Tech.pinions – Perspective, Insight, Analysis Perspective. Insight. Analysis Mon, 05 Dec 2016 09:00:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The analysts at Tech.pinions share their thoughts, perspectives, and observations on the technology landscape. Tech.pinions – Perspective, Insight, Analysis Insight and Perspective on the Technology Industry Tech.pinions – Perspective, Insight, Analysis I Live with Robots. Eventually You Will Too Mon, 05 Dec 2016 09:00:33 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

I have a doorman who unlocks my door whenever I arrive home. Rain or shine, day or night, my doorman is always there. I never have to knock; he just knows when I’ve arrived home and each and every time, unlocks the deadbolt as I approach the door.

He also lets my friends in when I ask.

I live with someone who is incredibly tidy. He vacuums relentlessly. He is never daunted by a mess. Ever since he moved in, I’ve noticed cleaning just seems to be more organized than it ever was when I did it all myself. He vacuums like clockwork, no matter what is awaiting him. He doesn’t do much else around the house but he vacuums better and more frequently than any other roommate I’ve ever had.

Another pair of roommates maintain the temperature in the house and keep an eye on things when I’m not home. I don’t even really have to set my temperature anymore.

One roommate has learned what I like and does it for me. The other notifies me when anything unexpectedly happens while I’m gone and lets me see what he sees when I’m away from home.

I also live with a woman named Alexa — you might know her. When she first moved in almost two years ago, she didn’t do much. But now, I can’t much imagine life without her. She is extremely helpful. She answers the questions I mutter aloud and helps me manage a litany of tasks. She maintains my to-do and shopping lists. She sets alarms and timers when I ask and always plays the music I request. She doesn’t have much of a sense of humor but, on occasion, I catch a glimpse of her emerging and maturing personality.

Last year at this time, her skill set was narrowly defined. But today, she can perform well over a thousand tasks, including things like ordering me an Uber ride or helping me buy things.

While it might seem like my house is a tad full, I really don’t notice any of these roommates unless they are doing something for me. They are quiet and remain in the background of my daily activities.

They do the things they do and increasingly, they do them extremely well. For the most part, they do these things better than I could have ever imagined they would.

By now, you’ve guessed these roommates are all robots with names like August, Roomba, Nest and Echo. These robots underscore how technology is transforming our lives for the better — taking care of our tasks so we can better care for ourselves and those around us.

While it may seem strange to live with so many robots, there is a host of activities within our homes we’ve been relegating to machines for a very long time. I’ve lived almost my entire life with a machine that washes my dishes, for example. I have the same for my clothes and even have a machine that dries them after they are washed.

These incredible engineering feats haven’t always been so common. Bendix introduced the first automatic washing machine in 1937, and GE introduced the first top-loading model in 1947. As electrification spread and living standards improved, these former luxuries became common household appliances.

There are still a variety of activities I do in my home that I would happily turn over to robotic roommates any day. In some instances, these robots don’t yet exist — like scrubbing bathtubs.

In other cases, robots capable of diverse tasks already exist — smart ovens that won’t overcook dinner, 3D food printers that whip up desserts, and even programmable robot chefs – but they just aren’t widely adopted yet. But the time will come when these obscure and narrowly owned innovations become commonplace.

At the same time, we are seeing their diverse skill sets widen further. At January’s CES® 2016, the global stage for innovation, Whirlpool introduced a washing machine that monitors the number of loads it does and pre-emptively orders detergent on your behalf through its direct connection to Amazon Dash. Also at CES, the Japanese company Seven Dreamers showed off Laundroid, billed as the world’s first laundry-folding robot.

Soon, machines will perform an even larger array of actions for us. While having some of these robots in your home might seem a long way off — not unlike how earlier generations felt about the washing machine or dishwasher — before we know it, they will become as common as flipping a light switch. Although I already have a robot that does that for me.

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Unpacking This Weeks News – Friday, Dec 2, 2016 Fri, 02 Dec 2016 09:00:16 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Netflix Adds the Ability to Download Select Videos – by Jan Dawson Netflix announced this week that users would now be able to download some of the videos available through the service on to their…

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The Emergence of Purpose-Built IoT Networks Fri, 02 Dec 2016 09:00:01 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

One of the ‘next big things’ in the mobile landscape is going to be the Internet of Things (IoT) – the billions of devices that will be connected to the internet in the coming years. Major categories of IoT devices include the connected home, automotive/telematics, industrial, smart cities, healthcare, and transportation. After several years of analysts talking about and forecasting IoT, the market is starting to become real. Module prices have fallen to under $10 in some cases. Enterprise CIOs are starting to invest in IoT projects.

Most of the major mobile network operators are putting significant resources into developing an IoT business. It isn’t as sexy as the next iPhone or virtual reality – more of a series of base hits than triples or home runs. But Verizon has said it is on track to reach about $1 billion in revenues in 2016 and has acquired three IoT-related companies this year. AT&T reported, in the second quarter of 2016, there are 29 million connected devices on its network (non-smartphones or tablets).

One of the inhibitors to more rapid IoT growth has been the lack of the right type of network to connect these billions of devices. Many of the devices or sensors have different connectivity requirements than the typical smartphone, tablet, or connected car. They need a network that will support low power requirements (batteries that last years, not days), have wide area and strong in-building coverage, and support relatively low and/or bursty data speeds. Historically, legacy 2G networks (remember GSM?) have supported some IoT devices. But the operators are slowly retiring these networks so they can refarm the spectrum to meet the demand of bandwidth-hungry smartphone users. And the typical LTE network isn’t really suited for many types of IoT devices: requiring too much power, not having adequate reach, and costing too much for a sensor that might only consume a few kilobytes a day.

Fortunately, help is on the way. We are seeing the emergence of purpose-built networks for IoT, called [wait for the really unwieldy marketing name] Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs). LPWANs are intended for IoT solutions that need low power consumption (under 1 MB per day), extended battery life (5-10 years), long range (10km or more), and good penetration in buildings and underground. They are an alternative to wide area network technologies (cellular) and to short range networks (Wi-Fi, ZigBee).

But, like most things in tech, it’s complicated. During 2016, we have seen the launch of three types of LPWANs in the United States, all using the unlicensed band (like Wi-Fi), but each employing a different standard and business framework:

LoRa is an emerging standard for LPWANs and has attracted a fairly diverse group of tech sector players. In the United States, LoRa uses the 915 MHz band. A company called Senet is building a LoRaWAN network in the US.
Ingenu is a vertically integrated company that uses its own technology, called RPMA, in the unlicensed 2.4 GHz band, branded The Machine Network.
Sigfox has emerged as a rival to LoRaWAN. The company has raised some $300 million and operates several IoT networks in Europe. It has just started building in the US and also uses the unlicensed 900 MHz band.

Mobile Ecosystem estimates that, as of the end of Q3 2016, LPWANs covered 50-100m POPs in the US, between Ingenu, Sigfox, and LoRa (some overlapping). We predict the number of markets will at least double in 2017. Building these networks isn’t like building cellular: these companies say they can cover a city using only 20-30 towers.

If your head isn’t already spinning, just wait. Mobile network operators also plan to build LPWAN networks, but using the licensed spectrum they own. The first phase, LTE Category M1 (LTE-M), could launch in 2017. A second phase, called NB-IoT, will follow LTE-M, featuring greater range and the ability to accommodate devices with even lower power and transmission requirements.

AT&T says it is testing LTE-M this year. Verizon says it will be commercially available by the end of 2016 in some markets, with a broader launch in 2017. T-Mobile has not announced LTE-M plans but is seeking to capitalize on AT&T’s sunsetting of 2G by aggressively marketing its 2G network for IoT, encouraging ‘stranded’ A&T customers to switch to T-Mobile and enjoy free 2G services until the end of the year. Sprint hasn’t said much but is rumored to be considering a LoRa based deployment (its parent company, SoftBank, is deploying a LoRA network in Japan).

The deployment model for LTE-M is quite different than the unlicensed LPWAN crowd. Mobile operator IoT networks can be deployed relatively quickly (requiring only a software upgrade to existing radio equipment) but it will cost some $15,000-25,000 per base station.

This is all good for growth in the IoT sector but one can already sense a bubble brewing. It’s hard to see how the market can support three different types of unlicensed networks plus the approaching LTE-M networks from the mobile operators. Enterprises considering large scale deployments aren’t going to want myriad devices operating in different bands.

We can already see cracks in the plans. Sigfox splashily announced in May it plans to reach 100 cities in the US by the end of the year but does not appear anywhere close to achieving this goal. Ingenu continues to build out in the US but appears equally focused in licensing its RPMA technology in other geographies. LoRa in the US is relying on venture-backed Senet and a couple of smaller players. Comcast is testing LoRA under the brand MachineQ. All this activity in the unlicensed band will all shake out over the next year or so, depending on how extensively the cellular operators build out LTE-M and how aggressively they try able to sell it.

The good news, however, is the stars are starting to align for IoT: falling module prices; enterprises committing to larger scale deployments; a growing and diversifying supplier community; and the rollout of purpose-built networks and more suitable business framework to connect these billions of things.

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Amazon’s Offensive For the AI Platform of the Future Thu, 01 Dec 2016 14:17:33 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

At Amazon’s Developer Event in Las Vegas, the company came out swinging, looking to be the sole platform for machine learning and artificial intelligence of the future. Their announcements are important in a couple of…

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A Dozen Acquisition Targets for Big Tech Companies Thu, 01 Dec 2016 09:00:54 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

A little over two years ago, I wrote a post suggesting several companies Apple, Google, and Microsoft might want to acquire. As I thought about that post this week, I planned to revisit it in a similar format but then decided to approach things from a different angle. So here is a list of businesses I think would make interesting acquisition targets for the major consumer tech companies, in several major categories.


The most interesting acquisition targets in the hardware space are those that seem to have cracked a niche but are struggling to grow beyond it and would benefit from being part of a larger ecosystem. The two that come readily to mind are Fitbit and GoPro, both of which I identified around a year ago as one-trick pony consumer technology companies who would likely struggle to find long-term success as standalone businesses. Either would now make an interesting acquisition target for the right consumer tech acquirer but, of course, the big question is who. I’ve often felt the most obvious acquirer is one of the two big camera companies, Canon or Nikon. But I think there’s also potential for Samsung to jump in. The fit (no pun intended) for Fitbit is less obvious but again, Samsung or one of the other big multi-category consumer electronics vendors seems the most likely bet. Both Fitbit and GoPro have done well, to a point, but now seem to be at something of a crossroads.

Conversely, there are those companies that seem to have peaked and are now more clearly on a downward slope. Jawbone was one of the companies I mentioned in that earlier piece and it has seemed to struggle recently. It would likely be a bargain for an acquirer interested in the audio or fitness space (or both). A slightly more long-shot bet is Nintendo, which has occasionally been suggested as a target for Apple, and which has also been struggling quite a bit, though the recent success of Pokemon Go has raised hopes of a comeback. Apple might still be an interesting prospect, but either Microsoft or Sony or a content conglomerate might be able to do something interesting with all the technology and IP Nintendo still owns. We might add HTC to this list of hardware companies past their prime too. The Vive VR business would be an interesting asset even as much of the rest becomes attractive.

Apps and content

This is probably the broadest category here and there’s no shortage of potential acquisitions. The companies in this sector run the gamut from subscription content providers to one-off app makers and across a number of different domains. Netflix is a perennial subject of acquisition rumors but is now getting to a size where the number of potential acquirers is rapidly dwindling – I’ve suggested Apple as a potential acquirer in the past, at least somewhat seriously, but that remains a true long shot. Also in the content space is Spotify, which I mentioned in my piece two years ago as a potential acquisition for Google. It’s heading towards an IPO but the other possibility is an exit by acquisition and I’d say Google has to be the most likely candidate, though Microsoft is another intriguing possibility. The latter hasn’t been afraid to make productivity-centric acquisitions in the consumer market and has largely failed to create content businesses beyond gaming. This would be a big leap forward in that domain.

In the one-off app space are such diverse options as Pinterest (which I suggested as an acquisition target for Google two years ago);, which remains one of the most under-appreciated apps outside of its target demographic; and the Kik messaging app. Pinterest would still be an interesting addition for either Google or Amazon, as either an advertising or e-commerce bolt-on to their existing businesses. Amazon in particular has been willing to buy smaller businesses in adjacent spaces and continue run them independently under their own brands – Audible, GoodReads, IMDB, and Zappos are all existing examples and Pinterest could follow that model while benefitting from some integration behind the scenes. seems almost certain to be snapped up eventually by one of the big social networking or online advertising companies. And Kik is the rare example of an independent messaging app with a big user base.

Car technology

Samsung’s recent announcement of its intent to buy Harman International will likely create further interest among big technology companies in the automotive industry. Harman was a somewhat unique asset here, in that it combined significant market share with a relatively focused scope. It promises particularly good synergies with the rest of the Samsung business. BlackBerry, which acquired former Harman subsidiary QNX six years ago, makes for an intriguing prospect. The handset baggage is minimal at this point, now the company has finally made the hard decision to discontinue making its own devices, so it’s largely a software and services company. Microsoft would be an obvious buyer, though the QNX part would likely raise antitrust concerns given the two companies are the dominant players in car operating systems. An Apple-BlackBerry marriage has always seemed particularly unlikely but is perhaps less so now, while Google would make another interesting buyer. TomTom is another interesting car-related asset which remains independent even as much of its competition has become part of bigger businesses. Apple relies heavily on TomTom for mapping, though it’s building up its own assets in some markets. It would perhaps be the most likely buyer at this point, especially if it wants to get serious about self-driving cars.


There are, of course, plenty of others I could list here, including some from the earlier piece and relative newcomers like Magic Leap. It’s striking that only one of the companies on my list from two years ago has actually changed hands while several remain interesting prospects for acquisition. But I wouldn’t be surprised if a higher percentage of the companies I’ve listed here end up being bought over the next two years.

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Why Apple Needs to take Aim at Their Core Customers Wed, 30 Nov 2016 09:00:40 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

On the second day Steve Jobs came back to lead Apple in 1997, I had a chance to meet with him and ask how he planned to revive and save Apple. Apple was $1 billion…

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Will Amazon Silence Alexa with a Screen? Wed, 30 Nov 2016 09:00:06 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

According to Bloomberg, Amazon is developing a high-end Echo-like device which will feature a better speaker and a seven-inch touchscreen. The speaker is said to be larger and tilt upwards so the screen can be visible when on a shelf or counter and the user is standing. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year that Amazon’s Lab126 hardware unit was working on an Alexa-powered device featuring a tablet-like computer screen known internally as “Knight.” The device will be running a version of Fire OS.

The temptation of adding a screen

The people familiar with the product who talked to Bloomberg said the screen will make it easier to access content such as weather forecasts, calendar appointments, and news. It might just be me but I struggle to see this as a solid business driver. The great advantage of using Alexa for my morning briefing is that I can listen to it while I get breakfast ready or pack my daughter’s lunchbox. I would not have time to stop and read or even look at something. Also, Alexa’s voice travels so well across the room over the morning chaos, a screen would have me move close to it to be able to look at it.

I cannot help but think the main task a screen will help with, when it comes to Alexa, is shopping. If I am trying to buy furniture, clothes, gifts, being able to see them is a huge improvement vs. Alexa just calling out the description of the item.

Having a screen could, of course, also help with content and allow Amazon to enrich some of the experiences by adding a visual output to the voice. Music is a good example of this. But the question is whether Amazon needs to add that screen to Echo.

While a screen could add to the overall experience, I strongly believe it should not be an alternative input mechanism. Adding touch to voice would weaken Alexa in an environment where consumers feel very comfortable using their voice. As voice-first is not yet an entrenched behavior, giving an alternative would slow down adoption and negate the considerable progress Amazon has made in this area.

Leveraging Existing Screens vs. Adding a New One

There are plenty of screens we have in the home Alexa could leverage — some might even be “controlled” by Amazon, like a Fire TV or tablet. Others could be exploited by the Alexa app, like our phones. If our interactions with Alexia remain voice-first/only, the screen would be a simple display with no need to interact with it. This would make the Fire tv the perfect companion for Alexa.

The risk of adding touch is, even if Amazon does not intend it as an alternative input mechanism, consumers at this initial market adoption stage might easily revert to old habits. In a way, this reminds me of how people, at the beginning of the tablet market, bought a keyboard to use with their tablets so they could revert to a user experience they had experienced for so long with PCs and that felt familiar and safe.

Over time, as AI continues to develop, I could see a role for a device that intelligently understands what is appropriate to show on the screen and proactively does that by having Alexa suggest, “Do you want to visualize it?” or saying, “let me show you.” There are instances where displaying the content seems easier than an alternative solution. Recipes are often used as an example to illustrate how voice-only does not work. Yet, if you had an app that lets Alexa break down the steps so you could literally have her coach you through the recipe and check, “Ready?” or “Tell me when you are ready”, you would not need to visualize the steps.

The Risk of Turning Alexa from Leading Actress into a Supporting Role

Echo was successful because people bought it for what it was: a speaker with a digital assistant. Actually, a digital assistant in a speaker would be a better description of what consumers were buying. Users did not have other options but to talk to Alexa to get her to do anything. There was no old behavior to revert to.

Ironically, Alexa being trapped in the little cylinder allowed her to be free. Free of any limitations that being part of a more traditional device, such as a smartphone or a tablet, would have imposed on her. Trying to turn Echo into a glorified Fire tablet could demote Alexa to a mere feature vs. the genie in the bottle she is known for. For people who bought Echo, there was nothing else the device could do other than allowing them to interact with Alexa.

Amazon needs to penetrate our homes more as well as expand beyond them to grow engagement but this needs to be done in a way that leaves consumers deeply connected with Alexa so their reliance feeds their loyalty. Voice needs to remain the main input as this is ultimately how our assistant will become personal.

While competition in this space is growing, the battle will not be won by adding features that, while differentiating in looks, weaken the core experience. Accelerating Alexa integration with other devices, continuing to expand her skills, and improving her knowledge will help to stay ahead of the curve and keep users engaged and loyal.

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DirecTV Now Highlights the Challenges of US TV Tue, 29 Nov 2016 09:00:37 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

On Monday afternoon, AT&T finally announced its DirecTV Now service. It has been talking about this in detail since earlier this spring and for even longer in a more general sense. The service launches on…

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The Magic Inside Your Devices Tue, 29 Nov 2016 09:00:31 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Sometimes, it’s what’s inside that counts more than what we can see on the outside. That’s certainly the case with people, and increasingly, I think, it’s going to be the case with tech devices.

Many of the most impressive breakthroughs in our favorite gadgets are driven almost completely by critical new breakthroughs in component technologies: chips and other semiconductors, displays, sensors, and much more. Just this week, in fact, there were reports that Apple might offer a curved display on next year’s iPhone, and that HP Enterprise had debuted the first working prototype of a dramatically different type of computing device that they dub The Machine.

In both cases, it’s critical component technologies that are enabling these potentially breakthrough end products. In the iPhone’s case, it would be because of bendable OLED displays being produced by companies such as LG Display and Samsung Electronics’ display division. For The Machine, HP’s own new memory and optical interconnect chips are the key enablers for computing performance that’s touted to be as much as 8,000 times faster than today’s offerings.

Long-time tech industry observers know that the real trick to figuring out where product trends are going is to find out what the most important component technologies being developed are, then learn about them and their timeline for introduction. That isn’t always as easy as it sounds, however, because semiconductor and other component technologies can get very complicated, very quickly.

Still, there’s no better way to find out the future of tech products and industry trends than to dive into the component market headfirst. Fortunately, many major tech component vendors are starting to make this easier for non-engineers, because they’ve recognized the importance of telling their stories and explaining the unique value of their products and key technologies.

From companies like Sandisk describing the performance and lifetime benefits of solid state drives (SSDs) inside PCs, to chipmakers like nVidia describing the work in artificial intelligence (AI) that GPUs can achieve, we’re starting to see a lot more public efforts to educate even dedicated consumers, as well as investors and other interested observers, to the benefits of critical component technologies.

Given the increasing maturity and stabilization of many popular tech product categories, I believe we’re going to start seeing an increased emphasis on changes to the “insides” of popular devices. Sure, we’ll eventually see radical outward-facing form factor changes such as smartphones with screens you fold and unfold, but those will only happen once we know that the necessary bendable components can be mass produced.

Given the increasing maturity and stabilization of many popular tech product categories, I believe we’re going to start seeing an increased emphasis on changes to the “insides” of popular devices.”

Of course, the ideas behind what I’m describing aren’t new. Starting in the early 1990s and running for many years, chip maker Intel ran an advertising campaign built around the phrase “Intel Inside” to build brand recognition and value for its CPUs, or central processing units–the hidden “brains” inside many of our popular devices.

The idea was to create what is now commonly called an ingredient brand—a critical component, but not a complete, standalone product. The message Intel was able to deliver (and that still resonates today) is that critical components—even though you typically never see them—can have a big influence on the end device’s quality, just as ingredients in a dish can have a large influence on how it ultimately tastes.

Since then, many other semiconductor chip, component and technology licensing companies (think Dolby for audio or ARM for low-power processors, for example) have done their own variations on this theme to build improved perceptions both of their products and the products that use them. Chip companies like AMD, Qualcomm, and many others, are also working to build stronger and more widely recognized brands that are associated with important, but understandable technology benefits.

Most consumers will never buy products directly from these and other major component companies. However, as tech product cycles lengthen and industry maturity leads to slower changes in basic device shapes and sizes, consumers will start to base more of their final product purchase decisions on the ingredients from which those products are made.

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Apple in India and Porsche vs. Toyota Mon, 28 Nov 2016 09:00:58 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

We recently conducted an Indian market study in several of the more developed cities with a range of ages and consumer types. I crafted this study with a couple of goals: a deeper understanding of…

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The Demise of the Others Mon, 28 Nov 2016 09:00:30 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

I’d like to offer an interesting observation. As I look back over the past annual shipments of the PC, smartphone, and tablet categories, an interesting pattern appears. Take a look at this chart:


(Click to enlarge. I’ve highlighted the “other” cateogry in the chart)

I like to keep track of how hardware brands sell within any particular category. Each category of PCs, smartphones, and tablets have their leading brands that absorb most of the volume. While we can list the estimates by quarter for every major brand, we tend only to break out individual brands who are the class leaders and group everyone else into a category called “Others”. This group can consist of a name brand that simply doesn’t sell in high volume but it also includes any number white label or upstart brands trying to capitalize on the potential S-curve of growth.

The observation I’d like to point out is, at the start of each new category, major name brands own the largest percentage of volume. These name brands are primarily responsible for creating the segment since they already have some established brand trust with consumers. Once the new segment begins to grow, non-name brands start to flood the market. The Chinese tech manufacturing scene is key to this phase of the market as they make it cost effective for nearly anyone to slap a brand on a piece of hardware and try to compete in new categories. These new brands attempt to ride the growth wave of the category but then, something interesting happens. At about the point in time when the market for the specific segment matures, the volume and percentage of total shipments for others begin to decline. The market slowly consolidates and often comes back to the brands who were there from the start or emerged out of the others category to be a recognizable brand.

In each of the three categories I charted, we see this pattern play out. Name brands dominate the majority share of products shipped. Once the category starts to accelerate, a flood of brand upstarts begins to enter the market. When we isolate the brands who ship under 10 million units per quarter and add them to the others section in each of the three categories mentioned, we see this group often make up 40-50% of all devices shipped at the peak of the cycle. Sometimes this is simply a gold rush but, in some cases, companies are making a valid attempt to become a name brand. As we enter the post-peak, more mature stage of the cycle, we seeing the decline of the “other” category as brands begin to reabsorb the bulk of quarterly shipments.

This observation further deepens my conviction that the single most important thing any technology company can do to help ensure a long life in the industry is to establish a strong brand. In an era where the perception of low-end disruption and good enough products has led to many false assumptions, I’d argue a strong brand is one of the most powerful defenses against that disruption.

The competitive dynamic in each new technology category becomes fascinating to watch as brands look to fend off upstarts who flood the market and offer lower pricing or a differentiated service to create a brand. In either case, the longer the company can compete and sustain in any given category, the more likely they are to be among the winners once the category consolidates back around brands when the category is mature and extends into post maturity. While the PC categories lifecycle allowed those in the other category more time to establish themselves, the smartphone and tablet category did not. Companies looking to emerge as a brand from the other category in both smartphones and tablets had roughly 3-4 years to accomplish it. Most failed.

The last thing to add is how this dynamic can be true of any brand, including those who don’t start off in hardware, but eventually get into hardware once the category consolidates to brands. Microsoft, for example, is starting to become a genuine threat to other PC makers even though they are relatively new to the category. They established their brand in software and services, not hardware, but then entered the hardware market at the time it was consolidating around brands. Google is similarly attempting this with the Pixel by entering the smartphone segment only after their brand was established in something other than hardware. Both Amazon and Snapchat are employing similar strategies by entering hardware categories only after building a strong brand and customer loyalty.

I believe this pattern will play out in every major category we observe. We are stating to see it in wearables, we will see it in AR/VR, and anything else that comes along in the future.

The moral of the story is a brand is critical. Whether a company starts in hardware, software, or services and then tries to enter a hardware category, the most important strategic thing they can do is establish a strong brand. If successful, the number of options open to them in the future is plentiful.

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The Tech industry and the Search for a Cancer Cure Wed, 23 Nov 2016 09:00:51 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

As someone who has tracked the tech market for the past 35 years, there is one major theme I have seen over and over again when it comes to the goals of many tech innovators. They believe and have faith that the technology they create has the possibility to change the world. I have frequently heard tech executives say how they think their inventions or technology are world changing devices or services.

From a historical perspective, that is very true. Technologies like the Gutenberg Press, the Steam Engine, Edison’s light bulbs, Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone or more recent inventions like the semiconductor, PC, and smartphones have indeed been world-changing in what they do and how they drive new industries and the world’s economies.

Steve Jobs was one of the most vocal on this topic and, in many speeches, he talked about Apple’s goal to change the world. Some of his products, especially the iPod, iPhone and the iPad have been world-changing devices in terms of how they expanded personal computing, communications, and entertainment. Products like Facebook and Twitter have had a huge impact on connecting people around the world in ways we could not have imagined even 10 years ago.

However, I have been wondering if Silicon Valley, with its innovative thinkers and problem-solving skills, took a stronger aim at some of the huge problems we have in healthcare and especially in finding cures for diseases like cancer, diabetes, and other major illnesses, how this could impact the fight against life-threatening problems.

I think most of us either know of people who have had cancer or have it themselves and surely want a cure for this awful disease. Vice President Joe Biden’s son died from cancer and he has devoted his life to what he calls a “moonshot” to try and find a cure. There has been great work and serious strides in the world of health science done to deal with cancer but, even with these advances, there is still no actual cure.

It turns out, Silicon Valley has been pretty active already and I recently found out about one of the newest initiatives of a major Silicon Valley company called NVIDIA who, along with key government and private organizations, has made finding a cure for cancer a high priority.

NVIDIA recently announced it is teaming up with the National Cancer Institute, the US Department of Energy (DOE) and several national laboratories on an initiative to accelerate cancer research. The research efforts include a focus on building an AI framework called CANDLE (Cancer Distributed Learning Environment), which will provide a common discovery platform that brings the power of AI to the fight against cancer. CANDLE will be the first AI framework designed to change the way we understand cancer, providing data scientists around the world with a powerful tool against this disease.

One of NVIDIA’s claims to fame is their incredible Graphical Processors (GPU) that help power some of the fastest supercomputers in the world. These processors are also at the heart of NVIDIA’s major push around something called Artificial Intelligence Deep Learning. These processors can handle billions of transactions per second and are central to a new data science technology used to mine data at its deepest levels and use AI and deep learning to try to find answers to big problems.

I have known NVIDIA’s founder and CEO Jen-Hsun Huang for 15 years and he is one of the most energetic and visionary leaders in Silicon Valley. He is very passionate about deep learning and its potential impact on our world. “GPU deep learning has given us a new tool to tackle grand challenges that have, up to now, been too complex for even the most powerful supercomputers,” he said. “Together with the Department of Energy and the National Cancer Institute, we are creating an AI supercomputing platform for cancer research. This ambitious collaboration is a giant leap in accelerating one of our nation’s greatest undertakings, the fight against cancer.”

The cancer moonshot strategic computing partnership between the DOE and NCI to accelerate precision oncology includes three pilot projects that aim to provide a better understanding of how cancer grows; discover more effective, less toxic therapies than existing ones; and understand key drivers of their effectiveness outside the clinical trial setting, at the population level. Deep learning techniques are essential for each of these projects.

NVIDIA is not the only tech company taking aim at the cancer “moonshot.” IBM’s Watson has joined with the Veterans Affairs to launch a public/private partnership to provide veterans who have cancer a better chance for recovery. Watson is the supercomputer that won Jeopardy and is one of the most powerful AI-based computers in the world.

One of Silicon Valley’s giants, Intel, has invested heavily in AI and deep learning research and is creating a new AI framework around their most powerful processors which will help power some of the biggest data projects in the world. In terms of cancer research, Intel has teamed up with the Oregon Health and Science Institute-Knight Cancer Center, the Ontario Institute of Cancer Research, and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute to create a collaborative “cancer database” they will use to help advance the research on finding better ways to treat cancer as well as find a cure someday.

Given Silicon Valley’s quest to change the world and its immense problem-solving skills, having the Valley turn their technology and skills to target these diseases perhaps can help speed up the search for treatments and, ultimately, cures for cancer, diabetes and other major health maladies.

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Podcast: Holiday Tech Shopping Predictions Wed, 23 Nov 2016 09:00:43 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

In this week’s Tech.pinions podcast Carolina Milanesi and Bob O’Donnell chat about the upcoming holiday shopping season and the potential opportunities and challenges for a wide variety of different tech devices.

If you happen to use a podcast aggregator or want to add it to iTunes manually the feed to our podcast is:

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Virtual Experiences Will Drive VR Devices to Mainstream Tue, 22 Nov 2016 09:00:52 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Sure, the gaming side is cool.

Battling space aliens or shooting bad guys with virtual reality products like Google’s new DayDream VR, Samsung’s Gear VR, Sony’s Playstation VR, or PC-driven systems like the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift is a blast. But despite all the focus, I don’t think gaming will bring VR into mainstream acceptance.

In fact, having recently had the opportunity to spend some quality time with an HTC Vive headset powered by one of first notebooks certified to support high-quality VR—the Alienware 15 from Dell, powered by nVidia’s GTX 1070 GPU—I am even more convinced.

The challenge is that much of the VR-based games are designed for and targeted towards hard-core gamers, which only make up a fraction of even those who play computer or smartphone-based games—let alone the general population.

Instead, to reach a wider audience, VR experiences and applications like virtual travel need to take center stage. There have already been some very interesting case studies done with bringing these types of non-gaming VR experiences to the elderly. I’m certain people of all ages will quickly become attracted to VR once they get a chance to try these devices with the right kind of applications.

A great recent example is the newly released Google Earth app for Vive, an awe-inspiring example of how powerful and transformational VR can be. As with other iterations of Google Earth, you can explore any location on the planet, leveraging the impressive collection of satellite imagery Google has collected, or you can view some pre-designed “tours” of famous locations around the world. With the VR version, however, instead of just looking at these locations, you start to get a sense that you’re actually in them. In fact, once you’ve tried the VR version, you realize the whole Google Earth concept was really made for virtual reality—it just won’t be the same anymore on other platforms.

The newly released Google Earth app for Vive is an awe-inspiring example of how powerful and transformational VR can be.”

As impressive as it is, however, Google Earth VR also highlights some of the challenges of current VR devices and experiences, particularly around the display resolution of current headsets. Some of the 3D buildings in cities, for example, look a bit “cartoon-like” because none of these systems have the graphical resolution (nor the data resolution behind them) to create a life-like viewing experience. Don’t get me wrong—it’s still great, but you can tell that we’re still in the early stages of VR technology development for some of the really demanding applications.

The challenges of the hardware setup also highlight that PC-based VR is not quite ready for the mainstream yet either. Though the Alienware notebook is certainly a lot easier to move around than the big desktop rigs that have been necessary for VR until very recently (and the smaller new 13” Alienware VR-ready notebook is lighter still), all the wires that the HTC Vive headset and its various accessories require makes mobility an unlikely option. HTC did just announce a new wireless accessory for Vive in China, but while it removes the direct wired connections from the Vive headset to the dongle box that plugs into the PC, there are still a lot of pieces that need to be powered and connected.

Despite some of these hassles, the result is worth it: the all-encompassing 360° view that the Vive/Alienware combo provides can be quite impressive, particularly on content specifically designed for VR.

A surprisingly compelling example of this comes from Jaguar’s new introductory experience for their upcoming electric car. Though it’s essentially a VR product brochure for the newly announced vehicle, the application does a remarkable job of utilizing current generation VR technology to let you truly get inside and experience the car. Not only do you get to see via 3D models how different elements of the car function and come together, you can also view and explore the car’s interior design and layout. Jaguar used this VR experience at the car’s recent launch event in LA, but it’s just as compelling now for anyone who wasn’t there. More importantly, it highlights how companies will be able to leverage high-quality VR for creating some very persuasive marketing materials.

The educational opportunities for VR are also enormous. From explorations of human anatomy, to science lessons on how atoms work, to virtual field trips, it’s easy to imagine the kinds of applications that high-quality VR devices will start to enable. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to start seeing these kinds of applications show up on Sony’s PlayStation VR—despite its gaming heritage.

Once more people have the opportunity to see and experience the kinds of new possibilities that non-gaming VR can bring them, I’m certain we’ll start to see the market grow well beyond its currently modest size.

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Sleeping with the Enemy Would Benefit Both Microsoft & Apple Mon, 21 Nov 2016 09:00:11 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Because of what I do, I try different devices all the time. While I have used Windows 10 PCs since they became available, I never made one my main working device. For the past nine years, my main PC has been a Mac with the 12” MacBook as my latest device. Last week, I received a Surface Book with Performance Base and, after setting it up, I decided to try and make the switch.

I was particularly interested in understanding how, as a user, I could continue to benefit from the Apple ecosystem even if I did not have a Mac. Also, what is the opportunity Microsoft has to deliver the best Windows 10 + iOS experience. This is important because there are more iOS users with a PC than there are iOS users with a Mac. So it offers an opportunity for both companies to improve the cross-platform experience. While there might be an opportunity for Apple to convert a few of those PC users, the great majority are comfortable right where they are. Offering an easier cross-platform experience between iOS and Windows 10 as a differentiator for Surface would clearly benefit Microsoft.

Hardware and Windows 10 are the Easy Part

As I prepared to transition to Surface Book, there were specific aspects of my workflow I needed to address.

The hardware was not a problem. I love the keypad. I spend a lot of my day typing and I was not a fan of the keypad on the 12” MacBook. Typing on the Surface Book is extremely rewarding. The mousepad is a little more sensitive than the one on the MacBook but it did not take long to get used to it. The Surface Book’s fan kicks in often and it is quite loud which was a bit of a distraction at first. The quality of the screen is great but I did not find myself touching it very much other than with the pen to write quick notes.

I am not new to Windows 10 so transitioning was not an issue. The most annoying thing was trying to paste using the equivalent of Command-V which obviously did not work. Mac users are very different and many use their systems in a much deeper way than I do so I do not intend to speak for them. If you already use Office on the Mac, your transition will be much easier. If your documents are all in iCloud, your transition will also be easier. When I joined Creative Strategies back in April, I moved to the cloud and my multi-device life became so much smoother. Once I got on the OS X Sierra Beta, things got even better as all the files I am working on are saved to the iCloud Desktop automatically, making my ‘grab and go’ routine more accessible. Something else that changed back in April is I now only travel with my 9.7” iPad Pro. Not having to think if I have all the files I need was extremely liberating. I downloaded iCloud for Windows on my Surface Book and all my work was easily accessed. Pages, Numbers, and Keynote were also fine to use although Numbers documents missed a few functionalities and Keynote presentations had some font issues.

While the files were not an issue, remembering all the passwords for all the websites I use certainly was annoying but, of course, that is something you only do once.

I was concerned about my Apple Watch not being able to unlock my PC but Windows Hello on Surface Book was seamless. I sat down at my desk and the Surface Book was unlocked. It felt like there was no password set up in the first place.

What it All Boils Down to: iMessage and Apps

In the end, what I really struggled with were two things that had nothing to do with the OS per se or the physical device.

I use iMessage a lot during my day and, while my iPhone is always next to me, I have become accustomed to using it on my Mac. I do this because it is more convenient using a full keyboard to type but mostly because it feels more part of whatever I am doing. It remains more central to my workflow rather than a side conversation on the phone.

The other big part of my day is Twitter and the client on Windows is just painful. I asked input from my followers but the sad answer was a validation of my pain. Using Tweetdeck over the browser was far from perfect as, more often than not, I would accidentally close the window. So, as with iMessage, I resorted to having my iPad open next to the Surface Book which really impacted my workflow.

iMessage for Windows

Why does Apple do that, you ask? Because it cements iOS users even more into iMessage vs. having them look for other apps that could have them disengage from iOS. I am not advocating Apple replicate all the features iMessage has on iPhone. There are features that are not unique. So, for instance, keep invisible ink for iPhone and allow stickers. Apple has much to gain here, contrary to what it would be if it put iMessage on Android. iMessage for Windows is about recognizing not all their iOS users will be Mac users and allowing them to still get the best experience from iOS. Opening iMessage to Android will not really do much as far as driving churn and there are plenty of other apps that go cross-platform in phones that leave users with plenty of choice.

With Windows launching People with third party app plugins, it would be a perfect time for iMessage to be included.

More App investment

Microsoft has options to both improve Windows and differentiate Surface. There are steps Microsoft can take in engaging with developers more to get apps to Windows. Even without a phone business to worry about, the Windows 10 environment is behind. There are two sides of this equation. One speaks to the creators Microsoft is focusing on for the next software update and one speaks to consumers who are still very engaged with their PCs and, therefore, want a rich experience. With Apple’s new MacBook Pro on the market and the eagerness to prove the Touch Bar is the right approach for touch on a Mac, I expect Apple to make developer engagement a top priority. Microsoft needs to do the same for the platform but also should step up efforts in first party apps both for Windows and Surface. So, if Twitter is not interested in improving its app, why is Microsoft not building one?

There are other things the Windows Devices team could do for Surface like creating apps that help with content transfer for those people who are not already in the cloud.

Think Beyond Devices and Platform

What my experience made crystal clear is both Apple and Microsoft need to think beyond devices and the OS and think about the whole ecosystem and their ultimate goals.

If Apple is serious about shifting more revenue to services, why not take Apple Music out of iTunes and make is a standalone app? I have not used iTunes in years as, whenever I get a new device, all my backups are in the cloud. Having to use iTunes to play my music on a Mac or download iTunes to the Surface Book seems a very unnecessary step. While I am sure people still buy music, I would bet they are less likely to do it if they subscribe to Apple Music. Even if they did, a simple link to the store would be all they need.

For Microsoft, it is about recognizing that, whether in the consumer space or the enterprise one, Surface buyers are more likely than not to have an iPhone and be entrenched into iOS. Embracing what they are attached to, rather than forcing them to use other tools, would benefit engagement (although it might not benefit a specific service). One Drive is a good example. While it was possible for me to access iCloud, there were more steps to take when wanting to save documents as the default was either One Drive or DropBox.

Together Against Google

Both companies need to also realize facilitating this Windows + iOS world will help limit the risk of Google taking advantage of the weaknesses and grabbing users. Again, this is not about devices. I do not expect Google to win consumers and enterprises with Chromebooks and Android tablets. This is about the much bigger battles: Digital Assistants and AI. Google has always been very good at using its device-agnostic approach to its advantage. Google Maps, Google Photos and now Allo are great examples of the extent Google goes to make sure it reaches valuable customers on other platforms. It is about time Apple and Microsoft started to play the same game.

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