Tech.pinions – Perspective, Insight, Analysis Perspective. Insight. Analysis Tue, 24 Jan 2017 09:00:34 +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 Voice Drives New Software Paradigm Tue, 24 Jan 2017 09:00:34 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

A great deal has been written recently on the growing importance of voice-driven computing devices, such as Amazon’s Echo, Google Home and others like it. At the same time, there’s been a long-held belief by many in the industry that software innovations will be the key drivers in moving the tech industry forward (“software eats the world”—as VC Marc Andreesen famously touted over 5 years ago).

The combination of these two—software for voice-based computing—would, therefore, seem to be at the very apex of tech industry developments. Indeed, there are many companies now doing cutting-edge work to create new types of software for these very different kinds of computing devices.

The problem is, expectations for this kind of software seems to be quickly surpassing reality. Just this week, in fact, there were several intriguing stories related to a new study which found that usage and retention rates were very low for add-on Alexa “skills”, and similar voice-based apps for the Google Assistant platform running inside Google Home.

Essentially, the takeaway from the study was that outside of the core functionality of what was included in the device, very few new add-on apps showed much potential. The implication, of course, is that maybe voice-based computing isn’t such a great opportunity after all.

While it’s easy to see how people could come to that conclusion, I believe it’s based on an incorrect way of looking at the results and thinking about the potential for these devices. The real problem is that people are trying to apply the business model and perspective of writing apps for mobile phones to these new kinds of devices. In this new world of voice-driven computing, that model will not work.

Of course, it’s common for people to apply old rules to new situations; that’s the easy way to do it. Remember, there was a time in the early days of smartphones when people didn’t really grasp the idea of mobile apps, because they were used to the large, monolithic applications that were found on PCs. Running big applications on tiny screens with what, at the time, were very underpowered mobile CPUs, didn’t make much sense.

In a conceptually similar way, we need to realize that smart speakers and other voice-driven computing devices are not just smartphones without a screen—they are very different animals with very different types of software requirements. Not all of these requirements are entirely clear yet—that’s the fun of trying to figure out what a new type of computing paradigm brings with it—but it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that people aren’t going to proactively seek out software add-ons that don’t offer incredibly obvious value.

Plus, without the benefit of a screen, people can’t remember too wide a range of keywords to “trigger” these applications. Common sense suggests that the total possible number of “skills” that can be added to a device is going to be extremely limited. Finally, and probably most importantly, the whole idea of adding applications to a voice-based personal assistant is a difficult thing for many people to grasp. After all, the whole concept of an intelligent assistant is that you should be able to converse with it and it should understand what you request. The concept of “filling in holes” in its understanding (or even personality!) is going to be a tough one to overcome. People want a voice-based interaction to be natural and to work. Period. The company that can best succeed on that front will have a clear advantage.

Despite these concerns, that doesn’t mean the opportunity for voice-based computing devices will be small, but it probably does mean there won’t be a very large “skills” economy. Most of the capability is going to have to be delivered by the core device provider and most of the opportunity for revenue-generating services will likely come from the same company. In other words, owning the platform is going to be much more important for these devices than it was for smartphones, and companies need to think (and plan) accordingly.

Existing business models and existing means for understanding the role that technologies play don’t always transfer to new environments, and new rules for voice-based computing still need to be developed.”

That doesn’t mean there isn’t any opportunity for add-ons, however. Key services like music streaming, on-demand economy requests, and voice-based usage or configuration of key smart home hardware add-ons, for example, all seem like clearly valuable and viable capabilities that customers will be willing to add on to their devices. In each of those cases, it’s also important to realize that the software isn’t likely going to represent a revenue opportunity of its own; simply a means of accessing an existing service or piece of hardware.

New types of computing models take years to really enter the mainstream, and we’re arguably still in the early innings when it comes to voice-driven interfaces. But, it’s important to realize that existing business models and existing means for understanding the role that technologies play don’t always transfer to new environments, and new rules for voice-based computing still need to be developed.

]]> 0
Snapchat is Evolving Tue, 24 Jan 2017 09:00:24 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Further to Ben’s piece yesterday, I thought it would be interesting to dive into all the ways Snapchat (the app) and Snap (the company) are evolving as the company reportedly prepares for an IPO this…

This content is for Insider Yearly and Insider Monthly members only. Visit the site and log in/register to read.
Nearing Peak Snapchat? Mon, 23 Jan 2017 09:00:09 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

I never like to count companies out entirely but data is data, and it tells interesting stories. Earlier in the year, it certainly felt as though there was a hype cycle around Snapchat. All of…

This content is for Insider Yearly and Insider Monthly members only. Visit the site and log in/register to read.
Samsung’s Galaxy Note7 Investigation becomes the Cornerstone for Improved QA Mon, 23 Jan 2017 02:03:25 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Samsung just hosted a press conference in Korea to share the findings of an investigation into what caused several Galaxy Note7 smartphones to catch fire. You can find all the details of the findings here but, in summary, there were two distinct battery issues, from two different manufacturers, that lead to the positive and negative electrodes to touch.

Getting to the root cause of the issue was paramount but what we learned from this process has ramifications, not only for Samsung, but for the industry because Lithium-ion batteries are not going away anytime soon. The actual investigation process Samsung went through over these past few months would have been quite difficult for a manufacturer without Samsung’s scale, capital, R&D facilities and work force. Dedicating 700 researchers to evaluate 200,000 smartphones and 30,000 batteries in a newly built testing facility is dedication.

Of course, a lot was on the line here for the world’s leading smartphone maker. Trust of both users and employees was at risk and winning that trust back was paramount.

Winning Back Trust that Samsung will Continue to Innovate

In early October, we at Creative Strategies conducted a study to assess the US smartphone market. Among the areas we wanted to evaluate was the impact, if any, the Galaxy Note7 incident had on the brand’s smartphone market. We were bullish then, and we are bullish now, that Samsung will recover from the Note7 recall. Only 28% of US Android owners said the Note7 caused them to have a more negative opinion of the Samsung brand. Numbers were even lower among Samsung owners.

Consumers are generally quite forgiving and have a relatively short memory. The car industry has seen several recalls over the years, yet consumers continue to buy. The mobile industry has also seen recalls but nothing to the extent of the Note7. Of course, what made the Note7 such a test case is how passionate its users are and how unwilling they were to give up their units, pushing Samsung and carriers the extra mile to get the phones back.

Samsung was quick to take responsibility and step into action. Communication is where the smartphone leader could have done with more clarity. Whether due to cultural differences in communication styles or due to having the complexity of bringing together the Consumer Product Safety Commission, carriers and retailers, Samsung’s messaging was not as direct as it could have been. Digital messages, however, were pretty clear, from warnings being displayed every time the phone was charged to limiting the charging capacity of the phone to ultimately bricking the phone.

Samsung, like any vendor in every sector that has ever had a recall, cannot promise its products will never again suffer from a malfunction. What can be done, however, it to show the necessary steps have been taken to limit the chance of that happening again.

What is even more important when we are talking about a market leader, especially one that has gained that position by adopting new technologies early, is to show their innovation streak will not be limited by fear. Samsung must show consumers they have set in place checks and balances that will allow them to continue to bring new technology, new designs, and new features into the market in a safe and effective way. The new 8-point battery safety check Samsung will implement going forward is an important step in recognizing that innovation should also come to QA, testing, safety and manufacturing processes.

A Market Leader Acting like a Leader

The fact that made the Note7 recall also unusual is the cause of the issue involved several parties: Samsung and two battery suppliers. While we do not know the names of the suppliers, it would be safe to believe they are not exclusive Samsung suppliers. The use of Lithium-ion batteries is also not limited to Samsung or these two suppliers.

Samsung’s President of Mobile Communications Business, Mr. DJ Koh, stated during the press conference that, during in the investigation, the researchers filed several patents in battery technology, patents that will be shared with the industry. We would need more details to understand the significance of these patents but this is the kind of action we would expect from a market leader, especially one that has a pretty substantial battery business.

Despite the many stories that broke on Friday about Samsung putting the blame on its suppliers, I did not hear that in the press conference. Although I am confident Samsung will require changes in the QA process implemented by its supplier, the focus of the messaging was centered on the changes Samsung will implement going forward, including the appointment of a battery advisory group. As much as there is skepticism around how two different suppliers could have two independent battery issues, I do not believe Samsung cut corners in bringing the Note7 to market. As the industry pushes more designs and features and as users push the capabilities of these devices, making sure all that can be done in a safe manner is paramount.

Innovation needs to involve all aspects of the production process and Samsung is making this point very clear. While adding steps to the process adds costs and time, I expect Samsung to be able to integrate the new steps without adding considerable development time or costs on to new products.

What is Next?

I had initially thought Samsung should move on from the Note franchise and deliver a different product with similar capabilities. After months on hearing countless airport announcements referring to the banned phone as the “Galaxy Note7”, “a Samsung phone”, “the Galaxy phone” and anything in between, I no longer think the Note8 would suffer as much as I initially thought. Better put, anything that will come after the Note7 will equally suffer whether it is related to it or not.

Samsung apologized, provided answers and solutions. What remains to be done is to make sure users who returned their Note7 receive the phone they want and a little extra love from Samsung. If indeed there will be a Note8 on the market in 2017, there is a lot Samsung can do to butter up those users from incentives on upgrades to limited editions to early access, etc.

While I can already read the headlines referring to the next Galaxy phone as “the one that hopefully will not blow up” or “not as hot as the Note7”, I am hoping we will move on — like most consumers will.

]]> 6
Podcast: US Retail Trends. What Sold and What Didn’t in US Consumer Tech Sat, 21 Jan 2017 02:07:00 +0000

Ben Bajarin chats with Stephen Baker of NPD to discuss a number of holiday retail categories. We explore how TVs, PCs and Tablets, Wearables, and new tech categories performed at US retail during the holidays.

]]> 0
Moving Toward Our Augmented Future Fri, 20 Jan 2017 15:23:49 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

This week, I attended the first-ever AR in Action conference at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where an extensive list of current (and likely future) tech luminaries talked about the past, present, and future of Augmented Reality. There are plenty of skeptics who doubt the viability of AR and Hollywood-produced visions of the technology set an awfully high bar. I’ve long felt AR will become a crucial technology; after spending time with this group, I’m even more convinced of this. It is not a matter of if, but when.

John Werner, known for the TEDxBeaconStreet events in Boston, orchestrated AR in Action so that the talks, panels, and demonstrations were all short and highly targeted. As a result, in the span of two days, I saw more than a dozen current and emerging use cases for AR, from both the academic and corporate worlds. There was much discussion about the potential ramifications of AR across numerous industries and there were many technology demonstrations. Finally, I had the opportunity to test out the segment’s hottest new hardware: the Meta 2 (it did not disappoint).

Frankly, the volume of information I absorbed will take weeks to process, but a few key takeaways follow.

Plenty of Companies are Already Testing AR
Last year I wrote about an IDC survey that showed US IT decision makers were already looking at AR for their business. One of the key platforms for commercial AR is Vuforia, which PTC acquired from Qualcomm in late 2015. During the conference, PTC’s CEO James Heppelmann talked about the intersection of the Internet of Things and AR and noted that PTC now has thousands of customers in active pilots of AR technology, primarily on smartphones and tablets. PTC also says more than 250,000 developers are using Vuforia. During day two, PTC’s Mike Campbell showed how to create a working piece of AR software—tied to real world object (in this case, a coffee maker)—in the span of about 15 minutes.

A Few Organizations are Moving Beyond Pilots
Patrick Ryan, the engineering manager at Newport News Shipbuilding, discussed the rollout of AR at his 130-year old company. At present, the firm has completed over 60 AR industrial projects and it is currently working on the rollout of permanent shipbuilding process changes using AR. On stage, Ryan showed a video and talked about using AR to facilitate such seemingly mundane tasks as painting a ship. Mind you, we’re talking about painting aircraft carriers. NNS workers are using AR on connected tablets to visualize parts of the ship before they’re completely built to eliminate errors and decrease waste during the process.

During the discussion on AR in museums, the panel—Giovanni Landi, Rus Gant, and Toshi Hoo—noted museums have been using augmented reality, in the form of audio guided tours, for decades. Many museums have begun experimenting with head-mounted AR to bring staid museum exhibits to life for visitors. Panel members noted that, as the prevalence of mobile AR increases, with more visitors walking in the door with capable devices, the opportunities to utilize the technology will also increase. One of the key ways they expect to use AR in the future is through the digitization of rare objects, which will allow museums to “show” a far larger number of items than can be physically displayed to the public.

AR is More Than Just Visual
Numerous speakers talked about the fact there are more ways to augment reality than through visual systems, including auditory and touch. Intel’s Christopher Croteau, GM of Head Worn Products, talked about his company’s product collaboration with Oakley. The Radar Pace is a set of glasses but there is no screen—all interactions occur through voice commands and audio feedback. The glasses, introduced in October, provide real-time feedback for runners and cyclists without visually distracting them. In addition to a spirited talk on the potential of AR technologies, Croteau also presented Intel’s forecast of the market stretching all the way to 2031. Like most forecasters, Intel sees the near-term opportunity for AR in the enterprise. But, by 2027, it predicts consumer shipments will move ahead of commercial and, four years later, the former will out ship the latter by a 4 to 1 margin.

The Right Interface is Crucial
There was a great deal of discussion about the challenges (and folly) of bringing legacy interaction models to AR but not a lot of consensus on what the right approach should be. One thing is clear: hand tracking and voice technology are both likely to play crucial roles but both have a long way to go before they’re ready for mainstream users. The panel on haptics was also enlightening, with executives from firms such as Ultrahaptics and Tactai discussing the critical role they expect touch to play as AR evolves.

More to Come, Exciting Times
The downside to an event like AR in Action is a person can only attend one track at a time (there were three running concurrently on both days). The upside is event organizers recorded everything, which means, hopefully in the near future, I will get a chance to watch all the tracks I couldn’t attend in person. Just as important, Werner made it clear this was just the first of what he expects to be many meetups of this kind, which I think is a good sign for this nascent but incredibly important market.

]]> 0
Unpacking This Week’s News – Friday, January 20th, 2017 Fri, 20 Jan 2017 09:00:35 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Android One to Come to the US This Summer – by Carolina Milanesi According to a report from The Information, Android One is supposedly coming to the US this summer. If you are not familiar…

This content is for Insider Yearly and Insider Monthly members only. Visit the site and log in/register to read.
Opportunities and Challenges for Amazon in 2017 Thu, 19 Jan 2017 15:50:47 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Continuing my “Opportunities and Challenges” series, I’d like to focus on Amazon. I don’t have many on my short list of hyper growth companies, those who are nowhere near their upside potential, but Amazon is…

This content is for Insider Yearly and Insider Monthly members only. Visit the site and log in/register to read.
Two Possible Futures for Amazon’s Alexa Thu, 19 Jan 2017 09:00:57 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant was clearly the star of CES this year. No single consumer electronics device dominated coverage but lots of individual devices incorporated Alexa as their voice assistant of choice. The announcements ranged from Echo clones to home robots to cars and smartphones. It was clear Amazon had entirely captured the market for voice platforms. Only one or two integrations of the Google Assistant were announced and those are both future rather than present integrations.

It would be easy off the back of all this to say Amazon had won the voice assistant battle once and for all but I actually see two possible futures for Alexa, with very different outcomes for Amazon and its many partners.

Future 1: Amazon continues to dominate

The first possible future for Alexa is one where the current trends mostly continue and even accelerate. Amazon’s own Alexa-based products continue to sell well, with Dot probably taking a greater share of sales going forward relative to Echo (or Tap), selling into the tens of millions of installed units in the next couple of years. On top of that, the adoption by third parties that was so evident at CES continues, with even more devices offering integration. Importantly, Alexa starts to make an appearance in Android smartphones, making it as pervasive and ubiquitous as existing smartphone-based assistants, possibly even making an appearance in another round of Amazon smartphones.

What we end up with in this scenario is a massive ecosystem of devices which all offer users access to Alexa and its functionality. These devices perform their functions well, recognizing voice commands effectively, responding appropriately, and adding value to users’ lives. Because they’re all part of the same ecosystem, they work the same way — commands issued through one are reflected on the others. Amazon benefits from owning a massive new user interface and platform which can be used not just to push its e-commerce sales but to take an increasingly large share of media and content consumption across video, music, audiobooks, and more.

This scenario also assumes major competitors either don’t launch competing products or those products fail to take off. Google has, of course, already launched its Home device but, thus far, sales are far lower than Amazon’s and are handicapped by a lack of awareness and the lack of a major e-commerce channel. The Google Assistant, meanwhile, should be the default option for Android OEMs in all their devices but the way in which Google has held it back as it promotes its own hardware has also held it back, perhaps fatally, as a third party voice platform. If that doesn’t change, if Microsoft’s Windows-based Cortana strategy falls short, and Apple’s reticence to participate in this market continues, Amazon dominates with its devices and those third party products using its ecosystem.

Future 2: Cracks start to appear in the Alexa ecosystem

The secrets of Echo’s success

I want, though, to paint an alternative future for Alexa, one which is less rosy and more complex. Amazon’s genius in launching the Echo and Alexa was to pick a blank slate rather than an existing category for its experiments with voice. Instead of competing with another smartphone-based voice assistant, Amazon chose to compete in the home, with its relative quiet and better internet connectivity, and a device that was optimized for specific use cases: fantastic voice recognition and great audio output, even from across the room. That had two major advantages: first, it wasn’t going head to head with powerful entrenched competitors and second, it could deliver far better performance around voice recognition than smartphone-based systems.

The Echo performs fantastically well at what it does. Its voice recognition is indeed very good, inviting highly favorable comparisons to Siri and the like. It’s this success in providing great voice experiences that have propelled sales of its own devices and prompted other companies to build their own as well. The assumption on all sides is it’s Alexa that powers these phenomenal experiences and the Alexa Voice Service for device makers will power similar experiences on other devices.

Amazon’s limited control over Alexa devices

However, one look at Amazon’s guidelines for those wishing to incorporate Alexa Voice Service into their devices should prompt at least some skepticism. Echo and Echo Dot famously have a 7-mic array built into the top of the device, with beam forming, enhanced noise cancelation, and more helping to ensure the device does a phenomenal job of picking up your voice from up to 20 feet away. But look at the minimum specs for Alexa-powered devices and you quickly realize many of these devices won’t match up on hardware – the minimum standard for microphones is just one and additional technologies like noise reduction, acoustic echo cancellation, and beam forming are entirely optional.

Also optional is “wake word” support – in other words, the always-listening function that waits to hear Alexa (or another word of the user’s choice) and then springs into life. The Amazon Tap doesn’t offer this feature (and was hammered in reviews for it) because the “across the room” use case is a key part of Echo’s appeal. Even when a wake word is supported, Amazon only requires a minimum of one microphone for near-field recognition and just two for far-field (20 foot) recognition.

Where this second future scenario diverges from the first is the sheer range of Alexa-enabled hardware starts to put many devices into the market that don’t have nearly the appeal of Amazon’s own. Lenovo’s Echo clones appear to be using an 8-mic array and may very well perform at exactly the same level or better but the Huawei Mate 9 smartphone, which is due to incorporate Alexa later this year, has just 4 microphones and the device obviously wasn’t built with optimal voice recognition in mind. In a rush to get products to market, we’ll see many vendors putting out devices with the bare minimum specs and prominent Alexa-related branding.

All it will take at this point is a handful of terrible reviews for Alexa-powered speakers and other devices and the Alexa brand will quickly become tarnished. At that point, Amazon’s admirable openness with the Alexa tools may come to be seen as a huge mistake because it’s set so few limits on what can be done with the service and its brand. Even if third parties are committed to providing the best possible experience, voice recognition on a smartphone or other smaller devices likely is never going to match up to the Echo’s quality, which means the true Alexa experience will likely remain elusive outside of the home. Any perceived quality advantage will, therefore, fade as well, making Alexa a lot less appealing.

More compelling competitors

Meanwhile, competitors will move past their slow start in responding to the Echo and Alexa and will begin producing more compelling alternatives. I see no reason why competitors shouldn’t be able to build devices which perform at least as well, in terms of voice recognition, as Echo given the same parameters (home use, large devices, mic arrays designed for voice recognition). Indeed, Google’s Home has already demonstrated there’s no special magic there. In addition, players like Google and Apple have one huge advantage – they already own massive installed bases of hundreds of millions of devices running their operating systems and integrated voice assistants.

Google’s early misstep in limiting the Google Assistant to its own devices will be overcome in the next few months as it makes it available to Android OEMs more broadly and, at that point, its Home device will become a lot more compelling. Apple, too, has the potential to do really interesting things in the home speaker space should it choose to do so, given the increasing scope and availability of Siri and its AirPlay audio and video casting technology. Again, the appeal of using the same assistant everywhere, tightly integrated into devices, will be a big advantage over Amazon’s looser Alexa ecosystem.

Which future plays out?

On balance, I’m inclined to think the future will look rather more like the second scenario I’ve painted than the first. That is to say, I think Amazon’s advantages in the field of voice assistants are mostly temporary and, to some extent, illusory. Competitors will catch up fast in the home and exceed its capabilities outside it. That doesn’t mean Amazon can’t build a decent business with a more limited scope of opportunity around its first party devices and a handful of really compelling third party devices in an ecosystem but I suspect its future will be a lot less bright than its present in this space.

]]> 15
What “Hidden Figures” Can Teach Us about AI Wed, 18 Jan 2017 09:00:50 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

This weekend, I finally watched Hidden Figures. I took my 9-year-old daughter with me to witness how instrumental women of color were to the success of several NASA missions — something that historically has been associated with white male achievement. If you have not seen it yet I highly recommend it. The acting is superb and the story offers so much education, both on race relations and women in the workplace. What I want to focus on is possibly something the director and the cast never imagined could matter. I do, not because it is the most important aspect but simply because it is very relevant to the tech transition we are experiencing right now.

All the talk surrounding artificial intelligence is as much about the technology itself as it is the impact its adoption will have on different aspects of our lives. Business models in the automotive industry, insurance business, public transportation, search and advertising as well as more personal consequences such as human to human interaction, sources of knowledge, and education. Change will not come overnight but we better be prepared because it will come.

New Tech Requires New Skills

Change came in 1962 for the segregated West Area Computer Division of Langley Research Center in Virginia where the three women who are the main protagonists of the story worked. Mathematician Katherine Goble and de facto supervisor Dorothy Vaughan are both directly affected by new tech rolling into the facility in the form of the IBM 7090. If you are not familiar with the IBM 7090 (I was not before this weekend), it was the third member of the IBM 700/7000 series of computers designed for large-scale scientific and technological applications. In layman terms, the 7090 would be able to perform in a blink of an eye all the calculations that took the computer division hours. Dorothy understood the threat and, armed with her wit and a book on programming languages, was able to help program the IBM 7090, taught her team to do the same, shifted their skills and saved their jobs.

I realize part of this story might be for the benefit of the screenplay and the world is much more complicated. However, I do think that what is at the core is very relevant — the creation of new skill sets.

Although AI has the potential to affect not only manual jobs that can be automated but also, theoretically, jobs that require learning and decision making, the immediate threat is certainly on the former.

We focus a lot, and rightly so, on the job loss AI will cause but we have not yet started to focus on teaching new skills so such losses can be limited. As I said, AI will not magically appear overnight but we would be fools to think we have plenty of time to create the skills our “augmented” world will require. From new programming languages to new branches of law and insurance, Q&A testing and more. Empowering people with new skills will be key not only to having a job but also keeping our income at pace with the higher cost these new worlds will entail. Providing a framework for education is a political responsibility as well as a corporate one.

Who Will We Trust?

The IBM 7090 replaces Katherine when it comes to checking calculations but, just as Friendship 7 is ready to launch, some discrepancies arise in the electronic calculations for the capsule’s recovery coordinates. Astronaut John Glenn asks the director of the Space Task Group to have Katherine recheck the numbers. When Katherine confirms the coordinates, Glenn thanks the director saying: “You know, you cannot trust something you cannot look in the eyes.”

I don’t know if Glenn actually said that or if it is a screenplay liberty but, when I heard it, I immediately thought of AI. Who will consumers trust? Many think AI is not going to be any different than it has been with any prior technology but I believe such thinking undermines where AI could actually take us. Autonomous cars are the scenario we most often refer to. We might trust the car to park itself or to alert us if a car is in our blind spot. We might even try a semi-autonomous setting on an empty motorway. But are we ready to trust the car and take out eyes off the road and our hands off the wheel? How will brands earn our trust? Will it be the number of accidents they are involved in? The assurance that, in case of an accident, their computers are programmed to save whoever is in the car?

What if we changed scenarios and talked about a medical diagnosis. Today, we tend to pick our doctors and specialists based on our insurance’s recommendation, a friend recommendation or even the comments on Yelp. Bed manners, courteous receptionists, short wait times all play a role. But, for anything more serious, what it all boils down to is the track record of right diagnosis and saving lives. Will we trust a machine alone? Or will we still want a doctor, who we can look in the eyes, coupled with the machine? A recent White House report mentioned by Fortune talks about the idea of linking human and machine. While they do so as part of the discussion of job losses, I think the formula also applies to our human nature of building trust with another human being.

The same issue of trust will also apply to other scenarios where not our life but our privacy and security could potentially be in danger. Here too, trust will matter. Who do we trust with our digital assistant, with our home automation? When life is not at risk, at least not directly, I feel consumers will show more flexibility, especially when the full implications are not grasped and convenience and possibly price are what matters the most.

In both cases, though, I strongly believe AI will drive consumers to consider more than technology alone and look for traits in brands that have been more traditionally associated with humans: honesty, empathy, loyalty, and service.

]]> 4
Lenovo’s Yogabook could be the Perfect Design for Future Tablets and Smartphones Wed, 18 Jan 2017 09:00:14 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Over the Christmas holidays, I began testing a new product from Lenovo call the Yoga Book. I tested both the Android and Windows OS version and, while testing these two-sided tablets, I began to realize…

This content is for Insider Yearly and Insider Monthly members only. Visit the site and log in/register to read.
]]> 5
Q4 2016 Earnings Season Preview Tue, 17 Jan 2017 09:00:39 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

We’re about to head into earnings season once again, with Netflix reporting this Wednesday and most of the big tech companies reporting next week and the week after. With that in mind, here’s a preview…

This content is for Insider Yearly and Insider Monthly members only. Visit the site and log in/register to read.
Inside the Mind of a Hacker Tue, 17 Jan 2017 09:00:07 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Writing about security is kind of like writing about insurance. As a responsible adult, you know it’s something you should do every now then, but deep down, you’re really worried that many readers won’t make it past the second sentence. (I hope you’re still here.)

Having recently had the privilege of moderating a panel entitled “Inside the Mind of a Hacker” at the CyberSecurity Forum event that occurred as part of CES, however, I’ve decided it’s time. The panel was loaded with four smart and opinionated security professionals who hotly debated a variety of topics related to security and hacking.

Speaking to the theme of the panel, it became immediately clear that the motivations for the “bad guy” hackers (there was, of course, a brief, but strong show of support for the white hat “good” hackers) are exactly what you’d expect them to be: money, politics, pride, power and revenge.

Beyond some of the basics, however, I was surprised to hear the amount of dissent on the topics discussed, even by those with some impressive credentials (including work at the NSA, managing cyber intelligence for Fortune 500 companies and government agencies, etc.). One particularly interesting point, for example, highlighted that hackers are people too—meaning, they make mistakes. In fact, thankfully, apparently quite a lot of them. While in retrospect that seems rather obvious, given the aura of invincibility commonly attributed to hackers through popular media, it wasn’t something I expected to hear.

Another key point was the methodology used by most hackers. Most agreed that the top threat is from phishing attacks, where employees at a company or individuals at home are lured into opening an attachment or clicking on a link that triggers a series of, well, unfortunate events. Even with up-to-date anti-malware software and security-enhanced browsers, virtually everyone (and every company) is vulnerable to these increasingly sophisticated and tricky attacks. However, several panelists pointed out that too much attention is spent trying to remedy the bad situations created by phishing attacks, instead of educating people about how to avoid them in the first place.

Looking forward, the rapid growth of ransomware, when companies or individuals are locked out of their systems and/or data until a ransom is paid to unlock it, was one of the panelists’ biggest concerns. Attacks of this sort are growing quickly and most believe the problem will get much worse in 2017. In many cases, organized crime is behind these types of incidents, and with the popularity of demanding payment in bitcoin or other payment methods that are nearly impossible to trace, the issue is very challenging.

Another concern the panel tackled was security issues for Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Many companies getting involved with IoT have little to no security experience or knowledge and that’s led to some gaping security holes that automated hacking tools are quick to find and exploit. Thankfully, the group agreed there is some progress happening here with newer IoT devices, but given the wide range of products already in market, this problem will be with us for some time. One potential solution that was discussed was the idea of an IoT security standard (along the lines of a UL approval), which is a topic I wrote about several months back. (See “It’s Time for an IoT Security Standard”)

There are few if any things that can be completely blocked from hacking efforts, but huge progress could be made in cyber security if companies and people would just start actually using some of the tools already available.”

Another potential benefit could come from improved implementations of biometric authentication, such as fingerprint and iris scans, as well as leveraging what are commonly called “hardware roots of trust.” Essentially, this provides a kind of digital ID that can be used to verify the authenticity of a device, just as biometrics can help verify the authenticity of an individual. Both of these concepts enable more active use of multi-factor authentication, which can greatly strengthen security efforts when combined with encryption, stronger security software perimeters, and other common sense guidelines.

As the panel was quick to point out, there are few if any things that can be completely blocked from hacking efforts. Nevertheless, huge progress could be made in cyber security if companies and people would just start actually using some of the tools already available. Instead of worrying about solving the toughest corner cases, good security needs to start with the basics and build from there.

]]> 0
Why Tech Leaders can’t Succumb to a Presidential Bully Pulpit Mon, 16 Jan 2017 09:00:14 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Merriam-Webster defines a “bully pulpit” as:

Bully pulpit comes from the 26th U.S. President, Theodore Roosevelt, who observed that the White House was a bully pulpit. For Roosevelt, bully was an adjective meaning “excellent” or “first-rate”—not the noun bully (“a blustering, browbeating person”) that’s so common today. Roosevelt understood the modern presidency’s power of persuasion and recognized that it gave the incumbent the opportunity to exhort, instruct, or inspire. He took full advantage of his bully pulpit, speaking out about the danger of monopolies, the nation’s growing role as a world power, and other issues important to him. Since the 1970s, bully pulpit has been used as a term for an office—especially a political office—that provides one with the opportunity to share one’s views.

Roosevelt’s use of this term as an adjective and not a noun made the bully pulpit term OK for the time and, if the person using that pulpit for good, the term can be an endearing one. However, I am not sure we can see President-Elect Trump in that light yet, given his history of “blustering and browbeating” people to get his way.

I took a call from a reporter last week who was asking me about Apple’s decision to have their servers in a single data center location instead of at each of the major data centers they have around the US and the world. This will be done in Arizona and the reporter asked if Apple did this to help get a better position, in Trump’s eyes, by doing the manufacturing in the US. All told, it will only add 10-20 jobs and I told the reporter this was more strategic and had nothing to do with wanting to gain favor with Trump.

But other companies, such as Ford and Carrier, have made decisions to move jobs from planned facilities outside of the US back to America. On the surface, it does appear Trump “bullied” them into doing it. It seems very clear to me that Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba, who met with Trump at Trump Tower and pledged to bring one million jobs to the US, had being in Trump’s good graces in mind.

Last week, Amazon announced they would add 100,000 jobs in the US. When this was announced, and because of Trump’s bully pulpit, I was asked by reporters if this decision was because of pressure from Trump or something more related to strategic growth.

I would hope it was because it was a strategic decision but I have a sneaky feeling Amazon and many others do not want to rile Trump. What he says and does from his “bully pulpit” could hurt them during his time in office. Let’s be clear: I am 100% behind creating more jobs in the US but I believe this should come as result of great business conditions, innovation, a true need for these companies, and that it is strategic to their business growth. I also believe they should not be doing it because they were bullied into it. I am of the school that believes bullying them to create jobs may be a temporary fix. Unless it’s done with the right motive, conditions, and strategy, it will not deliver the fundamental change needed for these jobs to be long lasting.

I believe strongly the tech industry and companies should not succumb to the bullying tactics of President-Elect Trump in any way when it comes to the issue of strategic planning, growth, innovation, and even jobs.

That does not mean they should not want to work with him and, when necessary, lobby to influence Mr. Trump’s policies so he and his administration do not stand in the way of growing our tech economy. But, if any of their moves are done just to placate Trump, then they are building foundations that will crumble under the weight of forced motivations. Unless strategic to their growth, it will set them back, not move them forward.

In a recent piece I did for Fast Company, I outlined my involvement with a council of independent tech influencers that helped shape President Bush’s tech agenda. In the article, I suggested some of the types of councils I believe President Trump needs to help him understand tech and, more importantly, use them to help develop a tech agenda of his own that would benefit his economic goals and get these companies to help support an agenda that moves our industry forward.

I believe working with President Trump in a civil, proactive manner should be the goal of every tech company but not kowtowing to him because he bullied them into some action. The tech industry needs the resolve to stand up against any bully pulpit and only do what is right for them to grow their market. Anything less than that won’t have a lasting impact on them or our industry.

]]> 15
Podcast: CES 2017 and Detroit Auto Show Autonomous Cars Sat, 14 Jan 2017 09:00:16 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

In this week’s Tech.pinions podcast Tim Bajarin, Jan Dawson and Bob O’Donnell discuss car technology announcements from CES 2017 and the NAIA 2017 Detroit Auto Show, as well as the regulatory, technical and business challenges facing autonomous cars.

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

]]> 2