Smarter Smartphones The Moto X (image from Eurodroid)

Smarter Smartphones

by @adamskikne

Over the past few years, most smartphone manufacturers have been engaged in a specs war in an effort to  differentiate themselves in a highly competitive market. With each new launch, smartphones has become thinner, lighter and faster. But while smartphones have become more powerful, they haven’t necessarily become smarter.

Until now.

Two weeks ago, Motorola officially unveiled the Moto X, the first new smartphone that the company has developed since being acquired by Google in 2011. And while some have criticised the Moto X for shipping with what they consider to be “mid range” specs, Motorola is betting their success on providing customers with a smarter user experience.

This smarter experience is powered by the Motorola X8 Mobile Computing System, an 8 core processor that has two cores dedicated to natural language and contextual computing. This allows the Moto X to  always be listening for a specific phrase (in this case, the incredibly catchy “Ok Google Now”) that activates Touchless Control.

Through Touchless Control, the Moto X benefits from deep integration with Google Now – one of the smartest and most useful of Google’s services that will soon be baked into the Chrome browser and Google Glass. Without even touching the phone, Moto X owners will be able to make phone calls, send messages, ask questions, perform web searches, navigate and so much more.

The Moto X (image from The Verge)

The Moto X (image from The Verge)

Like most smartphones, the Moto X also features a number of contextual sensors. It will know when it’s in your pocket and when you might be able to see the screen so that it can show you subtle notifications. It knows when you are driving and will automatically alert you to incoming calls and read new messages – all through Touchless Control.

What makes the Moto X so special is that it is able to  power these various sensors and processes in a highly efficient way. Motorola claims the Moto X offers 24 hours of battery life…which is pretty impressive if these claims are true.

Another aspect of the Moto X that Motorola has focused on is customisation. Consumers will be able to customise their Moto X by choosing from a wide range of colours for the back plates and accents of the phone. Later in the year, Motorola will even be offering a variety wooden options to choose from.

Many have seen this focus on customisation as a move to appeal to average consumers and not just spec-obsessed Android nerds. This is actually pretty ironic, as Touchless Control is probably geekier than anything  you’ll find on other Android phones like the Samsung S4 and the HTC One.

While the Moto X is not a perfect phone, I’m incredibly excited to see how Motorola will progress with their future products. Personally, I’ll be shocked if the next Nexus smartphone isn’t a Motorola device that sports similar features to the Moto X.

Specs will always be important, but currently there is no shortage of great smartphones on the market. Manufacturers might use software to differentiate their products but this will be harder than it sounds. For example, the majority of the added software features on the Samsung Galaxy S4 clutter up the phone, while the software features on the Moto X are minimal and could be genuinely useful.

The smartest bet for manufacturers moving forward might just be focusing on building smarter smartphones.

A Game of Phones

A Game of Phones

by @adamskikne

Last week, Facebook unveiled Facebook Home, a brand new approach to mobile that is designed around people instead of apps. Facebook Home is not a “Facebook Phone”, at least not in the same way that the iPhone is an “Apple Phone”. Instead, Facebook home is a launcher – which is essentially an app capable of customising the look and feel of any Android device.

The thinking behind Facebook Home is brilliant. Through Facebook Home, Facebook is extending its reach beyond its traditional mobile app and integrating its services directly into the UI of potentially millions of Android phones around the world. All without ever having to design ship or sell a single mobile device.

Ironically, this feat is only possible on Android, a mobile operating system owned by one of Facebook’s main rivals, Google. In addition to this, Android is also the world’s most popular mobile operating system and continues to sell well in both developing and developed markets alike.

Simply brilliant.

Judging from a variety of hands-on videos, Facebook Home seems to be a highly polished product. It is beautifully designed, fun to play with and even a little whimsical. But despite everything it has going for it, Facebook Home will need to accomplish some pretty big things if it is going to be considered a successful product.

The first thing it will need to do is help make Facebook more money off of mobile. Over the past few years, Facebook have had to aggressively transform itself into a mobile first company. Over 50% of users access Facebook from mobile devices but only 23% of Facebook’s ad revenue comes from mobile ads.

Facebook Home is expected to eventually incorporate some form of advertising which may put some people off. If done correctly, these ads might even add value and make Facebook Home an even more compelling product. But until we actually see these ads, all we can do is speculate.

Another challenge Facebook needs to overcome is that, for some, Facebook is becoming less relevant. This is particularly true amongst younger users who have recently been switching to other services like Twitter, Tumblr and Snap Chat.  It’s no secret that there is also a large group of people who are only on Facebook because everyone they know is on Facebook. They use the service begrudgingly and more exposure to Facebook would probably do more harm than good.

Another problem Facebook has is data. This may come as a shock as Facebook probably knows more about you than any other company in the world. As pointed out by The Verge in their early review of Graph Search, Facebook’s other new product from earlier this year, the data collected by Facebook is great for targeting ads but offers very little value for users in the real world. In order to fix this, Facebook needs to change the way we use their social network, which may be more effort than it’s worth.

But despite the challenges it has to overcome, Facebook Home is exciting. Whether it succeeds or fails, it is part of a massive shift that is taking place in mobile. In the past, mobile was all about apps. With Facebook Home, Facebook is going beyond the app. Google will no doubt try take this one step further later this year as they try go beyond the phone with Project Glass. Apple and just about every other tech company are reportedly working on smart watches and other forms of wearable computers.

Make no mistake about it. 2013 will be an exciting year for mobile.

A New Era for Android

A New Era for Android

by @adamskikne

Last week, Google CEO Larry Page announced on the official Google blog that Andy Rubin would be stepping down as the head of Android. As a fan of Android, part of me is really sad to see him go. This is most likely because I find it hard to imagine Android without Andy Rubin. As one of the original founders of Android, it’s hard not too think of him in relation to Android in the same way most people think of Steve Jobs in relation to Apple. Along with dessert themed releases and their corresponding statues at Google’s headquarters, Andy Rubin has always been an important part of what makes Android what it is.

Andy Rubin’s initial vision for Android was to create a robust, open-sourced mobile operating system that would increase innovation, create choice and transform the mobile industry. It was an insane idea. But what is more insane is that he’s pretty much pretty much achieved what he initially set out to do. Over the past decade, Android has become the world’s most used mobile operating system with more than 750 million Android devices activated throughout the world.

Android is a phenomenal success. And perhaps it’s because Android is such a success that it is time for Andy Rubin to move on. Andy Rubin has built a strong foundation for Android and there is no telling where the OS will be in another ten years. Due to the openness of the platform, there is a strong possibility that it will make the jump from smartphones and tablets and be used to create the various smart devices that we use in our homes, in our offices and while we’re on the go.

Of course the person who will oversee this will be Sundar Pichai, the head of Chrome and Apps at Google and the man who will be taking over as head of Android from Andy Rubin (in retrospect, this would explain the giant Chrome Android statue that Google installed at their headquarters earlier this year). And while most people are wondering what Pichai will do next with Android, others are wondering what will be next for Rubin himself.

Larry Page has asked Rubin for more moon shots and in a farewell email to the various Android partners, Andy Rubin described himself as an ‘entrepreneur at heart’ and says that he is excited to begin a new chapter within Google. If Android has reached the point where it just isn’t ambitious enough for Andy Rubin, then I think we should be extremely excited about what he is going to be working on next.

It probably won’t be Project Glass. It probably won’t be Google’s self-driving car. But it will probably be something even more exciting. Leo Laporte joked on a recent episode of TWIG that Andy Rubin might be working on actual androids or some other project relating to robotics. And while this was said in jest, it wouldn’t surprise me if this is true. Whatever Andy Rubin works on next, if Google is looking for another moon shot, then Andy Rubin might just be the guy to give them on.

It’s going to be a new era for Android. But it’s also going to be a new era for Andy Rubin.


A Smart New World Google Glass

A Smart New World

by @adamskikne

At the end of 2012, Joshua Topolsky wrote an editorial for The Verge entitled Reasons to be excited. In the piece, Topolsky stated that while we’ve spent the past few years getting used to things like social networks, smartphones and tablets, 2013 will be the year where we will begin to understand the impact that these new technologies will have on our lives.

Make no mistake. If you are in digital, it is definitely the time to be excited. We’ve all heard the proverbial promises of what will be possible “one day”.  Well  “one day” is almost here and some of the things that you thought would only be possible in science fiction movies will be rolling out to consumers in the next three to five years. We are about to enter a smart new world.

Robert Scoble and Shel Israel are two men who are perfectly positioned to understand the importance of the shift currently taking place in the world of technology and business. The pair are currently writing a new book entitled The Age of Context which is set to be released later this year. The book, which recently received $100 000.00 in funding, will argue that we are moving from an age of conversation which has been characterised by the rise of social media to an age of context which will be shaped by five key trends:

  • Smart sensors (your smartphone currently has around seven of these)
  • Wearable devices (think Nike FuelBands and Google Glass)
  • Big Data
  • The exponential increase in the volume of social data
  • The exponential increase in the volume of location data

The above five trends will lead to a proliferation of smart products and services that will be able to provide highly personalised experiences based on an individual’s data. This needs to happen because while the amount of information that we generate on a daily basis is growing exponentially, not all of it is useful to us.

Last year, IBM estimated that we create 2.5 quintillion (add seventeen zeros) new bytes of data each day. This includes all the tweets, status updates, blog posts, reviews, check-ins, photos and videos that are uploaded and shared on the internet each day. It should be noted that while the above stat might sound impressive, it’s also probably already outdated.

We have access to more data and more information than ever before. And while we’ve often been told that more data is always better, this is only true up to a point. The truth is, is that information is only valuable to us if it is relevant and relevancy is dependant on context. And no one knows this more than Google.

Google is probably the biggest company to embrace the concept of smart technology. On paper, Google knows more about you than any other company on the planet. But the only way it can create value for you (and advertisers) is to know who you are, who you know, where you are, what you’ve looked for in the past and what you are looking for now in order to provide you with information that is relevant. That’s why Google is currently working on a number of smart products including Google Now, Google Glass and a self-driving car.

Despite only running on 13% of Android devices, Google Now was named as Popular Science’s Invention of the Year for 2012. The product has been designed to predictively give you the right information at the right time and when it succeeds, it’s magical. The way it is able to do this is by making smart connections based on the information Google already knows about you.

For example, it can work out where you live based on where you wake up each morning. It can work out where you work based on where you commute to. And it will automatically recommend an alternative route to work by factoring in current traffic conditions from Google Maps. And according to an interview with CNN, Google CEO Larry Page envisions being able to even summon one of Google’s self-driving cars to come collect you when your phone notices that you are ready to leave work for the day.

In addition to this, Google is also working on Glass – a set of glasses with a heads up display that can connect to your smartphone that allows you to record video, take pictures, get directions, send messages, video chat, voice search and plenty more. Glass will probably be the first of a number of new devices that will create new opportunities where contextual information will be extremely valuable. Google is aiming to bring Glass to market in 2014 and have recently released a video where you can get a taste of how it will function in the real world.

But Google isn’t the only big company to embrace smart technology. The New York Times recently published an article about Disney introducing RFID bracelets as part of their MyMagic+ system to help build brand loyalty and increase sales at their theme parks.

Through these smart bracelets, Disney will be able to eliminate turnstiles from the entrances to Disney World and allow visitors to spend less time in lines for rides. Disney has also developed an app that can be used to load credit onto a particular smart bracelet which can then be used to pay for goods within the theme park. If you opt in, you can also share your personal information with Disney cast members who will be able to greet you by name or even wish you happy birthday.

With 30 million people visiting Disney World each year, the MyMagic+ system will help Disney build detailed profiles for each of their customers. Where did they enter the park? How far did they walk? Which rides did they ride? What did they buy? Which characters did they interact with? How often do they come back? What offer could get them to come back again?All of this data can be used to dramatically enhance their current CRM strategy.

This is just a taste of what’s to come. A decade ago, no one could have predicted the impact that Facebook, Twitter and other social networks would have on our daily lives. And looking ahead, there is no way we can predict the impact that smart technology will have on the next ten years. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have plenty of reasons to be excited.