Friday, 29 November 2013

What I've been reading this week

The pace and breadth of change in technology and media is awesome right now, so my view is that people in the industry need to read widely to get a sense of what’s going on. To that end, here’s the stories that caught my eye.

This week: Macy’s becomes Minority, HBO struggles in Sweden, self-driving cars by 2020, inkjet-printed electronics and digital puzzle baffles Internet

Business models

Macy’s becomes the first big store to trial iBeacon, Apple’s new in-premise presence technology… cue Minority Report comparisons galore. In seriousness, this kind of store based presence technology should be a godsend for retailers as it can link online experiences to physical in a much more engaging way.

The ultimate narcissism, combining Kinect, 3D printing and $59 to create a figurine of yourself.

Not really a business model, but I’ll put it here anyhow – Eric Schmidt claims that censorship will be a thing of the past in 10 years. Only if dictatorial governments fall down in the next 10 years, Eric.

Again, not business models, but a very interesting read about a mysterious Internet puzzle, seeking to recruit people for… something!


HBO Nordic is an experiment in selling the channel’s wares outside of a pay TV bundle. According to this link though, it isn’t going very well. I wonder whether that’s due to the current strength of the local Swedish production industry?

Another new news concept, brought to you by the Internet. This time the idea is to use a huge online dictionary of words and phrases to select stories based on your preferences. I don’t see how that helps, to be honest. Those familiar with the Chinese Room experiment will recall that being able to match language patterns to a meaningful response does not equate to intelligence that would be able to predict what I’d like to hear about.

Weather apps are the most popular type of application in the US. How odd.


Nissan believes that it will put fully autonomous self-driving cars on the road by 2020. I have a small worry that in the UK we don’t have enough mobile depth of coverage to support that amount of bandwidth that these vehicles will likely need, but fingers crossed it’ll be okay!

Qualcomm announce that they’ll launch a consumer smart watch in early December. This is an unusual move by them as they’re typically only involved in the design of underlying technology, rather than devices. Use of Miasol in the display is also of note – this is a low power screen technology that is readable in high light levels (unlike some LCDs).

Interesting timing for Qualcomm as they’ve announced lukewarm results and are making big layoffs. Strange, given how hot tech is right now. Perhaps this is a small warning sign that the model of IP generation machines like Qualcomm is under pressure from the pace of change elsewhere in the market. Everyone wants tech IP these days, after all.

Apparently parents will spend £3 billion on tech presents for their kids this Christmas, with tablets being the most requested gift. Unreal if true. £3 billion?! I was ecstatic when I received the Lego petrol station.

This story cracked me up. Instagram finally launches for Windows Phone… but without the photo taking features. You couldn’t make it up…

Wearable tech is hard because bodies are soft – particularly true of heavy, lumpy batteries. This could all be changing as some enterprising Korean researchers have figured out how to make flexible batteries using polyester yarn. If it’s commercialised it’ll be the technology of 2018!

Goldman Sachs’ view of the hottest companies in tech… that use GS as their investment advisor.

Inkjet printed circuit boards… another step towards the fully automated fabricator!

Just for fun

A fascinating view of the US’ energy usage. Terrifying for many countries is the suggestion that they’ll be energy-independent by 2020, and that’s without a serious green agenda. UK needs to buck it’s ideas up. We cannot rely on others much longer – renewables and heavy incentives to use greener sources are a must if we’re to be internationally competitive beyond this decade. IMO.

I love this super-geeky poster charting the history of NES games… If I need to explain the acronym, it’s not for you ;).


Next April I’ll be running the London Marathon to raise money for the NSPCC. This is a great charity that does phenomenal work for children all over the world, so if you enjoy this blog, please make a donation.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

2014 digital predictions sandbox #1 - personal health monitors

I’m in the process of developing some predictions for what will happen in digital in 2014 and thought that I’d post them here to get some wisdom from my readers! Some of these will be positive, some might be busting some myths about categories that have captured the zeitgeist. Now, more than ever, comments will be greatly appreciated.

First up: personal health monitoring

My prediction: although they will be the subject of much media interest, personal health monitoring devices will remain niche in 2014, with sales in the category remaining below $250Mn globally.

What am I talking about? Personal health monitors are wearable devices that measure the movement of the body in order to inform the user about their level of activity and its relation to their wellbeing. The most common type are bracelets that measure steps, for example Nike Fuel Band, Jawbone Up and FitBit, but there are more specialised devices such Spire, which measures breathing and Sensoria, a connected sock that shows how the foot is striking the ground during running. These devices come with an application and related ecosystem that shows the user how they are performing and attempts to gameify their personal fitness.

Estimates on the size of this market vary considerably. Nike claims to have sold nearly 20 million Fuel Bands since early 2012, but data on their competitors is limited. What is clear is that investors consider this technology to be a potentially sizeable market. Jawbone and FitBit have collectively raised over $400 million in funding since 2009.

What’s my prediction? I have used Fuel Band (look in the archives for my review) and am currently using Up. They are interesting devices and the latter is actually a pretty neat piece of technology. The trouble is that they are caught in a middle ground of functionality.

For the average person they overserve need, which is to be active enough to stay healthy. People often want to perceive that they are healthy and have good intentions (which is why so many people have gym memberships that they barely use); however they don’t need the sophisticated analysis that goes into the application ecosystem and  likely lose interest fast, particularly since the bracelet is a little inconvenient to wear – like a rather ugly, if slim, second watch.

For the avid fitness freak, whether they started off as one or were converted by the band, the devices underserve. Because they are attached to the wrist, they are rather inaccurate in judging movement. Vigorous typing causes them to record steps being taken, for example. So someone doing proper training and wanting to use technology to enhance the experience is liable to invest in something more serious – a Garmin Forerunner, for example.

In either case, personal monitors are likely to follow a rapid lifecycle that begins with excitement and advocacy at purchase and rapidly leads to the back of a chest of drawers or eBay. Around 500 monitors are on the UK site at the moment.

That won’t stop sales. I expect that Christmas will be good to the category as, like DAB radios, they are expensive enough to show you care, unusual enough to be relatively sure the recipient won’t have one and cheap enough for you not to be too bothered when they don’t want it. Perfect.

I am very bullish on the long term potential for the quantified self and personal measurement in general, I just think that until the sensors are totally unobtrusive and the ecosystem offers benefits beyond narcissism, it will remain very niche.

Won’t stop me wearing my ‘Up’, but that’s just me and my geek chic :).

Monday, 18 November 2013

What I've been reading this week

I’ve had another week of travelling so a slightly truncated reading list again today, nevertheless, this week: Under Armor connects, Xbox One is watching you, weaponised Internet and psychedelic techno speakers.

Business models

All this outrage about the NSA weaponising the Internet is stupid. It’s like complaining that in order to provide security they’ve invested in secret weapons they’ve not told anyone about in case they really need to defend us. When the US reveals a new spy plane we all go: cool! When it turns out they’re using the Internet to spy on people and developing digital weapons we get our underwear all twisted. If they weren’t doing it, they’d be failing in their duty. Anyway, here’s what the (digitally) smoking gun looks like. And the spy plane.

Everyone is getting into the technology incubator game these days. Here’s Mexico City’s third batch of start ups. My observation is that none of these businesses represent new ideas, just international ones localised for Mexico. There’s been a fashionable idea for years that the developing world will be the experimental centre of the world for tech and business models but the reality is that it’s a hell of a lot easier to start off repurposing other people’s ideas… which is why I still hear about M-PESA all the time…

Apparently climbing stairs counts as vigorous exercise, which begs the question what running a marathon is. In any case, Step Jockey is getting companies to install little QR Code placards at the bottom and top of their stairs to gamify the activity. Boris Johnson thinks it’s a good idea. I think it’ll last six months. Insanely niche.

Someone else who’s clocked that digitally quantifying fitness is a potentially lucrative market is everybody. US sportswear brand Under Armor has chosen to start competing with Nike and Adidas’ connected fitness solutions by buying mapmyfitness for $150 million. Good investment in my book as UA are a challenger brand and need to do something a bit more open than their larger rivals’ end to end systems.

Microsoft launches a cybercrime centre. Do we approve of web vigilantes? Not sure, is the answer in my case, as we seem to be heading in a worryingly Gibson-esque direction.


On British Airways they make you turn your phone off during take-off and landing – presumably the EM output of an iPhone is too much for the over-worked computers of their ancient fleet to cope with. In more sensible news, the European Union has finally realised that having communications devices on during take-off and landing isn’t in any way dangerous and is thinking about un-banning them. Hopefully they’ll now retrospectively apologise for being such pricks about it for the last decade?

Psychedelic Jean Michel Jarre-designed BlueTooth speaker? So much want.

iPad Air scores a perfect review on Wired UK. I was impressed by the Air and very nearly bought one, then realised that since my iPad 3 never leaves the living room, the benefits of light weight and quick charging are not worth the money…

Microsoft are desperate to demonstrate that they haven’t dropped the ball on Xbox One tech’ specs. Here’s a video of it switching on, using Kinect to identify you and getting to the home screen. For reference, the Xbox 360 takes about a minute to do the same and you have to press buttons and stuff…

…And I couldn’t care less about that difference, since the Xbox One seems to lag PS4 terribly in terms of frame rate and resolution. Should have got the basics right before spending time fiddling. Having had both generations of Xbox, I have a PS4 on pre-order this time around. Gamers first…

IBM has made near-artificial intelligence Watson available through the cloud, so developers can make applications for it. How long before this is being used in a spooky predictive Siri?

Oh lordy, now Cisco are suffering because they can’t be trusted. Scary times. No Internet of Things for you naughty Americans, unless you invent it all. Oh yes, there’s that.


Roku provides news to connected TV customers via AOL. I don’t know what to make of this as I’m unclear about the benefit of full screen connected news over broadcast. Oh, and how used is Roku these days, anyway? Not much outside of the US.

Ad recall for Millenials is highest when they watch smartphone video ads. I guess that’s no surprise given it’s at the core of their media consumption experience.

…and sort of just for fun, you can see a snippet of me at News Xchange, talking incoherently about the future of news.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Video First @ News Xchange

I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at News Xchange 2013 in Marrakech. One of the sessions I managed to attend was on the idea of “video first, bulletins next”, the idea being that it’s better to shoot video then assemble it into a story for TV later, rather than deciding on the TV needs and then shooting for them. The panellists were from NOS in the Netherlands, DR in Denmark and YLE in Finland, all of which are publicly funded broadcasters.

The Danish take on this subject was to divide the newsroom into specialist subject areas – politics, economics and so on – nothing new there, except that they also have a “news engine” team, who’s role is to create raw feeds on stories – sometimes from the specialists, but mainly from their own journalists and then assemble that at the behest of DR channels. It’s an interesting concept in that the news engine acts as a kind of internal news marketplace, where content is placed for use by any of the programmes or channels in DR. On slow news days, the journalists are free to go and research and record whatever stories interest them.

Another titbit, DR also has a data team, composed of people who understand math better than journos and can therefore create stories from data rather than investigative journalism.

NOS have a slightly different take on the theme. In their business the stories are still decided on in the same way as they’ve always been, but the raw content is fed to the web straight away. It’s assembled for broadcast later. This can include interviews being streamed near live.

YLE’s contribution was a more human one. The challenge of this idea of creating stories from fragments and the journalist being responsible only for the latter causes problems for the traditional employee of a newsroom, who’s often come into the business to make little movies about news and take the credit. The idea of shooting content for someone else to use and take credit for is very difficult for them to accept. I can see this being an issue – gathering is unglamorous without the kudos of doing the gathering. This is also often the issue with citizen journalism, as it happens.

I’d imagine the stories often lose a portion of the narrative and are more difficult to follow when assembled in this way… And yes – I’m posting this from the conference centre, just to demonstrate the point ;).

Friday, 1 November 2013

What I've been reading this week

I’ve had a week of travelling so a slightly truncated reading list today, nevertheless, this week: invisible jobs, Tesla’s IT, collaborative economies, iPad Air thin but unrepairable and Sony blows up volcano

Business models

Oh sh*t. Here we go again. Patent wars kick off once more.

New business models

Tesla is a really inspirational digital company. It has used the freedom that the connected world enables to totally reinvent the car company. It also develops most of its IT systems from scratch to give it differential capabilities. Those who are still buying into the big, old fashioned ERP, finance, CRM etc… systems take note.

An excellent article about invisible jobs: the increasing number of people taking advantage of digital marketplaces like AirBnB, Etsy and Uber to make an additional income. This is a vitally important subject to understand as it isn’t one covered by the activities of most economists – there aren’t statistics for this kind of activity and it is likely to become ever more prevalent. Another example of how digital is returning us to the personal lifestyles of the pre-industrial age.

Astro Teller describes the ethos of Google[x]. Nothing new, but I do like the idea that in order to be a successful PLC in digital the number of voting shares must be kept to a minimum to avoid short term paranoia about “results” and the resultant focus on quarterly results instead of multi-annuals.

This is a great example of the power of digital. These guys spotted an opportunity to provide information on the impact of health insurance changes, found data on premium calculations online, then set up an information exchange to inform consumers. All in 6 months.

On demand delivery is all the rage – here Wun Wun offers free delivery of candy for Halloween in New York.

Short article on new business models that are being enabled by the collaborative economy.


My greatest technology fears are: artificially intelligent robots enslave humanity; genetically engineered virus wipes us all out; physics experiment creates micro black hole that destroys the Earth. Americans’ tech fears are more prosaic. Hacked bank accounts, email and – God save us – a hacked social media account.

A slightly updated Glass has been announced by Google… but I still can’t get one .

New York is replacing all of its streetlights with LEDs. Smart move as it’ll reduce electricity consumption, but most importantly strip out a whole ton of unionised labour. Excellent news.

iFixit have already torn down the iPad Air. It gets 2/10 for reparability. No surprise there, then… Otherwise, it’s basically an iPhone 5S under the skin. The much smaller battery will also be a boon. The older Retina iPads have horrendous charging times for their massive batteries! I’m very tempted.

Finally some common sense on the use of electronic devices at take-off and landing. It’s always been an absurdity that these things could interfere with flight systems, which are predominantly fibre-based anyway and have heavily shielded electronics to protect them from lightning and ionising radiation.


Nearly 80% of Facebook users are using mobile. Impressive given how the company struggled with the channel even a year ago. Its profitable as well – generally good news for Zuck!

Just for fun

Sony’s new 4K ad is pretty mesmerising!