Google I/O : Quick Hits : Keynote

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Google I/O kicked off in San Francisco yesterday, here’s a quick summary of what happened, for those of your who missed it…

Android One

Google announced a new mobile hardware platform for emerging markets (although one could argue that there is no such thing anymore) and beyond, Android One will enable phone manufacturers to create cost-efficient less expensive Android phones in developing markets for a sales price that is under $100. Android One will be launching in India this fall. This initiative is meant to produce high quality affordable smartphones at scale, since only 10% of the worlds population have currently access to smartphones.

My take: great idea. We need to get smartphones to everyone.

Android L & Material Design

The next version of Android (called L for some strange reason – what couldn’t they come up with a candy which starts with the letter L – I mean what about Lollipop or Licorice? My guess: they could find a sponsor like they did with Kit Kat. Why not Laffy Taffy, Lifesavers or Lemonheads?) Should be available in a preview version for developers shortly. Along with the new version of its operating system, Google introduced Material Design, which unifies user interfaces across devices for Android, web, apps, tablets and phones. Features include dynamic shrinking and expanding of elements, a more 3 dimensional look emphasized by shadows and bold colors. (learn more here)

My take: Looks like everyone is feeding off each other in the interface space: Google borrows from both Microsoft (who started the whole “flat design” thing with Metro) and Apple (who did the same). Everyone rips bits off everyone else and in the end, while the interfaces all start looking the same – some would say not innovative – at least transitioning from one OS to the other is effortless. But at least Google is finally trying hard to improve their designs: sometimes they lean towards function over form, which is fine by me – since I’m a techie – but for the mass market, Apple has proven that people will live with less than stellar functionality if the thing looks good. I wonder if that speaks to the superficiality of our current culture? (It’s whats outside that counts – ask any Tinder user ;) )

Android Wear

They officially rolled out Android Wear, demonstrating some of the features. About time. I don’t know about you but I’m loving the look of the Moto 360. They did say that design was huge in wearables, and we are starting to finally see some well designed wearables. I wonder if they’ll ever admit that Google Glass was a flub from a design perspective.

Android Auto

Like Carplay for Apple, Google announced Android Auto, an Android platform for the car. The operating system is completely voice enabled, so that the driver can keep their hands on the wheel and the eyes on the road. Google is also releasing the Android Auto SDK for developers to create apps for the platform. No surprises here, but I noticed zero overlap between the automakers who signed with Apple and those who signed with Google. Be funny if you decide your car make based on if they support your phones OS, but stranger things have happened.

My take: Yes, Google needs to be in the car as well, as Apple was playing there. This is a purely competitive play. The innovation will come from machine control of car systems in order to provide a seamless experience.

Google Fit

Google announced its Google Fit health data platform. Within the next couple of weeks, Google will release a set of Google Fir API’s to developers. Data can be collected from various devices, as well as biometric data.

My take: Again, this is a competitive play. Both Apple and Google are playing catch up in this space. Fitbit has the fitness wearable market locked down for the moment. If they were smart, they’d write the Fit / HealthKit spec in order to keep their market lead. And they are pretty smart over there…

Android TV

Google takes another kick at the TV cat by announcing Android TV almost more of a branding play attempting to tie together features and devices that make consuming content easier. Android TV can be used “just like a Chromecast”.

My take: Another shot at trying to unify the smart TV market – lets see if this one works out…

My final take: not much really new and innovative here, much like WWDC, it seems that they are saving the really good stuff for outside of these kinds of events.

 

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Amazon’s Fire Phone: See It. Buy It. Ship It!

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Amazon is super late to the smartphone game – and what can they do to make it innovative?

  1. Screen size isn’t that big, its 4.7
  2. Looks a LOT like an iPhone. I smell lawsuit wafting in from Cupertino, just west of here.
  3. Gorilla Glass 3 on both front and back. What no back screen?
  4. There’s a hardware photo button, been done on Nokia phones
  5. Unlimited free cloud photo storage, that’s interesting. Sounds like that they might using your images to train their own image processing algorithms. Better check that terms of use!
  6. Mayday – which is an interesting idea for on phone help (its been on Amazon Fire tablets for a while), but can it help with other things as well?
  7. This is cool: Basically, see something, anything, point phone at it, press button, buy. Firefly, a new feature which can see and hear the world around it, a recognize products it sees (like art or a box of candy bars or a song playing in the background) and pull up the Amazon listing of that thing so you can purchase it. Show it to a phone number or a street sign and it will recognize it. This would be cool in a Google Glass format – I foresee millions of people holding up their phones as they walk around. My even though they don’t mention it, I’ll bet it could conceivably translate text for you as well. Imagine reading a foreign language sign in English on your phone. show it art and it will tell you about it. This must have been a big reason for the extra cameras they are talking about – an input mechanism to their database. There’s a dedicated Firefly button. Text, audio, image recognizers and content databases, all available via SDK. They’re trying to verb it, as in “I fireflied that book”. Not sure if it will catch…
  8. A 3D display. Ho hum. For some reason 3D locked in a tiny little screen (or even a big one, like the 3D we’ve been seeing in theaters lately) doesn’t really do it for me. My kids have a 3DS and I just don’t see the coolness. Where’s my truly immersive experience, like Oculus Rift? Where’s my  holodeck?
  9. Tilt the device to scroll left and right, or up and down. My GS4 does that. Again, ho hum.
  10. They call it Dynamic Perspective. All of these cameras on the front of the device track your head movements and redraw the screen so that its pointing right at you. The kind of tech they used in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol to get Tom Cruise into that room in the Kremlin.  Or yeah, also useful for games. Not sure if this is a huge innovation, but cool to see in a mass market device nonetheless. Assume that we’ll see all sorts of really cool 3rd party apps which build out this stuff – there is potential here if they can build a developer ecosystem, Twitter-style, in order to build it all the way out.
  11. AT&T exclusive.
  12. Seems like no Siri, Cortana or Google Now (will Google get that they need a mascot name for this thing – maybe they can call it Eugenia or Gloria or something – Brin or Page’s mom’s name?) type voice commands so far.
  13. Pre-order now! It will be shipping July 25th. I thought the real kicker would be that they’d price it at something like $99, but it looks like its going to be a minimum of $200…they are letting you buy it on installment for $27 a month through the AT&T Next program.
  14. A year of Prime membership comes free with the phone. I see what they did there. If you are already Prime, you get a free year. What’s that $80?
  15. See thing. Buy Thing. Ship Thing. Amazon Wins!

Some interesting stuff here. Lots of potential in Firefly. I’d be interested in seeing how 3rd parties add value to the first real world sensing phone. Of course, Amazon’s first use case would be to help their customers buy more stuff, but I’m sure that there are all sorts of cool uses we could come up with.

 

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Facebook’s Slingshot : First Impressions : Fun But What?

p5xiymG0_400x400Just playing around with Facebook’s new snapchat-killer Slingshot.

fun but what?

People can send you pictures or video, which can either be like that (kind of like Vine) or you can doctor them up with text and a drawing tool. Just like Snapchat the images and video are ephemeral, but in a different way – they stay on the screen until you swipe them off, then they are gone.  What’s the rub? Well, you can’t see what someone has sent you UNTIL you send them something back. While this is an interesting factor which will probably force engagement, I wonder how long it will take for people to just get tired of that. I mean, how do you END a conversation? I have no idea…

maybe we’ll have to go back to the good old days of radio “OVER AND OUT”

Other than that – it seems cool – we will have to see how long it lasts. I played around with it for a bit and it looked pretty fun, to start with, especially being able to share short looping videos was cool. There is also a feature called “reaction”, which splits the screen in half, showing your message in the top half (image or video) and the reaction in the bottom half. Like Snapchat, it all goes away, so you can’t save any of it even if you wanted to…so even those moments you want to keep are gone once you’ve swiped.

the log in mechanism is a but weird – I used my phone number – not my Facebook log in – and there seemed to be no way to add any of my Facebook friends directly to my list, you have to SMS them to get them on board, which is laudable for non-Facebook users, but if they really want to leverage virality they should open up the Facebook connectivity ASAP. I’m sure its planned soon, if not already there. Maybe I missed it??

So, so far, fun but we’ll see if it has legs…send me a sling if you like – username thinkfuture

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3 Reasons You Need A Silicon Valley Incubator

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Hangry For Innovation?

Hangry for innovation, much? Just read that even McDonalds has an incubator for digital products now – I mean who DOESN’T have a secret (or not so secret lab) around these there parts. And the reasons are usually the same:

  1. The talent is here. We love it here and we don’t want to leave! But seriously, its not just that – we get that all of these companies want to drink deeply of the magic innovation potion which is Silicon Valley, but at the same time, most likely these companies are going to have a tough time recruiting people to join – even the most innovative of the groups? Why you ask? Well, there is no startup style huge upside to working for say a big bank, a big telco, or someone like McDonalds. Where are the massive stock options? Where is the huge pop which will turn me into an internet millionaire (or billionaire nowadays). Its not there. But you and I both know that that kind of success if fleeting and very rare – you’d more likely be struck by lightning than become an overnight billionaire. On the flip side, however, I’ve now worked in two environments like that, and I have to say that not being worried about your next paycheck (or your rent) is a pretty good incentive. You can still do very cool stuff, but you don’t have to worry so much about the whole thing going belly up (you do, however need to worry about cutbacks, especially if your company considers innovation marketing and not true innovation)
  2. Being up to speed on the latest tech is no longer a nice-to-have, but totally essential. There is a growing disconnect between customers and corporates – those corporates are literally aging out of their markets and new startups and other upstarts are eating up that market share. This happens in the tech space (who under 40 uses AOL? who dates on Match.com when they can use Tinder?) and is happening regularly in other spaces – why open an account at your parents bank when you can use stuff like Simple? Why go to McDonalds when you can eat cooler things at food trucks? Like it or not (take that, all of those other “Silicons” out there) this is where it all starts. So if you want to know what’s really next, you need to be here.
  3. It’s marketing! All of your advisers, investors and customers will be impressed that you actually have an incubator (or lab, or accelerator) in Silicon Valley, and your stock price will shoot up. In fact, simply announcing that you are planning to launch an incubator in Silicon Valley will probably knock it up by a few percentage points. But then you’ll need to build one!

It’s not easy, but once you have an incubator set up here, you’ll reap the rewards of interesting new ideas and products that you could develop in the digital space, which you may (or may not) have been able to come up with on your own.

If you ARE thinking about setting one up, let me know. I can tell you where you should and shouldn’t put it. Like the article below says, you can get some great tax benefits from setting up in that area of San Francisco. So the city is good. As is Palo Alto. But that’s about it. Anywhere else and people from outside the Bay Area are like “You’re setting up a lab where??”.

Like for example, Colma.

The fast food joint with over 300 billion served just opened shop in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. The twist is they’re making digital products, not hamburgers.

via That Time McDonald’s Launched A Digital Incubator in Silicon Valley | TechCrunch.

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3 Things That The Apple iWatch Must Be

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Is This The Mother Of All Wearables?

Apparently, Apple is planning to launch the mother of all wearables later this year, something that the rumor mill has dubbed the iWatch (of course it could also be the iBangle or the iWrist or something like that). If you can believe most of the reports, told breathlessly by Apple fanboys and fangirls alike, it will be as innovative, if not even MORE innovative, than the iPod and the iPhone combined.

So I got to thinking – what would Apple have to do with a wearable to make it even more innovative than either of those arguably market making devices?

Well, for me, it would have to be:

  1. Fantastically designed. Some of those curved screen interfaces are cool. If the screen truly did encircle the whole wrist and was able fully change color, chameleon like, that would be interesting. All of the outer surface should be screen. I know that would make many of those fashion conscious users very happy. In fact, that was one of the key issues in wearable adoption that was repeated over and over at the wearables conference that I just attended – it has to be fashionable. It’s no longer fashionable to wear a watch among certain demographic groups, period, so the look of the device has to transcend watch territory and go into fashion accessory land. Apple has proven its design chops, so I’m not too worried about this one, although of late it has trended behind the curve, especially with all these big, beautiful Android based mobile phone screens out there.
  2. Amazingly useful: Unlike a lot of the single function wearables out there, it should be a fully multi-functional device. Not only does it need the fitness sensors as a base level foundation, it also needs security features (such as the ability to unlock things and confirm my identity) and payment features (I should be able to pay for things just by waving my wrist over a sensor, like when I buy my lattes at the Bucks). It should not just give me a raft of data, but it should also help me use that data in order to change my negative behaviors and reinforce my positive behaviors. I know that a lot of that is on the ecosystem around the device, but for the device to be truly as useful as my smartphone, it will need that ecosystem. This one is a little trickier, but it can be done. Some tech, such as heart rate monitors, which is useful for both health and security (see the Nymi) might require a sensor tight up against the skin, which will restrict the design somewhat. But I’m sure that if it won’t look good, those sensors will go.
  3. Standalone. This is the kicker: it needs to be able to operate on its own – without my iPhone. That’s right folks, if Apple really wants this device to be truly revolutionary, it needs to be an out-of-the-box replacement for my iPhone, Galaxy S5 or any other device I might be carrying around in my pocket at the moment. It has to include all of the electronics that are in my iPhone, in a beautiful wearable device. It can’t just be a front end to my phone, like the Pebble Watch or the Samsung Gear. It has to literally and truly be the next iPhone – a standalone wearable device which will make me want to leave all of those clunky, chunky rectangles with rounded corners behind.This of course is not so easy – while the tech is there, things like GPS suck up a ton of battery, so the device will require a lot of charging etc. Be very cool if it was a wireless charger which you could just put on your bedside table which charges it while you wear it, and of course track your sleep.

Now THAT’S innovation. But will we see that? Likely not. My gut tells me that the Apple iWatch will be a beautifully designed accessory to the iPhone. All of the fanboys and girls will buy and use them sight unseen. For the rest of us, is the utility of the iWatch simply being an interface to our phone good enough? I’m not so sure.

 

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