Steve Jobs-style keynote speech.   Instead, it took place without fanfare at an ordinary mobile phone retailer somewhere deep in suburbia.   It was there that a consumer decided to purchase the one billionth smartphone to be sold during 2013.   To put that number in perspective, it is projected that 227.3 million tablets shipped worldwide during 2013, 158 million television sets, 180.9 million portable PCs and 134.4 million desktop PCs.   Meanwhile, figures from market analysts IDC show smartphones also outsold featurephones worldwide for the first time in history during the first quarter of 2013.   What this means is that while smartphones now account for more than half of the 418.6 million mobile phones shipped worldwide each quarter, there are still millions of old-fashioned featurephones being sold each year.   Especially in the low-end of the market and in emerging economies, that means there’s plenty of extra room for growth in the future – especially at the low-end of the market.   Make no mistake about it. The smartphone industry is big – far bigger than the PC or TV business. And it’s only going to get bigger in 2014.   2. Google Android and Samsung: The juggernaut rolls on The biggest winners from the spectacular, ongoing growth of the smartphone market have been Samsung and Google.   Last year, smartphones running Google Android outsold Apple. In 2013, that trend morphed into total industry domination.   For example, of the 261.1 million smartphones shipped worldwide during the third quarter of 2013, 211.6 million or over 80% ran Google’s Android operating system.   That compares to just 33.8 million iPhones, representing around 12.9% of the market, and a measly 3.6% for Windows Phone.   Samsung managed to ship 72.4 million smartphones during the second quarter of 2013 alone, representing around 30.4% of the market – more than double Apple’s sales during the same period.   Those device sales also mean increased component orders flowing through the various divisions of the South Korean tech conglomerate, which manufactures everything from semiconductors to batteries and smartphone displays.   The growing strength of the South Korean electronics behemoth is demonstrated by its advertising and marketing budget, which has been estimated at around $US14 billion worldwide.   To put that figure into perspective, as of 2011, North Korea’s entire national economy was estimated to stand at $US12.385 billion.   3. The PC industry bloodbath   While Google and Samsung have had a stellar year in 2013, the same certainly can’t be said for the PC industry.   The September quarter was the sixth consecutive quarter of falls, according to Gartner, with shipments falling to 80.2 million units for the quarter from 87.8 million a year earlier.   Figures released by IDC forecast PC shipments for the full year to fall 9.7% in 2013.   More alarmingly, it appears the emerging middle class in China, India and Brazil aren’t keen on buying computers, with total PC shipments in emerging markets expected to drop from 205.2 million to 185 million this year.   Australia and New Zealand led the trend, with a massive 21% year-on-year fall in shipments for first quarter in Australia, along with a more astounding 27% fall in New Zealand.   The implosion of the PC market was disastrous for a number of PC makers, including Dell, HP and Acer.   In August, HP announced a major shake-up of its senior management team after announcing a large 15% year-on-year drop in net earnings and a 22% drop in revenue from consumer devices during its quarterly results.   That same month, Dell reported a massive 72% year-on-year collapse in quarterly earnings, while a consortium including founder Michael Dell, Silver Lake Capital and Microsoft successfully fought off high-profile investor Carl Icahn’s bid for control of the company.   And at Acer, founder Stan Shih made a surprise return as interim chairman and president, following the resignation of former chief executive JT Wang and president Jim Wong after the company recorded a record third-quarter loss.   The resignations came after Acer announced its consolidated revenues for the third-quarter of 2013 fell 11.8% year-on-year to $US3.11 billion, resulting in an operating loss of $US86.6 million.   4. Surface falls flat   On top of falling PC sales and 3.6% Windows Phone market share, the news was dire for Microsoft on another front in 2013.   Late last year, Microsoft launched its Surface series of tablets as a first step towards making devices, with the company believed to have manufactured around six million units.   The release of the Surface instantly made Microsoft a direct competitor to many of its already struggling PC partners, straining relations in the process.   Fast forward to July of this year when Microsoft announced a massive $US900 million writedown on its inventory of unsold tablets. The writedown came less than a week after Microsoft announced a large price cut of $US150 for the struggling product line.   Adding insult to injury, Microsoft also revealed it has spent $US898 million advertising the tablets, while only generating $US853 million in sales.   According to many leading analysts, the company was believed to have sold just 1.7 million of the six million tablets it had built.   To put those numbers in perspective, Apple sells around 14.6 million iPads each quarter, while Samsung sells around 8.8 million.   5. Steve Ballmer resigns   During the 1990s, Microsoft was undeniably the 800-pound gorilla of the tech industry.   Then, in January 2000, founder Bill Gates stood aside as chief executive, in favour of Steve Ballmer, in order to focus on his philanthropic efforts.   Since then, the company has lost much of its former dynamism, and has failed to become the dominant player in a range of new technologies that have emerged since then, including search, tablets, smartphones or social media.   In August last year, Vanity Fair magazine journalist Kurt Eichenwald ran a feature exploring why Microsoft fell behind its rivals. A management technique called stack ranking was almost universally blamed.   “If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, two people were going to get a great review, seven were going to get mediocre reviews, and one was going to get a terrible review,” a former software developer told Eichenwald. “It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.”   Add the low market share for Windows Phone, poor sales of the Surface and the PC industry bloodbath, and it became clear something had to give at Microsoft.   In July, the company announced a major management restructure, with the company’s strategy shifting to focus on “devices and services”.   Then, just one month later, Ballmer resigned as chief executive, with stack ranking dumped as a management technique soon after.   The Redmond, Washington-based tech giant is currently searching for his replacement.   Story continues on page 2. Please click below. 6. Nokia sold for a song   Soon after Ballmer’s resignation, the news was overshadowed by an even bigger story.   In September, Microsoft announced it was buying Nokia’s smartphone and devices businesses for $US7.2 billion, with the Finnish telecommunications company retaining its Nokia-Siemens services network equipment business and the Nokia brand name.   The deal came after Nokia announced its smartphone sales had slumped 27% year-on-year during the second quarter of 2013, with an overall loss of €115 million ($A190 million) for the quarter.   The sales plunge was led by the company’s Windows Phone-based Lumia smartphone unit, where shipments fell 27% from 10.2 million units during the second quarter of 2012 to just 7.4 million for the same quarter in 2013.   To put that number into perspective, it was a little over one-tenth the number of smartphones sold by Samsung during the same quarter.   It was an inglorious end to a company that absolutely dominated the mobile industry through the 1990s and 2000s. As recently as 2010, when Apple sold 47 million smartphones, Nokia managed to sell 104 million.   According to prominent industry analysts, such as former Nokia executive Tomi Ahonen, the fateful moment came in February 2011, when then chief executive Stephen Elop made the decision to switch its smartphones to the Windows Phone operating system.   Soon after, a leaked internal letter from Elop known as the “burning platform” memo likened the company’s situation in the mobile phone market to a person standing on a burning oil platform.   After the takeover was announced, Elop was named as one of the top contenders for the position of Microsoft chief executive.   7. BlackBerry’s failed comeback and takeover attempt   It wasn’t just Nokia that had a tough time in the smartphone market at the hands of Samsung and Google.   In January, BlackBerry launched its new, all-touch BlackBerry 10 smartphone operating system. The platform, originally scheduled for late 2011, had been delayed by a year, preventing the company launching a flagship phone in 2012.   The Australian launch for the first smartphone to run the new platform, the Z10, came in March at a gala event in Sydney hosted by Adam Spencer. A second device using a traditional BlackBerry keyboard, called the Q10, came soon after.   While the reviews were generally positive, the new devices failed to be the big comeback success the company’s then-chief executive, Thorsten Heins, had hoped for.   By August, the company formed a special five-member panel to examine takeover options after director and Canadian investment guru Prem Watsa quit the board.   In its September quarter results, the full carnage was laid bare. The Canadian smartphone maker reported just $US1.6 billion in revenues for the quarter, down 45% year-on-year and 49% quarter-on-quarter.   The company also revealed it sold just 3.7 million smartphones for the quarter – and less than half of those ran BlackBerry 10.   Total losses came in at $US965 million, including a massive $US934 million inventory writedown against unsold stock of the company’s Z10 smartphone.   The company announced more than 4500 staff layoffs, representing nearly 40% of its global workforce, while Heins bought a new private jet.   Meanwhile, the company’s rollout of its Messenger app for Android and iOS was frozen due to technical issues with its release.   In early November, with banks uncertain of the company’s long-term future, Watsa failed to raise the requisite $4.7 billion for a buyout, instead lending the company $US1 billion.   As part of the deal, Heins stood aside as chief executive, replaced by former Sybase chief executive John Chen, with Watsa rejoining the board.   Heins received a $US22 million golden parachute for his efforts, significantly less than the $US55.6 million he would have received had the sale gone through.   8. The Twitter IPO   Last year, Facebook’s disastrous IPO ended in tears – followed by lawsuits.   Thankfully, the outcome was not repeated when its social media rival, Twitter, listed on the New York Stock Exchange in November.   After opening at $US26 per share, the company’s share price surged 72.69% in its first trading session.   It closed at $US44.90 per share, before dropping slightly to $US44.44 in after-hours trading.   Making the result even more amazing was the state of its balance sheet.   While the tech giant has revenues of $US534.46 million and around 230 million users worldwide, it has never posted a profit.   Despite this, the company now has a market capitalisation north of $US20 billion, with chief executive Dick Costolo claiming the company’s long-term investment strategy has prevented it from chasing profits in the short term.   9. iOS7, iPhones and iPads   For Apple, 2013 was a solid if somewhat unspectacular year.   In June, the company released a redesigned version of its smartphone and mobile operating system, iOS7, alongside a new version of its Mac OS X desktop operating system, known as Mavericks.   It was the year that Apple finally unveiled a low-cost version of its iPhone, known as the iPhone 5c, alongside a new 64-bit flagship smartphone called the iPhone 5s, complete with a 64-bit processor and a fingerprint sensor.   Then, in October, the company unveiled a lighter version of its iPad, known as the iPad Air.   None of the products had the industry-shaking impact of the unveiling of the Macintosh, iPod, iPhone or iPad.   That said, with billions in profits each quarter, a solid second place in the smartphone market and the world’s biggest selling tablet, solid and unspectacular for Apple is better than most companies could dream of.   10. Xbox One and PlayStation 4 launch   Last, but certainly not least for gamers, 2013 marked the introduction of next generation games consoles from both Sony and Microsoft.   Coming a year after Nintendo launched its Wii U system, Sony announced one million first-day sales of its PlayStation 4 system, but the launch was marred by a number of angry consumers taking to social media to complain about non-functional systems.   Sony’s first-day sales were soon matched by the first-day sales of Microsoft’s new Xbox One system.   So how will the two new devices perform over the long term? We’ll have to wait until next year to find out!   This story first appeared on SmartCompany.

Why the tech revolution could soon be televised: If you develop mobile apps, you must tune in to this

10:49AM | Friday, 25 October

Earlier today, your humble correspondent read a really rather interesting news piece. If you’re in the mobile app business or even a software developer in general, this is one article you must read.   But first, a little background.   If you’re a loyal reader, you might recall back in July your dear Uncle Taskmaster wrote a little article looking at the growing tensions simmering between Google and Samsung. (If you’re a new reader, click here to read it.)   To refresh you memory, the two companies have made a small fortune selling Samsung Galaxy smartphones running Google’s Android operating system and apps. However, now Google (through its wholly owned Motorola Mobility subsidiary) builds its own smartphones. Meanwhile, Samsung has started working on its own smartphone platform in competition to Android, known as Tizen.   At the time, you’ll recall Old Taskmaster wrote the following:   “If you’re already coding mobile apps, and you find yourself with some spare time on your hands, it could be worth playing around with the Tizen development kit. If it flops, you’ll be the coder with the best chess app in a sparsely filled app store.   “Meanwhile, if these two giants of the smartphone world file for divorce, you’ll be well positioned to cash in.”   Then, at the start of August, Old Taskmaster wrote a column about why YouTube video clips matter for small business. Again, click here if you missed it.   Now, dear reader and start-up entrepreneur, here’s where it all starts to get interesting.   According to an article your humble correspondent read earlier today, it appears that smart television will be one of the key focuses of the next version of Google’s Android smartphone platform (Android 4.4 KitKat).   If this proves to be true, it could make “how my app looks on TV” as big a consideration as “how well it works on a smartphone” or “how well it works on a tablet”.   But, loyal reader, here’s something even more interesting:   “Google is set to collide with Samsung over the future of smart TV, with the Korean electronics giant set to use its own operating system – Tizen – to power its future smart TV products from next year.”   That’s right, the likes of Sony and LG will ship TVs next year running Android, while Samsung will ship them with its own Tizen platform installed instead.   Now, my dear app developer, I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a golden opportunity right there.   If I were in your shoes right now, here’s what I would do.   First, download the Tizen development kit and have a play with it if you haven’t already.   Secondly, keep an ear to the ground about any more news that comes out about Android 4.4 KitKat.   Someone could potentially make a lot of money selling apps for smart TVs. As a start-up, you need to be nimble and ready enough to grab that first mover advantage.   Get it done – on TV!

Five Aussie start-ups looking to crack Obama’s America

11:46AM | Thursday, 8 November

Regardless of the economic turmoil the US has undergone in the past four years, America remains a prized destination for many Australian entrepreneurs.

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