May 242016
 
Cell phones in use

“We’re in the flip phone era of 5G networks, people don’t realise today’s 4G mobile standards were written for the era of the flip phone,” says John Smee, the Senior Director of Engineering at Qualcomm Research

John was speaking to me at chipset manufacturer Qualcomm’s San Diego head office to discuss the next generation of mobile phone services.

Putting together communications standards isn’t a simple thing, as John says “what we’re discussing now is what today’s five year olds will be using when they turn fifteen.”

John sees the new standard as giving the next generation of internet giants their market opening, pointing out companies such as Facebook and Uber benefitted from the rollout of 4G networks and some of today’s startups will get a similar boost from 5G services. “A few clicks and you’ve ordered a ride. That wouldn’t have been possible without 3G connectivity, high powered smartphones and networks that are scalable.”

“What are going to be some interesting new startups that become huge multibillion dollar industries from 2030,” he asks. “By definition we don’t understand the future.”

For telco executives being a ‘dumb pipe’ is one of their nightmares and John believes they can avoid that fate in a 5G world by concentrating on their advantages with licensed spectrum. “If they are looking a high reliability and low latency services then the quality of the connectivity they can offer becomes essential,” he says.

While the standards groups continue to work on the 5G standards, the technologies continue to evolve. John Smee’s message is that these new products are going to offer opportunities for new companies.

The trick is to figure out which of today’s startup companies will be the Uber or Facebook of 2025.

May 232016
 
Amazon echo

The winner of the upcoming fight over voice technologies will come down to who is the most open and provides the best utility believes Tad Toulis, VP for design at smart speaker manufacturer Sonos.

A struggle is looming between the different voice systems believes Tad Toulis, VP of Design at smart speaker manufacturer Sonos.

We were speaking at Sonos’ Santa Barbara office the day after Google launched its Google Home voice activated hub to compete with Amazon’s and Apple’s Siri systems.

“There’s a little bit of syntax difference with every device we use, so we’re about to re-enter this environment where we have competing formats.” states Toulis, hinting at the days of competing network types operating systems and file types.

For Sonos, that fight between formats is an opportunity believes Toulis. “Sonos was very early into this space, so much so that it’s had a few lives. The original proposition was a way to get people who were into music to have access to their digital music and enliven their home with that music.”

“At a certain point in that arc, that category started to shrink a little bit and streaming started to emerge. Now streaming has become mainstream and we’re facing another cycle.”

Generous systems

Voice though is a social thing and that changes how we interact with devices Toulis believes, “we want to talk out loud in generous way to a generous system.”

“What people want is a supportive, powerful experience that creates good options day to day,” says Toulis. “The technology is fast approaching a tipping point where it’s very human centric.”

“The promise is to figure who can do that in the most natural way so you’re not thinking about the syntax and more about the experience.”

Finding a place at the table

Like most smaller players in the marketplace, Toulis sees Sonos as being a nuetral intermediary between with the various technology empires.

“Sonos offers a place in that conversation. We also approach it in a different way because it’s not one of our businesses, it is our business.”

“I assume we’ll do what we’ve done with the music services. We’ve always believed that we do well when there are many players.”

Winning the voice wars

When asked who is likely to win the voice wars, Toulis is quite rightly guarded, “what I’ve seen over my career in technology is what wins is what works for people, it’s not always the best technologies that win. What wins is the technology value proposition, here’s a need that hasn’t been satisfied and here’s a way of doing it that is sticky.”

“The one that creates the solution with the least resistance will win,” says Toulis. “The best solutions are usually pretty obvious. The problem is you have a bunch of specialists looking at it, they can’t see how obvious it is because they are looking past the target. They’re either very close up.”

While Toulis’ view is attractive, the risk for companies like Sonos is the technology empires find their business models aren’t suited to being open or generous and controlling access to their services is more compelling for their managers and shareholders.

Hopefully open web and data will prove to be the market’s driving forces and certainly Ted Toulis’ and Sonos’ views are what users would prefer, the giants though may not prove to be so generous.

May 212016
 
Sonos_Play_5

Today I had the opportunity to tour the Santa Barbara headquarters of smart speaker manufacturer Sonos. I’ll be writing up a some more detailed accounts of some of the interesting things this fascinating company does.

One thing particularly interesting thing about Sonos is how it was established by four veterans of the original dot com era who had no experience in audio hardware or technology but had a vision of how they would like the stereo system of the future to look like.

That vision hasn’t come without change for the company, the shift to streaming has meant Sonos itself has had to pivot away from its original business model which entailed layoffs for the fast growing company last year.

How Sonos is navigating that shift, along with fostering a culture of openness and innovation is an interesting story that I’ll be telling over the next few weeks. In the meantime, my head is spinning from information overload.

May 012016
 
google-larry-page-sergei-brin-driverless-car

Breaking with the company’s tradition of the Sergi, Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai writes this year’s founders letter laying out how the search engine giant is focusing of artificial intelligence and the machine learning.

Pichai’s view of the world seems to tie in very closely with founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin with him laying out a vision of making the internet and computers accessible to all.

The challenge for Google is the shift away from personal computers, something that the company is struggling with and a factor that Pichai acknowledges.

Today’s proliferation of “screens” goes well beyond phones, desktops, and tablets. Already, there are exciting developments as screens extend to your car, like Android Auto, or your wrist, like Android Wear. Virtual reality is also showing incredible promise—Google Cardboard has introduced more than 5 million people to the incredible, immersive and educational possibilities of VR.

Whether Google can execute on that vision and manages to diversify its revenues away from depending almost exclusively upon web advertising will be what defines Pichai’s time as the company’s CEO. He has a challenging task ahead.

Mar 292016
 
nest-iot-aquired-by-google-protect-black-pathlight

One of the truisms of modern business is we live in an API economy where open Application Programming Interfaces allow software companies to connect their platforms that builds an ecosystem of developers and extends the functionality of their products.

But what happens when an API shuts down or a company starts applying the web2.0 principles of draconian legal terms and conditions to its data feeds? Pinboard, “the social bookmarking application for introverts” is illustrating how serious legalese can be for developers.

Maciej Cegowski, Pinboard’s founder, decided the terms and conditions imposed by popular automation site If That Then This (IFTTT) were too demanding and pulled his service from the platform.

In a blog post he lays out exactly why, citing IFTTT’s demands for rights over his service along with the option of  the plaftorm being able to assign those rights to third parties.

For developers, IFTTT’s terms are almost impossible as the platform strips them of their intellectual property rights and restrains their trade. It’s a classic case of legal over-reach which is all too common in the control obsessed tech industry.

As we’re seeing software vendors releasing platforms to manage IoT devices through APIs and cloud services making their plethora of APIs a selling point, access to these becomes a serious matter for the software industry.

There is a worrying aspect for users in this as well, as those relying on Pinboard services driven through IFTTT are now effectively stranded and have to look for another site that provides similar functions.

While Pinboard is quite small, a larger service shutting down its APSs could have dramatic effects. This is even truer with Internet of Things devices that could use a service like IFTTT to run key functions.

Designing devices and services to cater for the possibility an API or web service may become unavailable needs to be priority for IoT vendors while for developers and users, the risk a service may stop is something that should never be far from their minds and factored into the business and purchasing decisions they make.

Mar 122016
 
Networks and computers connecting to the web

The one company that has driven both the adoption of cloud computing and the current tech startup mania is Amazon Web Services.

Later this week AWS celebrates its tenth birthday and Werner Vogels, the company’s Chief Technical Officer, has listed the ten most important things he’s learned over the last decade.

The article is a useful roadmap for almost any business, not just a tech organisation, particularly in the importance of building systems that can evolve and understanding that things will inevitably break.

Importantly Vogels flags that encryption and security have to be built into technology, today they are key parts of a product and no longer features to be added later.

Most contentious though is Vogels’ view that “APIs are forever”, that breaking a data connection causes so much trouble for customers that it’s best to leave them alone.

Few companies are going to take that advice, particularly in a world where changing business needs mean APIs have to evolve.

There’s also the real risk for businesses that their vendors will depreciate or abandon APIs leaving key operational functions stranded, this could cause major problems for organisations in a world that’s increasingly automated.

Vogel’s commitment to maintaining APIs may well prove to be a competitive advantage for Amazon Web Services in their competition with Microsoft Azure, Google and an army of smaller vendors.

Werner Vogel’s lessons are worth a read by all c-level executives as well as startup founders looking to build a long term venture, in many ways they could define the new rules of business.

Mar 092016
 
Cisco networking head office

I’m attending the Asia Pacific Cisco Live in Melbourne Australia this week which is starkley illustrating the shift in communications technologies and the business models around them.

To kick off the press program Cisco made a joint announcement with Australian incumbent telco Telstra on the rollout of a smart software defined networking product.

Software Defined Networking uses basic computer hardware, basically glorified personal computers, to do the jobs of the expensive routers, switches and network appliances that were insanely profitable for companies like Cisco a few years ago.

It wasn’t so long ago when Cisco executives were taking technology journalists out to earnestly explain how Software Defined Networking (SDN) was feasible.

Today, SDN is defining both the telco and communications industries as companies like Telstra look at bundling IT networking and software services into their offerings to prop up their falling margins. India’s Reliance Communications are a good example of how providers are trying to shift into new marketplaces.

For telcos, communications vendors  and IT hardware sellers the changing technologies illustrate what Silicon Valley entrepreneur Marc Andreesen meant when he described how “software will eat the world.’

Software is eating the IT hardware industry and telcos are seeing – hoping – it’s another lucrative opportunity. Businesses in other sectors should be thinking about how software is going to change their world.

Paul travelled to Melbourne for Cisco Live as a guest of Cisco