Tech.pinions – Perspective, Insight, Analysis https://techpinions.com Perspective. Insight. Analysis Tue, 23 May 2017 19:20:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Future of TV: Close but not Here Yet https://techpinions.com/the-future-of-tv-close-but-not-here-yet/50150 https://techpinions.com/the-future-of-tv-close-but-not-here-yet/50150#respond Tue, 23 May 2017 08:00:36 +0000 https://techpinions.com/?p=50150 Reading Time: 5 minutesI’ve lived an interesting experiment the past two weeks. I signed up for DirecTV Now, Hulu, YouTubeTV, and SlingTV to see what they offered and how it was different from my Dish TV service. For many, cordcutting is possible but, for the masses, I would argue it is not. There are still holes as well…]]> Reading Time: 5 minutes

I’ve lived an interesting experiment the past two weeks. I signed up for DirecTV Now, Hulu, YouTubeTV, and SlingTV to see what they offered and how it was different from my Dish TV service. For many, cordcutting is possible but, for the masses, I would argue it is not. There are still holes as well as trade-offs many still don’t quite realize. In the end, there are only a few companies I think can win as the service providers of the future and I’ll explain why. Let’s start with how these compare to a traditional TV service from the likes of Comcast, Dish, or DirecTV.

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The Digital Car https://techpinions.com/the-digital-car/50164 https://techpinions.com/the-digital-car/50164#respond Tue, 23 May 2017 08:00:18 +0000 https://techpinions.com/?p=50164 Reading Time: 4 minutesThe evolution of the modern automobile is arguably one of the most exciting and most important developments in the tech world today. In fact, it’s probably one of the most important business and societal stories we’ve seen in some time. The leadership at no less venerable a player than Ford Motor Co. obviously felt the…]]> Reading Time: 4 minutes

The evolution of the modern automobile is arguably one of the most exciting and most important developments in the tech world today. In fact, it’s probably one of the most important business and societal stories we’ve seen in some time.

The leadership at no less venerable a player than Ford Motor Co. obviously felt the same way and just replaced their CEO, despite his long-term tenure with the company, and the record-setting profits he helped drive during his 3-year leadership there. The reason? Not enough progress on advancing the company’s cars forward in the technology domain, particularly with regard to electric vehicles, autonomous driving, and new types of transportation service-focused business models.

As has been noted by many, these three capabilities—electrification, autonomy, and cars as a service—are considered the key trends driving the auto market today and into the future, at least as far as Wall Street is concerned. In reality, the picture isn’t nearly that simple, but it is clear that tech industry-driven initiatives are driving the agenda for today’s carmakers. And it’s pushing many of them into uncomfortable positions.

It turns out, however, that in spite of the importance of this critical evolution of automobiles, this is one of those issues that’s a lot harder to overcome than it first appears.

Part of the problem is that as cars have advanced, and various technologies have been integrated into them, they’ve evolved into these enormously complex machines. Today’s automobiles have as many as 150 programmable computing elements (often called ECUs or Electronic Control Units), surprisingly large (and heavy) amounts of wiring, numerous different types of electronic signaling and interconnect buses, and up to 100 millions of lines of software, in addition to the thousands of mechanical parts required to run a car. Frankly, it’s somewhat of a miracle that modern cars run as well as they do, although reports of technical glitches and other problems in newer cars do seem to be on the rise.

In addition to the mechanical and computer architecture complexity of the cars themselves, the organizational and business model complexity of today’s car companies and the entire auto supply chain also contribute to the problem. Having evolved over the 100+ year history of the automotive industry, the system of multiple Tier 1 suppliers, such as Harman, Delphi, Bosch and others, buying components from Tier 2 and 3 suppliers down the chain and car brand OEMs (such as Ford) piecing together multiple sub-systems from different combinations of Tier 1s to build their cars is notoriously complex.

But toss in the fact that there are often groups within the car maker that are specifically responsible for a given ECU (such as, say, heating, a/c and other “comfort” controls) and whose jobs may be at risk if someone suggests that the company changes to a simpler architecture in which they combined the functionality of multiple ECUs into a smaller, more manageable number and, well, you get the picture.

If ever there was an industry ripe for disruption, and if ever there was an industry in need of a tech overhaul, the automotive industry is it. That’s why many traditional carmakers are concerned, and why many tech companies are salivating at a chance to get a piece of the multi-trillion (yes, with a “t”) dollar global automotive industry.

It’s also why companies like Tesla have made such a splash. Despite their very modest sales, they’re seen as a credible attempt to drive the kind of technological and organizational disruption that many people believe is necessary to transform the automotive industry. In truth, however, because of the inherent and ingrained nature of the auto supply chain, even Tesla has to follow many of the conventions of multiple Tier 1 suppliers, etc., that its rivals use. The problem is that deeply embedded.

But even as those issues get addressed, they are really just a prelude to yet more innovations and opportunities for disruption. Like many modern computing devices—and, to be clear, that’s what today’s cars have become—the technological and business model for autos is slowly but surely moving towards a software and services-focused approach. In other words, we’re moving towards the software-defined “digital car.”

In order for that to happen, several key challenges need to be addressed. Most importantly, major enhancements in automotive security—both through architectural changes and software-driven advances—have to occur. The potential for life-threatening problems if either standard or autonomous cars get hacked should make this point painfully obvious.

Connectivity options, speed and reliability also have to be improved and that’s where industry-wide efforts like 5G, and specific products from vendors like Qualcomm and Intel can make a difference.

Finally, car companies and critical suppliers need to figure out the kinds of services that consumers will be willing to pay for and deliver platforms and architectures that can enable them. Like many other types of hardware devices, profit margins on cars are not very large, and with the increasing amount of technology they’re going to require, they could even start to shrink. As a result, car companies need to think through different ways of generating income.

Thankfully, a number of both tech startups and established vendors, such as Harman, are working on creating cloud-based platform delivery systems for automotive services that are expected to start bringing these capabilities to life over the next several years.

As with any major transition, the move to a digital car model won’t be easy, fast, or bump-free, but it’s bound to be an interesting ride.

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The Case for a Siri Speaker https://techpinions.com/the-case-for-a-siri-speaker/50143 https://techpinions.com/the-case-for-a-siri-speaker/50143#respond Mon, 22 May 2017 15:06:55 +0000 https://techpinions.com/?p=50143 Reading Time: 3 minutesRumors have been circulating Apple will join Amazon and Google and make their own version of a smart speaker to compete with the Echo and Home speakers. Observing the commentary surrounding this rumor has certainly revealed many opinions on the matter, both in favor and against it. I even sense a debate inside Apple on…]]> Reading Time: 3 minutes

Rumors have been circulating Apple will join Amazon and Google and make their own version of a smart speaker to compete with the Echo and Home speakers. Observing the commentary surrounding this rumor has certainly revealed many opinions on the matter, both in favor and against it. I even sense a debate inside Apple on whether a smart speaker is a fad or if it has staying power. I lean in the direction of Apple entering this market and competing with Google and Amazon and would like to make the case this product should exist.

Whole Room Audio
The sales of Bluetooth speakers over the past few years did not get much attention even though it was a growing trend. These small and affordable units hit a pain point for many consumers in that they did not have ample speakers in many places where they wanted to consume their music. Contrary to popular opinions, as these products were starting to gain popularity, most of them rarely left the house and were simply used in rooms where a sound system did not exist (which is most rooms in the average consumer home).

The home environment is very different than the public one. Those who express their pessimism over the smart speaker solutions often misunderstand the average consumer home dynamic. In common rooms like the living room, kitchen, patio, family room, etc., access to music is either very limited or non-existent. Bluetooth speakers filled this void and validated the desire of consumers to have access to music in more rooms of the house.

From the value proposition of whole room audio alone, this would be a smart play for Apple and adding the smarts of Siri opens up a rich ecosystem as well. Apple Music is an example of something that would benefit from this hardware significantly. As every available bit of data we have proves, hardware for Apple drives their services. Hardware built to uniquely take advantage of those services will drive it even further. It is not a stretch to say, if Apple sold a smart speaker, subscriptions to Apple Music would increase significantly due to Apple’s ability to tightly integrate hardware, software, and services.

Siri is always with You and Can always Hear You
One of the arguments against a Siri speaker is you always have your iPhone with you, making the iPhone the proper place for you to always access Siri. The flaw in this argument is, while your iPhone may always be with you, or not far from you, can it always hear you? The answer is no. When my iPhone is in my pocket, accessing Siri doesn’t work. When my iPhone is in the living room and I’m in the kitchen cooking, Siri can’t hear me. The counter-argument posits that Apple Watch or AirPods fill this hole since Apple Watch is always on my wrist or AirPods are in my ear. The reality, however, is not every iPhone owner will own one of those products in the foreseeable future. even if this argument is correct, the question remains: where does my music play?

This is where the home dynamic challenges Apple’s traditional and very individualized view of technology. The home is a shared a common environment, so to say everyone should just listen to their iPhone with headphones or AirPods on while walking around the house is a distorted view of what goes on in the home.

Here again is why the music experience and value of whole room audio alone makes a strong case for a Siri speaker to exist. But the challenge of putting Siri into something that can always hear you remains. A smart speaker can be purpose built to be a better listening device than your smartphone, watch or even earphones can be. This is one reason why the Amazon Echo is perceived as having better natural language processing than Siri. In a quiet, close range environment, Siri understands me as well as the Echo. However, the Echo hears me better in the normal dynamics of the home, thanks to how the microphones are built and tuned.

The Battle for the Smarthome
What smart speakers are showing us is the growing battle for the smart home platform. Voice control has hit its stride as the most convenient way to interact with your smarthome. I’d also add, voice is on the cusp of becoming the mechanism to eliminate the remote with our TV experience.

The battle for the smartphone will be one fought by the number of endpoints in your home which you can interact with in some way. Amazon wants to get an Echo in every room and so does Google. Using the assistant on your phone makes sense in many contexts, however. In the home, having other ways to interact with your smart assistant beyond just your smartphone, smartwatch, or earphones, only increases the potential chances to engage with a smart assistant service.

The goal of companies battling for smart assistant domination should not limit potential chances to engage but extend their assistants far and wide in order to make sure the consumer always has a convenient way to engage. If they don’t, they risk losing key experiences to their competition.

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Checking in on China’s Internet Giants https://techpinions.com/checking-in-on-chinas-internet-giants/50129 https://techpinions.com/checking-in-on-chinas-internet-giants/50129#respond Mon, 22 May 2017 08:00:24 +0000 https://techpinions.com/?p=50129 Reading Time: 3 minutesThree companies dominate Chinese internet life to the extent they have their own acronym – BAT – for Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent. They’ve also often been compared to US-based equivalents – Google, Amazon/eBay and, to some extent, Facebook respectively. However, in the last couple of years, the massive growth that has characterized each of these…]]> Reading Time: 3 minutes

Three companies dominate Chinese internet life to the extent they have their own acronym – BAT – for Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent. They’ve also often been compared to US-based equivalents – Google, Amazon/eBay and, to some extent, Facebook respectively. However, in the last couple of years, the massive growth that has characterized each of these companies in the past has been less consistent across the three and it’s worth checking in to see just what’s going on with each of them.

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Podcast: Google I/O, IoT World https://techpinions.com/podcast-google-io-iot-world/50130 https://techpinions.com/podcast-google-io-iot-world/50130#respond Sat, 20 May 2017 08:00:05 +0000 https://techpinions.com/?p=50130 Reading Time: 1 minuteThis week’s Tech.pinions podcast features Ben Bajarin, Carolina Milanesi and Bob O’Donnell discussing Google’s IO event, including details on Google Assistant, Google Home, Android, and AR and VR platforms, along with some brief comments on the recent IoT World conference. Thanks again to our sponsor, Small.Chat. You already chat with your team on Slack. Now…]]> Reading Time: 1 minute

This week’s Tech.pinions podcast features Ben Bajarin, Carolina Milanesi and Bob O’Donnell discussing Google’s IO event, including details on Google Assistant, Google Home, Android, and AR and VR platforms, along with some brief comments on the recent IoT World conference.

Thanks again to our sponsor, Small.Chat.

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Smallchat harnesses the power of Slack’s customizable notifications and mobile apps to keep you connecting with your customers from any device.

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Connect more directly, respond faster, and provide a better customer experience. Get Smallchat Pro for 2 months free by visiting small.chat/techpinions
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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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Data Consumption Continues to Grow. Why Are Network Equipment Makers Struggling? https://techpinions.com/data-consumption-continues-to-grow-why-are-network-equipment-makers-struggling/50120 https://techpinions.com/data-consumption-continues-to-grow-why-are-network-equipment-makers-struggling/50120#respond Fri, 19 May 2017 08:00:16 +0000 https://techpinions.com/?p=50120 Reading Time: 4 minutesData consumption continues to skyrocket, growing at about 50% per year. Average usage in mobile now exceeds 4GB per month in the US, with video an ever increasing percentage of that. Fixed broadband isn’t standing still either, with the typical Netflixing household consuming north of 200GB per month. You would think these would be boom…]]> Reading Time: 4 minutes

Data consumption continues to skyrocket, growing at about 50% per year. Average usage in mobile now exceeds 4GB per month in the US, with video an ever increasing percentage of that. Fixed broadband isn’t standing still either, with the typical Netflixing household consuming north of 200GB per month.

You would think these would be boom times for the major suppliers of network equipment to the operators. This is a market where three players — Ericsson, Nokia, and Huawei — split about $125 billion in annual global mobile network capex. But in reality, Ericsson and Nokia have been struggling of late and the forecast isn’t all that favorable. Ericsson’s mobile network business declined 10%+ in 2016 and they forecast a decline of 2-6% for 2017, indicating in their annual report that the addressable market for networks is flat to down 2% in the 2016-2018 period. Nokia’s numbers are a bit better, in part because 2016 was the first year of full reporting post the Lucent acquisition, but they nevertheless project flat-ish sales for networks this year. Cisco has had a rough time of it as well, announcing a cut of 1,100 workers this week, on top of a 7% workforce reduction in 2016. By contrast, Huawei’s revenues from network operators grew 24% in 2016, although nearly 60% of that business comes from Asia-Pacific (40% China).

Given the continued robust growth in data consumption, why is the network business so crummy and will the picture get any brighter? It is difficult to find any one reason for the relatively flat market. Our analysis boils it down to six broad factors.

1. The global nature of the business. The major suppliers do business in 100+ countries and with hundreds of operators. There are some parts of the world where network spend has gone way off. In Europe, for example, much of the 4G LTE buildout is complete but follow-on work, related to increases in network capacity, has not been as robust as anticipated. Additionally, the macroeconomic environment in certain regions, such as the Middle East and Latin/South America, has been challenging. There has also been operator consolidation in large markets, such as India, which has affected the addressable market.

2. Their share in growth markets under-indexes. The major 4G LTE buildouts in markets where Ericsson and Nokia are strongest, such as North America and Western Europe, have peaked, and those markets are now driven more by harder to project capacity enhancements and small cell deployments. Huawei’s share is stronger in geographies where there is still a large 3G/4G buildout.

3. Network operator revenues have flattened. The U.S. market is symptomatic. Although there is continued growth in data consumption, prices have declined and mobile revenues are not growing. This is playing out similarly in numerous geographies, putting put pressure on capex spend, with operators pushing their vendors harder on price.

4. The Huawei factor. We don’t see this in the US market because Huawei has been largely kept out of the network equipment business here but Huawei has taken significant share from Ericsson and Nokia and has also been very aggressive on price. Huawei now leads the global market, with 30% share, compared to 28% for Ericsson and 24% for Nokia, according to Dell’Oro Group.

5. Not capturing fair share of the fixed broadband market. Although mobile capex is flat to down in some markets, fixed line (broadband) capex is seeing an uptick, driven by fiber deployments, DOCSIS 3.1 upgrades and, in some geographies, spending on G.fast and PON. Ericsson and Nokia’s share in fixed under-index that of mobile. Nokia’s recent acquisition of Gainspeed is a signal of its efforts to grow that market segment.

6. Cost structure has not kept up with network transformation. We are in the early innings of a major transformation in networks from a hardware to a software-driven model. This impacts the equipment suppliers in three ways: they need to lower their cost structure, evolve the skill set of their workforce, and recognize that the competitive playing field will expand.

Even though the picture is currently mixed, with Ericsson especially under some pressure, I am bullish on the long-term prospects. I’ve spent time with senior level executives at the major equipment suppliers in recent months and they all recognize the business will be fundamentally different in five years than it is today.

In some ways, we’re in a bit of a ‘pause period’ before the next big wave of opportunity. First is IoT and the ability to connect the billions of devices that are projected. This market is materializing but growing more slowly and more unevenly than thought. So it’s a long game. Second, the transformation from hardware to software. The suppliers will have to keep in lockstep with their customers, the operators, on this one, and capture their fair share of this market going forward, which will undoubtedly feature a larger and more competitive playing field. There is still lots of work to be done to determine how to price for a software/cloud/network slice world. Third, a lot of resources are starting to be devoted to 5G, but it will be a couple of years before 5G-related spending begins in earnest. Finally, with much of the growth in traffic coming from video, equipment suppliers will need new technologies and offers to capture their fair share of this opportunity.

This transformation will also involve a new suite of potential customers, partners, and competitors. The Ericssons and Nokias of the world will need to do more business with major ‘webscale’ companies, such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon. A more open, software-centric network environment means there will be more competitors and lower barriers to entry but also the opportunity to partner with best of breed firms. Ericsson and Cisco are still, for example, in the early innings of their partnership. Another example is managed services and the broader world of OSS/BSS, where the network equipment suppliers will have to take share from (or work with) firms such as Amdocs, IBM, Accenture, and Oracle.

The future of the network equipment market won’t be one where three firms carve up some 80%+ of the revenues. But there’s plenty of market opportunity, as long as they capture their fair share.

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Google’s Fading Focus on Android https://techpinions.com/googles-fading-focus-on-android/50103 https://techpinions.com/googles-fading-focus-on-android/50103#respond Thu, 18 May 2017 08:00:09 +0000 https://techpinions.com/?p=50103 Reading Time: 4 minutesGoogle is holding its I/O developer conference this week and Wednesday morning saw the opening day keynote where it has traditionally announced all the big news for the event. What was notable about this year’s event, though, was what short shrift Android – arguably its major developer platform – received at the keynote and that…]]> Reading Time: 4 minutes

Google is holding its I/O developer conference this week and Wednesday morning saw the opening day keynote where it has traditionally announced all the big news for the event. What was notable about this year’s event, though, was what short shrift Android – arguably its major developer platform – received at the keynote and that feels indicative of a shift in Google’s strategy.

Android – The First to Two Billion

One of the first things Google CEO Sundar Pichai did when he got up on stage to welcome attendees was run through a list of numbers relating to the usage of the company’s major services. He reiterated Google has seven properties with over a billion monthly active users but also said several others are rapidly growing, including Google Drive with over 800 million and Got Photos with over 500 million. But the biggest number of all was the number of active Android devices, which passed two billion earlier this week. Now, that isn’t the same as saying it has two billion monthly active users, since some of those devices will belong to the same users as others (e.g. tablets and smartphones), while others may be powering corporate or unmanned devices. But Android is a massive platform for Google and arguably the property with the broadest reach.

Cross-platform Apps and Tools at the Forefront

Yet, Android was given only a secondary role in the keynote, a pattern that arguably began last year. Part of the reason is Google has been releasing new versions of Android earlier in the year than before, giving developers a preview weeks before I/O and then fleshing out details for both developers and users at the event, rather than revealing lots of brand new information. But another big reason is a concession to two realities that have become increasingly apparent over time. First, Google recognizes it’s lost control over the smartphone version of Android, as OEMs and carriers continue to overlay their own apps and services but also slow the spread of new versions. It takes almost two years for new versions of Android to reach half the base. Second, Google also recognizes its ad business can’t depend merely on Android users because a large portion of the total and a majority of the most attractive and valuable users are on other platforms, mostly iOS.

Together, those realities have driven Google to de-emphasize its own mobile operating system as a source of value and competitive differentiation and, instead, to focus on apps and services that exist independently of it. As such, the first hour of Google’s I/O keynote this year was entirely focused on things disconnected from Android, such as the company’s broad investment in AI and machine learning, but also specific applications like the Google Assistant and Google Photos. No transcript is available at the time I’m writing this, but I would wager one of the most frequently repeated phrases during that first hour was “available on Android and iOS” because that felt like the mantra of the morning: broadly available services, not the advantage of using Android. As Carolina pointed out in her piece yesterday, that’s not a stance unique to Google – it was a big theme for Microsoft last week too.

Short Shrift for Android

But for developers who came wanting to hear what’s new with Android, the platform the vast majority of them actually develop for, it must have made for an interesting first 75 minutes or so before Google finally got around to talking about its mobile OS and, even then, not until after talking about YouTube, which has almost zero developer relevance. When it did, Android still got very little attention, with under ten minutes spent on the core smartphone version. Android lead Dave Burke rattled through recent advances in the non-smartphone versions of Android first, including partner adoption of the Wear, Auto, TV, and Things variants, and one brief mention of Chromebooks and ChromeOS.

The user-facing features of Android O feel very much more like catch up than true competitive advantages. In most cases, they’re matching features already available elsewhere or offsetting some of the disadvantages Android has always labored under by being an “open” OS, including better memory management required by its multitasking approach or improved security required by its open approach to apps. From a developer perspective, there were some strong improvements, including better tools for figuring out how apps are performing and how to improve that, support for the Kotlin programming language, and neural network functionality.

A New Emerging Markets Push

Perhaps the most interesting part of the Android presentation was the segment focused on emerging markets, where Android is the dominant platform due to its affordability and in spite of its performance rather than because of it. The reality is Android at this point, stripped of much of its role as a competitive differentiator for Google, has fallen back into the role of expanding the addressable market for Google services. That means optimization for emerging markets.

Android One was a previous effort aimed at both serving those markets better and locking down Android more tightly but it arguably failed in both respects. It’s now having another go with what’s currently called Android Go. This approach seems far more likely to be successful, mostly because it’s truly optimized for these markets and will emphasize not only Google and its OEMs’ roles but those of developers too. That last group is critical for ensuring Android serves emerging market users well and Google is giving them both the incentives and the tools to do better. I love its Building for Billions tagline, which fits with the real purpose of building both devices and apps for the next several billion users, almost all of which will be in these markets.

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Google’s Machine Learning Backbone https://techpinions.com/googles-machine-learning-backbone/50107 https://techpinions.com/googles-machine-learning-backbone/50107#respond Thu, 18 May 2017 08:00:07 +0000 https://techpinions.com/?p=50107 Reading Time: 3 minutesLast year at Google I/O, the term AI was thrown around frequently. This year, Google didn’t use AI as much during their opening keynote but they did use the term machine learning much more. It was a subtle but important shift, which speaks to how Google is orienting themselves around their mission statement to “organize…]]> Reading Time: 3 minutes

Last year at Google I/O, the term AI was thrown around frequently. This year, Google didn’t use AI as much during their opening keynote but they did use the term machine learning much more. It was a subtle but important shift, which speaks to how Google is orienting themselves around their mission statement to “organize the world’s data”.

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How to Think about Windows 10 S https://techpinions.com/how-to-think-about-windows-10-s/50088 https://techpinions.com/how-to-think-about-windows-10-s/50088#respond Wed, 17 May 2017 08:00:12 +0000 https://techpinions.com/?p=50088 Reading Time: 5 minutesA few weeks ago, I went to NYC to be at the Windows 10 S launch. Leading up to the event, there had been many rumors floating around about a potential new OS from Microsoft on the horizon aimed at education that would take on Google’s Chrome OS. Various rumors suggested it would be called…]]> Reading Time: 5 minutes

A few weeks ago, I went to NYC to be at the Windows 10 S launch. Leading up to the event, there had been many rumors floating around about a potential new OS from Microsoft on the horizon aimed at education that would take on Google’s Chrome OS. Various rumors suggested it would be called Windows Cloud or be a “skinny” version of Windows.

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Everybody Wants a Bite of iOS, Apple remains Mostly Self-Contained https://techpinions.com/everybody-wants-a-bite-of-ios-apple-remains-mostly-self-contained/50092 https://techpinions.com/everybody-wants-a-bite-of-ios-apple-remains-mostly-self-contained/50092#respond Wed, 17 May 2017 08:00:02 +0000 https://techpinions.com/?p=50092 Reading Time: 4 minutesA few hours after publishing this column, Google could be announcing that Google Assistant is going to iOS. Last week, Microsoft announced several new features for Windows 10 Fall Creator Edition, such as Pick Up Where You Left Off and OneDrive Files on Demand, will be available on iOS. Everybody wants a piece of iOS…]]> Reading Time: 4 minutes

A few hours after publishing this column, Google could be announcing that Google Assistant is going to iOS. Last week, Microsoft announced several new features for Windows 10 Fall Creator Edition, such as Pick Up Where You Left Off and OneDrive Files on Demand, will be available on iOS.

Everybody wants a piece of iOS or better, everybody wants to get to the most valuable consumers out there. You’ve heard this before — Apple customers are very valuable. You only have to look at what they spend on hardware and the growing revenue they drive at the App Store and subscription services to get an idea as to why other ecosystem owners might want to get to them.

Not Having a Horse in the Race makes You Free

When your main source of revenue is not hardware to be device, and, to some extent, platform agnostic, becomes so much easier. For Microsoft and Google, the core business revolves around cloud and advertizing respectively and, while they sell their own devices as well as monetize from their operating systems, they have made the decision to engage with consumers on iOS.

For Microsoft having Office, OneDrive and Cortana available on iOS and partly on Android allows them to reach more users than they would through their PCs alone. Of course, Microsoft has nothing to lose in mobile, as Windows Phone has never been able to get more than single digit market share in the US. Yet, this tactic is not limited to phones. These apps and services are also available on iPad and Mac, segments where Microsoft and its Windows partners have a very strong interest.

Microsoft’s long-term play was described very well at their Build Conference Keynote with the slogan “Windows 10 PCs heart all devices.” I would have gone a step further and said, “Windows 10 heart all devices” but that would not have been very politically correct towards their partners. Whichever slogan you prefer, the idea behind it is spot on. Let users pick what phone they want to use (or tablet, or wearable) but make sure that, if they have one Windows 10 device, their experience across devices is the best one they could have. By getting the best experience as a consumer, you want to continue to stay engaged and you choose services and apps delivered by Microsoft over what comes pre-installed on the phone.

Google has always had a pretty agnostic platform approach when it came to its apps and services. The experience is often better on Android but it does not mean consumers do not get benefits from using apps and services on other platforms and devices. Google Maps and Chrome might be the best example thus far but soon it might well be Google Assistant. While other platforms might limit how deep of an integration assistants such as Google and Cortana might have, they are still delivering some value to the user and they collect valuable information for the provider.

As we move from a mobile-first to a cloud-first and AI-first world, knowing your users so you can better serve them will be key. Google hoped to do that with Android but, unfortunately, despite million and millions of users owning Android-based devices, it did not provide the return Google was hoping for. Users of Android simply do not equate to users of Google services. So, making sure to get to the valuable users is key for this next phase, especially as the bond with the user will be so much tighter than any hardware or single service has been able to provide before.

Hardware as a Means to an End

Selling hardware can be a great source of revenue, as Apple can tell you. For Amazon, Google and, to some extent Microsoft, however, hardware is more a means to an end than a source of revenue any of these companies will ever be able to depend on.

Being able to personify or, in this case, objectify, the vision they have for their services and apps is key. Whether it is a home for Alexa and Google Assistant or a TV for Prime Video or an in-car experience for Google Maps, it is important users experience the best implementation of that end to end vision.

Yet, if your business stability does not depend on it, you are not spending marketing dollars to convince buyers to switch their devices or upgrade them. You are instead focusing on delivering the best value wherever you can. As you move to other hardware, however, you take value away. When there is no value left, the hardware itself will look much less appealing to the most demanding users, increasing the risk of churn. Ben Thomson recently made this very point about Apple in China where iPhone users are so engaged with services from local players the value of Apple is reduced compared to what we could experience here in the US where we might subscribe to Apple Music, use Apple Pay and so on.

Follow the Money

So where does this leave Apple and its hardware-centric business model? Well, if you have been paying attention to recent earnings calls, this leaves Apple pivoting from hardware to services, with revenues reaching their highest value yet at $7 billion. App Store revenue is growing 40% year over year with an installed base of subscribers at 165 million customers and Apple Pay transactions are up 450% over 2016.

For now, it does not look like Apple has much to worry about. Not only are the most valuable customers on iOS and macOS but they are engaged with the services and apps on offer. As the offensive from other players intensifies, however, Apple should look at playing a similar game, even if this means opening up some of its services and apps to other platforms.

Microsoft proudly announced last week that iTunes will be coming to the Windows 10 Store. Many were quick to point out that nobody really uses iTunes anymore but that seems to me a very iOS-centric view. There are still many PC users that use iTunes and they represent an untapped opportunity for Apple Music, a service they might not consider using on their phones but, as part of iTunes on their PC, could look very appealing.

There are stickier services like iMessage or Apple Pay and Siri that could drive engagement through other devices. Think about the ability to iMessage on a PC instead of using Skype. Or the option to create an Apple Pay account that works in other browsers. Or Siri that speaks to you through your appliances.

Finding the right balance between too closed or too open is not easy. We know how open can hurt interoperability but we also know how closed can limit growth. This is not about defending. That can be done by making sure to deliver a superior experience on Apple hardware so that, no matter what other apps and services are available, users will never consider anything but what is pre-installed. It’s rather about making sure no opportunity is left untapped which means to go and get the money to be had.

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Questions for Google at I/O https://techpinions.com/questions-for-google-at-io/50075 https://techpinions.com/questions-for-google-at-io/50075#respond Tue, 16 May 2017 08:00:28 +0000 https://techpinions.com/?p=50075 Reading Time: 3 minutesGoogle is holding its annual I/O developer conference this week in Mountain View, California. Some news of what’s going to be announced is already leaking out but there’s likely quite a bit more to come. With that in mind, here are some questions I’m hoping Google answers at the event, along with a brief explanation…]]> Reading Time: 3 minutes

Google is holding its annual I/O developer conference this week in Mountain View, California. Some news of what’s going to be announced is already leaking out but there’s likely quite a bit more to come. With that in mind, here are some questions I’m hoping Google answers at the event, along with a brief explanation of each.

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Digital Assistants Drive New Meta-Platform Battle https://techpinions.com/digital-assistants-drive-new-meta-platform-battle/50084 https://techpinions.com/digital-assistants-drive-new-meta-platform-battle/50084#respond Tue, 16 May 2017 08:00:20 +0000 https://techpinions.com/?p=50084 Reading Time: 3 minutesIn case you hadn’t noticed, the OS platform battle is over. Oh, and nobody really won, because basically, all the big players did, depending on your perspective. Google has the largest number of people using Android, Apple generates the most income via iOS, and Windows still commands the workplace for Microsoft. But the stakes are…]]> Reading Time: 3 minutes

In case you hadn’t noticed, the OS platform battle is over.

Oh, and nobody really won, because basically, all the big players did, depending on your perspective. Google has the largest number of people using Android, Apple generates the most income via iOS, and Windows still commands the workplace for Microsoft.

But the stakes are getting much higher for the next looming battle in the tech world. This one will be based around digital assistants, such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google’s Assistant, among others.

While much of the initial focus is, rightfully, around the voice-based computing capabilities of these assistants, I believe we’re going to see these assistants expand into text-driven chatbots, AI-driven autonomous software helpers and, most importantly, de facto digital gateways that end up tieing together a wide range of smart and connected devices.

From smart homes to smart cars, as well as smartphones, PCs and wearables that span both our personal and professional lives, these digital assistants will (ideally) provide the consistent glue that brings together computing, services and much more across many disparate OS platforms. In short, they should be able to make our lives better organized, and our devices and services much easier to use. That’s why these assistants are so strategically important, and why so many other companies—from Facebook to Samsung—are working on their own variations.

Another fascinating aspect of these digital assistants is that they have the potential to completely devalue the underlying platforms on which they run. To put it succinctly, if I can use, say, Alexa across an iPhone, a Windows PC, my smart home components and a future connected car, where does the unique value of iOS or Windows 10 go? Out the door….

This overarching importance and distancing from different platforms is why I refer to these assistants as the pre-eminent example of a “meta-platform”: something that provides the potential for expansion, via both APIs for new software development, and the connectivity of a regular platform, but at a layer “above” a traditional OS.

With that thought in mind, it’s interesting to look at recent data TECHnalysis Research collected as part of a nearly 1,000-person survey of US consumers on usage of digital assistants on smartphones, PCs and, the hottest new entrant, smart speakers such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home.

As mentioned earlier, in their present incarnations, these digital assistants are primarily focused on voice-based computing and the kinds of applications that are best-suited for simple voice-driven queries. So, to get a better sense of how these assistants are used, respondents were asked in separate questions how often (or even if) they used digital assistants on smart speakers (such as Amazon Echo), smartphones and PCs. The results were combined into the chart below.

What’s fascinating is that, even though the smart speaker category is relatively new (the Echo is less than 2 years old) and Siri, the first smartphone-based digital assistant, arrived in 2011, it’s clear that people with access to a smart speaker like Echo (around 14% of US households according to the survey results) are using digital assistants significantly more than those with smart phones.

While it’s tempting to suggest that this may be due to the perceived accuracy of the different assistants, in a separate question about accuracy, the rankings for Alexa, Siri and Google’s Assistant were nearly identical, meaning there was no one clear favorite. Instead, these results suggest that a dedicated function device placed in a central location within a home simply invites more usage. Translation: if you want to be relevant in these early stages of the digital assistant battle, you need to have a dedicated smart speaker offering.

Of course, the other challenge is that most people are now increasingly exposed to and use multiple digital assistants from multiple players. In fact, 56% of the respondents acknowledged that they at least occasionally (and some frequently) used multiple assistants, with differing degrees of comfort in making the switch between them. The largest single group, 26%, said they were loyal to and consistently used one assistant and ignored the others, but as competition in this area heats up, those loyalties are likely to be tested.

Digital assistant technology has a long way to go, and their current usage patterns only provide some degree of insight into what their long-term capabilities will be. Nevertheless, it’s clear that the meta-platform battle for digital assistants is going to have a significantly broader and longer-lasting impact than the OS platform battles of yore. That, by itself, will make them essential to watch and understand.

(If you’re interested in learning more about the complete study, please feel free to contact me at bob@technalysisresearch.com.)

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The Rich Media Generation https://techpinions.com/the-rich-media-generation/50072 https://techpinions.com/the-rich-media-generation/50072#respond Mon, 15 May 2017 22:02:31 +0000 https://techpinions.com/?p=50072 Reading Time: 3 minutesStudying generations under 30 provides a unique challenge. One of the demographic patterns we observe, around technology in particular, is how habits change with specific life-stages. From a purely anthropologic standpoint this seems obvious. Your habits during your youth/formative years are different than those in the middle of your life and both of those stages…]]> Reading Time: 3 minutes

Studying generations under 30 provides a unique challenge. One of the demographic patterns we observe, around technology in particular, is how habits change with specific life-stages. From a purely anthropologic standpoint this seems obvious. Your habits during your youth/formative years are different than those in the middle of your life and both of those stages are different than the end of your life. What we have to dig into, are the things that become ingrained at a young age and remain constant throughout all life stages.

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Wearables and Preventative Health https://techpinions.com/wearables-and-preventative-health/50067 https://techpinions.com/wearables-and-preventative-health/50067#respond Mon, 15 May 2017 08:00:53 +0000 https://techpinions.com/?p=50067 Reading Time: 3 minutesWhen the idea of health and fitness wearables starting hitting the market, I was a critic of the health side. Mostly because I understood the health angle to be more focused on the value proposition of health monitoring for people who knew they had health issues. This is still the case for many people today.…]]> Reading Time: 3 minutes

When the idea of health and fitness wearables starting hitting the market, I was a critic of the health side. Mostly because I understood the health angle to be more focused on the value proposition of health monitoring for people who knew they had health issues. This is still the case for many people today.

My father, for example, has Type 2 Diabetes and uses his Apple Watch to monitor his blood sugar in real-time. He has written extensively about it and how he uses Apple Watch as a health monitoring tool. Even in our own research of the market, we noticed the trend of people speaking with their doctors and being recommended a Fitbit or Apple Watch to monitor heart rate for irregularities, to make sure they were getting enough exercise to assist in lowering blood pressure or help to strengthen heart health due to a condition. Overall health monitoring is a key part of a wearable’s value today, if you happen to have a condition in need of monitoring.

This was the root of my initial criticism. For myself, mid-thirties and not having any health issues, I didn’t see the value in health monitoring. However, where things start to get really interesting for those of us without health problems is as wearables begin to play a role in preventative health.

A report came out recently from an app called Cardiogram, which is said to predict an irregular heartbeat with up to 97% accuracy. Which becomes interesting if you had not been previously diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat. Having such an app on your Apple Watch can aid in discovering health problems before the person has any symptoms and thus help lead to treatment which can prevent further problems. This is just the tip of the iceberg for how a wearable can aid in preventative health.

I recently went in for my regular checkup with my doctor and she realized my blood pressure was starting to tip toward the hypertension range. This is the kind of thing I learned you don’t want to let go on for too long as it can create heart problems in the future. So I ordered a Bluetooth-connected blood pressure monitor to track my blood pressure throughout the day, something I’ve never done before but I was intent on getting my blood pressure lower and to avoid medication. Fascinatingly, through a process of elimination, I learned that gluten is a key culprit in not just raising my blood pressure but keeping it high. The simple process of eliminating gluten got my blood pressure back down below 120/80. This was something I would have never found out or discovered had I not been monitoring my blood pressure and analyzing what was causing it get and stay high. It was an eye-opening experience in using technology for preventative health.

The next logical step is to embed all these tools to check and monitor our vital signs (heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, and more), equip software to do deeper analysis of our data, and machine learning/AI to be proactive about finding things which may be damaging our bodies and organs then notify us so we can make changes to prevent any real damage. Oftentimes, diet is a key factor in disease but many people have no idea what the food they eat is doing to their bodies. Being able to monitor and check our vital signs in real time can lead to those insights and ultimately help humans make lifestyle decisions which can keep them healthier longer and spot diseases which could be prevented if detected early.

We are getting closer to having the technology which can do this. Rumors have been circling that both Apple and Google have been stepping up their initiatives to bring glucose/blood sugar monitoring to their wearable platforms. Friends in the health tech and health sciences have been saying there are promising technological breakthroughs which have happened that can pave the way to bringing blood pressure monitoring to things like Apple Watch in the short-term future as well. As interesting, and valuable, as the Apple Watch and other wearable platforms are today, their ultimate upside will be as they transition from health monitoring to preventative health.

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Podcast: Microsoft Build 2017 https://techpinions.com/podcast-microsoft-build-2017/50063 https://techpinions.com/podcast-microsoft-build-2017/50063#respond Sat, 13 May 2017 08:00:08 +0000 https://techpinions.com/?p=50063 Reading Time: 1 minuteThis week’s Tech.pinions podcast features Carolina Milanesi, Ben Bajarin and Bob O’Donnell discussing Microsoft’s Build 2017 event and the implications it has on platforms and key technologies like AR and VR. 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]]> Reading Time: 1 minute

This week’s Tech.pinions podcast features Carolina Milanesi, Ben Bajarin and Bob O’Donnell discussing Microsoft’s Build 2017 event and the implications it has on platforms and key technologies like AR and VR.

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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