8 Gadgets from the Near Future That I NEED Now!

Once again, we were tricked to believe that the future we were promised, was here now. This time Lexus presented us with a “Hover-board” video (more like a smart way to do advertising). Therefore, in response, I have made a list of 10 things I wish were actually out right now.

  1. The freaking Hover-board. Come’on guys, enough with the teasers already, let’s all get to work to come up with the real deal.
  2. Jet packs. Although this is much closer to being a reality, they still are not there yet. I’m very jealous of these 2 guys.
  3. Self-driving cars. Once again, close, but no cigar. I’m not sure how the alcohol industry hasn’t pushed harder for this one! Google, BMW, and some other brands are very close to this, but I think we still have 10 more years in the making before this is an actual reality.
  4. VR games. I’m getting very inpatient here people. We have Oculus and the Xbox kinect. How come no awesome VR games are out there for these two things?
  5. Robots. I want my own personal Bender. Well, maybe not a drunk robot, but one that will clean and cook for me.
  6. Teleportation. Only that one guy that turned into a fly cracked it. Unfortunately, he turned into a fly. So it seems like long airplane rides will continue to rule for the next 50 years to come.
  7. Underwater breathing. I’ve seen some buzz about products that require no tanks to breath underwater, but nothing solid yet.
  8. Nanobots. This one may just be the solution to the last 7 points. The only thing we will have to do is buy a billion of them, upload our memories and consciousness, and BAM! Shape yourself to whatever you want.

Google Joins The Circus

Some say that the bay area culture is going to “hell in a handbag” as the city becomes more and more inundated with technocrats and plutocrats. Others, like a bay area local who I recently had the pleasure to engage in a lengthy conversation with outside one of the only affordable consignment shops left in San Francisco, said the culture in this area had packed up and left long over a decade ago. He later smirked and said I’d be fooling myself to think the city still retained any thread of it’s original character. Although this might sound pessimistic on paper, he said this with a cheek-to-cheek grin and little-to-no weight in his upper brow. It was as though he was only stating the facts, plain and simple.

Everyone has there opinions, and as broad-stroke and blanket-statement sounding that the above comment might appear, there are common themes found in most of the discussions that dominate conversation here in the Bay Area – high rent prices, homelessness, and the demise of culture. The word culture is arbitrary when used in conjunction to value. Culture is ever changing and for this reason, in my own opinion, I believe there is ignorance when using conclusive statements regarding culture’s directionality. Rather than value judgements, we can only truly say that a culture is “changing”, and even that comes from the subjectivity based on the relationship one has, or doesn’t have, with the city. All-in-all, however, it is true – The Grateful Dead and and Jefferson Airplane types are long gone, either by mass exodus, adopting more conventional lifestyles, or are now buried 10 feet under. The only remnants of that era that still remain can be found in the Haight-Ashbury district, which has since been over commodified and commercialized to cater to tourists. Even though on the surface this small microcosm of the city may appear to have stayed the same, culture does not exist in trinkets and Mala Beads alone, but rather, is woven into the vocalization of love, freedom, and sovereignty that use to be proclaimed in the street, which, I am disheartened to say, would be difficult to find as conspicuously nowadays.

However, there is culture. The culture is, dare I say, Google, Twitter, Apple, Facebook – to name just a few that have built and inhabited the proliferating infrastructure of the high rise. And yes, perhaps this newer cultural sect domesticating the city is more homogenous in their personal preferences and clothing attire than the city has ever seen before, nonetheless, culture in itself, undeniable prevailes.

So how does this newer, ever growing, ever expanding culture retain the weird and all it’s vibrancy that most likely drew this type of crowd in the first place? Why, by hiring the circus to entertain them at their extravagant events, of course.

Every large and medium sized tech business in the Bay Area with a hefty budget throws opulent, decadent parties. In fact, I have come to think that it might be written somewhere in the contract that each party has to be more impressive than the “boy’s next door”. It has become an extension of fraternity dynamics. And what is any party without some circus freaks showing desk-loitering-corporate-employees how to have a good time and utilize their bodies again, after too many hours a day neglecting nothing but their brain and wrists. Therefore, with their grotesquely dense budget being used for entertainment, you can’t say these companies don’t put it to a good cause. In all honesty, if it weren’t for these obsessively extravagant corporate events that hire working local artists contracted from all over the city, most of the circus would have been long gone by now. But they remain because at least, as they are becoming more and more marginalized, they can simultaneously financially benefit from the corporate tech apocalypse.

So keep employing the circus Google, it is the least you can do after you and your compatriots have taken over nearly every square inch of the city. Thank you for throwing some of your pocket change to those that are able to right some wrongs and reinvest your small penance into events that spread social justice awareness and radical change. Good job Google, good job.

The Resourcefulness of Big Data

Just because someone might be an engineer for Google, or a UX Designer for Apple, doesn’t mean their interests and hobbies end there, although while working 80 hours per week for said company may make exploring other activities and passions difficult. So what happens when engineers leave large companies, such as Apple, to spearhead their own initiative, utilizing all they had learned from the multinational technology company? It seems that many apply their years of acquired knowledge to endeavors they had taken a hiatus from upon working for larger companies.

Once an engineer for Apple, Alex Fishman, now uses his Big Data skills for his wine app – Delectable – founded and developed in 2012. Big Data can aid in organizing, filtering, and concluding all the confusing identification process and information that is commonly associated with wine. The app not only is able to sort through data regarding preference and specific lexicon used by connoisseurs and novices, but it can also show patterns and changes among wine drinkers within different quarters throughout the years. Computation systems and services such as Big Data, Machine Learning and Cloud strategies have a broad range of utility in other fields apart from strictly technology focused. Applying such services to social, cultural, and human research has been advantageous for sorting out large amounts of data.

For those that aren’t data scientists recently leaving a cushy job at Apple, yet still have a creative idea to contribute to the app world, are now in luck with the recent demand and development of alternative options for non-data scientists.  Big Data applications have started to enter the market as of recent to provide the resources necessary for less technically savvy entrepreneurs to obtain quality and relevant information for precise data gathering. These apps allow novices to make their data-driven decisions on their own, without a data expert, reducing time, money, and specialization.

Both big data applications, as well as specialists, can significantly help with bringing precision to decision making and trend tracking. Machine learning in particular can also yield sound, conclusive recommendations. Different from more antiquated research techniques where information was collected, graphed, and then analyzed by humans to find patterns to make suggestions, Big Data and Machine Learning have the ability to draw from a more expansive pool of information in a shorter period of time, for more accurate, nuanced proposals.

Don’t worry, Big Data and Machine Learning are not replacing humans, just yet, since machines need humans to take action on the information founded. Only humans at the moment have the power to circulate the recommendations suggested through Big Data collections.

Reducing human error, while maintaining the human voice and final interpretation, is what Big Data can, and does, accomplish. Accuracy is imperative when more and more new found entrepreneurs with innovative ideas want to launch utility apps. Utility is only resourceful with the right information and knowledge. Humans have always been limited in the realm of precision. Therefore, whether you are a technocrat – like Delectable’s Alex Fishman – or a novice in data collection, Big Data and Machine Learning is becoming a necessary service to create a quality, reliable, and culturally relevant app.

 

Android’s Future in the World of Mobile Devices

Albeit the booming sales of Androids over the past year – being the top player in mobile device sales by selling over a billion phones in 2014 alone, nearly five times that of iphones – there are still some challenges that Google faces with Android. As Apple’s mobile device popularity continues to grow at an unprecedented rate, there are some known facts that Google is beginning to face. Over the years, many people have used Android for it’s affordability over Apple. In general, this has, demographically, represented Android users as less financially well-off than Apple users. As a result, Android users have invested less money overall in Google Play – Androids’ app store. The sales generated from phone devices alone is meager in comparison to the revenue made from apps. The issue for Google is that although Google Play has become increasingly popular in past years, Apple continues to generate more from it’s app store – about $4 billion more than Google Play.

Given that a majority of revenue of mobile devices come from apps, Google has suffered significantly, specifically from China’s focus being primarily on iOS platforms, which has resulted in the country essentially blocking Google app sales. On top of that, Google has had a difficult time generating money from ads on Android. Being an ad company that owns most of the popular internet, one would think the company would favor their own product over Apple advertisements. However, it has inadvertently been quite the contrary. Instead, a recent analysis by Goldman Sachs found that 75% of the $11.8 billion Google collected on mobile search ads came strictly from iphone or ipad advertisements.

With the growing popularity of Apple devices and the steady interest in iOS application development, specifically in Silicon Valley, Google is struggling to keep Android as a first choice among consumers. In addition, it seems that those that are not invested in Apple devices are looking for alternatives, as many are not wanting to support Google. Since Google has colonized much of the tech world – yet is ceasing to be a dominate player in the mobile device market – other companies, specifically smaller players, are using this as leverage to market their apps and new forms of interface to different companies, in effort to keep money within their own “ecosystem”.

Google is now reconsidering it’s priorities. Initially Android was used as a smartphone platform to get users to more easily access Google. The founders claimed they weren’t originally necessarily interested in phone sales. However, now that they have seen the direction the future is going, and the future seems to be lying in the palms of our hands, Google is reassessing how to compete with their competitors, and if that is even something they are interested in doing. It seems that Androids, being a more affordable smartphone device for so long, had become known as a “gateway” for phone users. As mobile device users become more savvy and intelligent , Google is finding their customers to not be so loyal as a mass migration has taken place from Android, straight into the bosom of Apple. Maybe it’s Apple’s sleek advertisements or their disciples’ cunning proselytizing, either way, users are converting. This past year alone, 16% of iphone purchasers were previously Android users

It seems that Google needs to more clearly delineate their intentions with Android. Considering Google is such a major force of power that has monopolized the internet to a point where the word “google” has now become a verb, there is some curiosity of whether now Google wants be more altruistic, offering Android as an affordable product to the middle class, and not simply cater to the successful, ambitious tech oligopoly. Or does Google have no such plans to remain the underdog for long. Time will only tell, but something tells me that Google is not interested in supporting the proletariate in the long run.

Google’s Experimental Patent Purchase Program

Whether it is an attempt to strictly protect against patent trolls or the less altruistic pursuit of acquiring more leverage against their competitors, Google has initiated a new, experimental program to review patents from sellers, in order to prevent them from ending up in the wrong hands. There has been friction in the past where patents have been sold to non-practicing entities, calling into question the validity of software patents altogether. Google’s method of reducing this contention in the market is to vet all potential patents looking to be sold by having the owners submit them to Google’s Patent Purchase Promotion Program, communicating exactly when they would like to be sold and at what price.

The first trial of this program will begin on May 8th, allowing all patents to be submitted for review until May 22nd. After the window for submission closes, Google will reconnect with all patent holders who submitted by June 26th about the potential of acquiring their patent, clarify the logistics and what it would entail. Google is attempting to finalize all those they would like to absorb as their own by end of August. Before all transactions are finalized, Google is mandating sellers be well versed with the “fine print”. Because of the politics regarding patent laws, the company is in fact encouraging those who do choose to sell to Google to speak with an attorney. They do not want anyone in the dark about certain liberties or potentialities Google could have with the acquisition. The company wants all sellers to step away from their patent knowing the rights Google holds post-transaction.

The strict window for patent submission is Google’s attempt to expedite the review and acquisition process.  The company states their intentions are invested in creating a more hospitable environment and smoother experience for both individuals and companies selling patents, by overseeing they get to the right people at the appropriate price. And in Google’s world, well, that is Google.

Amazon and Google tap into Home Service Market

The Home Service industry has estimated to be generating somewhere between $400 to $800 billion annually. Because of the lucrative nature of such vocational work including, but certainty not limited to – plumbers, electricians, arborists, ETC – many smaller start-ups have found an outlet to nuzzle their way into the market by creating and offering an online, third party platform – connecting customers to services. There hasn’t been much competition in this market, apart from Angie’s list – the 20 year subscription service that vets local services for customer review and purchase. However, recently Google, having acquired most of the online advertising market since the internet’s inception, and Amazon, owning more of the transactionary market than any other online provider, have both seen opportunities in capitalizing on this type of service and are now cashing in on their resources, perhaps plowing over all the smaller third-parties that came before them in the meantime.

The initial idea for creating a vetted Home Service platform was to bring high tech to low tech – bringing the efficiencies and transparency of the internet to the, at times, convoluted world of Home Services. Keeping services local, not contracting outside the remote area of where the customer lived to keep the money in the community. As most of us know, however, this is nearly impossible to do if there is a third-party involved, being that most third-parties, especially those that exist on the internet, are only able to profit by extending their network outside of localized areas. Nonetheless, they do keep your services local, taking a small cut from the final transaction for the connection they made. But what is happening now is, the little guys are getting their “science project ideas” stolen from them for the big guys to get to benefit and receive the fame. As Google and Amazon steal adopt the Home Service market for themselves, the smaller companies either have to converge into the larger companies, or move out, because lets face it, these two would hands-down win in a consumer loyalty competition. Thumbtack what? Pro.com maybe? Angie’s list? Okay I have heard of it a bit. But Amazon and Google? They are a mainstay, where consumers feel safe, secure and at home..

Initially, Google financed other Home Service platforms, financially backing them while profiting from their advertisements. However, as Google attempts to now utilized their advertisement ubiquity in the more consumer-based transactionary world, it is drawing out of their investments in the smaller companies while in incubation mode on their own google-fied version of a service offering platform. Whether or not google is intending to expand their dystopia utopia by buying into the marketplace of “vetting service providers”, or simply attempting to get their “hands-in-more-pots” by providing another option for loyal Google users, it is hard to say. But it is clear that the temperatures are rising as the competition begins to heat up. With increased competition comes more of an innovative push for creative endeavors and alternative options. For example, Angie’s List recently released an app that not only connects customers with services but now allows the potential customer to take pictures of their defective appliance in the effort to find the most appropriate specialist.

Amazon’s initiative to jump on the “Home Services’ bandwagon has been a bit more expected, being the company already offers an online store that helps customers find, buy and begin using software; providing an additional service to connect their customers to specialists in their area seemed like a pretty natural transition for a company that is attempting to take over the virtual world. Amazon is attempting to tap into the market a bit differently than it’s competition. While Google is pulling out of it’s investment with Thumbtack, Amazon is continuing to keep it’s investments with various smaller businesses. It seems to be wanting to have its hands in as companies as it can, not in an altruistic way but more in an attempt to stay in as much control of the market as possible.

Either way, this is an emerging lucrative outlet and the bigger players don’t just want “in”, their grandeur nature wants it all – even the garnish!

While Amazon customers have been waiting for the online store to fill-in the gap of the Home Service needs, and therefore expected to happen pretty rapidly as the company already has an online offering, Google on the other hand, will be slower with their transition. As it starts to transition away from being simply a conduit for other companies and into a newer realm of engaging directly with customers through transactions, Google will begin to have a facelift. It has already made strides to compete with Amazon via “Google express” marketplace, however, it still needs to work on advertising itself as a online store, as it begins to tiptoe it’s way to the retail side of things.

Amazon has the consumer-based market, while Google reins over advertising. If the two could merge and join forces, they would make an insurmountable team, giving all the startups a run for their money. However, contention is where growth and innovation prevail for these two companies and therefore, they will inevitable work independently.

As we start to see these third-party Home Service platforms pop-up, 90% of which will eventually be split between Amazon and Google, many of the companies that provide the specialists may have to cut their prices in the effort to stay competitive amongst the other specialists in their field that the third parties also advertise. Therefore, perhaps more money will be funneled into the mega-corporations and less given directly to the actual workers who provides the services, keeping the middle class caged in the middle class – and the hierarchy prevails. Let us just stop and consider for a moment what it actually entails to get a plumber, an electrician, or a construction worker yourself? An internet scan, a conversation with a neighbor, or perhaps the yellow pages (do they still make phone books anymore)? Either way it doesn’t require much. If we continue to expect there to be a service for everything – in this case, a service for a service – I believe there will be detrimental outcomes. Historically, laziness has gotten entire populations in immense amounts of trouble. And history repeats itself.

 

Privacy Concerns, The Increase in “Smart” Tech & The Irony

In one of our last posts ( written by the lovely Kayleigh Stack ) we talked about Samsung Smart TVs and the privacy they lack when speaking in front of them ( their voice command feature constantly listens whether the TV is on or not ). Having a company listening to what you say 24-7 is horrible, but this issue doesn’t end there. In fact, it’s much worse than what most people know, or at least are willing to know. No, I don’t wear a hat made out of foil paper and no, I’m not talking about crazy government conspiracies. I’m simply speaking of all the companies that constantly keep an eye on you, that you might not even notice anymore.

Sure, showing a picture of how awesome your meal is, while you are on vacation is of great importance. And I certainly appreciate all the check-ins to let me know where you are at all times. Let us not forget about all those lovely selfies, tweets and Facebook posts that keep me inform about your entire life, minute-by-minute. Unfortunately, like I already mentioned, it doesn’t end there. It seems that, knowing who the picture is, ( I’m talking about the very creepy and scary face recognition feature ) is not enough.

Smart Tech

Nowadays, you walk into your house and your very slick Nest thermostat knows you are there. Your TV listens to every word you say, and your “Smart” bed ( yes those actually exist, and I’m not sure why you need a bed to be “Smart” ) is informed of all your sleeping (and perhaps, none-sleeping) habits. Oh but please wait, because there is more…

For the very small price of $199, you can buy your  your own personal Big Brother show. And guess who’s the main star of the show? That is right- you! You can buy cameras to stream HD footage of everything happening in your house, to any computer, phone or tablet.

Have we lost a sense of privacy?

So where do we stop? Have we simply lost a sense of privacy? Think about this: If you have a kid today, by the time your kid is 20, Facebook will probably know more about your son, or daughter, than you. The problem is not in only what they know, but what they do with what they know. Once again, no crazy conspiracy theories here, seeing that all this information collection is currently used for the purpose of… wait for it… selling you stuff.

If you are like me, dyslexic, sort of ADD, and with little interest for most material things, you probably never pay attention to web advertisement.  However, surprisingly, quite often, an ad will catch my attention. Needless to say, whatever it may be on the ad, it is always tailored to my interests. Witchcraft you say? Perhaps voodoo, or black magic? That’s what I used to think. Turns out, they are just using all that information they have about me, that supposedly I  “willingly” give up, to position ads ever-so-appropriately on the webpages I browse. Funny how we all keep a secondary email account to use when we don’t want to give our email out, yet we dump our entire life’s story into the hands of those evil genius advertisers. Oh the sweet taste of irony!

I can only help to think that maybe, and just maybe, it is time to become more conscious about this subject. Now if you excuse me, I need to go tell Facebook what’s in my mind…

Fede Pisani

Tech Blogger