Turbotodd

Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Smarter Speakers…and Payments

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Strategy Analytics has released sales figures for voice assistants in the first quarter of 2018, and has reported that Apple sold an estimated 600K HomePod speakers.

If that number is correct, then Apple would have captured just 6 percent of the global smart speaker market, well behind Amazon and Google, according to a report by MacRumors.

During the same time period, Amazon shipped an estimated 4 million Echo smart speakers, giving it a 43.6 percent market share, and Google 26.5 percent with 2.4 million sales.

And year-over-year, Amazon’s sales increased by two million, and Google’s by 2.1 million.

Meanwhile, back at the payment settlement ranch ​PayPal is looking to square its game against Square and Stripe by buying iZettle for $2.2 billion in an all-cash deal.

According to a report from TechCrunch, the deal is expected to settle in Q3 2018, and would be PayPal’s biggest-ever transaction.

iZettle currently has operations in 12 markets, including several in northern Europe and Mexico, as well as in the U.K.

Written by turbotodd

May 18, 2018 at 10:23 am

Posted in 2018, amazon, payment systems

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Google’s New News

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Google not own enough of your digital life yet?

If no, try the new Google News on iOS, which the company announced at its I/O devcon last week. 

As reported by The Verge, The new Google News on iOS is similar to the one you’ll find on Android, and centers around using machine learning to train algorithms to comb through complex, fast breaking news stories.

It then breaks them down in easy to understand formats like chronological timelines, local news aggregation, and stories presented in the developing and evolving sequence.

The app is organized into four sections now, the first of which is a “For You” personalized list of the top five stories Google’s software think you’ll want to read alongside a few other algorithmically chosen articles and local news stories.

It also includes other sections focused on core headlines, a favorite section, and the “Newsstand,” which lets you subscribe to news organizations who offer a monthly subscription for web or print access or charge a monthly fee to bypass a web pay wall.

News junkie that I am, I went ahead and downloaded the new version of Google News for iOS (hey, it’s free! Well, other than all that information about myself I’m giving away…), and eerily, the first five headlines “For Me” were pretty much spot on.

While I won’t get into specifics of what the stories were, they involved international affairs, golf, and Japanese whiskey, in that order.

All that news that’s fit to print just  for you, and then some.

Written by turbotodd

May 16, 2018 at 9:42 am

Posted in 2018

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State of Blockchain Q1 2018 Report

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As the CoinDesk Consensus 2018 cryptocurrency and blockchain event kicks off this morning in NYC, CoinDesk released its “Q1 2018 State of Blockchain Report.”

Peter Ryan with Disqus detailed some of the top 6 takeaways that defined Q1 2018:

  1. It’s a bear market for crypto. Following its peak of $20K, bitcoin suffered a 51 percent decline in the first quarter. However, 79 percent of respondents to the CoinDesk Sentiment Survey said they thought this bear market would be short-lived.
  2. Crypto market is maturing. Bitcoin futures markets were introduced in Q417, and there’s been steady growth in this activity through Q118. But the shorts outpaced the longs, 5,000 to 3,000, which has likely led to the slumping price, along with a fall in demand in the spot bitcoin market.
  3. Miners stay long. The amount of processing power devoted to securing the bitcoin network diverged from the market cap, with the hash rate (a measure bitcoin mining) growing 47 percent over the quarter. Miners take the long view.
  4. Taxes are coming into the picture. Cryptocurrencies generated an estimated $70 billion in global tax revenue for 2017. But the tax parameters around crypto remain confusing to survey respondents, both about the legal and tax status of the entire asset class.
  5. ICOs continue to boom. ICO raised $6.3 billion in Q1, and the average raise has almost doubled from $16 million to $31 million.
  6. Fees decline. Transaction fees on the bitcoin network dropped from an average of $40 in Q417 to around $9.49 per transaction in Q118.

As for the broader opportunity for the blockchain, SiliconAngle’s James Kobielus writes that today’s blockchain startups “will need to show that they have staying power and can ride a ‘land-and-expand’ strategy to greater success.” 

And he asserts that to be considered to be mature enough for broad enterprise deployment, a commercial blockchain platform would need to meet several criteria:

  • Blockchain solutions should be general-purpose in their ability to be deployed into a wide range of industries, business functions and other application domains.
  • They should be deployable into private clouds, public clouds and various multicloud deployments of a hybrid, B2B and community-wide nature.
  • They should be able integrate seamless with enterprise investments in other data, transaction, security and other platforms.
  • They should be standardized within a dominant open-source community with wide representation.

He also writes that:

Of the principal blockchain projects, only the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Fabric is likely to become the standardized foundation for truly enterprise-grade open-source blockchains. Contributed by IBM Corp. and Digital Asset, Hyperledger, now in version 1.0, boasts more than 185 collaborating enterprises across finance, banking, the “internet of things,” supply chain, manufacturing and technology.

You can read more in Kobelius’ post here.

Written by turbotodd

May 14, 2018 at 10:36 am

Oculus Went, Atlas Shrugged

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This has been some couple of weeks in technology. 

First, Facebook’s F8 conference last week, then Microsoft Build and Google I/O this week.

Coupla things stand out.

First, Facebook’s introduction of Oculus Go, the company’s new “everyperson’s” more friendly and accessible VR.  Looking back, I think the announcement was almost understated (and yes, there was a lot of other new news).

Like I always do when I’m considering a new tech purchase, I started searching for early reviews, and clearly Oculus/Facebook had done a good job getting devices into the hands of valued reviewers and sources. Almost to a one had mostly good things to say.

How often does that happen?  So I bit, and received my device one day ago this week.

For me, getting the Oculus Go was kind of like one of those moments you won’t forget: The first time I used the Netscape browser, the first time I used instant messaging, the first Tweet…Oculus Go was that moment for me where VR is concerned.

At SXSW two years ago I got to handle several of the leading VR goggles, and wasn’t really blown away by any of them — maybe it was all the umbilical cords and overweighted goggles. And maybe it was also the experiences themselves.

But when I got the Oculus Go last Friday, it just went. From the moment I turned it on to the quick setup to immediately blowing another $40 on a bundle of VR games and experiences, it was all easy peasy and sense surround.

Saturday morning, I downloaded a single shooter space game called “End Space.” It was so immersive that it had my brain thinking I was traveling through 360 degrees of space, requiring a spinning chair and, later, the spinning brain and dizziness to prove it. 

Now THAT was the kind of VR experience I’d been waiting for. Like I said when I first got it, finally good enough is more than good enough. Sure, you can complain if you’d like about the resolution not being where we’d like it and the fact that it’s really only 180 degrees, but those are minor roadblocks.

And these are still early days.

No, if nothing else, Oculus Go opens one’s imagination as to all the possibilities of full VR immersion, from education to virtual travel to gaming (already a strong suit in VR) to remote work and collaboration and beyond.  You can’t smell it yet, but you sure can touch it and feel it, and it feels pretty cool.

The second thing was experiencing yet another of those AI aha moments.

My first was back in the Web’s early Dark Ages, in 1997 in the auditorium of the Equitable Center in NYC where IBM’s Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov in chess — for those who saw it either there or online, it was an unmistakable leap forward — the machine beat the man. The next were IBM’s Watson beating the world’s best in Jeopardy!, and Google’s AlphaGo beating the world’s best humans in Go.

This week, watching the Google I/O webcast, I saw the Google Duplex technology in action, one where a disembodied Google Assistant voice was “smart” enough to call a hair salon and make an appointment…over the phone, and using her voice. The hair salon attendant seemed none the wiser.

I don’t know if that comes close to passing the Turing Test, but it’s pretty damned close.

And yet the very next day, I was attending a social media seminar given by our friends at Fleishman Hillard where I was introduced to “Lil Miquela” an Instagram influencer with over 1.1 million followers. 

Lil Miquela supports Black Lives Matter and seems to have a keen fashion sense. Lil Miquela is also not real. “She” was invented by an influencer marketing company called Brud, which Crunchbase says is “a group of problem solvers specializing in robotics, AI, and their applications to media businesses.”

Brud is in the business of selling access to brands to made-up influencers like Lil Miquela, and is backed by the likes of Sequoia Capital. And if you think about it, such a venture makes sense. As our Fleishman friends explained, “You don’t have to worry about Lil Miquela and her friends doing something in Vegas they shouldn’t be doing.” A, because Lil Miquela isn’t real, and B, because she has no “real” friends.

In other words, Lil Miquela and her ilk are “brand safe,” so why wouldn’t having a big brand associate themselves with her/it??

As I said in a room filled with actual real people, “We’re entering a wild wild “Westworld” where there are no rules and the boundaries aren’t clear…which makes for a nice petri dish in which just about anything and everything can by manipulated by digital, social and, now, AI and VR media. One day you’re talking to a Google Assistant to make your hair appointment, the next day you’re talking to a fake virtual IRS agent who’s taking control of your tax refund for you.

On October 30, 1938, renowned actor Orson Welles aired a radio broadcast on CBS based on H. G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds. 

Because the program was hosted on a “sustaining” show without commercial interruptions, “Mercury Theatre on the Air,” the program went on for 30 minutes and people across the country mistook the science fiction for an actual new broadcast. It caused panic across the country and people took to the streets. The Martians had arrived at Grover’s Mill!

That was 56 years before we saw the advent of the commercial Internet, and 80 years before we witnessed the Google Duplex phone call.

The saying used to go “Truth is stranger than fiction.”  Now, VR goggles and AI algorithms in tow, truth is increasingly turning into fiction, and that may be the slippery-est slope of all.

Written by turbotodd

May 11, 2018 at 10:21 am

Google’s Freaky Deaky

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Happy Hump Day.

First, it’s been a while since I wrote much about golf, and The Player’s Championship starts tomorrow at TPC Sawgrass, so I thought I would start with my list of likely winners (and in no particular order): Jason Day, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler, and Jordan Spieth. 

Now watch none of those win because *I* called it! 

Now, back on the tech front, Facebook has announced a sweeping new reorganization, according to Recode, appointing Chief Product Officer Chris Cox to now lead Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger, and Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer to oversee AR/VR, AI, and Facebook’s foray into the blockchain.

Back over on the subcontinent, Walmart has agreed to a $16 billion deal to buy a majority stake in India’s Flipkart. Flipkart is an Indian e-commerce company based out of Bengaluru, 

According to a report from CNBC, Wallmart said it would acquire an initial stake of roughly 77 percent in Flipkart, while the remainder of the business would be held by existing investors.

More details:

Walmart said in a statement that its long-term aim would be to support Flipkart’s transition into a publicly-listed subsidiary. The retailer said it expects India’s e-commerce market to grow at four times the rate of the overall retail industry.

Walmart’s president and chief executive, Doug McMillon, said the investment in Flipkart was part of the company’s aim to invest in India’s fast-growing economy.

“India is one of the most attractive retail markets in the world, given its size and growth rate, and our investment is an opportunity to partner with the company that is leading transformation of e-commerce in the market,” McMillon said in a statement.

As for Google’s announcements at the first day of Google’s developer confab, Google I/O, yesterday, get ready to take some notes.

Google announced: Android P; AD-2, an Android TV streaming HDMI stick (for developers only, for now); App Bundles (lets Android devs define which parts of an app to download on a specific device); Android Jetpack (set of components to speed up app development); ML Kit (an SDK for devs to add AI smarts to iOS and Android apps).

That’s just some of what was announced. 

The most impressive demo at Day 1 was of Google Duplex, where the company demoed the Google Assistant calling another human to make reservations for a hair cut appointment. If watching that demo didn’t completely freak you out and, at the same time, be excited about watching as our robot overlords prepare to take over, I don’t know what will.

You can read more about how it works here.

Written by turbotodd

May 9, 2018 at 9:08 am

Posted in 2018, facebook

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Google Input/Output

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Google I/O, the company’s annual developer confab, kicks off tomorrow (Tuesday, May 9th) in Mountain View.

The Verge provided a preview, and indicated there would be new news across the Google and Alphabet board, including information about its new wearable platform, Wear OS; Google Assistant to Android TV; Google Home; Google Play; and Search.

On the Android front, The Verge reports the new version will be called simply, “P,” and is “focused on making room for the now pervasive display notch on full-screen smartphones, giving users more granular privacy settings, and unifying and simplifying the design language and usability of menus, docks, and settings screens.”

On the AI front, The Verge says to expect more details on Google Lens, and the TensorFlow platform and Tensor Processing Unit chips (which are at the core of Google’s specially designed AI training systems).

And for Google Wear (rebranded from Android Wear), the Wear OS has been in developer preview and is expected to have improvements to battery life and more inclusion of Google Assistant features.

Also expect some new news about Google Assistant more broadly, and the accompanying Google Home hardware family, as well as info on Google Photos, News, Play and the company’s new gaming startup, Arcade.

You can check out the full Google I/O schedule here.

Written by turbotodd

May 7, 2018 at 9:27 am

Posted in 2018, android, developers

Tagged with , , ,

Bring in the Robots

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China’s Shenzhen-based AI and humanoid robotic company Ubtech has raised a Series C worth some $820 million according to TechNode China, a sum that sets a new financing record for the largest investment raised in a single round by an AI firm.

Ubtech’s self-proclaimed mission is to “bring the robot into every home, and truly integrate intelligent robots into the daily lives of everyone creating a more intelligent way of life.”

Yes, but can Ubtech’s robots do my laundry and take out my trash?

The new funding round was led by none other than Tencent, but also included a host of other investors ranging from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China to Telstra. 

Ubtech founder and CEO Zhou Jian said the new round of funding has brought in invaluable investors and the investment will be dedicated to facilitating Ubtech’s future commercialization plans. Zhou said the investment will be used in three main areas including R&D, market expansion/branding, and recruitment.

The company said it will devote more resources to developing adult-sized humanoid robots and will focus particularly on the R&D of servo systems used in robotics, movement control algorithms for walking, and computer vision.

The company is already offering a $299.99 “StormTrooper” Robot that allows one to use voice commands and facial recognition to…well, it seems you get to define the mission.

May the robotic force be with them….oh, and Happy Star Wars Day!

Written by turbotodd

May 4, 2018 at 12:11 pm

Posted in 2018

Tagged with ,

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