Big Tech wants regulation

Big Tech execs ask for more regulation

At the World Economic Forum at Davos last week, tech execs from multiple companies ask governments to set regulations on tough topics such as data privacy, encryption, AI and content monitoring. Caught between the pressures of congressional investigation and strong consumer backlash, Big Tech wants the government to set limits. Wall Street Journal

dis-rup-shun: One of the first concepts new parents learn is that children need boundaries to feel secure. Tech execs are asking federal governments to give them some boundaries and act like parents in order for them to feel secure about the limits of their businesses. Tech companies are rewarded for plowing new ground and providing services that have never before existed, however the backlash over stepping on data privacy is creating serious blow back from consumers and regulators, and turning some of the most loved brands, including Facebook (especially), Google, Amazon, and, to a lesser degree, Apple, into villains. Getting regulators to set the rules for the future will be tough. With disorganized agendas and partisan posturing consuming our regulators, the chances that they will get ahead of technology trends are, unfortunately, slim, however the new cooperative attitudes by Big Tech could make the career of a legislator who seeks to set a strong agenda.

Happy birthday iPad

Exactly 10 years ago, Apple unveiled the first iPad. It was thicker, slower, heavier, but not radically different than today’s model. At the launch, Steve Jobs mentioned that netbook computers had failed to add extra value to the customer experience. Forbes

dis-rup-shun: The company has sold over 360 million of the devices in the last decade, and while annual sales have slowed, the product keeps getting better. The iPad has become what the netbook was intended – a smaller, more portable computer. It appears that one of the most popular applications of the device is to purchase an add-on keyboard and use it as a very portable computer.  If Apple and all the buzz surrounding Jobs had not pushed the iPad into an adoring audience, the tablet would have never made it as a category. One can argue that the tablet is yet to find its true use case and the fact that the iPad was a big iPhone is what drove its growth. The brand power of Apple continues to bring magic to rather mundane product concepts, like wireless ear buds, and the magic seems to only be better in the post-Jobs era. Let’s see what’s next.

Apple earnings report: iPhones, Apple TV+, China

Today’s fiscal Q3 earnings report from Apple will include some important revelations worth noting. iPhone, the biggest part of the company’s earnings, have been down, but the iPhone 11 seems to be hot. Sales of products in China are under stress, as Chinese tech giants flood the market with highly competent but much less expensive smartphones. Apple’s new video streaming service, Apple TV+ has launched and early results will be revealed. CNBC

dis-rup-shun: Today’s announcement will answer several very important questions for the direction of the tech economy. Question 1: are the incremental benefits of the iPhone 11 interesting enough to get a strong sales response? Observations of Apple stores over the holidays suggest yes. Question 2: Do Chinese consumers still think Apple is special enough to pay more money than for less expensive non-Apple smartphones? Observations of strong performance by emerging companies suggests the answer is no. Question 3: Is Apple’s new streaming TV service, Apple TV+ special enough that Netflix, Amazon Prime and now Disney + (Mandalorian) subscribers will add yet another service to their bundles? Logic suggests that these results will be mixed — not a home run, but given these services are brand new, the service will be off to a good start.

Strong guidelines for monitoring teens’ online access

Wired takes a stand, setting guidelines for how parents monitor teens’ mobile internet access: remind your children that you, the parents own the device, set periodic inspections to ensure compliance with no bullying and no adult content, no device use during meal time, and the consequences of violation are loss of the device for a period of time. Statistics show that 61% of parents monitor their children’s online activity, 42% of children have been bullied online, and 35% have been actively threatened.

dis-rup-shun: Parenting takes courage, and in the digital age, with fewer established rules, parents have to make them up either before they present the device, or set rules as they go. The transition between content for kids and content for adults seems non-existent, with the tween label having all but disappeared. In the Internet Age, individuals have to create their own rules, as much of the road is unpaved.

Sonos feels the burn

Sonos feels the fire from loyal customers

All of us who own Sonos products received a letter of explanation from Sonos CEO, Patrick Spence, who admitted to not handling the Sonos obsolescence announcing well. The letter reiterated that old Sonos gear would not receive feature updates, but would receive security patches. He also announced that the company was working on a way to essentially split home networks into two domains, so that legacy gear could operate in a second environment, maintaining its usefulness in the home without preventing new Sonos gear from having being updated. TechCrunch

dis-rup-shun: It seems that Sonos has forgotten about the scorching, white hot criticism that Nest received when it decided to brick the smart home hub it acquired from Revolv. Criticism was brutal, as it must have been for Sonos. Tech company leaders must remember that their companies have invested thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars into connecting with customers through social media and image building. Quick decisions that do not put those customer relationships first can torch a stellar image in a matter of days — just ask Sonos.

Why safer cars cost more to insure

Cars are safer than ever and crash rates are down. Insurance costs, however, have risen 29.6% in the past decade. The reasons for the disparity include the rise in distracted driver claims, thanks to the proliferation of smartphones, and the expense of repairing highly instrumented cars. Bumpers, for example, are full of sensors. Windshields are equipped with built-in cameras, high intensity headlamps can cost as much as $1800, and parts of cars are made of carbon fiber. Wired

dis-rup-shun: High insurance rates required to own and operate a car seem to favor the trend toward renting and paying-per-use over ownership. Separately, when we make a transition to self-driving cars, and those cars get in a crash with human-driven cars and the cause is “murky,” whose insurance pays? Expect a period of time when crash data from cameras and sensors from autonomous vehicles make the case that human drivers caused a collision, and the collective reaction from insurance providers for human driven cars will be to raise the rates to “account for crashes with autonomous vehicles.”

Big Tech seeks to change sharing of personal health records

While you read this article, a meeting including some of the largest health information providers in the country, including Cerner and Epic and including Big Tech companies such as Microsoft and Apple, is taking place to discuss a potential action by the Department of Health and Human Services to make consumer health data more open. Today, it is often difficult for a patient to access his or her own health records and move the data between different health providers. CNBC

dis-rup-shun: The question consumers need to ask is, who has given me better access to data that has resulted in self-empowerment? Does authorizing Big Tech companies such as Apple or even Google to house my data in their clouds make for a better healthcare purchasing experience, or is there risk in these companies having access to my very personal health data? While you ponder that question, ask yourself if the current kings of health information are working hard to create transparent, consumer friendly healthcare purchasing markets. It is a very important showdown, and what is certain is that the current system must change in order to improve and our Big Tech companies can certainly bring about change faster than the institutional healthcare data provider incumbents.

Technology for better cat health

The PurrSong Pendant is a Fitbit-like collar that holds a charge for one month and measures your cat’s activity and alerts you, through a smartphone app, when there are changes in patterns, which may indicate that kitty is sick. CNET

dis-rup-shun: Using machine learning to detect differences in activity from a “normal” baseline is being applied to senior care, but can work for most any age or animal species. Annual spending on pet care in the U.S. in 2018 was $72.5 billion, an increase of 4%. Globally, the pet care market is estimated by Grand View Research to reach $202 billion by 2025. Expect a host of connected technologies for pets to enter the market in coming years, following the same introductions for humans by only a couple of years.

 

 

The next TV gets 4K over the air

The next gen TV is built for cord cutting with 4K tuner

TV features continue to evolve quickly, even though people don’t replace TVs quickly. The latest feature is including a 4K tuner into the TV. TV channels in most major markets will begin to transmit the super high resolution 4K format over the air (free) this year. Cord cutters can rely on an antenna to receive local stations in 4K provided they have a built in tuner (new TV) or using an external set top box. Antenna and set top box are extras to purchase. CNET

dis-rup-shun: For those wishing to cut the cord (see instructions in Tuesday’s post), to receive local channels, one can either use the local TV apps provided by Roku or  YouTube TV or one can put up an antenna on the roof or in the attic, and either buy a special set top box or a new 4K ATSC 3.0 compatible TV. With TV features now changing quickly, you should buy up when purchasing a TV, hoping that spending a few hundred extra dollars will keep your TV compatible with the latest technology for a few more years. Unfortunately it looks like the days of not having a bunch of extra boxes plugged into your older TVs will never arrive. Despite the amazing technologies available for home entertainment, it seems that every home implements TV a bit differently, challenging the AirBnB concept and making hospitality TV systems in hotels even more necessary.

DNA testing is down, impacting 23andMe

Makers of DNA testing equipment confirmed what CEO of 23andME reported, and that is people are doing less DNA testing. The breakthrough technology enabling consumers to test their DNA led to fast growth for the company, ballooning to 700 people. The company is now laying off 100 employees due to a sharp decrease in testing that started in 2019. The CEO attributes the downturn to people’s concerns for privacy, and fear of a recession, resulting in more cautious spending. CNBC

dis-rup-shun: The fears of a recession in 2020 seem to have calmed, so the drop in DNA testing must, in fact, be related to privacy. It is a fact that many people who have performed the test are not happy with what they have discovered, but the question is, is there a growing wave of consumer fear about loss of privacy? Ring, the doorbell camera maker, is facing backlash from consumers over video sharing. Consumers whose homes or faces appear in their neighbors’ shared videos are feeling exposed, and perhaps a side effect of a connected society is a society that feels watched over. This is a trend to watch in the coming months.

Microsoft sets the path for a new kind of computer experience

The foldable computer is the post-CES buzz, and Microsoft is showing developers how to create dual screen apps that are properly split so that the fold, in a foldable, isn’t doesn’t obscure the app window. Microsoft is pushing a new form factor that is sort of like the current form factor. That is, the new computer is a clamshell, but the keyboard area is also a screen, and the screen extends upwards (where it should be). Getting developers to build apps for this new, unproven device will be a challenge, but one that Microsoft believes will pay off. CNBC

dis-rup-shun: The PC form factor has not changed in years, so maybe the market is ready for something fresh. The thing that has kept tablets from taking over the computing world is the need for a keyboard. If a foldable computer doesn’t have a real keyboard, or an app flat on the desktop that works as well as a keyboard, then this new device is a multi-tablet screen. If this device is visually stunning, with lots of screen space, then making this an amazing video watching device may be the best path to market.

Robots hold things without touching them

Robotics are on the rise in manufacturing, and ultrasound technology enables robotic arms to suspend tiny, fragile, or sterile devices and move them, position them or place them. By blasting sound waves at a certain frequency, robots can keep an item suspended in mid air. TechCrunch

dis-rup-shun: Robotics continue to perform specialized tasks, improving one task after another, and this suspension technology will enable robotics in settings such as surgery, medical equipment manufacturing, and many other applications. The success of robotics is in specialization rather than being an all purpose do-anything device, meaning that the idea of a really useful home assistant is at least a decade away.

 

Moto RAZR is back and beautiful

Moto RAZR is back, and looking sharp

The RAZR put Motorola on the top of the cell phone market, and provided some really strong years for the company. The new RAZR smartphone has a foldable screen, and looks really great, but is reportedly under-powered and overpriced at $1,500. It appears that the device is designed for early adopters who want to show off, but perhaps, if it succeeds in the market, Motorola will drop the price and go head to head with other Androids. Initially the RAZR is only available with Verizon. ZDNet

dis-rup-shun: A couple of big questions are raised by the RAZR.  First, will foldable-screen based phones hold up to the wear and tear that users put them through? This is the first generation, so time will tell (soon). Secondly, are users ready to go back to the Motorola brand, a brand that was iconic a decade ago, but not a player in the most recent decade? If the RAZR flies, then expect Apple to add some folding devices to its mix next year.

Blood oxygen monitoring comes to Fitbit

If you own a Fitbit Charge 3, Ionic, Versa, Versa Lite, or Versa 2, then its time to update the software and see the new blood oxygen graph, and track your numbers throughout the day. Why should you care? Blood oxygen content helps identify sleep apnea, and if your levels are changing, there is a good chance that you are not sleeping well. ZDNet

dis-rup-shun: Fitbit is now a Google company, and we can presume will be in the race for the long haul. How can Fitbit differentiate from the very successful Apple Watch? Both companies appear to be pursuing health and wellness monitoring as important selling factors, and both are following a similar design path. If Fitbit works to be the athlete’s preferred device, doubling down on training and performance measurement apps, it could hold on to a niche it has enjoyed since its inception, allowing Apple to be the general purpose, do-all device, but no doubt Apple will be quick to match Fitbit’s differentiating features.

The best Alexa-capable speakers

The smart speaker landscape is changing fast, and with this week’s announcement by Sonos that older gear will no longer be supported, it is time to consider an upgrade. Wired profiles the landscape and suggests the best solution for different applications. For those wanting to extend the life of their hi-fi or whole-home system purchased many years ago, the $35 Amazon Echo Input is a dirt cheap way to add both Alexa as well as streaming capabilities to your favored music system.

dis-rup-shun: Research continues to reveal that people are buying Alexa-enabled systems primarily to listen to music. Amazon has had moderate success in the streaming music business, and little success making Alexa a shopping interface. Perhaps being the new music system is a Trojan Horse tactic, and once people enjoy music mostly from an Alexa-enabled device, Amazon will find new ways to monetize the device and the services its supports. The company is already on a path to become the new home intercom system, and can easily become the replacement for the land line telephone system.

What to make of the Bezos phone hack?

If you missed it, Bezos’ phone was hacked in 2018 and the hackers revealed some nude photos of Bezos that he sent to his mistress. Bezos hired some investigators to determine how the phone was hacked, and the report implicated Saudi Crown Prince bin Salman. After the alleged hack, bin Salman’s regime murdered Washington Post (owned by Bezos) reporter, Khashoggi, who was critical of the prince. Wired

dis-rup-shun: There are more questions than answers here, and more issues that are not about technology than are. About technology, expect that any device that is connected to a network can and will be hacked. Time to get rid of any pictures that you don’t consider public. One reason that your smartphone wants you to update it frequently is that those updates fix security risks — so update all your devices regularly. And don’t hang out with the Crown Prince or the richest man in the world, as you could get caught in the crossfire.

Amazon pharmacy revving up

Amazon files pharmacy trademarks

Amazon has filed a series of pharmacy related trademarks both in the U.S. and in several countries, in a move believed to be signaling the company’s expansion of its PillPack pharmacy acquisition in both the U.S. and overseas markets. Amazon has registered the name “Amazon Pharmacy,” a different brand from PillPack. The Seattle company has encountered serious resistance from the established players after its previous expansion efforts. CNBC

dis-rup-shun: Is Amazon’s push into pharmaceuticals a net positive? Chances are, Amazon will make receiving prescriptions far easier, providing fast, free delivery, and making it easy to purchase related supplies (bandages, thermometers, vitamin supplements) and its vertical integration suggests that it could help address the skyrocketing costs of drugs and cut much fat out of the established pharmaceutical pipeline. Perhaps an Amazon Prime “Pharmacy” membership would provide low drug prices, plus streaming TV and next day delivery of stuff. How would state attorney generals and our federal government deal with a giant that appears to be restricting online competition, aggressively using consumer data, rocking the logistics establishment, and rocking the pharma industry, among many other things?

How to hold on to a 500 million unit market

Samsung, the former king of smartphones in India, the world’s second largest smartphone market, has lost its lead to Chinese Xiaomi. The company now plans to open a $500 million display plant outside of New Delhi. The plant will enable Samsung to take advantage of tax credits in the 500 million unit market. TechCrunch

dis-rup-shun: Samsung has been unseated by a large Chinese handset maker, and is being threatened by another, called Realme. The Chinese companies have demonstrated that they can produce a device liked by millions for lower costs, and this will be a test of Samsung’s ability to compete at the low to middle end of the smartphone market. Apple continues to demonstrate that the handset is a platform for a host of services, starting with apps and including music, news, video, advertisements and games. Losing this position in a nascent market such as India will be a game changer that could clip Samsung’s growth for a decade or more. Watch the company fight viciously to regain and hold its lead against an onslaught of inexpensive Chinese phones.

An answer to the problem of IOT security

IOT devices are growing in number as we embrace connected living. Data security standards, however, are severely lacking, making smart home and IOT products particularly vulnerable (recall the annual baby monitoring hacking gate?). Swiss cryptography firm Teserakt is proposing an open source, end to end encryption standard to secure any and all participating IOT devices, and, being open source, means that the standard can be pounded on, improved and modified by the public, providing person-years of updates and innovation. Wired

dis-rup-shun: An open source encryption standard would raise the bar for all IOT players, and would, hopefully, become a required minimum feature for any connected device, making the world a better place, and avoiding the sensationalism associated with the annual hacking, on national news, of a nanny cam. The connected home industry is caught between developing some truly innovative and useful products, and being rejected for lack of security by the same people who post their vacation photos on Facebook, indirectly advertising the vacancy of their homes.

Netflix’s competition and stock price rise

Netflix reported numbers that confirm that rising competition is slowing subscriber growth in North America. The company, however, knew that was coming and has been working hard to expand in other regions. CNBC

dis-rup-shun: How fast can Netflix run across the globe to convert other markets to be cord cutters? The problem with other markets is that after the big economies are converted, the disposable income available for Netflix subscriptions gets small. Economies such as India offer enormous scale to help offset the lower subscription fees, but can Netflix corral enough unique local content to beat the regional incumbents, who should have taken a lesson from the U.S. market and already have plans to launch their own streaming service? Watch Netflix get purchased by a large media company that is behind in the market — in the next three years.

Ready to cut the cord?

Step by step guide to cord cutting

The art of cutting your traditional pay TV service and replacing it with an Internet TV service has become cocktail conversation. Even luddites are doing it. This step by step guide takes you through the process, which involves some new investments: you must have fast, hearty internet service, and you much either replace old TVs with internet ready TVs (smart TVs) or purchase external connections such as Roku or FireTV for those old TVs. When you are ready to end your pay TV relationship, you can return any devices that you are renting (in perpetuity). Between ending rental fees and government mystery fees, you could save anywhere between $50 to $150, not counting your investment in new stuff. Shelly Palmer

dis-rup-shun: There has been an ongoing debate as to whether or not final TV expenses are lower for cord cutters, given all of the great streaming services and add-ons. The bottom line is that traditional pay TV subscribers have been buying most of the goodies, such as Prime and Netflix, and tacking on premium charges anyway, so lowering the base pay for TV services is a big win, especially given that for now, these services are not opposed to account sharing by your kids at college. 5G will upset the internet subscription pay model, in that super fast 5G connections that can power your entire home’s internet needs will challenge your traditional internet service (and may be the same provider), making what we call ‘faster then required’ much cheaper in a year. It’s a moving target, but you have to jump in some time.

The murky future for Sonos

Sonos has announced a trade-in program for some of its first devices, while also announcing that it will no longer support products dating back to 2006 and 2007. The pioneer in streaming music is directing its efforts on supporting the latest technology, all the while suing partner Google for patent infringement. Wired

dis-rup-shun: Sonos makes some of the greatest products in the connected home realm, with a very simple user interface. Sonos is to whole home audio what iPods were to boom boxes, and Sonos became what Bose was to the prior generation — the mark of really cool home music systems. Amazon and Google, with some help from Apple, JBL and others, are displacing Sonos. Research indicates that the most frequent use case for smart speakers such as Google Nest Home and Amazon Echo is to play music. The biggest complaint, of course, being that sound quality is lacking. The smart speaker makers and the Bluetooth speaker makers are upping their sound quality, while adding support for smart assistants, meaning that Sonos’ advantages as a high fidelity provider of streaming music are all but gone. What’s worse, of course, is that Amazon and Google are happy to sell products below cost as they race to be the provider of shopping services, information services, and a hub for smart home products. If you manage Sonos, how do you compete with that?

Proving space travel is safe

On Sunday, SpaceX, in a final safety test for NASA, demonstrated its human recovery module in the event of a rocket explosion. The recovery module is, essentially, a lifeboat that will bring astronauts back to an ocean landing should there be an in-flight catastrophe. The exercise is in preparation for SpaceX’s upcoming transporting of astronauts to the international space station, not yet scheduled but expected in the coming year or so. Spectacular footage of the flawless launch, explosion, Dragon separation, and splashdown can be viewed on Wired.

dis-rup-shun: The exercise will pave the way for the return of U.S. based rockets ferrying astronauts to space — something that has not occurred since the last shuttle mission in 2011. Boeing, the beleaguered maker of the 737 Max, is competing with SpaceX to be the first to return a U.S. based astronaut in space, but at present the aircraft company has a lot on its corporate plate, giving Musk a chance to steal the spotlight. Of course Musk, with his soaring Tesla auto company, highly criticized solar company, and ambitious boring (tunneling) company, among other endeavors, seems to thrive with a lot on his plate. A private citizen eager to purchase a ticket on a commercial space ride has an interesting choice to make: ride on the craft made by the occasionally fiery Tesla father, or ride with the largest maker of commercial aircraft and semi-complete software. I will wait.

Microsoft pushing hard into remote worker software

If you haven’t been working from a remote site, you may not be aware of Slack, a web-based group working software application that makes it easy for remote or headquarters workers to instant message, call, and file share, all from a pop-up app always running on their PC or mobile device. Slack brought in over $175 million in revenue last year, a growth rate of 42% according to Yahoo! Finance. Microsoft has come after Slack with its Teams application, which it built on top of the awkward Skype VOIP application. Microsoft has gone prime time, highlighting on weekend commercials how the application is transforming the way people work. CNBC

dis-rup-shun: Teams and Slack are, in fact, changing the way people work — making it increasingly awkward to use the telephone, tethered or smart, to call a co-worker, when, with a click of a button, one can loop co-workers into a screen session and share a desktop. Document collaboration, while not something that happens in an office, is becoming a common result of frequent use of workflow software. Microsoft, having been blindsided by the commercial acceptance of Google Docs, is not about to give up more of its share of office productivity to San Francisco based Slack, but has declared a full battle to claim the new category, and is bundling Teams with Office 365. Bundling, however, does not ensure success, as Google Chrome has long bested Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and now Edge browsers, despite those being pre-loaded onto Windows computers.

Apple to build smarter devices

What does Apple’s acquisition of Xnor.ai mean?

Apple has acquired, for an estimated $200 million, Xnor.ai. The company was spun off from the Allen Institute, and began to create a process for making machine learning more efficient so that less powerful edge devices can run artificial intelligence. This may signal Apple’s deeper investment in the Internet of Things (IOT) and/or smart home products. TechCrunch

dis-rup-shun: The next wave of consumer technology is making connected devices much smarter, so that doorbell cams can recognize faces and let you know if your mail man is at the door, or if it is a total stranger. Machine learning is taking place mostly in the cloud, so this move by Apple signals the company’s desire to build smarter products, and differentiate through machine learning. Two contradictory trends are taking place at the current time: edge devices getting smarter and the arrival of 5G, which makes connecting devices to a smart cloud faster and ultimately cheaper. The net effect of faster connectivity to a smart cloud and smarter devices will likely be some amazingly powerful and innovate devices touching our lives at home, in the car, on the go, and at the office.

Alphabet joins trillion dollar club

Google parent Alphabet is now valued at over $1 trillion, joining Apple, Microsoft and Amazon, companies that have all, at one time, broken the trillion mark. Together Big Tech (including Facebook) make up 17% of the value of the S&P 500, up from 11% in 2015. CNBC

dis-rup-shun: While Big Tech is in the sights of regulators, both Federal and state, the companies continue to rapidly grow, crushing smaller companies while acquiring others (see above). The economic engines of GAFAM are some of the biggest job creators, while crushing traditional markets such as print and TV advertising, shipping, brick and mortar shopping, and smart devices, to name a few. The concept of creative destruction is taking place rapidly, and the question is, to what extent should our government regulations protect smaller interests as Big Tech explodes in revenue, influence and value?

Best earbuds for runners

It’s the new year and most of us are resolved to get in better shape. The days of wired earbuds are over, so what is the best earbud product for vigorous exercise? This CNET review looks at 11 possibilities for those most concerned about fit, noise cancellation, water proofing, or prefer an over the head and even glasses configuration.

dis-rup-shun: The hottest product for sale over the holidays was Apple AirPods, with people lining up before stores opened daily in hopes that a new shipment arrived before Christmas day. Investing in things that likely fall off, however, is not helpful and in the gym, being tethered to a treadmill, Peloton or just staying connected to a smartphone with wires is so 2010s.

Kings of the Castle latest Apple Arcade game

Kings of the Castle by Frosty Pop is the newest addition to Apple’s $4.99 per month all you can play gaming arcade service. CNET

dis-rup-shun: According to CNET, Apple’s new gaming service is off to a good start. Apple chose a different path from Google and its Stadia service, which is focused on more serious, traditional gamers. Apple’s Arcade is going for growth by converting casual gamers — people that don’t think of themselves as gamers — into fans of the service. The simple and engaging titles on Arcade are good ways to get another $5.00 per month, of $60 per year from the iPhone faithful, pumping up revenues from the same platform with a host of new services, including gaming, news and Apple’s new credit card. Building new revenues on existing platforms is how Apple the company will continue to grow despite maturing products.

 

Health and Big Tech

JP Morgan health conference insights

One of the biggest annual health conferences, taking in place in San Francisco, is out to solve the nation’s health care problems. Major themes include better defining what is digital health, the role of Big Tech in the health industries, drug pricing, the lack of diversity in the C-suite, and the lack of the customer’s (patient’s) voice. CNBC

dis-rup-shun: Big Tech has arrived at this party and the guests are trying to figure out what the future will be like with Google, Amazon and friends. Google’s high profile partnership with Ascension Health is the elephant in the room: Google is demonstrating how technology is increasing the accuracy of reading mammograms, but is being criticized for using real patient data. The bottom line is that AI works by finding patterns in massive amounts of data, and Google and friends need massive amounts of health data. The reward for feeding the machine is better diagnoses, and if you are one of those cases that were saved by better detection through technology, you will willingly share data. Big Tech is in this space to stay, and is demonstrating that tech + healthcare = better results at lower cost.

Smart contact lens puts the screen on your eye

Mojo Vision is underway with a multi-year project to turn the contact lens into the screen of the future, enabling you to not only have corrective vision, but enabling you to run apps and view augmented reality, as well as calendar reminders and navigation cues through your lens. Initially the lens is designed to be driven by a device worn on the wrist, but this may give way to smartphone controls at some point. Wired

dis-rup-shun: Anyone who has worn contact lenses understands how complex just making the thin plastic adhere and stay in place can be. Adding power, radios and sensors to these plastic slivers sounds extremely difficult, so expect this technology to remain “in development” for a few more years. The entire augmented reality class of technology has a long way to go to land a market beyond gaming or perhaps defense systems, but companies like Apple and Facebook continue to pursue the consumer market and will offer some interesting concepts late this year or early next.

Toyota invests in flying taxis

Toyota has helped flying taxi company Joby Aviation raise a $100 million investment round. The northern California aviation company has been secretly building its version of a VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) craft that Toyota expects may be a part of a challenge to oft talked about Uber flying taxis. The Verge

dis-rup-shun: It is hard to imagine the current technologies on display — that of multi-rotor helicopter-like craft — ever landing in front of our home or office to whisk us to a meeting. These prototypes, however, may form the basis of a hybrid car-helicopter in which rotors are small and protected. What is certain, however, is that while bold dreamers such as Elon Musk and the management team at Uber launch large experiments, the auto industry will be forced to dream competitively and rush to not get displaced, as they risk with autonomous cars, cars-as-service, and electric cars, all trends that have put the industry on its heels. 

Peacock officially launches, marking next phase 

NBCUniversal’s streaming service, Peacock, is officially unveiled today, and marks the end of phase 1 of the era of streaming — the introductory phase. Peacock joins many incumbents, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, and new offerings, such as HBO Max and Disney +. The next phase of transformation, as CNBC points out, is determining if and how streaming services will become replacement technologies, or complementary. For cable providers such as Comcast, substituting Peacock is a significant blow to higher cable revenues, so Comcast will position Peacock as a complementary offering.

dis-rup-shun: We will now watch as streaming business model experiments abound. Bundling services free with smartphone contracts has already started. Providing streaming services as icing on the cable bill will be an important model as telcos and cablecos milk the cable cash cow as long as they have with the telephone land line. Pure cord cutting, of course, is a reality with full home TV services now supported primarliy by Hulu and YouTube. The full service alternative to cable with all the trimmings appears to cost around $150 per month, a figure not drastically less than cable, so for the three to four TV household, the appetite for cord cutting may be whetted a bit.

Shipping wars: Amazon relents

Amazon lifts the ban on FedEx

During the peak of the holiday season, Amazon prohibited its sellers to fulfill orders using FedEx Ground delivery services. That ban was just lifted, with Amazon saying FedEx’s delivery performance was back into acceptable parameters. CNBC

dis-rup-shun: The shot has been fired cross the bow of FedEx, and giant competitor/customer Amazon has demonstrated how it can influence the balance of power in the shipping universe. Will this return to friendliness help Amazon avoid regulatory fire as Congress takes on Big Tech, and did the temporary ban shift enough capital to help Amazon put tens of thousands more light blue Sprinter vans on the road, funding new capacity? Whatever the answer, FedEx will be wise to plan for the next market movement by Amazon which could possibly result in a price war for ground deliveries — a move that would delight all except for the shippers themselves.

Tech investments in Europe surging

2019 was a good year for German and British tech firms as they received 44% more investment capital than in the prior year, whereas VC investment in China and the U.S. declined, 65% and 20%, respectively. Strong fintech and AI offerings in the EU, along with the U.S. – China trade war, are the reasons cited for the big swing in investments. CNBC

dis-rup-shun: Capital, like water, follows its most efficient path, and the U.S. venture community is stymied both by cloudy trade relations and the desire to be more efficient by doing bigger deals. VCs have become increasingly corporate, following fewer, larger deals and, consequently, cutting off the circulation of smaller, more nimble new offerings. Perhaps a stabilization of trade conflicts in 2020 will cause the pendulum to swing back towards China and the U.S.

SpaceX satellite constellation continues to concern

SpaceX, Elon Musk’s space travel and development company, is in the midst of launching 42,000 satellites to orbit the earth and deliver communications and internet services to all corners of the planet. So far, the company has launched 180 satellites that are interrupting astronomers’ work and filling the low orbit paths with many more devices than space planners are accustomed. The space community continues to raise concerns about tracking crowded paths around the earth and avoiding collisions, while astronomers state that stargazing is forever damaged. The Verge

dis-rup-shun: Does the right to fill space with crafts really go to the first one that gets there, or is there an FAA for outer space? What if SpaceX was a China or Russia-based company? Space politics are about to be red hot, if not the subject of some armed conflicts as space pioneers lay claim to the final frontier without asking for permission or cooperation with others. Expect space conflict to be a big part of the next presidential election after the current one.

3D glasses cure lazy eye

Technology for health and wellness is exciting, and NovaSight has developed a solution for lazy eye, or amblyopia, that requires children to watch an hour or more of TV each day wearing stereoscopic glasses. The glasses make one eye work harder to bring images into focus, thereby “catching up” without the traditional use of an eye patch. TechCrunch

dis-rup-shun: 3D stereo glasses were a market failure when it came to persuading the general public to enjoy wearing them to watch 3D content. Re-purposed, the technology offers a painless treatment for amblyopia that saves children time and embarrassment.

CES Wrap Up

Take aways from the big show

Meetings are complete, smoldering socks have been retired to the laundry, and the flashing lights of Vegas are another memory. What should we learn from this year’s carnival?

CNET provides some basic takeaways, though most have been well covered. To review, here they are…

  1. Plant based foods can help reduce the resources required to raise cattle and feed the planet. Impossible Pork got good marks from those that tried. Did you know that pork is the most commonly consumer meat worldwide?
  2. Toyota’s Woven City will be a sustainable city built at the site of a former manufacturing plant near Mt. Fuji. Ordinary people can live at Woven City, but no drivers can be found there, as the city will feature driverless cars, smart homes and renewable energy. Time will tell if this living experiment will alter the course of city building.
  3. Sensors for life. Our bodies are quickly gaining as many gauges and dials as our cars, with devices such as Withings ScanWatch, and many other wearables, providing up to the second information about the health and performance of our bodies. If these devices will make for healthier lives is yet to be determined, but often awareness leads to action. 
  4. Foldable computers. It is too soon to know if foldable computers or foldable phones will change the form factors of the devices we use daily, however we can be assured that foldable digital signage will lead to bus seats, kiosks, countertops and hallways filled with streaming video displays that are wrapped around objects all around us, more than doubling the amount of streaming advertising content we see all the time.
  5. Tech looking less tech. UltraSenseSentons and Mui Lab are companies that are making technology controls and interfaces appear in ordinary places. Desktops, switches and surfaces are becoming smarter, providing a natural looking way to activate and control computers without having to use screen, mouse of switch. Holographics and sensors are overlaying keyboards on top of ordinary surfaces, making our experiences feel more natural.

And then there is Quibi, the new mobile only streaming service from Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman, that has already raised over $1 billion to bring 8 minute or less videos to your mobile phone. The company “came out” at CES and is now waging its own private streaming battle in a unique format. All content is filmed in both portrait and landscape mode, providing two separate story perspectives that you can switch between on the fly. The company has lined up big talent to persuade users to pay between $5 (with ads) and $8 per month to watch these mobisodes.  The Verge