Paul Wallbank

Paul Wallbank is a speaker and writer charting how technology is changing society and business. Paul has four regular technology advice radio programs on ABC, a weekly column on the website and has published seven books.

Apr 222014
apple smartphone tablet pc

This morning I had the opportunity to interview designer of the Fitbit, Gadi Amit, ahead of his visit to Sydney next month.

I’ll have the full interview written up in the next couple of days, but Gadi made an interesting point about not being in a ‘four screen world’ anymore, but in one where there’s infinite screens ranging from wearable glasses and watches through to smartphones and intelligent signage.

A few years ago the concept of the ‘third screen’ came into use when we started talking about the smartphone supplementing the PC and the TV, it quickly morphed into four screens as the tablet computer appeared.

Now the five year old idea of limiting ourselves to three screens seems quaint when there doesn’t seem to be any limits in the way we can view information.

The end of the three screen theory is an interesting illustration on how quickly technology is moving, it also shows how rapidly business is changing.

Apr 212014

During the dark days of the Tech Wreck, the poster product for the heady excesses of the Dot Com era was the connected fridge.

Today it could be the iKettle that marks the height of the Internet of Things craze, a kettle you can control from your smartphone.

While the app doesn’t automatically fill the kettle; it does allow you to turn it on, schedule times and control the water temperatures.

The problem though is what happens when your kettle or phone can’t connect to the internet?

Burning data centres

Over the weekend, Samsung customers learned what happens when a connected device can’t connect when a fire in a South Korean data centre triggered an outage that prevented the company’s smart TV, Blu-Ray player and phone customers from properly using their equipment.

It would be really irritating if you couldn’t boil a kettle because your internet was down, however the more serious question is what happens when your home’s smoke detectors can’t connect? Or when your smarthome or connected car can’t authenticate your identity and locks you out?

Securing the IoT supply chain

For industry, the problems are even more pressing; in the not too distant future a truck carrying perishable goods may well have its deliveries refused by a customer if the cargo has lost connectivity.

In life or mission critical applications, relying on connections that may not be dependable could have disastrous consequences.

While the iKettle might be a bit of gimmick, it raises some important issues of what happens should your internet connection go down.

If the Internet of Things is to be trusted by households and industry, it’s essential that systems are robust and maintain operations when they’re disconnected.

Apr 202014

Could liking a brand’s Facebook page cost you your right to sue?

The New York Times has a story on how corporations are subtly changing the wordings on websites and social media pages in an effort to make it harder for customers to challenge the business in court.

It’s quite cheeky attempting to strip people who ‘like’ a Facebook page of their rights to take action against a company, it even strikes at the heart of building an online community around a brand.

The whole point of accumulating real life followers behind a brand’s social media presence is to create a band of fans; by creating suspicion, business destroy the goodwill behind that exercise and possibly render it useless.

It will be interesting to see how Facebook react to this behaviour as intimidating users and discouraging them from liking brands is a direct threat to their business model, it’s hard to see them not changing their own terms to make this corporate behaviour a breach of their own terms of service.

For consumers though it’s a reminder that corporations, at least those who operate on twentieth-century mass market principles, aren’t really their friends.

Update: Since posting this piece, General Mills has backed down on its policy but the point still remains that unfair and over legalistic terms and conditions threaten social media platforms.

Apr 192014
newspapers are dying as the media business models move online

Last week, Google’s share price slumped on news of poorer than expected revenue results and website Asymco has a detailed examination of how the company’s growth might have reached its limits.

Asymco’s warning to the online advertising industry is clear with the warning that revenues might start to decline in 2016.

That online advertising may have reached its peak means even an even more uncertain future for businesses rely on those revenues, and times have been tough for those sites in recent years as returns have fallen.

At the same time online ad spending seems to be peaking, print advertising revenues in the United States dropped a further 8% last year with income at now at 1982 levels. It seems publishers can’t win either way.

So its now wonder that online services like Google and Facebook are looking to payment systems and other ways to generate revenue, for online publishers things are even more problematic.

What is clear is the advertising driven revenue methods that work so well for the broadcast industry aren’t working for online publishers and quite possibly other internet based businesses as well.

The online industries need a David Sarnoff to figure out a model that works.


Apr 182014

After four decades the smartphone comes of age,” proclaims Micheal Wolf in Forbes Magazine.

Wolf is right to a point but he misses the key reason why the smarthome, or the entire internet of things, has become accessible – the technology has simply become affordable.

It was possible to build a smarthome two decades ago, but it was fiendishly expensive and only a few rich people could afford the technology. Today that technology is cheap and easy to install.

This is the common factor with all aspect of the Internet of Things, connecting devices has been possible since before the internet became common but it was expensive and cumbersome so only the highest value equipment – such as oil rigs – was connected.

Now it’s inexpensive and simple to connect things, people are doing it more and that is why there’s a range of security and privacy issues which weren’t so pressing when it was only a few obscure industrial devices that were wired up.

We aren’t inventing the wheel with technologies like the internet of things or big data, they already existed – they are just more accessible and that’s what’s changing business.

Apr 172014

A 16 hour outage by hosting service Bluehost knocks the wind out of this site’s sails.

There’s much to say about customer engagement, engineering and management but it will have to wait for another day.

Apr 162014

Following Google’s acquisition of smarthome startup Nest in January, it was clear that 2014 was going to be the year that the Internet of Things dominated corporate takeovers.

This week has shown that with Blackberry announcing a stake in medical technology firm NantHealth, obstensibly as an Internet of Things play as CEO John Chen explains;

The NantHealth platform is installed at approximately 250 hospitals and connects more than 16,000 medical devices collecting more than 3 billion vital signs annually. Think about the possibilities when an enormous amount of data and computing power is accessible to doctors in the palm of their hands.

As Chen points out, the possibilities for this data are huge which raises questions about the privacy and security issues for patients along with the importance of having stable software and networks.

The other big Internet of Things acquisition yesterday was Zebra Technologies buying Motorola’s enterprise division for over three billion dollars, again the buyer cited the opportunities in connecting machines.

An interesting aspect is these acquisitions aren’t being made by the big players – Cisco, Google, Microsoft or Apple – but by smaller, but still substantial, players. It shows just how wide the Internet of Things’ applications are.

Blackberry and Zebra won’t be the only big acquisitions this year.