Category Archives: Tech

cashIt seems like streaming services are all the rage lately. Beats just released their app (known mostly for headphones, the company bought MOG, and re-branded it) which gives you unlimited downloads and access across 10 devices for $14.99 a month. Spotify has now removed the limit to the number of songs subscribers on the free plan can access each month, as well. So the services are upping the ante by trying feverishly to differentiate themselves. Beats is adding a human element by bringing curators to the service instead of a computer algorithm to help you discover songs/artists you like. Spotify is stressing its social utilities and focusing on playlists based on your mood.

To carve out market share, the streaming services have offered subscriptions at a ridiculously low price: $9.99 a month on average, or even better discounts if you buy a year’s worth in advance. The paradigm shift for the general public has been moving from “owning” songs to “renting” them. While the streaming services seem to be taking hold, there’s new research that shows they can never be profitable. According to the report, the number of streaming users will balloon to 1.7 billion by 2017, up from 767 million in 2013.  Paid subscribers will leap to 125 million, up from 36 million currently. It seems like the labels are the culprits: taking 70% of the profits for themselves in royalties. On top of that, the freemium model that Spotify has adopted is convincing consumers that music is a commodity, and not really worth paying for. And, of course, there’s the controversy with what the artists are actually being paid.

As the services evolve, they’re going to have to figure out a revenue model that allows for scalability. And consumers, at some point, are going to have to pay up.

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 9.44.25 AMFor years, I’ve moved between Android and iOS, usually changing operating systems when a new phone grabs my attention. It’s a constant “push and pull” problem: the combination of a phone’s unique features, the operating system, and my desire to have a “perfect mobile experience”. Rarely is that experience as perfect as I want it to be. As an iPhone loyalist, I judge everything against the experience I have with iOS, Apple’s hardware, and the overall platform’s ecosystem. As iPhone has seemingly “shrunk” in form factor, staying at an untenable 4″ screen size in light of other manufacturers’ growing screens, I’ve gravitated toward the larger-screen phones, most recently, the Nexus 5. The Nexus 5, for once, is the perfect phone for me. It’s size and form factor seem the perfect size for my palm, my pants, and my weary eyes. KitKat is the best version of Android to date and, simply put, I’ve never been so satisfied with a smartphone. I’ve kinda cast away the thoughts of going back to iPhone. Yes, there are the nagging rumors of the coming iPhone 6 with a larger screen, but KitKat has a hold on me unlike any that iOS has ever had.

However, Apple’s advantage is their App Store. And, with Facebook’s iPhone-only new app, Paper, being released today, I’ve begun to wonder: can one app make me go back? I hate the feeling of being left out: when an app is only available on “another” platform, I get frustrated. Facebook turns 10 years old today, and there’s new research that shows its users have evolved their expectations of what the Facebook experience means for them. In light of this, Facebook’s Paper app is an attempt to evolve how Facebook interacts with its users and how it expects to provide new types of interaction between you and your Facebook friends. Paper reformats the typical Facebook experience with a more visually stunning approach (similar to what Google Plus did with their app), and turns your Facebook feed into a “Flipboard-like” magazine experience. Development of the app was led by a team that Facebook acquired from Apple in 2011, and represents Facebook’s obvious prioritization of rich visual design. The obvious plus to Paper is it gives you a platform-specific experience optimized for what that platform can best provide. In this sense, it may mean more fragmentation in apps if Facebook determines to release platform-optimized Facebook experiences across the board. However, it also means that Facebook evolves from being a fast-food experience (dumbed down UIs to provide a similar experience across all devices), to a more holistic and optimal experience based on whatever platform you’re on. The Paper app could signal a new frontier in designing and developing app experiences that mold more to its user’s context, and is a step-forward to a more humanistic experience. This means our platform decisions may no longer be made based on just price, carrier subsidies, form factors, and operating systems. We may begin making decisions based on all these plus the type of app experience we prefer based on how we use our phones.

cubicle_farmWe’ve heard all about Millennials for years now, their lifestyles, tech friendliness, and radical collaboration methods. Many experts have been urging companies to start accommodating their lifestyle in the workplace to attract the best, young talent. The real driver behind the need to rethink the workplace, however, is not just generational — it’s really about the elephant in the “room” — mobility. We’re all on the move more than ever before, and we have escalated our use of not one, but several, connected mobile devices throughout our normal day. The idea of working 9-5 in a stuffy cubicle farm with a tethered computer on a desk is seeming more and more like an out-of-date relic.

To get past generational labels, and create another broader label (researchers love labels), there’s a new one out there now: #GenMobile: the people for whom mobile connected devices go beyond personal use — these folks shape their entire lives around mobility and the devices that support their mobility.

In November 2013, Shape the Future and Aruba Networks conducted research to find out how widespread the use of mobile devices have become. They found some interesting trends that back up the idea of rethinking the traditional workplace model:

– 70% of respondents prefer flexible working than working 9 to 5 with an early finish on Fridays.

– Over half of those surveyed said they’d prefer to work from home or remotely two to three days a week than receive a 10% higher salary.

– 37% expect an increase of remote working – just 4.5% foresee a decrease.

– 49% expect to increase the time they spend working remotely in 2014.

– Almost half (45%) bought tablets in the past 12 months.

– And 64% believe in BYOD, and believe their devices make them more productive at work.

– Many employees believe it’s the company’s responsibility to provide mobile devices along with Wi-Fi connections.

These stats may leave a lot of HR Directors shaking their heads, but instead, they should be seeing the opportunities, including:

– Rethink traditional work hours (consider the increased productivity of happier, “always-on” employees)

– Rethink traditional cubicle farm office environments (consider the cost savings inherent in fewer non-eco-friendly offices)

At 8 p.m. on December 31, 2013, 6 year old Sofia Liu was walking in a crosswalk at Polk and Civic Center in San Francisco with her mom and younger brother when she was struck and killed by an Uber driver. Uber is a ride-sharing company that provides “car service on demand” via a smartphone app. Wherever Uber provides service, simply launch an app and Uber will automatically locate you and connect you to the closest driver. Within minutes a driver will pick you up and get you to your destination. There are several ride-sharing companies providing car services on demand, including Lyft and Sidecar. Uber has been growing and innovating beyond typical taxi services by promising quick pick-up and drop-off, as well as delivering Christmas trees and even kittens.

When the driver struck little Sofia, Uber stated he was “not employed by Uber at the time of the accident because he did not have an Uber customer in the car with him”. Since he was “between fares”, Uber claims they are not responsible for the death. However, an attorney representing the family of Sofia is filing a wrongful-death lawsuit against both Uber and the driver alleging that the driver was an Uber contractor using Uber’s app at the time of the accident. Furthermore, the attorney claims that the driver was “texting while driving” using Uber’s app to prepare for his next fare, causing him to be distracted.

Uber is declining comment over the lawsuit, but it seems like the attorney’s strategy is to associate the driver with Uber simply by the fact that the driver was logged into Uber’s app. This will take the discussion about if and how to regulate start-up services like Uber to the next level. Are the Uber drivers too distracted by technology in the car making them unsafe to be on the road? That will be the key question for a judge or jury to answer. In the meantime, San Francisco has one of the highest rates of pedestrian-vehicle collisions in the nation, so watch out for yourself out there! At least one San Francisco Supervisor seems to be “on the case“.

By the way, according to Uber, the driver that struck little Sofia has been “deactivated” as a driver in their system.

fingerprintBy now, most of us realize that the US government is tracking our online activity (it’s just to what extent, we’re still a bit unsure), but it’s probably safe to say the bureaucrats know more about us than we’d like them to know. What’s more disturbing, however, is the extent that advertising and marketing companies go to determine who you are, what you do, what you buy, and who you buy from. And it’s no longer just your online activity: data mining allows companies to combine your offline activity with your online activity to create a more accurate profile of everything you do. This aggregation should cause more concern than anything the NSA is doing, and as of now, it’s completely unregulated.

Ever heard of Acxiom? Probably not. Well, Acxiom has heard of you. In fact, they probably know more about you than many of your own family members. Acxiom currently runs 23,000 servers that process more than 50 trillion data transactions per year. Acxiom has dropped over 1.1 billion cookies onto hundreds of millions of Americans’ computers, they have constructed over 200 million mobile profiles and average about 1,500 pieces of data per consumer. Scott Howe, the Acxiom CEO has stated, “Our digital reach will soon approach nearly every Internet user in the US.”

The recent hacking of Target’s commerce system has been widely reported, but what you may not know is what Target knows about you. Target assigns each customer a unique “Guest ID” which is linked to their credit card number, email address and/or name. Every purchase or interaction the customer has with Target is linked to their unique Guest ID. You tend to buy a lot of yogurt, live in San Francisco, and shop with your American Express? Target takes this data and links them to your profile, and then uses it to market more products to you. This seems harmless at first glance, and some would argue that targeted advertising is valuable, however, this data can be aggregated, diced and sliced to predict your future behavior. Target will know if you’re pregnant based on what you purchase. They’ll use that data to predict when you will be interested in buying diapers. Of course, they won’t stop there. They’ll know the gender of your baby when he/she is born, and be able to market to them as well. Lock them in at birth! This is valuable data for other companies too. PetCo will know if you’re buying dog food for your “older pet” and sell the data to insurance companies that will then encourage you to buy health insurance. Sound creepy? Creepier than the NSA logging your phone calls?

Sure, the NSA’s tracking activities should be a major concern, but you might also want to think about what advertising, marketing and data mining companies are doing “behind the scenes” with all those breadcrumbs you’re leaving behind.

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