Autonomous vehicle enthusiasm waning

Money flow is moving from autonomous to electric vehicles

Investment funds for autonomous and ride sharing ventures are drying up as money turns toward electric car development. Autonomous vehicles are years away, have uncertain regulatory hurdles, and may not be profitable. Car makers want to make and sell cars, not invest in ride sharing alternatives to ownership. Tesla’s skyrocketing share price, combined with the lower cost of making EVs, has automakers anxious to hasten the transition to electric cars and is shifting the focus of investment to electric from autonomous. Wired

dis-rup-shun: Car makers have to be disrupted in order to shift their focus from the beaten path. Just as Henry Ford II demonstrated in Ford vs. Ferrari, it takes getting insulted to alter the status quo, and it is safe to say that Tesla’s valuation over $100 billion is an insult to makers of many times as many cars. Time to double down on electric cars and see how fast the world’s drivers will adopt the faster, lighter, cheaper, but shorter range vehicles. Expect to see better batteries double the range of EVs in the next 3 to 5 years, as new models will be increasingly electric. Despite innovations, that cross country marathon trip will still be a challenge if one has to charge every 5 to 7 hours.

What to do when your smart home is controlled by mobile apps

As the smart home slowly emerges, control of new internet connected devices is through mobile apps and smart speakers, but that becomes a challenge if a guest or house cleaner wants to control lights, locks and other connected appliances. Brilliant, a company that makes programmable controls for the walls, is addressing that problem. For $399 to $349 per room, you can retrofit light switches to programmable touch panels that control all of your connected home systems — without an app and without having to know what to tell Alexa, Google or other smart speaker what to do. TechCrunch

dis-rup-shun: Brilliant’s solution is a bit ahead of the market in that most homes have not so fully converted to smart systems that they don’t have tactile controls, but most of us are experiencing app overload. Having a touch panel on the wall in key places in the home will enable us to actually leave our smartphones in another room and not have to scroll through multiple apps as we add more home systems.

Coronavirus could delay tech products for rest of year

Manufacturing plants in China are set to open today, a delay of one week after being closed down for the Chinese Lunar New Year festivities. Due to the caronavirus, manufacturers extended the holiday. Despite the shut down being only one extra week, the delay could cascade throughout the supply chain, especially for hard to come by parts, impacting many devices, including iPhones, and potentially putting a squeeze on holiday 2020 supplies. CNBC

dis-rup-shun: The outbreak has served to remind people around the world that despite tariffs, trade wars and quotas, the world economy is tightly integrated. Even if the coronavirus stops spreading, the interdependence on workers, designers, and business specialists won’t, making it difficult to maintain the impressive pace of bringing tech products to market.

Apple fined $27M in France for throttling

Apple failed to let users of older iPhones know that iOS updates 10.2.1. and 11.2, in order to protect phones from weaker batteries, throttled performance at certain times. France’s watchdog organization DGCCRF took issue that Apple failed to alert users of this situation, and had failed to provide a downgrade path for users that wanted to return to older OSes to remove the limitation. The company has agreed to pay a $27M fine. TechCrunch

dis-rup-shun: While $27M to Apple is lunch money, the reprimand comes at a time when Apple is working hard to boost its image as the consumer friendly company, that safeguards consumer data better than the other Big Tech companies. The action is another proof point that Europe’s technology regulators are far ahead of those of the U.S. — implementing not only GDPR data privacy policies, but enforcing policies already determined. The U.S. is only now considering national legislation in the wake of California’s just initiated data privacy policy, known as CCPA.


Holiday Amusement: Some predictions

Many thanks and Happy New Year

As the year draws to a close, it marks nine months of providing you with some daily thoughts on dis-rup-shun.  I have encountered a number of readers over the holidays that have offered their support, endorsement and general satisfaction with this contribution to your inbox, so onward we go. If you have specific suggestions on how this newsletter could be more helpful to you (longer, shorter, more focused, etc.), please share.

A few predictions from off the cuff, after perusing the top daily news sources for the past nine months:

  • Big Tech will face some friction from Congress, the FTC, and states’ attorneys general, but these efforts will do little to check the power and growth of these economic engines. The lack of regulation will result more from the lack of focus of legislators, rather than defensive postures of Big Tech.
  • Amazon understands how to penetrate new markets and new industries. Facebook and Google are not as adept at winning in non-core businesses. Microsoft has a laser focus on closing the cloud computing gap behind AWS, and will make significant progress. Expect Amazon to continue to amaze and frighten, while Facebook and Google will continue to disappoint.
  • Apple will have another strong year, fueled by sales of gadgets such as AirPods, watches and a less expensive iPhone. The company’s services businesses, with the exception of its very successful credit card launch, will struggle to gain significant share, including its Arcade gaming, and Apple TV Plus, as differentiation in services will be more difficult for Apple. The company will continue to slowly move into the uncharted waters of personal health, working more closely with medical experts to find new health applications for its powerful wearable platform, Apple Watch.
  •  Smart home and home automation products will continue to improve in functionality and value, with deeper cooperation between vendors who are attempting to advance in the wake of Alexa and Google Home market penetration. These home ecosystems will grow, providing many more options for home control, however this disjointed approach will not suffice for high-end homes that want an end-to-end system, or those that want a rock solid, monitored home security system. Cool new smart home products and machine learning will continue to transform integrated systems, as systems providers such as ADT, Vivint and seek to keep their systems up to par with the latest hot products.
  • Autonomous machines will continue to pop up, with airplanes, helicopters, delivery carts, and cars that drive themselves being tested in many applications. Until a great deal of test data is released by trusted authorities, consumers will continue to be wary. Autonomous car vendors will need to educate the public that although their cars are not perfect and have killed, they are already safer than 50% of human drivers on the road today — a tough assignment for the marketing agency.
  • Trade wars will be resolved by mid-year, with the Trump administration claiming some wins, and with China’s tech industry and especially Huawei strengthened by adversity. The resolution of the trade wars will spur the economy to an exceptionally strong second half, and will further delay or dispel talks of global recession.

I wish you constructive disruption in this coming year. Whether it’s your job, your business, your personal life, or all of the above, be ready for disruption. As my Peloton instructor says, “Learn to be comfortable with discomfort.” Happy New Year.

Best Buy resurgence bucks the Amazon Effect

It’s the experience, stupid!

Best Buy was believed to be on death row only a handful of years ago, as similar big box stores such as Toys ‘R Us bit the dust and blamed the Amazon Effect. Best Buy’s sales are on an uptick. Its success is attributed to three things that are not easily available online: a well-lit, attractive place to see and touch products, knowledgeable sales people, and the ability to pair a sale with an installation appointment by the Geek Squad. Wired

dis-rup-shun: The call for experiences is all around us. It’s the only reason that new malls are still being built, new restaurants are opening weekly and movie theaters, despite exorbitant ticket and refreshment prices, are still selling out. It’s why Apple stores are often packed to capacity. Experience is something that Amazon has not yet been able to offer on its website, and the reason that the online king is increasingly opening brick and mortar stores.

AI employed to sort your old Lego collection

In an ingenious display of AI, or more specifically, a convolutional neural network, Daniel West has developed, out of Legos, a machine for sorting any Legos that the computer powering the system has ever seen in a 3D rendering. See it sort on YouTube. TheVerge

dis-rup-shun: This demonstration is a great visualization of how AI and object recognition can transform processes in a manufacturing facility, an airport baggage belt, a pill dispensary, or many other applications. The fact that it is made of and for Legos also reveals that the toys of tomorrow also need to include software components. Kids of tomorrow will be snapping the Lego AI module onto the Lego platform and solving many of civilization’s toughest problems on the floor of their rooms. Toys and entertainment need to keep apace of flourishing minds and their craving for powerful tools.

Newer, cheaper self-driving tech on the horizon

A start up called Aeva, founded in 2017 in Mountain View, California, has attracted the attention of automaker giant, Volkswagen. The company employs a technology called silicon photonics that results in an autonomous package in the $500 per car range — far cheaper than current offerings in development. Volkswagen is considering implementation of the technology in the resurrection of its iconic VW van, called the ID Buzz vehicle. CNBC

dis-rup-shun:  Competition once again proves that more nimble players will increase the rate of development of a new technology. If you aren’t familiar with Christensen’s classic Innovators Dilemma, this is an example of emerging companies being out-innovated. With more players offering more affordable paths to the goal line, autonomous cars may be on the road in four to six years.

Smart home product makers waiting for privacy guidance

TechCrunch has inquired of smart home makers if they have a stated policy and report for what personal data has been requested by and or released to law enforcement agencies. Amazon, Facebook and Google/Nest all disclosed any government requests in their respective transparency reports. Apple stated that due to the fact that all data collected is anonymized, no such report is necessary. Other popular device makers have not produced transparency reports.

dis-rup-shun: The debate about the legality and morality of providing personal data in criminal cases will endure until the end of time. The best examples we have from our past are the most personal high tech device our society has enjoyed over the past 100 or so years — the telephone. The use of phone records in criminal cases is well established and will likely set the legal standards for smart home devices. Companies such as Google who want to personalize and monetize personal data will face increasing pressure to anonymize data, like Apple, and will find themselves at the middle of this debate for years to come.

Seniors not on leading edge of autonomous car adoption

Benefits to seniors for self driving cars over-hyped

The number of drivers over 70 on the road has grown 58% between 1997 and 2017, and these drivers have higher accident rates than other drivers. Autonomous car companies have predicted that seniors will be major beneficiaries of this technology, and will help drive adoption. This may be an exaggeration, according to Wired, as two factors need to be considered.  First, seniors’ longer response time requires that cars be completely autonomous (level 5 on the autonomy scale, and today’s cars are at level 2), and that is a long way off. Secondly, cars for seniors need to be designed by and for seniors, with information telling them what is happening at all times, and with knobs and displays that are extremely senior friendly. No one is taken these factors into consideration, according to Wired, and therefore saying autonomous cars are great for seniors is, at this stage, hype.

dis-rup-shun: Seniors are a demographic that will not be on the leading edge of autonomous car adoption. They are likely the last group to jump into a driverless car, and their loved ones will be reluctant to do that to them until the technology is very well proven. As with ride sharing services focused on seniors, there will be autonomous car models that are more senior-friendly (maybe sold by Cadillac?) — a Jitterbug on wheels, so to speak. The point is, there is plenty of time to optimize auto cars for seniors and this demographic will not be a driver for early adoption.

Tesla shows some love to early, abandoned buyers

Tesla is promising to do better to owners of its first car, the Tesla Roadster, released in 2008 through 2012. Tesla stopped making spare parts for the Roadster and does not offer service through the mainstream app used by owners of current models. Jerome Guillen, President of Automotive, indicated in an email to Roadster customers that they will get their own, dedicated service advisor. CNBC

dis-rup-shun: Tesla, as well as its customers, are pioneers with a ring-side seat to what could become the transformation of cars as we know them, to predominantly electric. As we know, you can always spot a pioneer because they are the people with an arrow in their backs. Tesla owners are no exception. The next 18 months feel like a tipping point for Tesla — if the company can grow revenues, then it may just make it for the long haul, or be acquired by a larger entity (Apple would be cool). Bad reports from Tesla employees and disgruntled car owners would force the company to focus even more energy and capital on Europe and Asia, where it is receiving a strong reception. Tesla’s withdrawal from the U.S. market would likely cool electric car development efforts by GM, Chrysler, Ford, and Toyota, and that would be unfortunate.

Qualcomm releases 5G chipsets

Qualcomm is a global leader in chipsets found in smartphones, and yesterday the company unveiled two new chipsets that support 5G. When it arrives en masse (in 2020), 5G networks will enable mobile gaming and mobile video at speeds not seen before in consumer products. The new chipsets have faster speeds, more AI capacity, and, of course, the ability to connect to new 5G networks. Wired

dis-rup-shun: The timing of Qualcomm’s announcement means it is likely that many 5G capable phones will flood the market in the second half of 2020. As stated previously, next year’s holiday commercials will be all about special deals to entice users to upgrade their handsets for 5G models. Those who are excited about the potential of 5G won’t be upgrading phones for the next six to eight months as they wait for the new technology.

Amazon releases wireless Echo for India

India has proven to be a hot market for Echo, and the most requested enhancement has been portability. The new mobile model sells for $84 and has a 10 hour battery life. TechCrunch

dis-rup-shun: If the Echo is really Amazon’s household Trojan Horse, what are the profitable services that the company will grow in India? According to its website, was the source of over 50% of online purchases in the country. The category of highest value for Indian shoppers was smartphones, followed by fashion and consumables, then large appliances. While Echo has not yet become a strong shopping platform, Amazon continues to push aggressively across the globe, and will likely not face in India the regulatory threats being proposed by the U.S. and E.E. regulators, meaning the company could have a lot larger share of a much larger market (albeit with less spending power) in a short period of time.

Are self driving cars close?

The arrival of self-driving cars

Self driving cars are late, based upon claims by executives at Waymo, Tesla and Cruise that 2019 would mark the arrival of autonomous cars. The CEO of Amazon backed, self-driving technology company Aurora says fully autonomous cars will be on the road in 5 years.  CNBC

dis-rup-shun: A key point in the arrival of self-driving vehicles, currently seen as not advanced enough to be safe enough, is that the technology will  soon be safer than 50 percent of the drivers on the road. Some industry backers claim that we have a responsibility to put autonomous cars on the road as soon as they are safer than the majority of human drivers. The problem, however, is that when an autonomous car kills someone, public outcry will state that the technology is flawed and should not be allowed. When a human driver kills someone, however, the public acknowledges that the person made a mistake, but that humans are fully capable of driving safely. Success of autonomous cars, therefore, will require strong public awareness campaigns to convince people that an imperfect technology will be safer than the status quo. That won’t be easy.

Cultural alignment problems holding back connected health technologies

Digital health technology companies have struggled for years to find market success, despite technical efficacy. One cause is the misalignment between tech entrepreneurs’ act-now-and-ask-for-forgiveness-later mentalities versus clinicians, who are rigorously trained to minimize risk. Omada Health is working to bridge the culture gap between doctors and technology developers as digital health companies are on the rise, having raised $8 billion in investments in 2018. 

dis-rup-shun: Theranos is a text book example of the clash in cultures between tech companies and clinicians  — the latter being silenced by Elizabeth Holmes. Many health tech companies have built great products, but struggled for acceptance. If health tech startups launch products that have been developed through a clinician-friendly process, with clinical data for the health care industry to study, the chances for product acceptance will increase. Omada’s process will likely be emulated and considered a new development standard if it leads to faster time to market.

A search engine not interested in your identity

DuckDuckGo is a search engine just as Google, but very unlike the behemoth in that the company does not track your identity and search history. After using DuckDuckGo for over two years, the author of this Wired article states that the lesser known search engine does just as good a job of basic search requirements such as definitions, dates and places. For highly specific searches, such as the name of a movie in which a named star takes some vague action, DuckDuckGo will be less capable of navigating the circuitous path to the specific name of a movie. Google has far more features, but the question is, do you need all of those features if you wish to search the web without being carefully tracked and sold to? DuckDuckGo has 78 employees compared to Google’s 114,096, yet is a viable search alternative. 

dis-rup-shun: Privacy concerns seem to be on the upswing, and people appear to be ready to sever ties with companies that they believe are not responsible with personal data. Apple has been watching this trend and is trying to get out in front of it by using privacy as a brand differentiator. Expect DuckDuckGo to grow exponentially as it becomes widely known and popular in the coming year, as word spreads virally that one can function on the Internet without Google — most of the time.

Pocket color sensor ideal for designers and DIYers

Nix is a startup that provides a sensor, a mini version and a professional grade version, that accurately read the color of any surface. the smaller than golf ball-sized devices are charged via USB and, with the use of one of three apps, helps one accurately determine the color value of a surface. TechCrunch

dis-rup-shun: If you have done any design work or any home remodeling or updating, you know that matching colors is a difficult and imprecise task. A gadget to make this simple is very useful — so useful, expect Apple to make this functionality a standard offering in a future iPhone version. Apple is always looking for value-added functions to add to the iPhone and, of course, once it does, Nix will be all but nixed. Given the fact that paint or fabric manufacturers will want to pay to be the first brand that appears in such an app, emulating Nix will have commercial appeal for Apple, in addition to bringing extra value.

Government versus Big Tech escalates

New page in government versus Big Tech : State AGs

Attorneys General from 48 states are collaborating in an effort to investigate Google to determine if the company is unfairly dominating the search market. Eight states plus D.C. are pursuing a similar investigation of Facebook. The collective action is separate, and in addition to investigations underway by the FTC and DOJ. Wired

dis-rup-shun: The line to extract a fine from Big Tech is getting long, and tech firms will definitely have to make some concessions and pay some large fees. Market domination is the dream of most every boardroom, but governments have succeeded at keeping the playing field at least open to innovators, who continue to refresh our economies. The pace of innovation among Big Tech ensures that new offerings will continue to find new profits, making up for any concessions won by state and Federal legislators.

How to plan a city with autonomous vehicles

The National Association of City Planning Officials is struggling to determine how to invest in the city of the future. Should parking lots and roadways be reduced to account for lower car ownership, shared rides, scooters and self-driving cars that will rarely park, or is the arrival of autonomous vehicles over-hyped? The association is recommending a network of variable pay per use roadways, based on time of day, as has been implemented in downtown London. Wired

dis-rup-shun: The aggressive pursuit of delivery drones by Amazon and others suggests crowded sidewalks or “drone allies” and the success of scooters and bikes calls for a permanent accommodation to make everyone safer. The auto industry fully expects continuing large shifts in transportation and ownership habits and cities should too. Developing pedestrian zones where use of autos requires an additional fee are highly feasible, given electronic, map-based payment and toll systems. Expect city centers to become far more user friendly and pleasant as they move to encourage ride sharing and less parking.

Really smart video camera keeps your data at home

ShimShine, a smart home camera startup in Shenzhen, China has raised $8 million in funding to build cameras with more intelligence built in the camera, relying less on the cloud and more on the device itself. The benefits include faster processing and less personal data being transferred across public networks. TechCrunch

dis-rup-shun: Two trends occurring in the smart home space are to make devices far more intelligent so that your habits and preferences are already known by your smart home. Thus, your home acts without your having to manage it, unlocking doors and changing lighting and temperature when you normally come home. One way to do this, the second trend, is to pack more intelligence into the device itself, relying less on the cloud to perform the magic. This second trend, however, will be challenged by faster, less expensive cloud services and 5G networks that make wireless data transmission lightning fast. The resulting combination is a future in which devices themselves will be packed with intelligence and will be connected to very fast wireless networks, meaning the home will have an enormous amount of compute power, capable of accurate facial recognition, video analytics and high level security. Smart home compute capacity will exceed the power of home applications for several years to come.

Time again for a Nokia flip phone? 

Nokia is staging an interesting comeback, offering a flip phone that, like its predecessor, connects a caller when opened and hangs up by closing. The top part of the clam shell features a screen where popular apps are displayed. The phone goes on sale in Europe later this month at a price of $98.

CNBC: Nokia 2720 Flip 190903


dis-rup-shun: The new price points for mainstream iPhones and Samsung Galaxies are impacting sales by stretching the time people keep their phones, and by creating strong demand for mid-priced and low-priced phones. While Apple is releasing a lower priced iPhone, the gap for $100 to $600 phones is wider than ever, with a number of Chinese smartphone makers ready to fill it. Novel offerings from Nokia that include some nostalgia will be popular among the crowd that is more excited about saving than about showing off. Expect to see many new mid to low priced phones that have interesting personalities.