Smartwatches pile in at CES 2014

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I don’t always sound negative when it comes to gadgets and technology, esp. when the potential is huge! For that same reason, when I look at the list of wearable technologies at CES 2014 , I’m excited, but disappointed at the same time. Wearable technologies seem to be the fashion of the era. Google Glass and the hype about smart watches started early in 2013 with Pebble and Sony leading the way. However even after a year has passed, things haven’t grown enough for me to justify moving from my ipod nano-watch strap combo to one of those myriad of new ones in the market. For one, I wear a few things around my two wrists – a watch (typically a traditional one and sometimes an ipod nano on a strap.) and a fitbit, which tracks my activity and sleep. What I would also like to have on it is a heart rate monitor and a GPS and a bluetooth connection to my phone to let me know who is calling.

Here is a quick list of some of the more prominent ones that will be on display at CES 2014 . Let me throw in a disclaimer before I begin. The assessment is purely based on the specifications mentioned in the websites and can change drastically once they are out in exhibit halls tomorrow.

Cookoo

Pros:
Apart from the basic feature of time keeping and synching up with the iphone or android devices, what makes it unique is the fact that it also lets you know when your phone is out of range. Very useful when you are a person who keeps forgetting where you left your phone.
I also liked the remote photo taking capability, something that is missing in an iphone today.

Cons:
It comes with a CR2032 battery, similar to the ones in a traditional watch. Although it says the battery life is long, I’m not sure if traditional batteries can actually handle the multitude of additional connectivity requirements. I would still prefer a battery that can be charged every week.
The design looks more childish, although the case diameter looks big enough.

This seems more like a traditional watch with the chronograph replaced with the modern email,phone,sms trio.

Neptune Pine

Pros:
Standalone. From the looks of it, this watch runs the Android Jelly bean OS, and has a built in antenna supporting upto GSM/GPRS/EDGE 850, 900, 1800, 1900 .
Fitness app that tracks your activity
Heart rate monitor that straps on to your finger tips.
Google now

Cons:
Querty keyboard on a small display. How much of an overkill is that?
Do I really need something standalone. Would I much rather have a watch that supplements my smartphone? It cannot replace a smartphone for sure. So do I really need something this feature rich, esp. at $335?

Sonostar

Pros:
Curved display and touch screen. Perhaps the first of its kind.
Kindle-like display for sunlight readability
Fitness tracker that syncs with Sono Sports app

Cons:
Monochrome
No heart rate monitor

Burg Smart Watch

Pros:
Variety. It comes in multiple styles from Burg 12 through Burg 18 , with varying feature sets catering to different user groups.
Micros SD capability upto 32GB

Cons:
The website seems to have limited information to really assess this watch.

My Kronoz

Pros:
Slick design, esp the ZeBracelet
Device out of range alert for phones that are synced to this.

Cons:
Monochrome display
Light on features, with no fitness tracking and heart rate monitor.
Not very friendly with Android (not that I want this badly 🙂 )

Many more seasoned vendors have decided to venture into this market as well, notable ones such as Qualcom Toq and Sony. Then there is Pebble and the giant Samsung Galaxy Gear. And one might just start to wonder, why is it taking Apple and Google this long ….

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Is google’s obsession with bringing out half baked products good?

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Albeit being an Apple fanatic, I must admit, Google has been a pioneer in bringing out some of the best innovations. Starting with the search, gmail, the glass, driverless cars, online word processing, chromecast all followed suit. But in every one of these, you cannot help but notice a similarity (wonderfully pointed out in the book Dogfight by Fred Vogelstein as well). All of them were released to the masses (or scheduled to be released in the case of Google Glass), half baked. As the book says, it is the nature of how Google was in the past that is taking a toll on its new market – the art of product manufacturing. Google inherently has been a web based company, with its search engines and its gmails thriving primarily on the fact that users have an operating system and an internet connection to connect to their services. What that entailed was, Google could easily make changes and add on new features on the fly, without actually disrupting the users ability to work with them while doing so. Having said that, I still maintain the fact that gmail being left in its “beta” form was partially due to someone forgetting to take it out of beta!

As Google started to expand its horizons to consumer products, this trend of “beta” releases seemed to drag along as well. If Android in itself was not a good example, Chromecast was more appropriate. I would rate chromecast as perhaps one of their better releases, for the price and the potential. Having a “flash drive” like product capable of “airplaying” videos and presentations out of a smartphone or a tablet is groundbreaking. But the fact that it was released with just Netflix and Youtube, brings out the “service” based mentality. Agreed chromecast did break a lot of expectations through its sales especially during the holiday season , with me personally buying a few of those as gifts. But to me, it looked like an unfinished beta, at the time of the release.

The beta model works perfectly for a software only solution/product. Releasing a product such as gmail to the masses as beta works wonders, when users do not need to purchase anything. But when it comes to hardware, this rule breaks down. Common man would resist purchasing a beta, unless you are a gadget freak, especially when you have to pay money to buy a product.

Having said all those, Google certainly took a different stance with the Glass, through its Explorer Program (a glorified name for beta testing). It accomplished two things – one, the fact that they have an exhaustive beta testing phase on the hardware itself with a small subset of “gadget fanatics” and two, the anticipation levels of the consumer community grew exponentially.

The book, Dogfight, describes this perfectly. It says that Google is still learning the art of hardware product industry. But it is learning fast. And soon a lot of industries and their incumbent organizations will need to hit the panic button. Google Fiber will revolutionize the cable industry; Google Glass will change the way people live; Google cars will shake up the car and transport industry, albeit the myriad of hurdles it still needs to hop through. And a day will come when “Don’t be Evil” will be on the banner boards across the globe, as Google completes its world domination!

Let me know your thoughts…

What’s in your wallet?

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Ever since its inception back in the 1920s, with oil companies and hotel chains, credit cards have been a victim of constant identity thefts. Easy as the payments were, equally easy was to lose it, stolen or left behind in a bar/restaurant. I had written sometime back about Digital Identity . While the idea then was about a digital wallet on your smartphones using NFC or Near Field Communications, Coin decided to take it a step further. NFC still in its infant stages, mainly due to the security concerns associated with it, Coin might just be an answer to a fat wallet! In short, coin makes a digital copy of all your credit cards and lets you swipe “the coin” in place of them. And what’s more, it constantly communicates with your smartphone via bluetooth. This ensures that you always have the coin right next to the phone for it to function, with an alert triggered every time it leaves the phone behind by around 7 meters. It then deactivates itself – a simple solution for a lost of stolen card. Sounds wonderful on paper.

Two reasons why adopting such a technology would make me a little skeptical, although I must admit I’m usually always the first to pounce on any new gadget. For one, this is a financial gadget literally having access to every single credit card that you choose to store in there, much like a financial management tool, which gets to have all your financial data. And, although it was announced back in November, this year. The shipments will not start until “summer” of 2014 and you are charged as soon as you preorder. Now the company has a very diplomatic answer to this, stating that this is a way they can help aid, financially, the manufacturing process. I’m sure this is all very credible, with its all expanding media hype and the number of preorders.

Julianne Pepitone, from CNN Money, puts it very nicely on 3 big problems with Coin . I would say, one of the primary problems (in fact two in her article), makes me nervous – its acceptance amongst the retailers and credit card companies. Consumers will accept this readily as long as the usability is widened. It would be harsh if you enter a shop and the retailer does not accept your “coin”. Common man does not usually take security as a huge threat unless there is a gaping hole. If not several of those startups such as mint.com, paypal, or even facebook, wouldn’t have taken off.

Having said all those, I still think Coin has a lot of potential. For one, the concept in itself is interesting. Not having to carry all my credit cards in my wallet just reduced the significance of my traditional wallet entirely. And the card looks great in its design.

So while we wait on its shipments and the user reviews, I’m still on the fence regarding the preorder… Let me leave you with an interesting concept video in the meantime.

Nymi and Galaxy Gear

This week will perhaps see the release of two gadgets that have the potential to change the ways of life. Wearable as they are, both are worn on wrists. While one is released by a major player in the gadget market, the other comes from a new comer. While one of them has an aura of excitement in its launch, the other will be taken with a bit of skepticism. I’m talking about the Samsung Galaxy Gear set to be announced on Wednesday, Sept. 4th in Berlin and Nymi , soon to be out for sale by a company called bionym

Let me start by talking about Samsung Galaxy Gear. Samsung has started to become rather secretive about their product launches, building up the expectations and the curiosity. So there isn’t a definitive Galaxy Gear snapped yet. While the early pictures show something rather bulky, as the choices in the market seem to still be scanty and since Apple has been amazingly slow in bringing its much hyped iWatch to market (gone are the days when Apple launches were considered to revolutionize markets!), there is hope for those with smaller wrists, such as me.

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With a Wifi Radio and 4MP camera , that would perhaps require an awkwardly held hand to take a snap, the “gear” seems to run Android in its core, giving it a better potential than the Newton of the PDA world!

Then came Nymi, from the Toronto based startup called Bionym, taking biometrics to the next level. While the rest of the world is still playing with the fingerprint recognition at the same time fantasizing about the biometrics of the retina glorified by the heist movies over the years, Bionym, realized that hidden amongst the Electro Cardio Gram (ECG) pattern is what is known as a HeartID , unique to every individual. And using this, the wristband can now help unlock your phones, laptops and potentially even your car!

nymi-rendering

SecurID News has a rather extensive review of the technology, going on to explain the out-of-box authentication methods and how secure it can prove to be. Karl Martin, the CEO of this highly optimistic startup, goes on to explain that this is a first generation product. More needs to be seen on how the market responds.

My first take, as I have always been extremely excited about new gadget, will obviously be biased. There is potential, if channeled the right way. At the same time, it takes a lot to make a common man accept such a security tool, given the high caution thrown on identity thefts these days.

Nevertheless, exciting times are ahead!

iCrowd – Unraveling the power of crowd in the web world

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I must begin with a confession. I am a terrible Apple fanatic. So any resemblance in the title here is not a mere coincidence. But I assure you, the resemblance stops here. This is a concept – one that can perhaps be described as a concoction of a multitude of concepts that have already been floating around. Through the posts that follow, you will find me elaborating more on every one of those concepts to unearth a common theme across them – the crowd. Over the past five years, as social media and networking have started to mushroom around the web world, with smartphones and tablets becoming a common man’s gadget, several companies have started to make use of the data that is updated by users around the globe. And indeed many of the entrepreneurs and thinkers of this era have started to find correlations amongst these efforts. And along came several concepts, those which have gradually started to become an everyday term. Among them, Collaborative Consumption coined by Rachel Botsman , Crowd Sourcing coined by Jeff Howe of the Wired Magazine and Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky have grown significantly, in parallel.

While each of these talk about the influence of crowd in the functioning of the today’s world, analyzing and categorizing companies and organizations among various buckets, each have their own distinction. They portray a very specific aspect of the crowd and collectively they can encompass the iCrowd, in its entirety. Collaborative consumption talks about the idea of sharing what you have with a stranger, through a common platform for sharing, that is built upon trust. The product that is shared can vary with an organization that lay forth the platform. Airbnb, Taskbunny, A Spare to Share are all examples of this sharing. Rachel Botsman through her ground breaking talk at TED and her book What’s mine is yours , laid the foundation to this categorization of sharing, into buckets based on services .

Crowd Sourcing, coined back in 2005, talks about the idea of converting user input data into useful information, in the form of trend or recommendations or even just a single point of data depicting the state based on the data gathered from the “crowd”. I have spoken extensively about Crowd Sourcing and have tried to classify them into some reasonable buckets. SkyMotion, Waze, Minutely are all applications that have presented information from a large repository of user input data. There are then the amazon recommendations providing you with a list of products that “other customers” looked at, after viewing a particular product, in which case the input is user data collected passively. We will look into both these situations and how they play a part in the information transfer.

Cognitive Surplus is a more recent term, yet to be defined exhaustively. Clay Shirky describes it as a form of constructively making use of an individual’s free time towards a particular goal. Add in the crowd dimension and you now have an “organization without an organization”. Wikipedia is perhaps the best example of this “revolution”. Although Wikipedia has been around for quite sometime, identifying the concept that made it a huge online encyclopedia was as recent as 2009. As more and more efforts start getting categorized under this umbrella, cognitive surplus can be yet another powerful concept making use of the power of crowd.

In the coming weeks, I will hoop through each of them in more detail, pointing out examples that illustrate the common link and the distinctions.

Is the era of grandeur in product launching gone?

There was a time when product launches were a red carpet event. Be it the special invitees from the developer world and the tech news media, flocking in from all parts of the world to witness the “magical” opening of the iphone

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Or the Taylor Swift show at the Sony product launch

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Yesterday, at a quiet little press conference known as “Breakfast with Sundar” , Google announced a good chunk of products and among them was something really revolutionary , not because it was the first of its kind to the market, but more so because of its form factor and the pricing. They called it the “ChromeCast” And before you knew, it was sold out in every online store. Deemed as a direct competitor to AppleTV and Roku, and perhaps with a little edge due to its interoperability, looks like the battle of the giants has moved to the TV world now!

PS: you can read the first exhaustive review on it here

So let me leave you with a simple poll…

CrowdSourcing Classified

The term crowd sourcing is rather generic in its own ways. Although coined for a specific function, it soon grew into being a broad term interpreted differently by every organization that has crossed its path. Therefore it might be essential to classify the different aspects of crowdsourcing and identify buckets of projects/organizations that can be put under each. Here is a small effort towards one such classification. Wikipedia in its own way has a different interpretation for the same.

Open Democracy: or Crowdvoting as Wikipedia calls it.
Ever since life began, democracy has been prevalent . Taking that to product design can hence be just an afterthought. Several organizations across the iGlobe has successfully used this method to better understand the consumer needs and interests.

Lego CUUSO is one such. Termed as “just a normal way of doing things” in today’s generation, Lego was able to create the famous Lego MineCraft using power of the crowd.

ThreadLess – an online shirt design company – is yet another, taking advantage of the crowd.

In a perfect world, the underlying principles for all such organizations are the same. Users submit a product design, which is then put up for voting. When the voting number reaches a particular threshold, the product is formalized and staged. Of course the user who submitted the design gets a share of the royalty.

Data Sourcing:
Skymotion and Waze are perhaps the best examples for this. Obtaining the wealth of the data provided by users to portray information. I spoke about Waze and Skymotion in my previous post.

In fact, Wikipedia, can also be viewed as one such entity leveraging the power of the crowd.

Now, the means of providing the information can be direct or indirect. In all the cases above, the information was provided by the users, consciously and hence can be termed as direct. Take the example of Google’s Flu Prediction . The trend has been graphically represented using the search terms related to flu that people search across different parts of United States. In this case, information is gathered passively and hence can be classified as indirect.

Open Sourcing:
Although this term has been in existence since the early 1960s, I feel it could now fall under the umbrella of crowd sourcing. Essentially the development of the product or the software was done by the masses. The ever so popular Linux is perhaps the best example for this.

CrowdFunding or Micropatrionage:
This is one of those which has been less prevalent, but you do see pockets of such organizations cropping up all around the iGlobe. The idea again, follows along the same lines – use crowd to fund projects. Although it can be revolutionary, it does come with a pinch of salt. Whenever an individual is expected to “invest” money, however small it is, there is a sense of ownership that gets built around it. It is for this same reason that the Crowd Funding Exemption Movement was set up to successfully lobby the JOBS Act

KickStarter is one such companies, which has been rather successful in funding projects and startups through small deposits collected through their website. Most prevalent in film community for the making of independent films, for channels such as Sundance , KickStarter has been successful in harnessing the power of crowd to fund a large number of undertakings.

While examples can be drawn from all aspects of the web world, I’m hoping these broad classifications can be a good start to better define crowd sourcing. Let me know your thoughts.

Next up: Why do organizations move towards Crowd Sourcing?

While you wait, let me leave you with this interesting video on crowdsourcing.

The art of crowdsourcing

Crowd Source

With the emergence of social networking as a formidable force in this Internet era, taking advantage of its powers in fields other than just entertainment was only an obvious consequence. The word crowdsourcing first emerged back in 2005, coined by the editors of Wired Magazine. Jeff Howe from wired magazine defines it as the act of a company or institution taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undefined (and generally large) network of people in the form of an open call. This can take the form of peer-production (when the job is performed collaboratively), but is also often undertaken by sole individuals. The crucial prerequisite is the use of the open call format and the large network of potential laborers.

It is the ability to harness the data exchanged by the population aka “the crowd”, and use them to produce information useful for the same crowd. Jeff Howe went on to become a proponent in this field, citing examples from all around the Internet Globe (the iGlobe, as I would call it) on how the power of the masses can be strategically taken advantage of. Sometime back, I happened to mention about one of those terms which has been gaining popularity, viz Collaborative Consumption . Crowd sourcing can be viewed as a subset of this idea.

Perhaps one of the biggest in the industry to take advantage of this was Waze . With its data being fed in by the millions of drivers on the road, it started to become a powerful navigation system, often even claimed to have been surpassing the giants such as google maps and apple maps . But as has been the common norm amongst the technology industry, it too got acquired for a huge price by one of those giants.

But that was only the beginning. Along came Sky Motion in a different field – the weather! Forecasting weather has always had its degree of unpredictability. The intensity of the weather conditions have been known to be inaccurate often times. What if you have a real time update from a person who is actually in the middle of it? That is exactly what Sky Motion has tried to do. Although not as widely accepted yet, just as in the case of Waze it does have the potential to turn into something big. Now they are not the only ones that have imbibed this idea in weather. Weddar is another one such company. So now we have a healthy competition!

As weather and traffic seemed to have started to see the useful side of crowdsourcing, Im sure many more would follow. What was ones the supreme power of the ancient civilizations, the society, could soon turn into the superpower in the Internet Civilization!

Genres in streaming music industry

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Just this other day, Google announced its Google Play Music at their Google I/O . And the rumors of Apple iRadio and the challenges involved have been in the news for quite sometime now. Some say google beat Apple in the world of Internet music. But if you look closely, there is a fundamental difference in the approaches that Google and Apple have taken in the field of digital streaming music. To understand this, lets look at two of the main runners in this field today – Pandora and Spotify.

Although both Pandora and Spotify are common in their goals to deliver music to consumers, without actually a need to purchase the albums, their ways of doing it are different. While Spotify follows more of an on-demand, subscription based model, Pandora has resorted to a webcasting service. This difference is not as apparent on the desktops and laptops, where both parties offer free access to users with ads injected rather frequently. But its not at that shocking a revelation to note that the number of users using their desktops for music have diminished dramatically in the last decade or so. In the handhelds segment, Spotify offers a 30-day free trial, followed by a $9.99 per month subscription and Pandora has extended the same model as they have with desktop. The result is the emergence of two schools of thought – The Pandora Model and the Spotify Model.

Google has decided to follow the spotify model , with a $7.99/month fee for those who subscribe before June 30th and $9.99/month for those after. Of course the 30 day free trial is always a requirement. Rumor has it that Apple will follow the Pandora model , going by its challenges to obtain copyrights, just as Pandora has been criticized for their small collection again owing to the copyright issues.

So now we have two genres in the Internet music industry. Pandora and Spotify have been equally successful in their own respects and when two big players such as Google and Apple decide to take separate stance on their approach to digital music, we now have the battle of the strategies. Only time will tell which of those will go ahead. Until then, lets enjoy the competition!

Ngrams and Google

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When talking about Big Data, one initiative is worth a mention – The Google Ngrams . Google, in its on magnanimous way, started an program to digitize every single printed document, within the copyright limits back, in 2004. Started as a partnership with some of the well-known libraries around the globe such as the New York Public Library, the Harvard University Library and
 Bodleian Library at University of Oxford , the plan was to make high resolution digital images of all printed documents – books magazines et al – and save them in a huge repository that is searchable through books.google. com.

As the collection grew, Google realized the potential to actually digitize them one word at a time. Through a tool known as reCAPTCHA they then started to extract every word from every single image that was scanned. What was born out of it was an amazingly large data set from words dating back to 1500. By 2012, they had almost 15% of all the printed books digitized and that amounted to almost 700 billion words! What came out of this was Google Ngrams !

An “ngram” is a sequence of letters of any length, which could be a word, a misspelling, a phrase or gibberish

Google Ngrams is a searchable word repository, which graphs the occurrence of a word or a phrase in a “corpus of books” (as Google themselves puts it). It then plots those occurrences across time and the result is a visualization of how frequent the words were used over time.

As curious as I was, I decided to try out a few of the “jargons” of today to see how far back it was used. The results were alarming!

Internet

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The word “technology” (keep in mind the search is case sensitive) was used as long back as early 1500s, which is ok considering it is quite a defined term in the English dictionary. But what was even more puzzling is that the word “Internet” was used in the 1590s! Now what can that be referred to! Also, although the whole slew of ARPANET and packet switching started to evolve in the 1960s it wasn’t until 1990s when the word “Internet” started to be used widely in printed form!