Today In Tech

Thoughts on the field of technology…today.

Google, Robotics, & Looking Forward

Beware this may seem hyperbolic but bare with me…So…Google has made a few acquisitions that people won’t take too much stock in, personally I look to look at this as an inquisitive puzzle piece. I won’t go long here, below are a series of videos behind some of the companies Google has recently acquired. Deductive reasoning (obviously watching a lot of Sherlock) leads to my conclusion that many will find to be completely crazy but I’ll get to that later.

Google purchased Boston Dynamics, one of eight robotics companies purchased in a six month time span last year for their robotics venture. Then they make a purchase for Nest the company behind the Nest thermostat and the Nest Protect, for an amount that’s dramatically more than Nest is actually worth (discussion for another day). Though it’s rumored that Nest’s next product would be home security and when looking at the thermostat and protect though seemingly basic household products, one could imagine what a security system from former Apple engineers and one of the forefathers of the iPod would look like and how it would function.

Add in the new prompt featured on the Moto X hardware of “Okay Google” an active listening device without having to press down any buttons on the phone one would simply state the command “Okay Google” and the device wakes up waiting for a verbal command to be made.

And yesterday, news comes out that Google has acquired a pure AI company called DeepMind, a company that many have never heard of and know very little about. The likely is looked at as a pure talent acquisition likely to bolster AI for the robotics team and Google Now.

Looking at these acquisitions over the last couple of months you have to wonder…what are they doing? Google continues to gather the worlds information (making their acceptance in the regular consumer space more suspect), the device in the hands of a few thousand Google Glass has been welcomed with fists and annoyance versus open arms (the phrase “Glasshole” is without a doubt a beautiful reflection of the people that praise the device), and lets not forget about the driverless cars. My best educated guess in terms of what Google may be doing…

Now remember what I said at the start of this, you’ll think this is completely nuts, now I’m not concluding that Google is making Rosie, what I’m suggesting is that Google may develop a device that may be able to follow one around the home, awaiting commands such as “Google Now turn temperature down to 65 degrees” the robotic device will communicate with the home over WiFi going through with your command. Or asking the device who’s at the door using facial recognition that has been improved upon from it’s efforts with Google Glass it’ll be able to let you know who’s at the door or communicate with letting them in and guiding them to your whereabouts if you’re not home or within the home.

As ridiculous as this all may sound, how many people made the assumption that we’d be able to talk to our mobile phones where they provide a fluid response while sending a text message to your contacts? Keep in mind this embedded AI is actually learning and improves upon receiving additional commands. The radical advancements of technology are escalating at a rapid scale and things we would’ve never imagined will be available at our fingertips in a matter of months.

No we won’t have Rosie rolling around our homes providing us with dinner or medication etc, but what you’ll likely see on sale from Google inside an Apple store or inside any Google stores will be something similar to what was seen in the ill fated show Caprica (should’ve been given another season at least, but this is also for another discussion). The robot’s name was Serge…ironic. Give it a few years before you see the fruits of Google’s labor, at least 2-3 but rest assured we’ll see something no one could’ve imagined roaming around at the Google I/O conference in 2016.

Ben Shaffer, Nike & Apple

Over the weekend there was a story from 9to5Mac regarding a new Apple hire; Ben Shaffer who was instrumental in the development of the Nike Flyknit shoe (not the fuel band as FastCompany was so eager to point out). The overall consensus is that Shaffer will be a part of the team behind the mythical “iWatch” device, this seems likely in the event that this device is real and based on so much smoke in the air there’s sure to be a flicker of some truth to something in the Cupertino labs. But what would someone who was in charge of making a lightweight comfortable and stable running shoe do at Apple? In Fast Company’s small piece asking Why the company hired a shoe designer the question was basically answered, the device known as the “iWatch” is a wearable device. Consider this piece from the article while speaking with Shaffer:

What makes Flyknit so truly disruptive is that it isn’t a shoe–it’s a way to make shoes. As the team members who spent four years developing the technology like to say, they’re “breaking the sewing machine.” The old Nike model involved cutting rolls of prewoven material into pieces, and then stitching and assembling them. But with Flyknit, a shoe’s upper and tongue can be knit from polyester yarns and cables, which “gets rid of all the unnecessary excesses,” says Ben Shaffer, studio director at the Innovation Kitchen, Nike’s R&D center. The Flyknit Racer, one of the first shoes in the Flyknit line, is 5.6 ounces, roughly an ounce lighter than its counterparts. Nike uses only as much thread as it needs in production, and the shoe can be micro-engineered–tightened here, stretched there–to improve durability and fit.

Fast Company – Nike No. 1 Most Innovative Company

If the assumption is that Shaffer will be a part of the “iWatch” team and the question is what will his role be? You could expand said assumption that his role will be related to the material that will be used and manufactured to wear this “wearable” device. If the idea is to get millions of people to have the desire to purchase and wear this thing you have to build for a multitude of wrist sizes logically someone who was able to lead a team to building an ultra lightweight shoe may be able to assist with building a comfortable probably adjustable wrist band for a miniature computer that won’t lead to irritation. This is simply using a little logic and deductive reasoning, no one outside of Apple really knows exactly what they’re building (regardless of what Bloomberg may want you to believe) and when this will be released. We’ll all see the fruits of such labor in due time, until then we should collectively chill.

Samsung & Their “Originality” Problem

Samsung is essentially a large copy machine, this is far from being a hyperbolic statement, the company has very little originality and seem incapable of delivering products people would actually use. Gimmicks aside how many people do you know with Samsung Galaxy S4 devices actually utilize the features shown in the commercials? If you have to create an “easy” feature in the phone you’ve failed at delivering a proper product to the customer. They’re a company that screams for the attention and clearly show little shame in copying their competitors. Everyone knows about the Apple situation but what about in 2006 when they were sued by RIM (now known as Blackberry) over trademark infringement?

In its lawsuit, RIM suggested it was no accident that Samsung used a different name overseas, where BlackBerry is less popular, and then chose the BlackJack name for the market where BlackBerry is best known. RIM’s lawsuit also suggested that Samsung chose the BlackJack to take advantage of the recent launch a BlackBerry device called the Pearl that is similarly small and also black in color.

Rimarkable

Doesn’t seem as such a major issue right? Before the Blackberry how many other companies were making devices similar to the Blackberry devices of yester-year?

Then there’s the Apple suit that Samsung simply won’t find their way around aside from fighting in courts all over the world (literally) Samsung has essentially lost every battle (including their home turf) there’s no endgame, they’ll have to pay Apple a great deal when everything comes to a conclusion.  Yes pundits who seem considerably smart but make some of the most illogical statements suggest Samsung’s “copying” of Apple devices isn’t that much of a big deal because tablets and phones would eventually take those current shapes but seriously they’ve copied everything down to the packaging and wire connections.

Finally there’s the Dyson (the company that makes vacuums) controversy and new lawsuit. Samsung is being sued by Dyson for copying its inventions around their vacuum cleaners (they make those too).

Samsung has many patent lawyers so I find it hard not to believe that this is a deliberate or utterly reckless infringement of our patent. We have been forced to issue proceedings in the English High Court, but I would much rather invest in research to develop new technology than have to sue.

Sir James Dyson

So we have a few instances where Samsung is being sued for copying other companies and there are more examples of the lengths Samsung goes to to mimic their competition in the market, the companies that have gone through the exhaustive process of research and development leading into what actually can be considered innovation. And no the smartwatch with a built in camera is not an innovative product, how many consumers will purchase this? What issue is this smartwatch solving for the regular consumer? There’s a reason they’re working on a second version that will be released no less than six months after the first version of the watch goes on sale, curious of what exactly that reason could be.

So what are we left with? Well not long after Apple unveiled the iPhone 5S and introduced a 64bit A7 chip, Samsung came out and in gave an absolutely pathetic “me too” statement;

Not in the shortest time, but yes, our next smartphones will have 64-bit processing functionality

Samsung co-CEO Shin Jong-kyun

Here’s where you run into the problem of being a company that has a limited identity, Apple builds the chips, software, and hardware; I would place a bet that the marketing of the iPhone 5S won’t mention anything about a 64bit processor, but the speed and responsiveness of the phone. They know what parts of iOS will access specific cores within the A7 and M7 chips. They’ve developed this software to maximize the processing power…oh it’s backwards compatible with 32bit so existing apps won’t face any issue. It’s not that simple to develop a 64bit Android phone when you don’t control the software and resort to building layers of features over the core OS. How will apps built for current 32bit Android phones work on the new 64bit Galaxy phones if such chips won’t be backward compatible? How will this help developers? What exactly will the 64bit chip serve?

If you look at the laundry list of foundational groundwork Apple has been placing in iOS 7, A7, M7, iBeacons, Touch ID, Passbook and a slew of other services, there’s a reason behind placing 64bit processing chips in their mobile devices, it’s not to simply increase RAM and it doesn’t automatically double speed (obviously Apple doubled the speed another way), its to deliver an experience that no one has been able to match. Apple has an identity, Samsung can’t find there’s…but we’re certain to see a finger print scanner in the new Galaxy model phones come 2014…go figure.

The First Time…

iPhone-5s-carrier-comparison-Verizon

The iPhone will be available on every major US carrier, available on the largest mobile carrier in Japan, and has been cleared for use on the world’s largest carrier in China. Sales numbers will be interesting.

HT_iphone_5C-colors_thg-130910_16x9_992

 

And come the close of the Holiday quarter for Apple don’t be surprised if there are more iOS devices sold in the quarter compared to Windows PC’s…another first.

It Wouldn’t Be A Bad Idea

Imagine the image below becoming a reality from Nintendo selling the original Super Mario Trilogy with a price of $9.99 to $14.99 each or bundled for $29.99.

Thrown Together

If you have over 500 million iOS devices out there in consumers hands there’s no reason to believe that you couldn’t sell such a bundle to at least 25% of them. While at the same time developing and keeping new IP associated with your own mobile devices and home consoles. Nintendo is a true integrated company focused on hardware and software. The control scheme wouldn’t be as complicated as many have suggested as all one would have to do is look at the classic NES controller and lay that on the screen of an iPhone and/or iPad.

At the moment the press is focused on Sony, Microsoft, and Apple in the home console space, then Apple and everyone else in the mobile space, for games there’s little to no positive press for Nintendo likely because they’ve fallen essentially fallen behind in offering content that game players want. Why not get your name out there utilizing one of your competitors platforms? It’s not as crazy as an idea as it may sound and this likely won’t happen until Nintendo continues to fall down the scale of relevance. In doing so the individuals yearning for the nostalgia of Nintendo will be the ones downloading such bundles or individual games from the company, not the current youthful market Nintendo has been trying to figure out how to court.

There’s a lot of arguing that Nintendo should remain who they are as it’s helped them in the past and I agree to a certain extent, that the company should remain who they are but also establish a new direction in delivering content. The field of technology and gaming is NOT what it used to be, it’s advanced substantially and moves at a pace that has obviously affected Nintendo in multiple ways.

In the end getting your name back out there producing an awareness of what you’ve been known for which is creating games that are simply fun and engaging, developing a few classic games for iOS with the ability to showcase current hardware and content within the game or app wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Galaxy Gear & Confusion

What happens when rumors are spread from news outlets that Apple is working on a smart watch (that likely won’t be anything near a watch) with not a single word of confirmation from Apple? Competitors begin to spread their own PR pieces about their ambitions for “wearable” computing and frantically order their teams to get to work with the idea of releasing their product before Apple. And that’s precisely what Samsung has done, the poorly designed and received device shows what happens when you rush a “me-too” product.

1468470-samsung-galaxy-gear

 

Reviews peg this as a poor product that looks nice, and one thing that doesn’t make sense is the fact that this “smart watch” has a camera in the band, why exactly would a regular consumer want a camera on the side of their watch is something Samsung likely won’t be able to answer logically. It can only be used with Samsung products (which makes sense), and is clearly overpriced. But for those wishing it would be more polished all you have to do is wait until Apple unveils their own wearable device, rest assured Samsung will come along with their copycat product not long after it’s release, it’s what they’re good at.

The Death Of Nintendo Has Been Greatly Under-Exaggerated

TechCrunch

I love Nintendo. I love Nintendo. I love Nintendo.

I feel the need to say that over and over again to begin with because this post will inevitably be read by some as some sort of anti-Nintendo screed. I know that because every single time I write anything mildly critical of Nintendo, groups of folks reveal themselves that make Android and iPhone diehards look like placid hippies. Those people are really going to hate this post.

But it needs to be written. Both because I do love Nintendo and because if they don’t change course — and fast — I’m ultimately going to be proven right. I wasted so much breath blowing on Nintendo cartridges as a kid, so now it’s time to waste some breath trying to jolt them out of the death spiral they now find themselves in.

And make no mistake, they are in the beginning of…

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Nintendo vs Content

Not too long ago Nintendo did two interesting things that caused many to give the proverbial head scratch; they’ve lowered the price of the Wii U Deluxe Set by $50 bringing it’s cost to $300 effective September 20, and announced a new hand-held system the Nintendo 2DS for $130 set to be released October 12. There are questions surrounding these actions where some can be answered without issue while others may not have such an easy answer or one that’s understandable.

Wii U Price Drop & Next-Gen

The best understandable reason behind the price drop in the Wii U could be behind the release of two highly anticipated next-gen consoles in the Xbox One and the Playstation 4. But a price drop won’t help them here, the consensus behind the Wii U touch screen controller is that it’s there as a bit of a gimmick, the promise of what could’ve been done on the controller and with the system was more than what was delivered. The technical aspects behind the touchscreen controller is laughable as it’s less intuitive and less response than smartphones that have come out five years ago. Meanwhile Sony and Microsoft are gearing up for a slugfest between one another not paying any attention or giving any credit to Nintendo as they’re seen not as a threat but likely as a…non-issue(?).

The problem with the Wii U is that the availability of a wide range of content is scarce. Yes, having several Mario games is nice and all and Super Smash Bros looks awesome but where’s the rest of the content? It can be considered extremely exciting to announce you’re coming out with a Zelda game for the Wii U something many Nintendo fans have been waiting for, but it just so happens this Zelda game is essentially the same Zelda game that was available for the Nintendo Gamecube ten years ago. Adding a few new features here and there to a ten year old game won’t satisfy those that have been waiting for a new Zelda experience, but that’s what Nintendo is banking on.

The question remains, where is the rest of the content? Or the swath of content from third parties? If you’re expecting games from EA don’t hold your breath they have nothing in development at this moment…or at all. Then there’s publishing powerhouse Ubisoft who has come out suggesting that until Nintendo sells more systems they won’t be making any exclusive content for the Wii U. Maybe that could’ve been one of the many things that helped Nintendo make the decision to reduce the price…maybe. But in a way that looks like a double edged sword, Nintendo can’t simply sell more systems with an anemic amount of third or even first party content, and it looks like publishers have no desire to build for the system unless there are more systems in the homes of consumers (and that last part makes a lot of sense). The price drop won’t do, and there’s no idea of what Nintendo’s next move will be whether they’re working on new software or washing their hands of the error that is the Wii U in general and developing something new.

What’s The Point Of 2DS?

So now you have the new 2DS a system low in cost and potentially strong in value at $130 this seems like something that would be a stocking stuffer for many, but one has to add in the cost of games. Yes it can play older 3DS games but why would you buy a 2DS to play 3DS games if you already have a 3DS? That question is irrelevant to those with disposable income, but not everyone has disposable income, so with purchasing such a gaming system there’s the question of the cost of games, Nintendo 3DS games are standard $39.99, obviously purchasing one game won’t suffice the costs overall add up for a system that only lets you play games and may make it cumbersome when adding music or any other outside content for consumption.

The problem with the Nintendo 2DS is that Nintendo as a company hasn’t figured out that business as usual simply won’t work. This is a problem facing many that have thrived over the years and find themselves fighting change that will inevitably take place setting us up for the future. The Nintendo 2DS seems like a placeholder or an attempt to hold consumers over until they come out with their next great console or device if they are in fact working on such products and at the moment there’s not much reason to doubt that they aren’t working on that very next thing that will shock us all…at least that’s what we can hope.

Content

With the stagnant release of first party content from Nintendo and the lack of third party support, there’s a lot of chatter that Nintendo should build their IP for other mobile devices…namely iOS and that isn’t a terrible idea, but the possible concerns Nintendo may have are understandable to a certain extent. The thought of Nintendo building IP such as the original Super Mario Bros 1 through 3 where the control scheme on an iPhone or iPad won’t be unnecessarily complex but quite simple based on the original NES controller, the Direction Pad (D-Pad), Start & Select, and the A/B buttons. With the millions of iOS devices around the world and selling these games between $9.99 and $14.99 a piece, in the short term it would be a substantial boon for Nintendo. The concerns here that the company would likely have is that this could eat into their own mobile device sales of the 2DS and 3DS. But it’s not entirely a bad idea since these games are from over 2 decades ago.

John Gruber of Daring Fireball has his own thoughts on Nintendo’s current state, and that building original IP would be ideal selling these games for $14.99 to $19.99. This could also potentially work as a testing ground, but I’m not too sure about building original IP for a mobile device competing directly with their own would work. Either way creating original IP or porting the original Super Mario Bros trilogy for iOS would prompt millions to purchase these games simply for the fact that it’s coming from Nintendo.

In the end, Nintendo doesn’t and shouldn’t have to deviate from their course of making hardware and software, if anything all they have to do is stop being afraid of courting third parties, but it’s clear in order to court these third parties Nintendo has to develop hardware that can get these studios excited. At the same time they have to get to work on their own IP that’s not a simple reboot of the same game they released over a decade ago…time will tell, but with the rapid advancement of technology today time isn’t on their side like it was in years past.

Miscalculation(s)

Now that the dust has settled over the Steve Ballmer fiasco (then again maybe not), there are more than a few things to look at with relation to his “retirement”, where interestingly many news outlets are suggesting “hey maybe this wasn’t planned” (seriously?). The fact that these outlets believed from the beginning this was all planned out I have a few “magic” beans they’d definitely be interested in.

When the CEO of a major tech company as substantial as Microsoft decides to simply “retire” after establishing a major internal company re-organization, and no successor in place there’s a red-haring there that people are simply ignoring. The investment community including news organizations (with no ties to the company) have cried for years about Apple’s lack of formal succession plan in the event Steve Jobs were to leave not knowing that the succession plan was staring them in the face with Tim Cook serving as interim CEO on more than one occasion as the obvious successor to the late Steve Jobs. Yet with Microsoft and the random if not late departure of Steve Ballmer there’s no outcry, no extensive questioning, no further investigating, almost as if no one really cares about this company like they used to (something I highly doubt). The consolidation of power with the new company restructuring was to Ballmer himself at the center, an organizational structure never seen at Microsoft, and now he’s leaving.

Ballmer may not have been a terrible CEO, but he was substantially great at miscalculating the technological shift that was taking place literally right in front of him. And he had a knack for putting his foot in his mouth, but he’s not and shouldn’t have been expected to be perfect, though it goes without saying he was great at putting his foot in his mouth. And that becomes a problem when the potential and/or eventual competitors you laugh off end up overtaking markets when you’re resting on your laurels, consider for a moment the question; what ever happened to the Microsoft Zune? And why didn’t that device catch on? How about the comment “Google is not really a company. It’s a house of cards”, not sure what that’s supposed to mean because Microsoft’s response has been the struggling search engine Bing and that continues to bleed money though the bleeding has slowed…somewhat.

And then there’s one quote that one quote that makes the assertion, the assumption, the arrogance simply laughable “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance”. Now yes this was said in 2007 when the iPhone was announced to be sold at $500 before they went on to drop in price, but there was no follow up, the assumption that the phone would flounder remained. And looking at the numbers from 2012 (currently awaiting the numbers for 2013 where they’ll likely look very similar), the image along paints the picture.

120906060913-iphone-gallery-microsoft-large-gallery-horizontalThe image shows from June 2011 to June 2012 the iPhone business alone (for those hard of understanding this is excluding the Mac Business, the iPad and iPod business, as well as the iTunes and Accessories businesses) during this period was worth more than all of Microsoft’s businesses combined. This will likely look the same from June 2012 to June 2013 once the numbers have been crunched. So while the iPhone business continues to remain strong against the logic and wishes of Wall Street and continue to be a major player in the mobile industry even after Microsoft held a funeral for the iPhone, it’s Microsoft that struggles to (re)gain market share with Windows Phone 8 that based on sales, comments, and actions from many OEM partners, no one seems to actually want. How many Samsung Windows Phone 8 commercials have you seen? Or did you know Samsung and HTC actually made Windows Phone 8 devices?

How could Microsoft, the company who was obviously aware of the importance of mobile as they’ve had OEM’s develop millions and millions of Windows Mobile devices allow themselves to be overwhelmingly incompetent when it came to developing for the mobile marketplace as Apple and eventually Google understood what would be important over the next 10 to 20 years? The irony of how Microsoft tripped over their own feet and became astoundingly close to and/or on the verge of irrelevance in the mobile market place can be read here in detail. The world has gone mobile, there’s no reversing this, people are no longer chained to a desk with a personal computer utilizing Windows to simply check their email, write papers, search the internet, or play games, that’s being done on tablets (mainly iPads but certainly Kindle Fires as well(?)) as well as a myriad of Android devices and iPhones in many cases this is also happening in the enterprise level, why be chained to cumbersome laptops or desktops when you can build customized apps using a lightweight device for your business?

So after years of miscalculations with numerous markets most recently the tablet PC market (something they themselves with no one else to compete against them pioneered over a decade ago) having to write-down $900 million on the Surface business, it seems the board finally decided to suggest Steve Ballmer go into retirement as opposed to firing him outright (a bit of save-face for both the company and Ballmer). But why now? Why suggest that your CEO who has provided substantial profits over the years that it would be best he retire at this moment? After you’ve approved the new restructuring of the entire organization and Senior VP levels why would you go this route and not have anyone announced as the successor to Ballmer? Is it because the potential successors have all left? Why do this at this moment? One would expect corporate speak filled with misdirection and confusion, as Ballmer’s letter on his retirement is filled with this and more, but it’s blatantly clear to many this wasn’t as smooth as it could’ve or should’ve been. Maybe it’s the $900 million write-down they had to make…but that’s confusing seeing as how the Bing business did nothing but bleed billions of dollars for years and remains a distant number 2 in search.

The timing of everything taking place is ill-fated, when you’re dealing with struggles on multiple ends, a new power structure within the company, and the release of new products on the way only to give yourself 12 months to find someone who can step in and figure out which way to right the ship and determine how much can be salvaged from the flood damage may not have been the best way to go. But what were the other options besides realizing the board probably should’ve done this years ago were available? This isn’t just another billion dollar company looking for a new CEO this is Microsoft, a company that has helped shape the future in technology. The company has the money and has access to the talent to rebuild themselves but the question is are they aware that innovation and making tough choices with their legacy product(s) are what may be needed to move forward? It’s always easy to play the armchair CEO, there are likely many options available for them to pick themselves back up and it’s for them to figure out.

Personally I hope and wish the best for them, it’s not ideal to have only two powerhouses in the mobile industry in iOS and Android, a third player needs to emerge and give the both of them a run for their money, a kick in the tail to engage in and further their nature of innovation. Because the end result in many or all cases are the choices and services available for the consumer and in a business sense, the more consumers you have the more money they spend on your product(s) the higher your revenue and profits. One should never take pride or glee in the misfortunes of others (my apologies for the ‘preachiness’ but it should be said).

In the end, it’s probable that this was just another one of their many miscalculations.

Update

It’s possible, this new transaction to purchase parts of Nokia may be heading in the right direction, this won’t auto(magic)ally turn them around but it’s intriguing to say the least. There will absolutely be more thoughts on this later.

iWatch’s novelty emerges as Apple taps sensor and fitness experts

This is much more than a simple smartwatch and more than pundits have been claiming.