Tech.pinions – Perspective, Insight, Analysis https://techpinions.com Perspective. Insight. Analysis Fri, 23 Jun 2017 12:29:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Surface Laptop and Microsoft’s Hardware Long Game https://techpinions.com/surface-laptop-and-microsofts-hardware-long-game/50413 https://techpinions.com/surface-laptop-and-microsofts-hardware-long-game/50413#respond Fri, 23 Jun 2017 12:29:49 +0000 https://techpinions.com/?p=50413 Reading Time: 3 minutesI’ve been testing Microsoft’s recently launched Surface Laptop, and it’s an extremely well-designed piece of hardware. Microsoft seems to have obsessed over every detail in its first laptop, save perhaps the shipping OS (Windows 10S), and the result is a product that an awful lot of people are going to like. The Surface Laptop is…]]> Reading Time: 3 minutes

I’ve been testing Microsoft’s recently launched Surface Laptop, and it’s an extremely well-designed piece of hardware. Microsoft seems to have obsessed over every detail in its first laptop, save perhaps the shipping OS (Windows 10S), and the result is a product that an awful lot of people are going to like. The Surface Laptop is also notable because even at its relatively high starting price of $999 it has the potential to drive shipment volumes well beyond what Microsoft has seen before, and it represents yet another step forward in the company’s slow-but-steady move towards becoming a hardware heavyweight.

World-Class Hardware
Most reviewers are infatuated with the Alcantara-covered keyboard, but they key design element for me is the touch-enabled 13.5-inch, 3:2 aspect ratio screen. It mimics the ratio of Microsoft’s Surface Pro and Surface Book, and I like it because it offers more vertical screen real estate than your typical widescreen (16:9) aspect ratio notebook. It’s not an OLED, but it is still beautiful with a 2256 by 1504 resolution and 201 pixels per inch.

Microsoft has been honing its out-of-box experience since the first Surface tablets shipped, and here again, the company brings a top-notch experience augmented by Cortana during setup. Using just my voice I was able to get through much, but not all, of the initial setup. It’s a smart way to remind people that Cortana is on Surface, and getting more useful all the time.
Fit and finish is quite good, the Alcantara does feel nice (longevity TBD), and the touchpad is large and highly responsive. Microsoft’s decision to forego USB Type-C ports feels uncharacteristically backward looking but is undoubtedly rooted in user feedback. Finally, the Windows Hello face sign-in camera on the notebook is amazingly fast. Once you get used to signing into your notebook this way, even a lightning-fast fingerprint scan seems old school.

Windows 10S: The Challenge of Subtraction
While I have very few complaints about the Surface Laptop hardware, I’m afraid my take on Windows 10S is less charitable. Some have called this a pared-down version of Windows 10, but that’s not exactly accurate. It’s the same Windows 10, just more restricted. I fully understand what Microsoft is trying to accomplish here, and respect it. By only allowing us to install apps from the Windows Store, Microsoft says it can ensure a fast, stable operating system that won’t face the inevitable slowdown that occurs when you install (and uninstall) legacy Windows apps. The problem is that many of the legacy apps that longtime Windows users depend upon will never make it into the Windows Store. For me, the inability to run a third-party browser and my company’s use of proprietary software means Windows 10S is a non-starter for me. Happily, Microsoft lets Surface Laptop users switch to Windows 10 Pro for free (at least through the end of the year). I’ll be making that switch, immediately. Near-term Windows 10S might make sense on low-cost education hardware competing with Chrome. Long term, to find mainstream acceptance, Windows 10S will require a much more robust offering within the Windows store.

High-Value Vs. High Volume
With the launch of the Surface Laptop Microsoft now has a very well-rounded hardware lineup. It joins a newly refreshed Surface Pro, the high-powered Surface Book, and the creator-focused Surface Studio desktop. With the launch of each new piece of hardware, Microsoft has further burnished its reputation for shipping high-end, well-designed hardware. Rather than focusing on selling high volumes, the Surface team is clearly focusing on selling high-value. And by focusing first on the nascent detachable space, Microsoft built a sizeable hardware business without taking share away from partners such as Dell, HP, and Lenovo, who only entered the space after Microsoft helped establish it. However, looking at IDC’s first quarter 2017 detachable numbers brings to light an interesting detail: While Microsoft’s share of the category has dropped as the market has grown, it still has by far the highest average selling price (ASP) among top vendors at nearly $1,200. So its 15.1% unit market share drives a healthy 27.7% of the detachable market’s total revenues. (Apple’s iPad Pro is number one in units with 32.5% of the market and 38.6% of revenues; Samsung is third with 10.3% of the unit market share but just 7.8% of the revenues). Meanwhile, nobody expects Surface Studio to ship tens of millions of units, but with a price range of $2,999-$4,199, it’s certainly going to drive some enviable ASPs.

Windows 10S challenges aside, Surface Laptop could drive decent unit volumes for Microsoft, especially if the company successfully utilizes its retail stores. And while the starting price may be $999, few will settle for this entry level product, which means ASPs will be higher (my test system sells for $1299; a maxed-out system is $2,199). Among the top five notebook vendors in Q1 2017, only Apple had a notebook ASP North of a grand ($1,560), while the rest landed in the high $500s to low $700s. Volume is the name of the game for most of these players. But market watchers and competitors should pay close attention to how well Surface Laptop does over the next 18-24 months. Microsoft may have just fielded a laptop line that will eventually grab a small piece of the overall share of the notebook market, but an outsized chunk of the the revenue pie.

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How a Silent Data Center Trend Could Bring Modular Computing to the Masses https://techpinions.com/how-a-silent-data-center-trend-could-bring-modular-computing-to-the-masses/50402 https://techpinions.com/how-a-silent-data-center-trend-could-bring-modular-computing-to-the-masses/50402#respond Thu, 22 Jun 2017 12:36:13 +0000 https://techpinions.com/?p=50402 Reading Time: 5 minutesI’m about to do something that will shock many of you. I’m going to talk about servers and the data center. If you follow my writing closely you know my main focus is consumer technology. But this interest in a data center trend was driven by my curiosity for anything interesting at a technical level.]]> Reading Time: 5 minutes

I’m about to do something that will shock many of you. I’m going to talk about servers and the data center. If you follow my writing closely you know my main focus is consumer technology. But this interest in a data center trend was driven by my curiosity for anything interesting at a technical level.

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How the Cryptocurrency Gold Rush Could Backfire on NVIDIA and AMD https://techpinions.com/how-the-cryptocurrency-gold-rush-could-backfire-on-nvidia-and-amd/50406 https://techpinions.com/how-the-cryptocurrency-gold-rush-could-backfire-on-nvidia-and-amd/50406#respond Thu, 22 Jun 2017 12:23:29 +0000 https://techpinions.com/?p=50406 Reading Time: 5 minutesThe effects of the most recent cryptocurrency mining phase are having a direct impact on various markets, most notably on the GPU product lines from NVIDIA and AMD. Without going into the details of what a cryptocurrency is or how it is created and distributed on a shared network, you only need to understand that…]]> Reading Time: 5 minutes

The effects of the most recent cryptocurrency mining phase are having a direct impact on various markets, most notably on the GPU product lines from NVIDIA and AMD. Without going into the details of what a cryptocurrency is or how it is created and distributed on a shared network, you only need to understand that it is a highly speculative market and gold rush that is accelerated and profitable because of its ability to run efficiently on graphics cards usually intended for the PC gaming markets. Potential investors need only purchase basic PC components and as many GPUs as they can afford to begin a mining operation with the intent to turn a profit.

As we look at the sales channels today, AMD Radeon graphics cards from the current and previous generation of GPU are nearly impossible to find in stock, and when you do come across them, they are priced well above the expected MSRP. This trend has caused the likes of the Radeon RX 580, RX 570, RX 480, and RX 470 to essentially disappear from online and retail shelves. This impact directly hit AMD products first because its architecture was slightly better suited for the coin mining task while remaining power efficient (the secondary cost of the mining process). But as the well dries up around the Radeon products, users are turning their attention to NVIDIA GeForce cards from the Pascal-based 10-series product line and we are already seeing the resulting low inventory and spiking prices for them as well.

Positive Impacts

For AMD and NVIDIA, as well as their add-in card partners that build the products based on each company’s GPU technology, the coin mining epidemic is a boon for sales. Inventory that might have sat on store shelves for weeks or months now flies from them as soon as they are put out or listed online, and reports of channel employee-driven side sales are rampant. From the perspective of this chain, GPU vendor, card vendor and reseller, a sale of a card is never seen as a negative. Products are moving from manufacturers to stores and to customers; the goal of this business from the outset. Cryptocurrency has kept the AMD Radeon brand selling even when its product stack might not be as competitive with NVIDIA as it would like.

This trend of GPU sales for coin mining is not going unnoticed by the market either. Just today a prominent securities fund moved NVIDIA’s stock to “underweight” after speaking with add-in card vendors about stronger than expected Q2 sales. AMD’s stock has seen similar improvement and all relevant indicators show continued GPU sales increases through the next fiscal quarter.

Negative Impacts

With all that is going right for AMD and NVIDIA because of this repurposed used of current graphics card products lines, there is a significant risk at play for all involved. Browse into any gaming forum or subreddit and you’ll find just as many people unhappy with the cryptocurrency craze as you will happy with its potential for profit. The PC gamers of the world that simply want to buy the most cost-effective product for their own machines are no longer able to do so, with inventory snapped up the instant it shows up. And when they can find a card for sale, they are significantly higher prices. A look at Amazon.com today for Radeon RX 580 cards show starting prices at the $499 mark but stretching to as high as $699. This product launched with an expected MSRP of just $199-$239, making the current prices a more than 2x increase.

As AMD was the first target of this most recent coin mining boon, the Radeon brand is seeing a migration of its gaming ecosystem to NVIDIA and the GeForce brand. A gamer that decides a $250 card is in their budget for a new PC would find that the Radeon RX 580 is no longer available to them. The GeForce GTX 1060, with similar performance levels and price points, is on the next (virtual) shelf over, so that becomes the defacto selection. This brings the consumer into NVIDIA’s entire ecosystem, using its software like GeForce Experience, looking at drivers, game optimizations, free game codes, inviting research into GeForce-specific technology like G-Sync. For Radeon, it has not lost a sale this generation (as the original graphics card that consumer would have bought has been purchased for mining) but it may have lost a long-term customer to its competitor.

Even if the above problem fades as NVIDIA cards also become harder to find, NVIDIA has the advantage of offering current generation, higher cost products as an option to PC gamers. If a user has a budget of $250 and finds that both the GeForce and Radeon options are gone to the crypto-craze, NVIDIA has GeForce GPUs like the GTX 1070 and GTX 1080 that are higher priced, but more likely to be at their expected price point (for now). AMD has been stagnant at the high end for quite some time, leaving the Radeon RX 580 as the highest performing current generation product.

Alienating the gaming audience that maintains both Radeon and GeForce from year to year is a risky venture, but one that appears to be impacting AMD more than NVIDIA, for now.

Other potential pitfalls from this cryptocurrency market come into play when the inevitable bubble reaches its peak. All mining operations get more difficult over time, on the order of months, and make the profitability of mining coins much lower and requires significantly more upfront investment to turn a profit. The craze surrounding mining is driven in large part by the many “small” miners, those that run 10-30 cards in their home. Once the dollar figures start dropping and the hassle and cost of upkeep becomes a strain, these users will (and have in the past) halt operations.

This has several dangers for AMD and NVIDIA. First, inventory that may be trying to “catch up” to the cryptocurrency mining levels of sales rates could be caught in the line of fire, leaving both GPU vendors and their partners holding product in their hands than they cannot sell. Second, the massive amounts of hardware used for mining purposes will be found on the resale markets like eBay, Amazon, and enthusiast forums. Miners no longer interested in cryptocurrency will be in competition now to sell the RX 580s they have amassed as quickly as possible, dropping the value of the product significantly. If AMD or NVIDIA are in a roll-out mode for a new generation of product at that time, that means new product sales will be directly impacted as slightly older hardware at a great value is suddenly available to that eager gaming audience.

As for a more direct financial risk, both company’s stocks risk corrections when this mining bubble breaks down.

The disappointing part of this situation is that neither AMD or NVIDIA can do anything to prevent the fallout from occurring. They could verbally request miners leave products for gamers, but it would obviously stop nothing. A price hike would only hurt the gaming community more as miners are clearly willing to invest in GPUs when they are used for profit. And trying to limit mining performance with firmware or driver changes would be thwarted by an audience of highly intelligent mining groups with re-flashes and workarounds.

The rumors of both vendors offering mining-specific hardware appear to be true, selling headless (without display connectors) graphics cards is perfect for crypto mining and makes them unusable for gaming. This allows NVIDIA and AMD to use previously wasted GPUs that might have had a fault in the display engine for example. But would not be enough of a jump in inventory to open standard cards for gamers. If anything, the mining community would simply swallow that as well.

The cryptocurrency market may not be a bubble, but the GPU-based mining operations that exist today certainly are. And the long-term impact that it will have on both AMD and NVIDIA will be a negative one. For today, all parties involved will enjoy high sell through, increased ASPs, and happy investors. But the writing is on the wall from previous instances of this trend to know that there will be fallout. The question is only how much it will impact future product and which GPU vendor is capable of balancing current benefits with long-term detriment.

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Retailers Play a Key Role in the Success of Smart Homes https://techpinions.com/retailers-play-a-key-role-in-the-success-of-smart-homes/50393 https://techpinions.com/retailers-play-a-key-role-in-the-success-of-smart-homes/50393#respond Wed, 21 Jun 2017 12:00:10 +0000 https://techpinions.com/?p=50393 Reading Time: 5 minutesConnected home products are grabbing floor space and early tech adopters’ attention. Sales are growing, and big brands are investing more and more. But moving from early tech adopters to the mainstream will not just be about lower prices. A better shopping experience is a must when consumers are still confused about what works with…]]> Reading Time: 5 minutes

Connected home products are grabbing floor space and early tech adopters’ attention. Sales are growing, and big brands are investing more and more. But moving from early tech adopters to the mainstream will not just be about lower prices. A better shopping experience is a must when consumers are still confused about what works with what and the overall benefits of a connected home.

Tech savvy consumers know what they want. They have researched the product category, they read tech reviews, they asked friends, and they are happy to purchase online. Tech-savvy buyers are also glad to go through any pain the set-up of a device might bring. They see the pain as part of the process of being early tech users. It’s their duty to pave the way for the masses.

Mainstream consumers, on the other hand, want a pain-free setup and most of all a worry-free purchase experience. In our research into early connected home adoption, mainstream consumers expressed the need to have someone to go to in a store and the peace of mind that if something went wrong, they can bring the device back to the store and talk to a human. In our focus groups, consumers seemed to prefer home-improvement stores to electronic stores mainly because that is how they see these connected devices. A connected bulb is still a bulb!

Sadly though, if you go to a Home Depot or Lowes you are left facing a bunch of connected products lump together on a shelf with very little information on what they do let alone of the experience they can deliver.

It’s about the Experience, not the Specs

Whenever I play mystery shopper, I am faced with a high degree of ignorance on the topic of smart accessories. Most sales assistants know about specs and what is spelled out on the box, but unless you have someone who went through their own set up at home, it is rare to talk about an experience. Yet, I find that when you can envision what a particular device can do for you the sale is much easier.

Last week I moderated a panel on ambient computing at the Target Open House in San Francisco, and I was pleased to see how it had evolved since I first visited it after its grand opening over a year ago. The space gives the ability to potential buyers to see products in a large room called the Playground as well as walk through a living room, a bedroom and a garage to experience some of these in a home context. Target has 500 stores across the country that have smart products displayed in context.

While, as you can expect, the experience is still quite show-roomie, it does attempt to deliver an experience. What I liked is how Target focused on guests’ personality and preferences rather than the products. So, for instance, if you are a sports enthusiast or a music lover they show how your living room can be optimized for your ultimate viewing or listening experience. I think this is interesting as it attempts to put the consumer first rather than the product. In other words, it is about helping you find the products that deliver what you want instead of telling you about products and let you discover how they fit into your life once you get them home.

A few months ago, I spent some time in a model home that was installed with HomeKit compatible products. Needless to say, the experience was pretty compelling as there is nothing more convincing than sitting on what could be your own sofa and open the door to a guest, lower the blinds to have the perfect light to watch TV and set the temperature in the room. Over time this will become the norm for buyers of new homes. I expect you will be able to pick a Siri, Google Assistant, Cortana and Alexa home. For now, however, not every vendor in the market can have a real life home to welcome potential buyers, so store experiences are important. Your average consumer is also not necessarily going to attend a home show where many of these solutions have been showcased this far.

Interestingly, setting up experience rooms is how large TV and projectors are displayed in electronic stores. If you walk into a BestBuy you will quickly find the room with the cinema chairs and the projector or the large screen TV that disappear behind a portrait above the fireplace in front of the couch or the speakers that are disguised as rocks for your patio. Showcasing video and audio solutions in a real-life setting has been done for years, yet showcasing a connected home is not something that retailers are rushing into and I think it is because the opportunity is more limited for them at least for now. It might all boil down to how many connected devices will I need to sell to equal the sale of a $7000 video projector?

Smart Experience Showcases Can Help Retailers and Brands

In this early stage of the connected home, it is not just consumers who need help in buying. Brands too need help in selling. Information on what message resonates with consumers, what features close the deal, what is the job to be done…Retailers can help with that information when they set up a smart environment. Target Open House, for instance, has sensors that connect information on foot traffic, product views and likes, touches on digital screens. Information is collected about sales and direct feedback shared with the team of experts who work in the house, and the information is used to decide what products should be displayed in the Playground area as well as what may make sense to sell at Target stores nationwide. Some of the insights are also shared with companies on the shelf to help them understand how guests are experiencing their products.

Big data is such a trend in tech right now that retailers should start talking more about what kind of data they are prepared to share with brands. This can be a competitive advantage in securing product exclusives, and co-marketing spend.

A Platform for Smaller Brands

The connected home space is benefitting from Amazon, Google and Microsoft, opening up Alexa, Google Assistant and Cortana respectively to be integrated into different ways into apps and devices. While Apps have an easy go to market through apps stores, most device manufacturers still need a distribution channel that is online or in store. Kickstarter and Indigogo can help startups to get to market but once there getting noticed might be harder than they thought.

Target Open House offers startups a stage through their Garage space where a dozen of products at the time are showcased before they get to market. Some of the products that guests are particularly excited about and offer a somewhat unique proposition are then moved to the Playground area and on Target’s shelves.

Other stores should follow in the steps of Target and offer a stage for startups especially if local. A community-feel always speaks to consumers, look at how popular farmers market and farm to table restaurants are!

A Connected Home is not built on One Device Alone

Connected homes in their true sense of home automation are complicated concepts that will take years to develop fully. They are also going to be quite different from one home to another. Some consumers might like to be in a single brand home; others will like to pick best of breed brands in the many areas they will decide to connect. Experiencing that home will matter to all but especially to the ones who will pick and mix. This is why experiencing the best way one can, what how technology changes your home is important. While consumers today think about it regarding home improvement I believe that home design will also play a key role in shaping the connected home. Maybe over time Pottery Barn rather than Home Depot is where consumers will turn.

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How the iPhone impacted Five Major Industries https://techpinions.com/how-the-iphone-impacted-five-major-industries/50398 https://techpinions.com/how-the-iphone-impacted-five-major-industries/50398#respond Wed, 21 Jun 2017 11:23:32 +0000 https://techpinions.com/?p=50398 Reading Time: 4 minutesOn June 29th, Apple will celebrate the 10th anniversary of shipping the iPhone. Although the iPhone was introduced at MacWorld in January of 2007, the iPhone did not actually ship until the latter part of June of that year. I was lucky enough to get a preview of the iPhone the day before it was…]]> Reading Time: 4 minutes

On June 29th, Apple will celebrate the 10th anniversary of shipping the iPhone. Although the iPhone was introduced at MacWorld in January of 2007, the iPhone did not actually ship until the latter part of June of that year. I was lucky enough to get a preview of the iPhone the day before it was introduced at MacWorld and Apple SR VP of Marketing Phill Schiller put the iPhone on a coffee table and asked me what I saw.

I told him I saw a piece of glass in a metal case. He told me that is what Apple’s wants you to see. In off mode that is exactly what it is. But once turned on, that is where the magic is. Apple sees themselves as a software company first and creates devices, like Mac’s, MacBooks, iPods, iPhones, Apple TV and Apple Watch to run their innovative software.

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Amazon, Whole Foods, and a Fresh Opportunity https://techpinions.com/amazon-whole-foods-and-a-fresh-opportunity/50374 https://techpinions.com/amazon-whole-foods-and-a-fresh-opportunity/50374#respond Tue, 20 Jun 2017 13:21:36 +0000 https://techpinions.com/?p=50374 Reading Time: 4 minutesOne of the more distinct angles for Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods has been how this move will help them accelerate their grocery efforts. It has been clear for some time that the fresh/grocery market was one that Amazon had been eyeing, but also one that would allude them without a broader physical retail strategy.…]]> Reading Time: 4 minutes

One of the more distinct angles for Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods has been how this move will help them accelerate their grocery efforts. It has been clear for some time that the fresh/grocery market was one that Amazon had been eyeing, but also one that would allude them without a broader physical retail strategy. Amazon needs prime real estate in the major areas where Prime customers may exist. Without question, they will acquire this exact thing if this deal is approved.

Whole Foods has strategically placed their nearly 450 stores in areas concentrated with people making over $100,000 a year. An interesting stat I found in a Morgan Stanley research note was 62% of Prime members are also regular Whole Foods shoppers.

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The Power of Hidden Tech https://techpinions.com/the-power-of-hidden-tech/50384 https://techpinions.com/the-power-of-hidden-tech/50384#respond Tue, 20 Jun 2017 12:00:59 +0000 https://techpinions.com/?p=50384 Reading Time: 3 minutesThe tech world is dominated by some of the most powerful brands in the world. Companies like Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Netflix, Intel, Samsung and others are featured in the mainstream and business media as much, if not more, than the industrial giants of old. In fact, they’ve become common household names. They’ve earned their…]]> Reading Time: 3 minutes

The tech world is dominated by some of the most powerful brands in the world. Companies like Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Netflix, Intel, Samsung and others are featured in the mainstream and business media as much, if not more, than the industrial giants of old. In fact, they’ve become common household names.

They’ve earned their solid reputations through successful products, hard work, and their ability to deliver the kinds of financial results that have made them the darlings of the investment community too.

As impressive and powerful as this group may be, however, they certainly aren’t the only companies in tech doing important work. Though it’s easy to forget, there’s an enormous number of lesser-known tech players that are helping to enable the amazing tech-driven advances that we all enjoy.

At the core, there is an entire range of companies creating the semiconductor chips that sit at the heart not only of our connected devices, but the servers and other infrastructure that enable the cloud-based services to which we’ve all become accustomed. Companies that offer the designs and intellectual property that are used in chip designs, most notably UK-based ARM, but also Synopsys and Imagination Technologies, play an extremely important, but often overlooked, role in driving the modern architectures behind everything from IoT to VR and AI.

Another often ignored step in the chain is for test and measurement technologies. Lesser-known companies like National Instruments are helping drive the components, core technologies, and final products for everything from 5G radios to autonomous cars to industrial IoT and much more.

In semiconductor chips and other components, you have big names like Qualcomm and Nvidia, but there is an enormous range of lesser-known companies building key parts for all kinds of devices. From Texas Instruments (TI) and Renesas in automotive, to Silicon Labs for home networking, to South Korea-based LG Philips Display and Taiwan-based AUO for displays, to Synaptics for fingerprint readers, there’s a huge ecosystem of critical component suppliers.

Even some of the bigger names in semiconductors are branching off into new areas for which they aren’t commonly known. Later today, for example, AMD will be formally unveiling the details of its Epyc server CPU, the first credible threat to Intel’s dominance in the data center in about 10 years. Not to be outdone, Intel is making significant new investments in AI silicon with Nervana and Mobileye for connected cars. Qualcomm’s audio division—part of their little-known acquisition of Cambridge Silicon Radio (CSR) a few years back—just unveiled a complete suite of components and reference designs for smart speakers, like Amazon’s Echo.

In addition to hardware, there is, of course, a huge number of lesser-known software players. Companies like VMWare and Citrix continue to drive cloud-based computing and more efficient use of local data centers through server and application virtualization and other critical technologies. Application development and delivery in the enterprise and in the cloud is being enabled by Docker, a company that offers the ability to split applications into multiple pieces called containers, that can be virtualized, replicated, and much more.

Vendors like Ubuntu are not only enabling user-friendly Linux-based desktops for developers and other enthusiasts, they are also offering powerful Microsoft OS alternatives for servers. In the case of software-defined storage and hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) server appliances, companies like Nutanix, Pivot3, and others are enabling entirely new software-defined data centers that promise to revolutionize how computing power is created and delivered from public, private, and hybrid clouds.

Though they will likely never get the kind of recognition that the big brand tech players do, the products, technologies, and contributions of these and thousands more lesser-known tech companies play an incredibly critical role in the tech world. By driving many of the key behind-the-scenes developments, these types of companies provide the efficient, safe, and effective tech products and services that have enabled the bigger brands to become such an essential part of our daily lives.

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Technology and Human Augmentation https://techpinions.com/technology-and-human-augmentation/50364 https://techpinions.com/technology-and-human-augmentation/50364#respond Mon, 19 Jun 2017 13:30:42 +0000 https://techpinions.com/?p=50364 Reading Time: 3 minutesOne of the core premises of our research is to understand technology from a deeper human level. We too often get caught up in the technology itself and may lose sight of the basic human needs or desires technology is serving. With all the tech of Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, and any number of other…]]> Reading Time: 3 minutes

One of the core premises of our research is to understand technology from a deeper human level. We too often get caught up in the technology itself and may lose sight of the basic human needs or desires technology is serving. With all the tech of Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, and any number of other buzz words, I sense the human angle is again being lost while we chase technological advancements for the sake of the technology rather than the sake of the human.

To frame my perspective, I think it is helpful to use the idea of human augmentation as a basis for our understanding of how technology serves humans and will always do so. The core definition of augment is to make something greater by adding to it. Using this framework from a historical perspective, we can observe how nearly every human technological invention was designed to augment a fundamental weakness of human beings. Tools were invented to augment our hands so we can build faster, bigger, more complex things. Cars were invented to augment the limitations of the distance humans can travel. Planes were invented to augment humans lack of ability to fly. The telephone was invented to augment the limitations of human communications. Nearly every example of technological innovation we can think of had something to do with extending or making greater some aspect of a human limitation or weakness. This was true of historical innovation, and it will be true of future innovation as well. Everything we invent in the future will find a home augmenting some shortcoming of our human bodies. Technology, at its best, will extend human capabilities and allows to do things we could not do before.

While we can analyze many different angles in which technology will augment our human abilities, there is one I think may be one of the more compelling things to augment—our memory.

Memory Augmentation
My family and I took a recent vacation to Maui. It is always nice to get out of the bubble of Silicon Valley for a more natural atmosphere to observe human behavior and technology. Going to a place where most people are on vacation provides an even deeper atmospheric layer to observe.

On vacation, I saw how critical and transformative the smartphone camera has been when it comes to memory augmentation. I’ve long thought that one of technologies greatest values to humans is in the assistance of capturing memories. For sure, this is the single driving motivation behind most people purchasing of digital cameras and video cameras through the years. Now with most people in developed markets owning a memory capture device, and comparable apps on their smartphones to enhance these memories, observing memory augmentation is now a frequent activity.

It was fascinating to see the lengths people on vacation would go through with their phones, drones (I was surprised how many drones I saw), GoPro’s, waterproof smartphone cases, and more to capture and preserve their memories.

I saw people climb trees, brave cliffs, and hike extreme conditions with their phones to get a unique selfie. Fly their drone overhead as they jumped off waterfalls. Put their phones in waterproof cases to get pics of kids snorkeling. And obviously, lots of uses for GoPro’s to capture unique photos and videos of undersea creatures and experiences.

As often was the case, most of the memories captured are designed to share on social media, but the point remains, these pervasive capture devices enable us to create and capture memories we would most likely forget, or have a hard time recalling if left to our memory.

I’ve argued before the camera sensor is, and will remain for some time, one of the most important parts of our mobile computing capabilities. The desire to preserve, or capture a unique memory will remain a deeply emotional and powerful motivator for humans.

Allowing technology to take this idea a step further we have things like Apple Photos and Google Photos which look over our memories and make short videos to not just augment but to automate our memory creation process. As machine learning gets even better, these technologies will make creating memories from moments even easier.

As technology continues to augment more and more of our human capabilities my hope is that the technological tool or process involved will fade so deeply into the background that it nearly disappears. This way we can get the most out our time whether at work, school, play, or vacation, and spend less time fidgeting with technology. Ultimately we will be able to do more with technology but also spend less time with the technology itself and more time doing the things we love.

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What can Whole Foods Market do for Amazon? https://techpinions.com/what-can-whole-foods-market-do-for-amazon/50367 https://techpinions.com/what-can-whole-foods-market-do-for-amazon/50367#respond Mon, 19 Jun 2017 12:00:31 +0000 https://techpinions.com/?p=50367 Reading Time: 4 minutesOn Friday Amazon announced it will be buying Whole Foods Market for $13.7bn in cash. The transaction still needs to be approved, of course, and it is supposed to close in the second half of 2017. There is a lot of opportunity in this deal for Amazon and the time was right for Whole Foods…]]> Reading Time: 4 minutes

On Friday Amazon announced it will be buying Whole Foods Market for $13.7bn in cash. The transaction still needs to be approved, of course, and it is supposed to close in the second half of 2017. There is a lot of opportunity in this deal for Amazon and the time was right for Whole Foods to sell.

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Podcast: Microsoft Surface Laptop, Windows 10S, iPad Pro, Amazon and Whole Foods https://techpinions.com/podcast-microsoft-surface-laptop-windows-10s-ipad-pro-amazon-and-whole-foods/50361 https://techpinions.com/podcast-microsoft-surface-laptop-windows-10s-ipad-pro-amazon-and-whole-foods/50361#respond Sat, 17 Jun 2017 12:00:27 +0000 https://techpinions.com/?p=50361 Reading Time: 1 minuteThis week’s Tech.pinions podcast features Carolina Milanesi, Tom Mainelli and Bob O’Donnell discussing Microsoft’s new Surface Laptop and Windows 10S, the Apple iPad Pro and some of Tim Cook’s comments in his Bloomberg interview, and Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods. If you happen to use a podcast aggregator or want to add it to iTunes…]]> Reading Time: 1 minute

This week’s Tech.pinions podcast features Carolina Milanesi, Tom Mainelli and Bob O’Donnell discussing Microsoft’s new Surface Laptop and Windows 10S, the Apple iPad Pro and some of Tim Cook’s comments in his Bloomberg interview, and Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods.

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

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Five Internet Companies That Need Better Consumer-Facing Customer Service https://techpinions.com/five-internet-companies-that-need-better-consumer-facing-customer-service/50356 https://techpinions.com/five-internet-companies-that-need-better-consumer-facing-customer-service/50356#respond Fri, 16 Jun 2017 12:00:08 +0000 https://techpinions.com/?p=50356 Reading Time: 4 minutesA year ago, when Google announced an aggressive push into the consumer hardware business, I wrote that the company needs a better consumer-facing customer service infrastructure. The column was published in Recode and received quite a bit of attention. I’ve been thinking about some other consumer-oriented Internet companies and brands that also need to improve…]]> Reading Time: 4 minutes

A year ago, when Google announced an aggressive push into the consumer hardware business, I wrote that the company needs a better consumer-facing customer service infrastructure. The column was published in Recode and received quite a bit of attention.

I’ve been thinking about some other consumer-oriented Internet companies and brands that also need to improve their customer service. My bias is toward actually being able to talk to a human being, in real-time, by phone or via live chat. Because sometimes, in certain situations, the miasma of e-mail, help forums, Zendesk and the like, just doesn’t cut it. A common approach of many Internet companies is to shift the burden of customer support to the customers themselves, which means that Mary from Kentucky might be telling you how to connect your bank to Mint.

Companies that do this well — Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and even some of the cellular operators such as T-Mobile — have higher levels of customer satisfaction and loyalty. Some have shown marked improvement (Dell, Microsoft), while others, such as some of the airlines, have started to use Twitter fairly effectively, especially during times of high call volume.

So, here are five companies in the B2C realm that need to make improvements in their customer service infrastructure.

Mint. If you read the help forums, the tens of millions of people who use this web-based personal finance management service have a love-hate relationship with the company. Mint has email and the Zendeskian support site, but there is no way to actually talk to a human being at Mint. The types of problems and questions that can come up – bank can’t connect, wacky duplicate entries, transactions that suddenly get lost – require an immediate and often quick discussion and not the multi-threaded email that can stretch out over several days. Curiously Mint is owned by Intuit (Quicken, TurboTax), so there’s no shortage of customer support infrastructure there. Perhaps they can dispatch some of that army of folks who staff the support lines at TurboTax during the “off-season”!

Uber and Lyft. If you ever have a problem with one of these popular ride-sharing services, you might be wistful for that cranky local taxi dispatcher you used to call when the cab didn’t show up. Because unless it’s a real emergency, there is basically no way to contact a human customer support person at Uber or Lyft. If one uses these services with some frequency, there will inevitably, at some point, be an issue with an incorrect fare, being charged for a canceled trip, etc. If there’s ever an actual dispute, web/email is the only recourse – some nameless person (maybe even a robot?) is judge and jury, and there’s little opportunity for any back and forth. There are some situations where one needs to be able to talk to a person to provide some background and context. Uber and Lyft should do better here.

Airbnb. Sensing a theme? The vaunted ‘sharing economy’ operates lean and mean when it comes to customer support. Now, it is possible to contact Airbnb when there’s an emergency. But if there are any other issues or questions, as a guest or a host, there are lots of hoops to jump through in order to talk to a person. Airbnb does have a number to call, but it is hard to find on their website. My personal experience has been that hold times can be very long, with customer support generally outside the U.S. and reps not adequately trained or equipped to deal with contextual situations. This isn’t like calling your cable company to do a modem reset; each situation is unique.

Airbnb handles some 500,000 stays daily…situations are bound to come up. Even though @AirbnbHelp can be very effective, when one is in a foreign place, it would be good to know that there’s an ability to call a person at AirBnB to get help, real time.

Another frustration is that Airbnb does not provide the ability the ability for a guest to contact a host until a reservation is actually booked, other than through its internal messaging system. Again, there are situations and contexts during the ‘reservation inquiry phase’ where electronic, asynchronous communication just doesn’t cut it. Airbnb has said they withhold contact information due to privacy concerns, but I’d imagine that another reason is AirBnB doesn’t want the guest/host to ‘go around’ its system in order to avoid fees. If a host is willing to provide their phone number to a potential guest, shouldn’t they be able to?

LinkedIn. This is a bit more of a B2B site, but still, I think that the issue of customer support still applies. LinkedIn does not offer any phone-based support, and chat support is uneven and unpredictable. E-mail support is through the dreaded “web form, with drop down options”, which, again, put the onus on the customer and lacks the ability to provide context. Now, the issues might not be of the ‘urgent’ B2C variety as with Uber or AirBnB, but LinkedIn is a large and fairly complex site, and getting any help figuring out how to best use LinkedIn or answering FAQs can be an unwieldy and time-consuming process.

Facebook. Whether it’s help using the site, posting an ad, or dealing with a more urgent issue such as customer privacy or an emergency type situation, it is difficult, if not impossible, to talk to a human being at Facebook. The company has a very extensive Help Center, with literally hundreds of forms, and a very active Facebook community. And I understand that with some 2 billion users across many types of services, high-touch customer support might be a huge challenge to undertake. But there are a few types of situations, specifically with regard to privacy, or other types of emergencies, where it would be good to know that one can get help from someone at Facebook, and quickly. I did a little research, and found some situations where, for example, a Facebook user was reporting unauthorized usage use of their child in photos, and they were told to ‘fill out a form’ by someone on the ‘Facebook Help Team’. Not very reassuring.

Now, folks might complain about the high cost of cellular or cable service, but at least you can call them for tech support…or argue about a bill!

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Does iOS 11 help fulfill Steve Jobs’ Vision of making the iPad the Next Mobile Computer https://techpinions.com/does-ios-11-help-fulfill-steve-jobs-vision-of-making-the-ipad-the-next-mobile-computer/50349 https://techpinions.com/does-ios-11-help-fulfill-steve-jobs-vision-of-making-the-ipad-the-next-mobile-computer/50349#respond Thu, 15 Jun 2017 12:00:49 +0000 https://techpinions.com/?p=50349 Reading Time: 3 minutesWhen Steve Jobs introduced the iPad in 2010, he made a rather bold statement. He basically stated that the iPad would become the mobile computer of tomorrow. I talked to him right after the iPad was introduced and he said that over time the iPad had the potential of replacing one’s laptop. He was really…]]> Reading Time: 3 minutes

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad in 2010, he made a rather bold statement. He basically stated that the iPad would become the mobile computer of tomorrow. I talked to him right after the iPad was introduced and he said that over time the iPad had the potential of replacing one’s laptop. He was really excited about this as you can imagine and while the iPhone was his biggest start, he seemed sure of the potential of the iPad to become more than just a tablet over time.

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A Demo is not a Product https://techpinions.com/a-demo-is-not-a-product/50320 https://techpinions.com/a-demo-is-not-a-product/50320#respond Thu, 15 Jun 2017 12:00:24 +0000 https://techpinions.com/?p=50320 Reading Time: 3 minutesMany of us immersed in the world of consumer tech become quite excited when we see something new for the first time. Our imagination immediately races ahead to try to understand how we’ll use it and what products we’ll buy. But our imagination rarely is tempered by the actual time it can take to turn…]]> Reading Time: 3 minutes

Many of us immersed in the world of consumer tech become quite excited when we see something new for the first time. Our imagination immediately races ahead to try to understand how we’ll use it and what products we’ll buy.

But our imagination rarely is tempered by the actual time it can take to turn a new technology into a product. We get ahead of ourselves with predictions about the impact that the technology will have and how it will change our lives. But from all my experience, it always takes much longer than expected.

Our excitement often leads to unreasonable expectations, impatience, and disappointment once the product finally arrives. The product is often less than we expected, and it may take several iterations before it does.

The time it takes for a new technology concept to become mainstream is measured in years or decades, rarely in months. Many things need to occur. There’s the time needed for development of the product, the time it takes to create awareness in the market, and the time for people to realize they have a need. Even then, a buying decision can take years more.

The world is not composed of people like us that are early adopters and can’t wait for the next new thing.  Most can wait and usually do. Sometimes years. There are many reasons for this, from not understanding the new technology, being cautious and skeptical about its value to them, being intimidated, not being able to afford it, or just not caring.

The table below shows just how long it took with other products.  The CD player and VCR, as examples, took ten years to reach a fifty percent penetration of US homes.

We can argue that with social media, the speed of information, and a technically more proficient population, adoption might move faster today. But our expectations are now higher, we’re more skeptical, and it often takes more to impress.

That hasn’t stopped companies’ efforts to get us excited about their new tech. We’re being inundated with news every day. Examples are self-driving cars – even some that fly, artificial intelligence, and virtual and augmented reality.

Much of the news is promoted by the companies themselves to raise investments, increase their valuation, or to scare away their competitors, all while exaggerating the time to commercialization

Just last week Uber announced an investment in a company developing flying cars. It played well on the national news that quoted a company official that they roll out a network of flying cars in Dallas by 2020. Last year Uber said they were already employing self-driving cars, when, in fact, they still have one or two employees in each car. Two years ago, Amazon demonstrated drone delivery. Yet these technologies are still years away.

Today it’s hard to open Facebook or a technology blog without seeing examples of virtual and augmented reality. We’re seeing demos from scores of companies around the world, each vying for moments of fame. We see all sorts of clever uses of how this technology will help us in education, medicine, shopping, and computing as if it’s just around the corner. Yet much of this will evolve slowly and take years to be significant.

If the past is any indication, the first-generation products will not be commercially successful, but more of a proof of concept. No one will wear huge goggles outside of their home. Enabling technologies still need to be developed, including smaller components, miniaturized optics, and faster processors to enable these devices to be practical. More importantly, new tools and an infrastructure are needed for creating affordable content.

Yes, we’ll see some small examples when we point our phone at a restaurant or a product and see reviews and can buy with a click. Tim Bajarin correctly pointed out in this piece that he doesn’t expect to see VR adopted widely for at least 5-7 years.

The point here is not to be discouraging about innovation, but to realize that it’s a long and difficult road from a prototype or demo to a successful product. The idea is always the easy part.

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What I Want from Apple’s HomePod https://techpinions.com/what-i-want-from-apples-homepod/50328 https://techpinions.com/what-i-want-from-apples-homepod/50328#respond Wed, 14 Jun 2017 12:00:28 +0000 https://techpinions.com/?p=50328 Reading Time: 3 minutesI got a chance to really see and listen to Apple’s HomePod during WWDC and the quality of the speaker in this device is really amazing. It was demoed compared to a comparable Sonos speaker and an Amazon Echo speaker and the HomePod beat them in overall sound quality hands down. I could not believe…]]> Reading Time: 3 minutes

I got a chance to really see and listen to Apple’s HomePod during WWDC and the quality of the speaker in this device is really amazing. It was demoed compared to a comparable Sonos speaker and an Amazon Echo speaker and the HomePod beat them in overall sound quality hands down. I could not believe the audio quality I heard out of this small cylindrical speaker.

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Apple watchOS 4 brings Intelligence to the Wrist https://techpinions.com/apple-watchos-4-brings-intelligence-to-the-wrist/50340 https://techpinions.com/apple-watchos-4-brings-intelligence-to-the-wrist/50340#respond Wed, 14 Jun 2017 12:00:11 +0000 https://techpinions.com/?p=50340 Reading Time: 4 minutesThere was a lot unveiled during the Apple WWDC keynote last week and, as to be expected, some of the hotter and bigger products stole the limelight and relegated others to be simply an extra in the over two-hour-long production. watchOS 4 might not have seemed significant, especially to those who have been so eagerly…]]> Reading Time: 4 minutes

There was a lot unveiled during the Apple WWDC keynote last week and, as to be expected, some of the hotter and bigger products stole the limelight and relegated others to be simply an extra in the over two-hour-long production. watchOS 4 might not have seemed significant, especially to those who have been so eagerly calling Apple Watch a failure, but I saw it as one of the best examples of how Apple sees the future.

The wearable market remains a challenging market for most vendors. According to IDC, sales in the first quarter of 2017 saw Apple and Xiaomi sharing the number one position with volumes of 3.6 million units. While volumes are the same, it is when you look at average selling price (ASP) for these two brands that the real issue with the wearable markets surfaces. Apple controls the high-end of the market and Xiaomi the lower end. In between, Fitbit is losing ground and failing to move ASP up.

Delivering a clear value continues to be key in convincing consumers that wearables have a role to play and for now that value for mainstream consumers remain health and fitness.

There is More Value in a Coach than a Tracker

Since Apple Watch 2, Apple has been focusing on fitness and the release of watchOS 4 builds on it by adding to the Workout app support for the highly popular High-Intensity Interval Training, an autoset for pool swim workouts and the ability to switch and combine multiple workout types.

Apple is also attempting to turn Apple Watch into more of an active coach than a simple tracker. This might seem like a subtle differentiation, but if implemented right it could actually drive engagement and loyalty. Tracking, while clearly useful, has more a passive role and one that some users might think could be taken on by other devices. Turning Apple Watch more into a coach through daily inspiration, evening push and monthly challenges deepens the relationship a user has with the device. Delivering suggestions on how to close the circles, praising the goals achieved thus far and pushing to achieve more can make users feel that Apple Watch is more an active driver of their success which in turns increases the value they see in it.

The new GymKit which allows gym equipment to sync with Apple Watch might take a while to materialize given the required updated hardware roll out by key brands such as LifeFitness, TechnoGym StairMaster, etc. but it makes sure Apple is not losing sight of critical data. Today, some users might just rely on the gym equipment rather than their Apple Watch due to the duplication of functionalities which leaves Apple Watch missing out on valuable data to which Apple and other apps could otherwise have access to. GymKit puts Apple Watch right at the center of our fitness regime. Apple Watch talking to gym equipment via NFC also makes me believe that more devices will come in the future. Think about having your gym membership card or your hotel room card on your watch rather than having to carry a physical card.

Reinforcing the Strong Pairing of Apple Watch + AirPods

I talked about the magic that Apple Watch + AirPods can deliver to users before and I remain a believer. In a similar way to HomePod, music on the Apple Watch is the easiest way to appreciate Siri as well as the combo with AirPods. With watchOS 4, Apple is making it simpler to get to the music you want for your workout thanks to a new multi-playlist support and automatic import.

Apple also introduced the new Siri face that makes Apple Watch much more context-aware by delivering information that is relevant to you at a specific moment in time. While Apple did not talk about it, one could see how that Siri Watch face could integrate very well with voice when you are wearing AirPods. Siri could, for instance, tell you that you need to leave for your meeting while showing you the calendar appointment on Apple Watch.

So, as Apple Watch becomes more like a coach, Siri becomes more a visible but discreet assistant that is being liberated from the iPhone. I think this is a very powerful paradigm and before nay-sayers jump to point out that Apple Watch penetration is limited, I underline that Apple Watch users are highly engaged in the Apple ecosystem and represent Siri’s best opportunity. Similar to CarPlay, Apple Watch also has a captivated audience not just for Siri’s brains but also for voice-first. With Apple Watch, voice interaction is the most natural form of interaction, especially when wearing AirPods. So much so that, with watchOS 4, SiriKit adds support for apps that are used to take notes, so that now you can use Siri on Apple Watch to make changes in any note-taking app.

Smarter Watch, Smarter Apps

Some Apple Watch critics have used the news that circulated last month that Google, Amazon, and eBay were killing support of their Apple Watch apps as evidence that Apple Watch failed. The reality is, however, as I explained numerous times, that Apple Watch cannot be seen as an iPhone on your wrist and therefore its success will not be driven nor defined by the same enablers.

Don’t get me wrong, there is certainly a place for apps to play, but context is going to be much more important than it has been so far on the iPhone or the iPad. This is why I believe Apple’s latest watchOS will help in making apps not just faster and smoother to run but much more relevant for users.

First, there will be a single process that runs the app’s UI elements and code. This helps with speed and responsiveness and means developers do not need to change their code. Access to Core Bluetooth will allow apps to bypass the iPhone and connect directly to Apple Watch so that data is transmitted faster between Apple Watch and an accessory for instance. Apple also increased the number of app categories that can run in background mode like for example, navigation apps.

While it will be up to developers to think differently when it comes to delivering apps for Apple Watch, I believe Apple has given them a much easier tool set to succeed.

Apple Watch and its Role in Ambient Computing

HomePod was the sexy hot product that everybody paid attention to and ambient computing is the buzzword of choice at the moment. Both extremely relevant in how one should think about home computing and even office computing, to be honest. It is easy for me to see the role that Apple Watch can play in helping me navigate my ambient computing network in a personal and highly relevant way. It is early days, but Apple has laid the foundation!

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