Disney Plus is a smash hit

Disney Plus already has 45% as many U.S. subs as Netflix

Disney’s streaming TV service has been out slightly over two months and already has 28.6 million subscribers in the U.S.  Netflix, at the end of 2019, had 61 million U.S. subscribers and 167 million on the planet, according to Statista. Comparing U.S. only, Disney Plus is already almost half the size of Netflix. The Star Wars Mandalorian and Marvel properties, plus a very attractive monthly rate, have fueled new subscriptions. CNET

dis-rup-shun: Now we understand why AT&T spent billions on Time Warner ($85 billion, not counting three years of legal fees), and why Comcast bought NBCU. If you are a network and don’t own really compelling content, your chances of competing in the streaming wars are slim. If you don’t have a streaming service, your chances of surviving the great video revolution of the 2000s are slim. The Mouse has been buying up video assets and studios in the past few years, as Disney has clearly figured out how to compete in the Netflix age.

Smart speakers still not used for purchases

eMarketer has lowered its forecast for smart speaker sales, signaling that this product may be approaching maturity, at least for the early majority buyers. eMarketer’s forecast for speaker penetration is 83.1 million users. The firm estimates that 21.6 million users will have made a voice purchase by the end of this year. The desire to see a product and fears of security are cited as reasons for reluctance to purchase on a speaker.

dis-rup-shun: The fact that 21 million voice purchases have been made indicates that this will become a significant shopping method. In the meantime, Google and Amazon continue to battle to become the voice hub of the home. The ways to monetize the money losing device sales are numerous:

  1. The party that owns the home hub sets the standards for connected home devices, determining which radios, which interfaces and even which cloud services work best — potentially shifting millions of users towards a complementary product or service.
  2. People’s primary use of smart speakers is to listen to music. If device vendors can steer people to the vendor’s own music service (this has not been terribly successful to date), then monthly fees for music subscriptions will add millions to the top line.
  3. The home hub can serve as the light switch and voice-thermostat, providing  feedback on energy usage and energy spending. Energy utilities have great incentives to be a part of a home energy hub.
  4. Senior care, as shown in Google’s Super Bowl commercial, can be impacted by a smart speaker, reminding grandmother that it is time to take medicine, or helping her remember things like the day of week or arrival times for care givers.

Would you consider a separate camera?

For those that think photography is more than smartphone pics, cameras also continue to get better. The Fujifilm X100V features a slim body (not as slim as a smartphone), a 24-megapixel APS-C sensor and image processor, and OLED viewfinder. This can be had for about $1,400. TechCrunch

dis-rup-shun: Camera sales are down, and the camera quality of smartphones is getting crazy good. But for that European vacation or safari trip, a camera is still preferred and the image processing technology is following Moore’s Law, getting better and cheaper each year. The question is, do you go for a digital SLR with the great but bulky lens, or do you go with a pocket camera like the Fujifilm X100V?

Sunrise alarms — better than smartphone alarm clock

A new product category is born to fill the space once occupied by the erstwhile clock radio. It is designed especially for those who sleep in a room with no windows. The devices emulate daylight by changing hue and intensity to simulate the rising and setting of the sun. They can also play music, show the time, and be controlled by an app. Reviewed in Wired are the Homelabs Sunrise Alarm Clock, Philips Wake-Up Light (HF3520), Casper Glow Light, Philips SmartSleep Connected Sleep and Wake-Up Light Therapy Lamp, Lumie Bodyclock Active 250, and Totobay Wake-Up Light.

dis-rup-shun: Inventing new product categories is a great way to embrace the smart product disruption. That’s what Nest did with the dumb thermostat, and launched a new industry. Of course Amazon’s Echo is a home run, as is Roku, the smart TV, and smart mattresses. Alexa-powered microwave ovens have been a flop, as have been internet connected refrigerators. It is time for more creative thinking about how to replace products displaced by smart products.

Women in tech lambast Silicon Valley

Women in tech speak out against Silicon Valley

The steady stream of female authors writing about disillusionment with jobs in Silicon Valley continues — Anna Wiener has written “Uncanny Valley,” a memoir of her tech jobs in the Valley. Wiener joins a number of high profile former and current tech employees that have called out the inequities, harassment and moral compromise found at tech jobs in Silicon Valley. CNBC

dis-rup-shun: What are we to make of this growing disillusionment of jobs with Big Tech? Perhaps the collegiate, “no rules” atmosphere of startups is being carried into large tech companies that have real policies and an employee handbook. Working in Silicon Valley means working in a more relaxed environment, but with out sized goals to conquer a niche and become wildly successful. Perhaps the startup mentality, when carried into bigger tech firms, becomes dangerous and unchecked, and with IPOs at a low point, and awareness of workplace abuse on the rise, change is afoot. Expect to see more formality and clearly stated policies, even in smaller Silicon Valley operations.

Google flirts with $1 trillion, but with murky future

Alphabet/Google remains one of the most amazing stories of American business, rising to a valuation close to $1 trillion in only 25 years. It is in the company of Microsoft, Apple and Amazon, all above or close to $1 trillion. The company, however, has failed to significantly diversify its revenue base beyond search advertising, which contributes 84% of total revenue. While there is no imminent disruptor that will unseat Google, unlike its trillion dollar brothers who have multiple successful business units, Google remains dependent on the same business that it launched 25 years ago. Wired

dis-rup-shun: Despite the company’s reliance on search advertising, the company powers the majority of the world’s mobile phones with its Android OS, and its mapping technology may form the foundation for autonomous vehicles. The company, with its Android, Nest, YouTube and many powerful apps, provides a great deal of utility. The company’s deployment of free apps and an open mobile operating system have endeared it to many, but have proven that it is hard to make money at a zero price tag. With a new CEO, perhaps we will see some bold new initiatives, or at least bold new pricing, from Google.

Google’s Loretta Super Bowl ad called “evil”

Google, through a heart warming Super Bowl advertisement, suggested that its Google Assistant could help keep a senior widower’s memories of late wife Loretta alive. The senior tells Google to remember certain thinks about Loretta and the system displays photos of the couple. Tech Blogger Palmer calls this advertisement evil, as the company does not warn, like the Surgeon’s General warning on cigarettes, that all of these intimate details will be used to improve Google’s ability to target advertisements to the senior. Shelly Palmer

dis-rup-shun: Yes, every user of Google’s products should be able to easily determine what personal data is being used by what application. This should be accomplished through a personal data dashboard, much like that now offered by the everyone’s favorite villains, Facebook. But please, Shelly, can we not share in the dream that technology, be it from Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and others, can be effectively used to improve the lives of seniors? It stands to reason that distrust of tech is likely highest among seniors, who have a number of good reasons to resist it, but also have much to be gained by automating their lives. Data, and sales figures, suggest that a very large percentage of our society is happy to pay for services such as memos, photo storage, mapping, chat and email by giving up personal data.

A.I. is like teenage sex (and its happening in HR)

A.I. is like teenage sex,” says Frida Polli. “Everyone says they’re doing it, and nobody really knows what it is.” Fortune summarizes how HR departments are increasingly using AI in the recruiting and vetting process. Here is where AI use is growing at HR:

  1. Chat bots for recruiting
  2. Deep background checks
  3. Employee advisers
  4. Management coaches
  5. Employee review helpers

dis-rup-shun: While AI is automating much of the employee management process, it makes networking that much more important as personal connections remain far more valuable than AI assessments, that is until your personal connection introduces you to the chat bot that you have to convince to hire you.

 

The end of insurance, transportation and retail

Extinct in 20 years: insurance, transportation and retail

According to Dave Jordan, global head, consulting and services integration at Tata Consultancy Services, these industries will be as good as gone by 2040. Insurance, according to Jordan, will be all but unnecessary with autonomous vehicles and will be absorbed into other transactions. Autonomous vehicles will eliminate car ownership altogether, and maker technologies — that is, the ability to print our own products will eliminate the need for retailers. TechRepublic

dis-rup-shun: While Jordan’s warnings of massive restructuring and redefinition of industries is good to contemplate, his predictions, with the exception of car ownership, are a bit extreme. There are many things in our lives to insure such as houses, so insurance for businesses and consumers will not go away but auto insurance will certainly constrict. Personal car ownership, except for hobbyists, does seem to be a necessary evil that we will be glad to eliminate. Retail, however, serves many purposes, including providing an important communal experience and for that reason, will not go away. Jordan, however, is certainly right to claim that these industries should brace for radical change.

Electric Hummer pickup truck coming in 2021

On the heels of the Tesla CyberTruck announcement comes news of an upcoming, all electric pickup branded Hummer, by General Motors. Release is expected in 2021. CNET

dis-rup-shun: Is it marketing irony that the beloved-by-some and hated-by-environmentalists Hummer is being reborn as an all electric vehicle? The giant gas guzzler was retired in 2010 at the time of GM’s bankruptcy. In an unexpected twist, electric vehicles became status symbols, thanks to Tesla and its CyberTruck announcement that has drawn mixed reactions, but plenty of reactions. The CyberTruck buzz has proved that buyers, including EV buyers, want original, exotic, edgy and even expensive models, and GM plans to deliver in an all new EV Hummer.

IBM’s Rometty follows Brin and Larry Page off the ship

Ginny Rometty has announced her departure from the CEO post at IBM. During Rometty’s eight years at the helm, the company’s value has dropped 24%, making it the worst performing large tech company. The next CEO, Arvind Krishna, comes from IBM’s cloud business. CNBC

dis-rup-shun: Rometty took a cue from Google founders Brin and Page and got out under cover of a strong economy and strong sector stock prices. IBM has been living on its strong brand and has been slow to change while Amazon, Google, the Big 4, Tata, Infosys and others have eaten its lunch. Rometty was slow to double down on cloud computing and shake up the old guard that makes up Big Blue, and the board never demanded fresh leadership. Now shareholders look to Krishna to pull off a miracle.

Apple updates its maps and Look Around

Apple has invested millions to upgrade its mapping data, relying less on partners and investing heavily on its own mapping data. These improvements will likely not be noticed by consumers, except that Apple’s Street View-like app, Look Around, that provides a person’s-eye-view of addresses, will be better. Google’s mapping technology has been, and likely will remain, well ahead of Apple, but the Cupertino company is striving to close the gap in hopes that iPhone users will not continue to favor Google Maps on their devices. Wired

dis-rup-shun: Online and interactive maps have become essential to life, whether tethered to an in-car navigation system, guiding an Uber or Lyft, or getting guidance on the streets. Advertisements, websites and weather services are inextricably linked to maps and autonomous vehicles will be critically dependent on mapping data. The company that owns the best maps will be to the rest of the online world what Amazon.com is to the online retail world…in control.

 

 

Amazon’s cash cow

A stellar quarter for Amazon

Q: What makes up only 11% of Amazon’s revenue, but 67% of its profit? A: Amazon Web Services (AWS). The company cleared $9.95 billion in revenue in the fourth quarter and continues to dominate the cloud services space. The quarterly performance well exceeded expectations. CNBC

dis-rup-shun: It’s looking like Q4 was a great one for tech companies, suggesting that consumer and business spending are robust and that the economy did shrug off suggestions of recession. Strong performance should help gain resolution of outstanding trade war issues with China.

Your thermostat called the repairman

Nest has initiated testing of thermostat alerts that notify a homeowner when the HVAC system performs irregularly. While the thermostat can’t tell if the motor is about to go out or if someone left the back door open, it can identify changes and degradation in performance and can point the homeowner to repair technicians listed on website Handy. TechCrunch

dis-rup-shun: This is a step towards the true smart home and it is high time that devices use their connected intelligence to provide significant value. Preventing several days without AC during a Texas summer is very valuable, and getting warnings that something does not look right, including suggestions of who to call, is outstanding. Expect companies like Nest to go the next step and offer calendar options for when technicians can arrive at the home, complete with standard pricing so that with a click of a mouse or finger, service can be scheduled. Coincidentally, this is the model for how smart sensors in the home will identify changes in inhabitants’ sleep and bathroom patterns, can suggest doctors to visit, their prices, and next available appointments.

A Facebook control panel for personal data

Facebook has rolled out a tool to show you which websites are using Facebook data to serve up ads and how to easily stop sharing. Follow these steps to limit the amount of Facebook activity being fed to other sites. CNBC

dis-rup-shun: Facebook is feeling the withering criticism of the public and the shame generated by Apple by claiming to be the safe company while looking down its turtlenecked nose at the social networking giant. Hats off to Facebook for its transparency and its proactive move to help consumers manage data privacy. A similar dashboard needs to be required of every app that is fueled by data, as a privacy policy standard, policed by the FCC or FTC.

Ring’s attempt at better security

Doorbell and camera maker Ring has reacted to hacks, criticisms and lawsuits by adding a security dashboard to its app. The dashboard enables users to turn on two-factor authentication, to view which apps can access the camera account, to see if passwords are set, and to opt out of giving police access to videos. The security features, according to TechCrunch, are still quite weak, despite providing the user with new controls. TechCrunch

dis-rup-shun: Despite the fact that Ring’s implementation of security measures is not industrial strength, the company should be commended for adding an easy to understand security control panel (see Facebook’s data access control panel above). Debate in the smart home market has long been that if products are highly secure, consumers will be frustrated by the more rigid account generation and sign on processes and pan the product. Data suggests this is true, yet consumers are outraged when really lazy passwords such as “12345678” are easily hacked. Making it easier for consumers to protect themselves is the right move, and very important to keep legislators and hackers at a distance, and Ring is on the right path.

 

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.

 

 

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.

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.