Rise of the Smart (and not so smart) Chat Bots. I’ve talked at length before about the Seamless World, where in some not too distant future, big data, the internet of things, predictive analytics and automation will all come together to create a world without interfaces, where everything we need to happen in our lives…
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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…
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 )
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.
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 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…
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.
Back in Canada, there is this yearly fair called the Canadian National Exhibition or CNE (we just used to call it “the Ex”). I think its the longest running yearly fair, its been going since 1879. They have rides and exhibits and stuff: everything from food to international products, to hobbies, flowers, you name it.
One year, they decided to add a bunch of new rides called “The Human Experience” – things like bungee jumping, a couch on bungees (couch on a slingshot), that Superman thing where they pull you up and you swoop on by. Needless to say, this attracted a lot of onlookers, most of them at the bungee jump, which was suspended pretty high up, over a air cushion. I was one of those onlookers. As I stood there, watching jump after jump (one guy was so big that he needed two cables, another girl, obviously not thinking it through, jumped in a skirt, and spent most of the time trying to hold it down) I realized that even though I started off not thinking I was going to try it, the more I say people doing it, the more I thought, yeah, I could do that. I think it was the $95 price tag that stopped me in the end.
Moral: See something crazy or weird being done by enough people, it becomes a lot less crazy and weird.
Google Glass is great. Actually, some people think its not so great, but with all of its faults, its has been great at one thing: making people start to think about wearables in a whole new way. Even though its really early days, if you ask me, Google Glass, in its current incarnation, and probably what its form factor will be when it finally launches to the public, will never be a true mass market device. It’s just a little too geeky and far out.
However, what Glass did really well was to push out the perception and the concept of wearables to the point that people are actually thinking about it. Even if Glass never gets truly popular (and personally, no matter how cool they make the headsets, and how many celebrities they get to wear them) I think that Glass will forever remain a too geeky product. But that’s perfectly fine. What’s more important is that Glass made people think that maybe someday they’d try wearables.
Glass is like a bungee jump by Google. IMHO, I think they purposely pushed the boundaries in order to stretch the imagination on what wearables could do, and help to further fire up up wearable market. IHMO, as I’ve said before, I think 2014 is the year for wearables, so if you are looking to start something, that space is ripe.
One of the coolest things to come out of Amazon in a long time is not a new set of Kindle Fire tablets, although those are cool, its just upping the hardware specs and lowering the price, which if you ask me is not very innovative. Kind of how I feel about the iPhone 5S & C.
What’s really cool about the new Kindle Fire HDX is the new Mayday service, which calls for immediate video help for your tablet. Not only does the service operate 24/7, tapping the Mayday button give you the option to talk to someone who can help you with your device in a small video window. The rep can hear you, see the screen of the device, control the device and draw on the interface, allowing them to virtually assist you with any questions on usage that you might have. It is actually less of a virtual Genius bar than it is remote video help.
One of the privacy features is that while you can see them, they can’t see you. They can however see the screen of your device, so make sure not to have or bring up any, ahem, inappropriate images (or video, I’d guess) while you are talking to them. (I can see issues if you happen to have something like that on the screen and accidentally hit the Mayday button – oops!).
I think this is a very cool and innovative approach – a great way to finally pull together a bunch of preexisting technologies and present/use them in a simple way. Kind of like what Steve Jobs did with the iPod.
I can see beyond the Kindle Fire tablets though – wouldn’t it be cool if Amazon licensed this technology to other tablets vendors as well, or even to other app developers? Imagine getting stuck on any device or app and being able to call up immediate tech support like this for any app on any device. Now that’s interesting, and not out of the question: imagine AWS for customer service….
Mayday is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is accessed by a dedicated button found right in the tablet’s Quick Settings menu. A tap on that button connects the user with a live support representative in 15 seconds or less, no matter what time or day of the year it is. Once connected, the user can see the support representative in a small window on their screen, and the representative can see whatever app or screen is on the user’s tablet (Amazon was sure to point out to us that while you can see the rep, they can’t see you). Support techs can guide users with visual cues and auditory prompts, and if those fail, they can even control the tablet remotely to resolve the issue.
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